Letter: Was Darwin really a saint?

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The Independent Online
GALEN Strawson's review of Janet Browne's new biography of Charles Darwin (7 May) and a follow-up letter (14 May) raise important questions about the public understanding of Darwin and the Victorians. Is public culture better served by understanding Darwin's intellectual commitment to the natural superiority of Europeans as a form of patriotism or by seeing it sociologically as a literal acceptance and unintentional rationalisation of racial inequality, alongside his evident gentleness, humanitarianism and anti-slavery conviction? If this seems a paradox, it is only so from the vantage of a late 20th-century post-Holocaust sensibility. We admit that class privilege in Victorian Britain was pervasive. Must we simultaneously deny that racial privilege in the Victorian Empire was made tolerable (and acceptable) by Victorian scientific culture, including by Darwin and his Circle? Don't we turn Darwin into a saint by insisting he was merely explaining the pervasive racial inequalities of the period?

N Saakwa-Mante

London SW9