We continue to observe Darwin’s views on race. Recall from last week that Darwin understands racial disparities to be self-evident or axiomatic, needing no substantiation. Racial differences are so great in Darwin’s mind that he is entirely sympathetic with those who view various races as distinct species.
There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other—as in the texture of hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body, the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain. But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of difference. The races differ also in constitution, in acclimatization and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties (p. 343).
If a naturalist who had never before seen a Negro, Hottentot, Australian, or Mongolian, were to compare them, he would at once perceive that they differed in a multitude of characters, some of slight and some of considerable importance. . . . they differed somewhat in bodily constitution and mental disposition. If he were then told that hundreds of similar specimens could be brought from the same countries, he would assuredly declare that they were as good species as many to which he had been in the habit affixing specific names. This conclusion would be greatly strengthened as soon as he had ascertained the same character for many centuries; and that negroes, apparently identical with existing negroes, had lived at least 4000 years ago (p. 343).
A naturalist might feel himself fully justified in ranking the races of man as distinct species; for he has found that they are distinguished by many differences in structure, and constitution, some being of importance. These differences have also, remained nearly constant for very long periods of time (p. 345).
In the final analysis, Darwin tentatively—very tentatively—decides that races may be thought of as sub-species, due to the fact that they have the capacity for “fusion.”
The races of man are not sufficiently distinct to inhabit the same country without fusion; and the absence of fusion affords the usual and best test of specific distinctness. . . . This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews [sic] that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them (p. 346).
Some naturalists have lately employed the term “sub-species” to designate forms which possess many of the characteristics of true species, but which hardly deserve so high a rank. Now if we reflect on the weighty arguments above given, for raising the races of man to the dignity of species, and the insuperable difficulties on the other side in defining them, it seems that the term “sub-species” might here be used with propriety (p. 347).
Those naturalists, on the other hand, who admit the principle of evolution . . . will feel no doubt that all the races of man are descended from a single primitive stock; whether or not they may think fit to designate the races as distinct species, for the sake of expressing their amount of difference (p. 347).
So again, it is almost a matter of indifference whether the so-called races of man are thus designated, or are ranked as species or sub-species; but the latter term appears the more appropriate (p. 349-350).
Darwin is quite comfortable in thinking of race in terms of “higher” and “lower.” He regards civilized races as superior to “savage” races (a common term in his day) in nearly every way. Thus racial differences are not merely differences of kind, but also of quality.
The belief that there exists in man some close relation between the size of the brain and the development of the intellectual faculties is supported by the comparison of the skulls of savage and civilised [sic] races, of ancient and modern people, and by the analogy of the whole vertebrate series . . . the mean internal capacity of the skull in Europeans is 92.3 cubic inches; in American 87.5; in Asiatics 87.1; and in Australians only 81.9 cubic inches. . . . With savages, the average includes only the more capable individuals, who have been able to survive under extremely hard conditions of life (p. 281).
No country in the world abounds in a greater degree with dangerous beasts than southern Africa . . . yet one of the puniest races, that of the bushmen, maintains itself in southern Africa (p. 286).
Many savages are in the same condition as when first discovered several centuries ago. As Mr. Bagehot has remarked, we are apt to look at the progress as normal in human society, but history refutes this (p. 323).
Those who constantly use certain sense-organs may have the cavities in which they are lodged somewhat increased in size, and their features consequently a little modified. With civilized nations, the reduced size of the jaws from lessened use . . . and the increased size of the brain from greater intellectual activity, have together produced a considerable effect on their general appearance when compared with savages (p. 359).
How would Darwin view the multiculturalists of today who insist that all cultures are of similar value and worth and are to be esteemed and respected equally?
The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named . . . (p. 348).
Judging from the hideous ornaments, and the equally hideous music admired by most savages, it might be urged that their aesthetic faculty was not so highly developed as in certain animals, for instance as in birds (p. 302).
Most savages are utterly indifferent to the sufferings of strangers, or even delight in witnessing them. . . . Many instances could be given of the noble fidelity of savages towards each other, but not to strangers; common experience justifies the maxim of the Spaniard, “Never, never trust an Indian.” (p. 315).
Remember, Darwin’s racial views are based on his science not his society. He is revered as a scientist, the pioneer of evolution; and his racism is based in evolutionary constructs. This is the man Richard Dawkins hails as having explained “everything we know about life.”
Even so, Darwin’s progeny—when confronted with the truth—find his views on race enormously embarrassing. Think of it: Darwin’s beneficiaries extol his discoveries as holding the key to “everything we know about life” and all the while they deny and dismiss his understanding of his own species.
Talk about cognitive dissonance! They despise the man on whose shoulders they stand.
Next week we will examine Darwin’s thoughts on race applied. Until then, thank you for reading and thinking.
Charles Darwin, “The Descent of Man,” Great Books of the Western World, vol. 49 (Chicago, London, Toronto: William Benton, 1952)