Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Slandering Charles Darwin

In an earlier post, I pointed out claims about Darwin and Galton in the work of a scholar of Islamic law which were wildly false. I have recently come across something similar in  work by a scholar of Romani history writing on the Romani holocaust:
Charles Darwin, also writing in 1871, “employed unmistakably racial terms when he noted ‘the uniform appearance in various parts of the world of Gypsies and Jews . . . which contrast[ed] sharply with all the virtues represented by the territorially settled and ‘culturally advanced’ Nordic Aryan race” (Fox, 1995:7).
The cite is not to Darwin but to Fox, another scholar of the Romani holocaust. 

The first half of the supposed quote, before the ..., is from The Descent of Man. The second half is nowhere to be found in the book. Nor is the phrase "Nordic Aryan." The full passage is:
The uniform appearance in various parts of the world of gypsies and Jews, though the uniformity of the latter has been somwhat exaggerated, is likewise an argument on the same side. A very damp or a very dry atmosphere has been supposed to be more influential in modifying the color of the skin than mere heat ; but as D'Orbigny in South America, and Livingstone in Africa, arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions with respect to dampness and dryness, any conclusion on this head must be considered as very doubtful.

Various facts, which I have elsewhere given, prove that the color of the skin and hair is sometimes correlated in a surprising manner with a complete immunity from the action of certain vegetable poisons and from the attacks of certain parasites. Hence it occurred to me, that negroes and other dark races might have acquired their dark tints by the darker individuals escaping during a long series of generations from the deadly influence of the miasmas of their native countries. (The Descent of Man, (1872), Chapter VII, p. 233)
The point of the passage is to offer an evolutionary explanation for differing physical features. It has nothing to do with the virtues or lack of them of Jews and Gypsies. The quote is, in other words, an invention. 

All of the examples of it I can find online seem to be associated with Romani scholarship. My guess is that either it was invented by someone in that literature or it was invented by someone in the 19th or early 20th century with racist views who wanted to claim that they were supported by Darwin, picked up by someone in the Romani literature who liked it and did not bother to check whether it was true, and picked up from him by more authors in that literature—who also did not bother to check a striking quote from a readily available source.

Why does this matter? Part of the reason is that the quote, like the false claims cited in my earlier post, gives a distorted picture of intellectual history. Part is that telling nasty lies about people is a bad thing to do even if they are no longer alive. 

But there is another reason it matters. The author I found the quote in is also the source of an ingenious and persuasive reconstruction of Romani history based mostly on linguistic grounds. I am not a linguist, still less a linguist of Romani, so most of the evidence for that account I have no way of checking. While on the whole it feels like competent and objective scholarship, it is clear that the author's emotions are to some extent involved, that it is a story he would like to believe. I now know that he cannot be trusted to check  facts he likes in work he publishes. That makes me less certain of facts I cannot check.

That is the same point I made in my earlier post about another fake claim.


At 8:37 PM, April 15, 2015, Anonymous Alan said...

The Descent of Man "went through a large number of revised editions", according to Wikipedia. Are you sure the second part of the quote doesn't appear in some version of it?

At 9:53 PM, April 15, 2015, Anonymous Douglas Knight said...

It is wrong to talk about the "first half" of the quote because there is no quote. There is nothing inside quotation marks (except "culturally advanced"). There is a mark opening the quote, but it never ends. Fox does not intend the part after the ellipse to be read as Darwin's words, as clear from the fact that it abuts a separate quote mark; nor "Nordic Aryan." Probably Fox continued Darwin's words past the word "Jews" with the mark ending the quotation in the part that Hancock deleted, resulting in the incoherent punctuation.

At 12:20 AM, April 16, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Nordic Aryan race" is an unmistakably racial term, and it appears nowhere in the book.

Neither does "culturally advanced"

The book can be found online. Show me where there is a passage that could be paraphrased as Fox, in your interpretation, paraphrases it.

Or just look at the actual passage, which I quote, and explain how it can be read as contrasting the Jews and Gypsies to the virtues of the Nordic Aryan race.

At 12:26 AM, April 16, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alan: The references in the article include one reference to Darwin, to _The Descent of Man_ 1871. The copy I found online is dated 1872, published in NY. According to Wikipedia, the second edition came out in 1874. So I take it that what I have the American publication of the first edition.

But in any case, if you read the passage which I quoted, it doesn't make any sense for it to have somehow morphed into the quote, since it isn't about the lack of virtues of Jews and Gypsies but the explanation of their physical appearance.

At 12:55 AM, April 16, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

I linked to a piece with the quote that I found online. But I first found it in a piece by the same author, where it appeared as:

Charles Darwin, also writing in 1871, used racist language in referring to “the uniform appearance in various parts of the world of Gypsies and Jews . . . which contrast[s] sharply with all the virtues represented by the territorially settled and culturally advanced Nordic Aryan race.”

No quotation mark complications.

I pointed the problem out to the author in email, have not yet received any response.

At 1:08 AM, April 16, 2015, Anonymous Douglas Knight said...

If you are only interested in the paraphrase, then edit your post to say so. But as it stands now, you also accuse Hancock and/or Fox of "invention" of a quote, in particular of falsely attributing "the second half of the quote" to Darwin.

If "culturally advanced" is an invented quote, that is terrible, but it in no way justifies your other, false accusation.

At 1:11 AM, April 16, 2015, Anonymous Douglas Knight said...

Where is the other version?

At 10:32 AM, April 16, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

The other version was sent to me by the author in response to a query about Romani law, which is the subject of one chapter in a book I'm writing. Its title is:


I couldn't find it online, don't know if that version has been published (it doesn't say), so linked to the same text in something that has been.

I haven't accused either of them of invention of a quote. I have accused Hancock of repeating a bogus quote, suggested that he may have gotten it from Fox. Someone invented it, but I have no way of telling which of the people invented it, which merely repeated it.

The version I linked to has impossible punctuation, since the quotes are not paired. I read it as missing a final single quote, so claiming that everything from "the uniform" to "race" is in Darwin, which is false. If you think everything after ... is a paraphrase, why is "culturally advanced" in quotes, and why do we have "contrast[ed]" if that is Fox's paraphrase rather than a pretended quote from Darwin. And how does Fox get the Nordic Aryan race out of a book which does not contain it?

In your reading, what are the "unmistakably racial terms?" "Gypsy" and "Jew" are not "unmistakably racial". "Nordic Aryan" is. Hancock is obviously claiming that Darwin uses that term, which isn't true—but makes sense if Hancock is presenting the whole quote as from Darwin.


Post a Comment

<< Home