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Monday, October 13, 2008

How did the term "social Darwinism" get started? Not in any way you might think ...

This, from Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, is the explanation I have long been seeking: Why is there so much confusion around the concept of social Darwinism?

That is, if one takes Darwin's theory of evolution seriously in any respect, government should let nature sort out who's fit and who's not - rather than interfering through eugenics.

Well, it turns out that that is precisely what Herbert Spencer, who coined the term "survival of the fittest" for Darwin, did think. But not what most of Darwin's "progressive" (= left-wing fascist) followers thought. Goldberg writes:
did come up with a term for conservative opponents of eugenics. They called them social Darwinists. Progressives invented the term "social Darwinism" to describe anyone who opposed Sidney Webb's notion that the state must aggressively "interfere" in the reproductive order of society. In the hothouse logic of the left, those who opposed forced sterilization of the "unfit" and the poor were the villains for letting a "state of nature" rule among the lower classes.
So what made the social Darwinists villains in the eyes of progressive Darwinists was the fact that they opposed eugenics. Now the fog is finally starting to clear.
Herbert Spencer, the supposed founder of social Darwinism, was singled out as the poster boy for all that was wrong in classical liberalism. Spencer was indeed a Darwinist - he coined the phrase "survival of the fittest" - but his interpretation of evolutionary theory reinforced his view that people should be left alone. In almost every sense, Spencer was a good - albeit classical - liberal: He championed charity, women's suffrage, and civil liberties. But he was the incarnation of all that was backward, reactionary, and wrong according to the progressive worldview, not because he supported Hitlerian schemes of forced race hygiene but because he adamantly opposed them.
By contrast, almost all of the leading progressive (= left wing fascist) intellectuals
interpreted Darwinian theory as a writ to "interfere" with human natural selection. Even progressives with no ostensible ties to eugenics worked closely with champions of the cause. There was simply no significant stigma against racist eugenics in progressive circles.
Which explains the odd use they came up with for Darwin's theory of evolution.

And today, the progressives' heirs can hardly discuss racism or Darwin's theory and still cling to a shred of sanity.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


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