Sunday, May 09, 2010

An admixture of ignorance and venom

Should you ever encounter a person who needs a primer on that curious admixture of ignorance and venom known as “Katherine Kersten,” you couldn’t do much better than the proffer of a copy of what she wrote — I cannot call it a column out of a passing respect for actual journalists — in the Star Tribune today.

The theme of, well, what she wrote, is that Progressivism is bad. Of itself, that is the sort of standard theme for which Katie receives such wide and critical inattention. Her arguments in what she wrote this week, however, include some howlers that — if there is any justice in the world — will insure that she is never taken seriously anywhere, ever again.

Because Katie is best ingested in small doses, I’ll probably write about some of the howlers over a couple of days. But here’s one for today, just to kick things off.

According to Kersten, Social Darwinism  — a school of thought to which Progressives adhere, according to Katie — is the belief that:

Human beings and institutions must "adapt" as conditions change.

[sustained hysterical laughter]

Sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes. Sorry Katie, you have it about as wildly backwards as it is possible to get. Here’s a bit about a pre (biological)-Darwinist thinker, Herbert Spencer, who is credited with the idea of what would become known as Social Darwinism:

Herbert Spencer was thinking about ideas of evolution and progress before Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species (1859). Nonetheless, his ideas received a major boost from Darwin's theories and the general application of ideas such as "adaptation" and "survival of the fittest" to social thought is known as "Social Darwinism". It would be possible to argue that human evolution showed the benefits of cooperation and community. Spencer, and Social Darwinists after him took another view. He believed that society was evolving toward increasing freedom for individuals; and so held that government intervention, ought to be minimal in social and political life.

Here’s a except from a blog post by historian David Kaiser:

As promulgated by Herbert Spencer, Social Darwinism argued that history was the product of an unregulated struggle among individuals that was certain to produce better types of human beings and better outcomes for society. Attempts to control this process, he argued, were worse than useless, since the outcomes they produced would be both inferior and temporary. As Hofstadter [the author of a book on Social Darwinism that Kaiser is discussing] notes, this philosophy did not conflict with classical economics as it was then understood, and implicitly validated the growth of huge industries and rampant inequalities of wealth. At the other end of the specturm, Marx and Engels also seized upon Darwinism as a vindication of the idea of the class struggle. Geopolitical thinkers also began to see international politics as a struggle for survival among different races, leading to rampant, self-righteous imperialism and playing a major role in the coming of the two world wars. (I treated this at great length in Politics and War.) A similar Darwinist perspective, I would argue, is at work today, both in the domestic and international spheres, and is providing an intellectual and even moral legitimacy to drastic changes in domestic and international life.

Racism, eugenics, imperialism, apartheid, and laissez-faire capitalism are all the legitimate children of Social Darwinism. Progressivism ain’t even in the gene pool, Katie.

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