07 January 2008

Social Darwinism and Laissez-Faire Capitalism

British philosopher Herbert Spencer went a step beyond Darwin's theory of evolution and applied it to the development of human society. In the late 1800s, many Americans enthusiastically embraced Spencer's "Social Darwinism" to justify laissez-faire, or unrestricted, capitalism.

In 1859, Charles Darwin published Origin of Species, which explained his theory of animal and plant evolution based on "natural selection." Soon afterward, philosophers, sociologists, and others began to adopt the idea that human society had also evolved.

The British philosopher Herbert Spencer wrote about these ideas even before Darwin's book was published. He became the most influential philosopher in applying Darwin's ideas to social evolution. Born in 1820, Herbert Spencer taught himself about the natural sciences. For a brief time, he worked as a railroad surveyor and then as a magazine writer. Spencer never married, tended to worry a lot about his health, and preferred work to life's enjoyments.

In 1851, he published his first book. He argued for laissez-faire capitalism, an economic system that allows businesses to operate with little government interference. A year later, and seven years before Darwin published Origin of Species, Spencer coined the phrase "survival of the fittest."

Darwin's theory inspired Spencer to write more books, showing how society evolved. With the financial support of friends, Spencer wrote more than a dozen volumes in 36 years. His books convinced many that the destiny of civilization rested with those who were the "fittest."

The "Fittest" and the "Unfit"
Herbert Spencer based his concept of social evolution, popularly known as "Social Darwinism," on individual competition. Spencer believed that competition was "the law of life" and resulted in the "survival of the fittest."

"Society advances," Spencer wrote, "where its fittest members are allowed to assert their fitness with the least hindrance." He went on to argue that the unfit should "not be prevented from dying out.

Spencer believed his own England and other advanced nations were naturally evolving into peaceful "industrial" societies. To help this evolutionary process, he argued that government should get out of the way of the fittest individuals. They should have the freedom to do whatever they pleased in competing with others as long as they did not infringe on the equal rights of other competitors.

Spencer criticized the English Parliament for "over-legislation." He defined this as passing laws that helped the workers, the poor, and the weak. In his opinion, such laws needlessly delayed the extinction of the unfit.

Spencer's View of Government
Herbert Spencer believed that the government should have only two purposes. One was to defend the nation against foreign invasion. The other was to protect citizens and their property from criminals. Any other government action was "over-legislation."

Spencer opposed government aid to the poor. He said that it encouraged laziness and vice. He objected to a public school system since it forced taxpayers to pay for the education of other people's children. He opposed laws regulating housing, sanitation, and health conditions because they interfered with the rights of property owners.

Spencer said that diseases "are among the penalties Nature has attached to ignorance and imbecility, and should not, therefore, be tampered with." He even faulted private organizations like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children because they encouraged legislation.

In the economic arena, Spencer advocated a laissez-faire system that tolerated no government regulation of private enterprise. He considered most taxation as confiscation of wealth and undermining the natural evolution of society.

Übermensch as Goal
Zarathustra first announces the Übermensch as a goal humanity can set for itself. All human life would be given meaning by how it advanced the generation of this higher, transhuman type. The aspiration of a woman would be to give birth to an Übermensch, for example; her relationships with men would be judged by this standard.

This aspect of the Übermensch has reminded some of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. But whereas evolution via natural selection or survival of the fittest proceeds without being intended by any member of the species, the transition from humanity to Übermensch must be willed.

Nietzsche associates the Übermensch with a program of eugenics. This is most pronounced when considered in the aspect of a goal that humanity sets for itself. The reduction of all psychology to physiology and even physiognomy implies that human beings can be bred for cultural traits. This aspect of Nietzsche's doctrine focuses more on the future of humanity than on a single cataclysmic individual. There is no consensus regarding how this aspect of the Übermensch relates to the creation of new values.

Liberal Eugenics and Classism
Liberal eugenics is conceived as being mostly "positive", relying more on genetic manipulation than on selective breeding charts to achieve its aims. It seeks to both minimize congenital disorder and enhance ability, traditional eugenic goals. It is intended to be under the control of the parents exercizing their procreative liberty while guided by the principle of procreative beneficence, though the substantial governmental and corporate infrastructure required for human genetic engineering may limit or steer their actual choices. Currently, genetic testing such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, have been developed to allow for embryos carrying congenital disorders to be discarded.

A key goal of liberal eugenics is to reduce the role of chance in reproduction.

Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated classes of people by the dominant class. It includes individual attitudes and behaviors; systems of policies and practices that are set up to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes. Classism is grounded in a hierarchy belief system that ranks people according to socioeconomic status (SES), family lineage, and other class related divisions. This system leads to a drastic income and wealth inequality.

Ralph Harris, Baron Harris of High Cross (December 10, 1924 – October 19, 2006) was a British economist. He was head of the Institute of Economic Affairs from 1957 to 1987. The IEA's brand of free market liberal economics was deeply unpopular when it was founded, but, some 20 years later, Harris was considered to be an architect of Thatcherism.

Ralph Harris Eugenics Society Fellow 1937, 1957, 1977

Liberal Eugenics
British Eugenics Society Members List
A shameful history
Nazi Eugenics
Culture of corruption: the legacy of Ayn Rand
Social Darwinism and American Laissez-faire Capitalism

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