I read the blog post which was kind of silly. You will notice that the writer depends on the one writer in the journal who tried to “debunk” the existence of Social Darwinism while dismissing the several he says support its existence. He also depends too much on the origin of the term “Social Darwinism” instead of on the ideas that are generally understood to comprise it. Odd that so many scholars of the other relevant writers are hoodwinked by Richard Hofstadter even today.
I thought this was especially telling:
That certainly sounds rough, but as it turns out, Hofstadter failed to mention the first sentence of Spencer’s next paragraph, which reads, “Of course, in so far as the severity of this process is mitigated by the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other, it is proper that it should be mitigated.” As philosophy professor Roderick Long has remarked, “The upshot of the entire section, then, is that while the operation of natural selection is beneficial, its mitigation by human benevolence is even more beneficial.”
Beneficial for whom and to what effect is the whole point when talking Social Darwinism. Private charity has never, in history been sufficient to aid the destitute. Spenser was dependent on Malthus, his ideas about economics and politics are a development of his appalling writings.
The geneticist, Richard Lewontin pointed out an interesting difference between biological and political uses of Darwin’s ideas last month:
The parallel between the arguments for natural selection and nineteenth-century economic and social theory, however, misses an extremely important divergence between Darwin and political economy. The theory of competitive socioeconomic success is a theory about the rise of individuals and individual enterprises as a consequence of their superior fitness. But even though the Industrial Revolution resulted eventually, at least in some countries, in a general rise in material well-being, the number of immensely successful entrepreneurs is evidently limited precisely because their success depends on the existence of a large mass of less successful workers. No population can consist largely of people like Henry Clay Frick.
The theory of evolution by natural selection, in contrast, is meant to explain the adaptation and biological success of an entire species as a consequence of the disappearance of the less fit. Provided that a species does not become so numerous as to destroy the resources on which it depends, there is no structural reason why every individual of that species cannot be highly fit. If we seek a true originality in the understanding of Darwin and Wallace, it is to be found in their ability to adapt a theory meant to explain the success of a few to produce a theory of the success of the many, even though the many may be competing for resources in short supply. Whether they were conscious of this divergence of the theory of evolution by natural selection from the reigning economic and social theory is a question.
I’m not so sure they did appreciate the difference, but I’m really more interested in what we understand and do now than the reputation of people who have been dead for a hundred twenty years.
It’s been a long, long time since I read Spencer but I’m just about certain that he was opposed to state financed and operated public education. If that idea was carried out and the public schools gave way to private schools it would have the interesting effect of entirely opening up science classes to creationism, without even the veil of ID to hide it. Given the pretense of the New Atheism that they are the only reliable and true defenders of the teaching of pure evolution, defending Spencer in order to “defend Darwin” would have a pretty odd result. But I’ve never thought the new atheists were all that practical. I think the best way to defend the teaching of evolution is to forget the reputation of Darwin and concentrate on the enormous mass or post-Darwin confirmation that evolution is as sound an idea as any in the history of science.
It also shows how much of social progress the new atheists might be willing to abandon in the cults ideological quest. They like to think of themselves as being daring liberals or even leftists, but they're not.