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Double birthday

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February 12th is the 200th birthday of two great figures, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Both can be said to have had a tremendous effect upon human history. So this auspicious date naturally suggests a contest….

UPDATE: Before you vote, you might want to read this review of Adam Gopnik’s new book on Darwin and Lincoln. Or read the book itself, if you have the time!

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4 Comments

  1. Darwin by a fairly wide margin. Darwin drastically challenged a status quo, part of a scientific and industrial revolution going through the world that altered how people viewed their purpose, their essence, their way forward. He helped propel a great shift in human understanding and the human condition, and still has extremists fighting over him regardless of the refutation of the details of his science. There are still Darwin fish, darwin fish being eaten by jesus fish, or truth fish, and so forth. Lincoln was incredibly important in United States history, but world history? I’d have to say not quite so much. He freed the American slaves, though we were dead last in the Western world in doing so, and even then it was under the guise of protecting the Constitutional rights of the Northerners after the Gag Rule in the South (which then lead to a land race to increase congressional power for either side).

    However, while he mismanaged the war for some time (the experience and skill of the Southern army didn’t help matters either) he fought it under the very realistic notion that to end slavery drastic measures will sometimes be needed. Many countries abolished without a shot or had the luck of Napoleon’s rule for a short time, but what all of them showed was that slavery would never have ‘ended’ (in the western world, its prevalent in too many places, and in some cases the United States still, to be over) without a shift in moral values, thanks to the scientific revolution, enlightenment, and a shift toward Post Millenial Christianity (rather than condemnation, we could work our way toward salvation and betterness of ourselves).

    In other words, slavery would never leave a place simply ‘on its own’ (waiting for it to economically fail etc.). It was and is the most profitable enterprise this country has ever been part of, with the industrial revolution competing as wage slavery, basically giving pennies to your slaves instead of a hut and gruel. The severe class dichotomy in the South (the most millionares in one place in the world versus people with nothing, the only advantage for the impoverished was being white, and they were an incredibly devout political weapon) didn’t help matters either. Our nation had to embrace a horrifying war, mostly for the uniting of it, and the ending of slavery there was a means to an end, but it happened regardless, and it was the right and realistic thing to do.

    I’d say the biggest impact Lincoln has had for the fate of world history was his role in magnifying the power of the Presidential office in light of his predecessors. Combining that aspect with the movements of voting rights and changes in electoral attitudes (though the college was pretty much tacked on to the constitution at the last minute to get it ratified anyway) have very certainly had a massive affect on our national identity and our influence around the world, the understanding of what our country is and can be in the eyes of everyone watching.

    So Lincoln is quite impressively important, but I give Darwin the victory because his reach and impact was just so vast. Interestingly, he was on both ends of the racial issue of slavery. On the one end, his findings coincided with the ideas of Locke (this is why I am reluctant to jump on to Kleiner’s ideas (from other ideas) about Locke’s views being ’empty’, they helped provide the moral shift to condemn slavery), that natural law and the moral equality of man’s creation (instead of the condemned view that was held by much of Christianity at the time, of Africans simply being destined for slavery) should be the moral law via natural rights. On the other hand, his continuation of the ‘survival of the fittest’ concept led to Social Darwinism, which was used for the Southern case that since black slaves were more ‘primitive’ it seemed they were better off serving than being free.

    Anyway, sorry for such a longass post, I’ve probably killed the thread again. Interesting question, thanks for putting it up.

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  2. Huenemann says:

    Darwin’s beard
    Way, way bigger
    Enough said.

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  3. Kleiner says:

    I am just trying this argument out:
    I think Darwin’s idea has the greatest historical impact. But it might be that Lincoln is more historically significant. Why? Evolution would have been discovered without Darwin (Alfred Wallace and others had the same scientific intuition). I don’t know that there were other Abes around.

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