Reich: The Rebirth of Social Darwinism
Another busy day brings another quick post. This is Robert Reich:
The Rebirth of Social Darwinism, by Robert Reich: What kind of society, exactly, do modern Republicans want? ...
They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. It was an era when the nation was mesmerized by the ... ideas of William Graham Sumner, a professor of political and social science at Yale... Sumner brought Charles Darwin to America and twisted him into a theory to fit the times. ...
To Sumner and his followers, life was a competitive struggle in which only the fittest could survive – and through this struggle societies became stronger over time. A correlate of this principle was that government should do little or nothing to help those in need because that would interfere with natural selection.
Listen to today’s Republican debates and you hear a continuous regurgitation of Sumner. “Civilization has a simple choice,” Sumner wrote in the 1880s. It’s either “liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest,” or “not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.” ...
Social Darwinism offered a moral justification for the wild inequities and social cruelties of the late nineteenth century. It allowed John D. Rockefeller, for example, to claim the fortune he accumulated ... was “merely a survival of the fittest.” It was, he insisted “the working out of a law of nature and of God.”
Social Darwinism also undermined all efforts at the time to build a nation of broadly-based prosperity and rescue our democracy from the tight grip of a very few at the top. It was used by the privileged and powerful to convince everyone else that government shouldn’t do much of anything.
Not until the twentieth century did America reject Social Darwinism. We created the large middle class... We built safety nets to catch Americans who fell downward through no fault of their own. We designed regulations to protect against the inevitable excesses of free-market greed. We taxed the rich and invested in ... public schools, public universities, public transportation, public parks, public health – that made us all better off.
In short, we rejected the notion that each of us is on his or her own in a competitive contest for survival.
But make no mistake: If one of the current crop of Republican hopefuls becomes president, and if regressive Republicans take over the House or Senate, or both, Social Darwinism is back.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 11:07 AM in Economics, Politics, Social Insurance |
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