Today George H. Smith presents us with the second part of his look at social Darwinism. This week he explores the thinking of Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, and shows how each explicitly repudiated the ideas so many today blame them for.
To associate market competition with biological competition is to misunderstand how Spencer and Sumner (and other classical liberals) viewed the market. Biological competition, in which one individual survives at the expense of other individuals, is a zero-sum game, whereas market competition is a positive-sum game in which all participants gain from voluntary cooperation. Therefore, it is precisely in a free society that social Darwinism does not apply. In a society with an advanced division of labor and where we must give others what they want in order to get what we want, the “fit” are those who can enlist the voluntary cooperation of others. When success depends upon persuasion rather than coercion, social fitness is measured by one’s ability to influence others by offering them something of value, i.e., by benefiting them.
Aaron Ross Powell a research fellow at the Cato Institute and editor of Libertarianism.org. Keep up with Aaron by following him on Facebook: