Darwinism, War and History
Although Wallace was in many ways a purer than pure Darwinist, he had by 1870 caused consternation in Darwinist circles by excepting the human brain from the usual processes of natural selection. Probably under the influence of spiritualism, but genuinely puzzled by the biological problem that early man had a larger brain size than was needed for the rudimentary struggle for survival, Wallace advanced 'my special heresy': he invoked teleological processes under the guidance of a higher intelligence to explain the qualitative gap between man and his fellow animals—in brainpower, consciousness, aesthetic and moral qualities.
Wallace had started towards his 'heresy' in a paper of 1864, which described the human mind as a basically new cause in evolution, transforming all of the rules of the Darwinist game. Wallace showed how early man had begun to evade the action of natural selection by controlling environment, using intelligence, creating a new relationship with the circumambient world. Humans devised environmental answers to challenges, for example by inventing clothing and shelter, rather than evolving thicker fur or fat, in the face of climatic change. With hunting and fighting, man invented better weapons rather than evolving claws and fangs, and used intelligence and social capability to develop team hunting and warfare. Humans learnt how to develop higher social efficiency by cleverly exploiting their social and altruistic potential, rather than by enduring the culling of the 'unfit', the pain and waste of progress achieved by the brutish methods of the animal world. Wallace noted that selective premium was now placed upon groups and races that possessed higher mental and moral faculties. Human physical change thus stabilised, and major structural evolution came to a virtual end.
The paper ended on a note of utopianism that he would later amend. In some ways the Utopia echoed Spencer's Social Statics, which he had read The future would be peopled by humans with the same basic physical form but with rapidly advancing mentalities,' till the world is again inhabited by a single homogenous race, no individual of which will be inferior to the noblest specimens of existing humanity'. There would be perfect moral freedom and equality. Compulsory government would die away as unnecessary, to be replaced by beneficent voluntary associations:
the passions and animal propensities will be restrained within those limits which most conduce to happiness; and mankind will have at length discovered that it was only required of them to develop the capacities of their higher nature, in order to convert this earth, which has so long been the theatre of their unbridled passions, and the scene of unimaginable misery, into as bright a paradise as ever haunted the dreams of seer or poet.Wallace continued to admire Darwin, and to champion natural selection as the major agency in evolution in almost all cases except that of humanity. However, precisely because humans were unique, Wallace opposed the harsher kinds of Social Darwinism, especially the militarist and racist kinds that arose towards the end of the century out of a new genetics that seemed to undermine culturally-based agendas for human improvement. Unlike some other socialists, he wasted few regrets on the demise of Lamarckism, with its delusive hope that reformed culture could be directly inherited by the race.
Instead, he hoped that a liberal-socialist reconstruction of society—'when we have cleansed the Augean stables of our existing social organization'—would ensure the hereditary future of the race. With all reaping the full reward of their work, with men and women freely following their best impulses, when all were splendidly educated, then 'a system of selection will spontaneously come into action which will steadily tend to eliminate the lower and more degraded types of man, and thus continuously raise the average standard of the race'. Wallace borrowed openly from Edward Bellamy's Utopian Looking Backwards (1888). Young males and females would be subjected to an intense education, including a three-year conscription in 'the industrial army', enabling them to make enlightened choices about jobs and life. Wallace was confident that 'a powerful selective agency would rest with the female sex', as women married later, and married 'fitter' males under conditions of social and economic security and independence. Cruel and violent males would be selected out. He also invoked Spencer's law that individuation and reproduction were antagonistic. Increased specialisation of the nervous system—as displayed in higher intellectuality—correlated with decreased fertility. This, said Wallace, was the ultimate answer to the global population problem. Clever societies would automatically control fertility. It was the reply to those sceptics who predicted a Malthusian disaster if the world found ways to curb the old 'positive checks'—war, pestilence and famine.
Wallace became a spirited critic of modern war and imperialism. Tribal and race struggle had been essential (he said) in early history, leaving 'the stronger and higher, whether physically or mentally stronger' to survive. Not less potent was' the greater vital energy and more rapid increase of the higher races, which crowds the lower out of existence'. This had happened in the case of the Tasmanians, the Maoris and the Red Indians:' Here we see survival of the fittest among competing peoples necessarily leading to a continuous elevation of the human race as a whole, even though the higher portion of the higher races may remain stationary or may even deteriorate.' At the same time Wallace considered that all peoples were roughly equal in innate brainpower. Brain size had not improved significantly since prehistoric times. As anthropologist he was most sympathetic towards the Polynesians and other fine races, whose customs and conduct compared favourably with those of rapacious western colonisers: 'in all essentials of true civilization these uncultivated people are fully the equals—perhaps even the superiors of ourselves'.
In The Wonderful Century (1898) Wallace pleaded that a great scientific age like the present should be able to abolish the anachronisms of war and cruelty. In Cobdenite vein he urged that the natural influence of trade and science was towards peace. But he could not ignore the revival of the war-spirit in late nineteenth-century Europe, wracked by useless dynastic wars, a vast camp occupied by vast armies, equipped with new and deadly weapons. Technology was being immorally applied to war purposes rather than being used for the benefit of the people. He calculated that the cost of keeping three million men in arms in Europe came to at least £180 million. As the average working wage across Europe was about twelve shillings per week, this amounted to the constant labour of at least six million people, Just to support 'this monstrous and utterly barbarous system of national armaments'. The so-called Christian powers of Europe 'do not exist for the good of the governed, but for the aggrandizement and greed and lust of Power of the ruling classes—kings and kaisers, ministers and generals, nobles and millionaires—the true vampires of civilization'.