Thursday, August 07, 2008

Root, Damon W. "The Unfortunate Case of Herbert Spencer." REASON MAGAZINE July 29, 2008.

In 1944, historian Richard Hofstadter published Social Darwinism in American Thought, an aggressive and widely influential critique of the libertarian philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) and his impact on American intellectual life. In Hofstadter's telling, Spencer was the driving force behind 'social Darwinism,' the pseudo-scientific use of evolution to justify economic and social inequality. According to Hofstadter, Spencer was little more than an apologist for extreme conservatism, a figure who told "the guardians of American society what they wanted to hear." The eugenics movement, Hofstadter maintained, which held that humanity could improve its stock via selective breeding and forced sterilization, "has proved to be the most enduring aspect" of Spencer's "tooth and claw natural selection."A hit upon publication, the book helped make Hofstadter's name, doing much to secure him his prominent perch at Columbia University, where he taught until his death in 1970. But there's a problem with Hofstadter's celebrated work: his claims bear almost no resemblance to the real Herbert Spencer. . . . Read the rest here:

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