Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Social Darwinism

I know Herbert Spencer, and Paul Ryan is no Herbert Spencer. Now if you went to Columbia and had Hofstadter or his spawn as an instructor then they may very well see any non-socialist policy as Social Darwinism.

As I wrote in a review in Amazon regarding a bio on Spencer:

Spencer was well read from the time he started to write through the 1930s. Then he was attacked unjustly by the left wing in American academia, centered at the time at Columbia University, a hotbed of Communists and Marxists. For it was in the mid 1940s that Spencer was vilified by the one-time Communist history professor at Columbia University, one Richard Hofstadter.

Hofstadter in his book Social Darwinism uses Spencer's ideas on Darwin in a somewhat self serving and twisted manner to attack both Spencer and the free market capitalism as it evolved over the century from 1850 to 1950. Hofstadter was well known in leftist circles as one who could readily take a few apparently disconnected points and with what could be at best described as shabby research methods produce polemics against the conservatives and right wing advocates in the body politic.

Hofstadter was also well know to write "soft" history, what we would expect in a New Republic piece, rather than hard academic history. Hofstadter was polemical in his style and greatly deficient in primary sources. He was all too often just a recorder of old press clippings using these as the window to the world he wanted the reader to see rather than addressing the reality via primary sources.

In a recent work by Prof. T. Leonard at Princeton University (See Origins of the Myth of Social Darwinism: The Ambiguous Legacy of Richard Hofstadter's Social Darwinism in American Thought ) Prof. Leonard states about Hofstadter and Spencer the following, while reviewing the issues in "Social Darwinism in American Thought", also called "SDAT":

"Richard Hofstadter, like many New York intellectuals in the 1930s, embraced radical reform. He joined Columbia University's Communist Party unit for a brief period in 1938. The more mature Hofstadter grew disenchanted with radical politics, indeed came to see it as hostile to scholarship. But SDAT, which revised his doctoral dissertation published in 1939, preserves Hofstadter's earlier world view, that of a precocious scholar, still much influenced by his mentors, Merle Curti and Charles Beard, who could say to close friends, "I hate capitalism and everything that goes with it" ... SDAT also bears the historiographic imprint of Beard's "rule" that historical interpretation must assume that "changes in the structure of social ideas wait on general changes in economic and social life" ... SDAT is thus sprinkled with unadorned Beardian claims, such as "Herbert Spencer and his philosophy were products of English Industrialism"..."

 Thus Ryan is no Spencer, but one must look towards the source.