Biological Thought and the German Left

Biological Thought and the German Left
Date
18 February 2019, 4.00pm - 6.00pm
Type
Seminar
Venue
Room 246, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Description

Convenor: Cat Moir (Sydney/IMLR) 


When the new science of biology emerged around 1800 it transformed the way people saw the world. Biology challenged religious ideas by providing a scientific understanding of life for the first time. But almost as soon as it was founded the science became a worldview. Thinkers across the politics spectrum invoked biological ideas – cell theory, evolution, genetics, organicism, metabolism – to explain social and political phenomena. Thinkers across the political spectrum invoked biological ideas – cell theory, evolution, genetics, organicism, metabolism – to explain social and political phenomena. From the mid-19th century, right-wing thinkers like Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain used biological arguments to naturalise social, sexual, and racial inequality. The convenient simplicity of such ideas leant them a widespread appeal, particularly in times of crisis. As Europe struggled to recover after the First World War, fascists used biological concepts of race to explain real and perceived social ills. These ideas were institutionalised with the foundation of the Nazi biological state in 1933.

As a result of this legacy, the political reception of biological thought has traditionally been viewed almost exclusively through the lens of its influence on the right, but biological ideas have also had a profound and widespread influence on left-wing intellectual traditions and movements. This term the German Philosophy Seminar examines the impact of biological ideas on the German left in the period from biology’s foundation as a science around 1800 until the rise of the Nazi biological state in 1933. Reading texts by liberal, socialist, communist, anarchist, and feminist writers influenced by biological theories and concepts, the seminar aims to reconstruct the history of biology’s reception among left-wing thinkers in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries in order to transform our understanding of both the history of the scientific discipline of biology, and of German social and political thought.

Further details: https://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/ernst-bloch-centre-german-thought/bloch-centre-seminar-series-2018-19

Contact

Jane Lewin
jane.lewin@sas.ac.uk
020 7862 8966