This is a very comprehensive assault on the prevailing understanding of “social Darwinism.” Eric Michael Johnson’s essay is a bit too rambling at times, but it is very welcome and good reading nonetheless.
Readers of my book might remember that I have nothing but contempt for the term and the way it is used. The basic point is this: Social Darwinism — as advocated by its supposed creator Herbert Spencer — was essentially libertarian. Classical liberals like Spencer never embraced the term, it was used by progressive enemies of laissez-faire to denounce a hands-off approach to economics generally and the eugenic question in particular. The progressives — whom Eric Goldman called “reform Darwinists” — were the real eugenicists. But the reform Darwinists get airbrushed from history, while Spencer has been blamed for everything from American sterlization laws to Nazi horrors. It’s welcome news that this intellectual slander is finally unravelling.