Sunday, May 27, 2012

Just really, really bad history: Stephen B. Young and the erroneous connection of Libertarianism to Social Darwinism

Don't know quite where to start with this one, since there so much counter-factual goodness here.

Let's just do the first substantive paragraph of an idiotic essay entitled "Is It raining Libertarians, or what?"
Out of their experience after the Civil War, America's Republicans came to believe in a philosophy called Social Darwinism, with its call for individual self-reliance, free markets and limited government. Most Americans who rejected Social Darwinism became Democrats
Ah, well, this would be interesting if it were at all remotely true.

The Republican ideology of individual self-reliance, free markets, and limited government predated the Civil War.  In modern terms, this is called "Free Labor Ideology," and the ground-breaking research on that was done by Eric Foner twenty-six years ago in Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men,  The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War.

The generalized breakdown between Social Darwinists in the GOP and those the author will later refer to as progressives never actually occurred--at least not in the way he suggests.

The identification of Herbert Spenser as the Father of Social Darwinism was an intellectual construct created by Richard Hofstader in 1944.  While Hofstadter's thesis was influential for several decades, it has  been pretty thoroughly debunked.

But, hey, this is an election year, so it is fair game to say anything, right?


Dana Garrett said...

While it is certainly.true that libertarian thought stems from classical liberalism, it nevertheless remains that Social.Darwinism reinforces libertarian capitalistic thought.

Steve Newton said...


Social Darwinism, historically speaking, is an effect and not a cause. The Free Labor ideology predates it by almost 30 years, and in the end social darwinism never became more than a sub-set of that ideology.

The connection between libertarian philosophy and social darwinism is corretative, perhaps, but certainly not causative. The causal link existed primarily in the mind of Richard Hofstadter, who was a great writer but a highly overrated historian.

None of which voids my main point which is that this guy gets his facts wrong all over the place.

Given that, I really don't care what his conclusions are.