Alfred Russel Wallace's medical libertarianism: State medicine, human progress, and evolutionary purpose

Academic Article


  • Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), naturalist and explorer of South America and the Malay Archipelago, secured his place in history by independently discovering the theory of natural selection. His letter outlining the theory was sent from Ternate in eastern Indonesia and received at Down House, according to Charles Darwin (1809-82), on June 18, 1858, prompting the now-famed evolutionist to rush his languishing manuscript to press. Wallace's contributions to evolutionary biology, biogeography, and anthropology are well known, but his medical views have received far less attention. Within the context of a strident populist antivaccination movement and an ominous elitist eugenics campaign, Wallace took his stand, which revealed itself in a libertarianism that defended traditional socialist constituencies (the working poor, the lumpenproletariat, and feminist reformers) against state-mandated medical interventions. Rather than viewing Wallace as a heterodox contrarian, this article argues that his positions were logical outgrowths of his medical libertarianism and evolutionary and social theories.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 9266923
  • Author List

  • Flannery MA
  • Start Page

  • 74
  • End Page

  • 104
  • Volume

  • 70
  • Issue

  • 1