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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Herbert Spencer, Social Darwinist?

Charles Johnson brings to our attention a revealing quotation from Herbert Spencer. For more click on "Herbert Spencer Anti-Defamation League (Part 423 of ???)" in "Sheldon's Shared Items" on the right.
It is very easy for you, O respectable citizen, seated in your easy chair, with your feet on the fender, to hold forth on the misconduct of the people – very easy for you to censure their extravagant and vicious habits …. It is no honor to you that you do not spend your savings in sensual gratification; you have pleasures enough without. But what would you do if placed in the position of the laborer? How would these virtues of yours stand the wear and tear of poverty? Where would your prudence and self-denial be if you were deprived of all the hopes that now stimulate you …? Let us see you tied to an irksome employment from dawn till dusk; fed on meager food, and scarcely enough of that …. Suppose your savings had to be made, not, as now, out of surplus income, but out of wages already insufficient for necessaries; and then consider whether to be provident would be as easy as you at present find it. Conceive yourself one of a despised class contemptuously termed the great unwashed; stigmatized as brutish, stolid, vicious … and then say whether the desire to be respectable would be as practically operative on you as now. … How offensive it is to hear some pert, self-approving personage, who thanks God that he is not as other men are, passing harsh sentence on his poor, hard-worked, heavily burdened fellow countrymen …. (Social Statics, pp. 203–5)
Pretty pathetic Social Darwinist, if you ask me.


Rorshak said...

Will the slander never end?

I'm not speak though. Up until reading some of Roderick Long's articles I had the same mistaken impression of Herbert Spencer.

Edward said...

Y'all need to realize that everyone who doesn't believe in statism is a going to be called a Social Darwinist.

Anduril said...

Here is a more balanced summary from Wiki.

Darwinian evolution "works" via the death or impotence of the 'unfit' and the survival and reproduction of the "fittest."

Spencer lived in a time when the average life-expectancy of a day-labourer was 27; a working-class person could expect forty years of life; and those who were well-fed and healthy and prosperous could expect considerably more.

Clearly, this problem could have been resolved by a guaranteed minimum income, funded by taxes on the better-off. The better-off would still have longer and more pleasant lives, while the poor would have life where there was death before.

Many classical liberals supported this obvious reform, but Spencer resolutely opposed it. If his had been the deciding voice, who else to blame for the millions of deaths from poverty?

What else is this but "evolution in action"?

Anduril said...

Wiki URL:


JOR said...

"What else is this but "evolution in action"?"

Everything is 'evolution in action'. Welfare schemes don't escape natural selection, they just rearrange the environment so that maladaptive traits become adaptive.

Edward said...

How is that balanced, I think any classical liberal should oppose such "obvious" reform, because of their predictable consequence: everyone getting poorer.

Edward said...

Another thing: I don't think people misunderstand stand just Spencer, I think people understand Social Darwinism AND Spencer.

Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention Herbert Spencer. By coincidence I came across some other 'kudos' for Herbert from Max Nomad in his 1959 book "Aspects of Revolt". Nomad is definitely a man of the left, but a skeptic of revolutionary dogma. Nomad was a follower (and colleague) of Polish radical Waclaw Machajski. Machajski developed a "James Burnham style" "managerial revolution" style critique of mainstream marxist-leninism and the state socialism well before Burnham put pen to paper. In a chapter entitled "Predictions that came true" Nomad credits Herbert Spencer (along with Karl Marx's rival Michael Bakunin) with being amongst the first to see that a revolutionary socialist state, rather than bringing 'the working class to power', would cement in place a new bureaucratic elite. Nomad, who is usually a crusty and cynical leftist, is unusually gracious to Herbert. I nominate him as an honourary member of the HSADL!

Anduril said...


Yet the historical evidence is all the other way. As liberal societies have introduced and expanded Minimum Incomes, their wealth has soared for rich, middle and poor. The evidence is overwhelming.

Jor's assertion is neo-Lamarckian: that acquired traits are heritable. While there is something to the Lamarckian and Bergsonian argument, we see no evidence of these alleged "inherited maladaptive traits" in America, where immigrants came that they and their families might live at subsistance level rather than being left to die in very real (Spencerian) poverty.

It is customary to desire the natural consequences of advocacy. Spencer wanted 'unfit' people to die, to improve the "gene pool."