Events in Modern Languages & Cultures
Bodies, Texts, Nations seminar: “Living Gregariously: Engels' Reception of Darwin and his Critique of Social Darwinism”
This paper examines Friedrich Engels' reception of Darwin's theory of evolution and his related critique of social Darwinism in his writings of the 1870s and 1880s. Through a close contextualised reading of the essay ‘Anteil der Arbeit in der Menschwerdung der Affen’, I argue that Engels constructed his labour theory of culture on the basis of Darwin's 'law of the correlation of growth'. Engels' reading of evolutionary theory produced a socialist Darwinism that was distinct from the social Darwinism of the time, which derived a vision of human society from the alternative evolutionary principle of the 'survival of the fittest'. It was Engels' emphasis on labour in the process of human evolution, I argue, which in turn formed the basis of his critique of social Darwinism. The paper is part of a larger project, The Biogenesis of the German Left, 1800-1933, which examines the impact of the life sciences on the liberal, radical and feminist left in Germany from the emergence of 'biology' as a scientific discourse to the rise of the Nazi biological state.