Eric Michael Johnson has put up a three part series on deconstructing the intellectual tradition of Social Darwinism. This is blogging as scholarship at its best. When it comes to intellectual history it is often rather easy to quote a particular passage or emphasize one aspect of a movement, and then leverage that in the furtherance of your argument. From what I can gather Eric seems to present “Social Darwinism” as a sloppy and incoherent set of ideas, more often attaining coherency in the reformulations of its antagonists than in consistency of vision set forth by its presumed luminaries. In other words, the cleanest intellectual history of Social Darwinism can be found by reading the movement’s antagonists.
To me the moral of the story of Social Darwinism is that conclusions will co-opt and concoct foundational justifications. Evolutionary biology has offered lessons for both libertarians and communitarians, and I think that tells us more about libertarians and communitarians than it does about evolutionary biology. We live in a world which is riddled with Whiggish presuppositions, but in many ways it seems that we still need to firm up our arguments with antique metaphysics. In some cases that foundation comes from religion; e.g., Christian socialism or Christian libertarianism are examples where political philosophies point to the same religious truths as their root. But for more secular individuals science can serve the same function. In 1900 the truths of evolutionary biology aligned rather curiously with the reigning orthodoxy of white racial supremacy and interracial competition. Today in the 21st century evolutionary genetics tells us that H. sapiens is a relatively homogeneous species, and in our biology there is an exception to the emphasis on the value of diversity. Often I feel that the history of ideas is actually a mask, fitted upon the true secret history of implicit assumptions which are dominant in the Zeitgeist of a particular period.