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Monday, November 19, 2007

World of ideas: A leftist critique of social Darwinism

In The Nation, Daniel Brook writes,
Social Darwinism is the ideology of Gilded Ages, times of stunning inequality and declining social mobility. Social Darwinism takes the manifest injustice of a socially ossified society and argues that its very ossification proves that such a society is just. You can see it in David Brooks's New York Times column when he reassures a nation in which predatory lending now serves the function once played by sharecropping that the "rich don't exploit the poor; they just outcompete them." You can also see it in The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. For Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, survival of the fittest proves that rich Americans deserve their wealth and poor Americans deserve their poverty. Clark merely applies the theory globally to rich countries and poor countries.

To the social Darwinist, it is societies with high degrees of intergenerational social mobility that are, in fact, the most backward. They have yet to allow all the talented to rise to the top. By contrast, the most ossified societies are the most advanced, for they have already allowed the best to ascend, where they continue to reproduce superior offspring. Thus, the meritocratic filtering period was always in the past. Perhaps, as the first social Darwinists argued, it was at the dawn of human history? Or, as Clark argues, in the Middle Ages? Or, as Mickey Kaus suggested in his 1992 book, The End of Equality, just a generation ago? Whenever it was, it is not now. The wheat has already been separated from the chaff. A few were already riding high long ago, and the rest continue to be run over.

As James Watson’s recent daring descent down Mt. Improbable has recently demonstrated, in the present age of political correctness, social Darwinism is a career killer irrespective of merits or lack thereof.

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