The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics by Dennis Sewell - review by Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson

Darwin’s Demons

The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics


Picador 268pp £16.99

A little knowledge of Darwinism is a dangerous thing. People blame their genes for all kinds of bad habits and misfortunes. Journalists and politicians are fond of invoking evolutionary anthropology to explain and guide social behaviour. In 2008 Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, was mocked in the press, attacked by his colleagues and forced to resign when he committed the heresy of saying that science teachers should engage with the religious opinions of their students when teaching evolution. I thought at first that this book, thanks to its title, was yet another work purporting to explain politics from the perspective of the Pleistocene Era, which goes to show how ubiquitous such books are now. But Dennis Sewell’s The Political Gene offers something far more valuable. It is a counterblast to that genre of books.

Darwinism is and always has been political. Taking the long view of the politics of evolution, Sewell shows how it has grown from a convincing theory of the origin of species to become an account of the origins of all life and thence to an all-embracing theory of

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