Connections: A Radio Programme — ‘The Scopes Monkey Trial’

… the infamous Scopes Monkey trial, concerning the teaching of evolution in school, which quickly turned into a legal circus. This trial was to be fictionalized later in Inherit the Wind, which had one glaring flaw: by all accounts, it was William Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor, and not Clarence Darrow, the defence attorney, who was the hero. Reflecting on the ideology of WWI, Bryan became convinced that it was misapplied social darwinism, with Nietzsche as its figurehead, that led to the corruption of Europe. Bryan had a noble goal and at least a clear purpose, it was Darrow who, on the other hand, insisted that one should listen to the scatterbrained humbug called ‘common sense’, putting aside all deeper questions of human nature and education. In an ironic twist, Darrow’s most famous case was actually the defence of Leopold and Loeb, two ivy league law students who murdered a neighborhood boy after reading the books of — you guessed it — Nietzsche — and believing themselves to have evolved beyond good and evil, so to speak. It wasn’t the Scopes monkey trial turned tragic so much as black — black comedy. The insufferable Darrow still managed to wrest a victory out of this however: in an impassioned plea, Darrow saved these two boys from being executed by once again pandering to the masses and dressing up the obvious as the weak, the common as the rare. Meanwhile, Nietzsche laughs in his grave…

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