In Richard Striner’s final post on the history of Libertarianism, he examines the influence of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Then he briefly examines the rise of the current movement in the U.S. from Barry Goldwater to the present. In conclusion, he questions the viability of the rigid libertarian worldview that is based on an extreme form of individualism: “We prize our own liberty, true, and we will obviously struggle to defend it —— fiercely if we must —— when it is threatened. But to elevate government above all other possible threats to our liberty is hard to do when push comes to shove. When a natural disaster devastates the region in which we are living and reduces our homes to a shambles —— what then? If vicious thugs invade our homes, what instincts take over as we rush to respond to the invasion? Do we immediately think of warning all the agents of government to watch their step and avoid messing with us? Or do we call 911 and hope the agents of government arrive just as quickly as they can?”
In part II of his series on libertarianism, Richard Striner reviews the role of Social Darwinism. Before delving into the history Striner reminds his audience that “Darwin himself —— a fervent humanitarian and opponent of slavery —— got a bum rap in this association, since he neither coined the term ‘survival of the fittest’ nor advocated a social system based upon ruthless competition. Both the term ‘survival of the fittest’ and the doctrine of dog-eat-dog competition were promulgated by the British philosopher Herbert Spencer.” It is unfortunate that Darwin’s name became associated with this movement, because it has led to so much confusion about Darwin and his theory of natural selection. The movement should be called “Social Lamarckianism” since it was Lamarck’s theory that was the basis for Spencer’s theory that became known as Social Darwinism. But Darwin’s name was much more useful than the long forgotten Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). [For a great book on the relationship between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the subsequent rise of Neo-Lamarckianism see Peter J. Bowler’s The Eclipse of Darwinism.]
After reviewing this history my students still get this wrong on their exams. The belief that Darwin came up with both Social Darwinism and the term “survival of the fittest” persists no matter how many time I remind my students that it was Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), after all Darwin’s name is in the title!
Read part II of Stringer’s series here:
History News Network | When Libertarianism Became an Excuse for Plutocrats.
Herbert Spencer, proponent of Social Darwinism who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”
In the first of a three-part series, the historian Richard Striner traces the roots of libertarian ideology. He writes, “The cultural, intellectual, and political history of libertarianism spans at least two centuries. And several of the twists in the emergence of this ideology are surprising —— even strange.”
Based on Striner’s summary of the origins libertarianism, he’s right that some sources are “surprising,” but I don’t know about “strange.” Read the first part in this series here: History News Network | This Is Where Libertarianism Gets Its Ideas from.