Battle of the "Embarrassing Grandparents": Racist Progressives vs. Herbert Spencer


Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University and a contributor to the popular liberal legal blog Balkinization, had a post over the weekend challenging libertarian critics of the Progressive Era, including me, to face libertarianism's "own embarrassing grandparents." Specifically, after admitting that "there is much truth" to libertarian arguments about the ugly racism enshrined into law by turn-of-the-century progressive reformers, Tamanaha argues that libertarian forerunner Herbert Spencer is equally problematic, since he "opposed all government aid to the poor and infirm because it thwarted the biological law that the weakest should die." Tamanaha also notes that Spencer coined the phrase "survival of the fittest," which he offers as further proof of Spencer's cold-hearted Social Darwinism.

While it's true that Herbert Spencer was a classical liberal and therefore favored maximizing individual rights while restricting government power, it is entirely incorrect to suggest that Spencer thought "the weakest should die." In fact, Spencer spent 10 chapters in his Principles of Ethics spelling out the importance of "Positive Beneficience," or private charity. In Social Statics, perhaps his most famous book, Spencer argued that "the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other" was an entirely "proper" response to the "severity" of the world. Spencer believed that private charity was an essential component of true liberalism.

As for the much-abused phrase "survival of the fittest," Tamanaha seems ignorant of what Spencer actually wrote. By fit, Spencer most certainly did not mean brute force. In Spencer's view, human society had evolved from a "militant" state, which was characterized by violence and force, to an "industrial" one, characterized by trade and voluntary cooperation. Thus any increase in private charity and "the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other" count as prime examples of the "survival of the fittest" as articulated by Spencer. As did the rise of labor unions, which Spencer supported—so long as they were voluntary—as a way to counteract the "harsh and cruel conduct" of employers.

It's also worth noting that Spencer holds up quite well on two issues that matter to today's progressives: feminism and anti-imperialism. Two decades before John Stuart Mill's feminist classic On the Subjection of Women first appeared, for example, Spencer advocated the complete legal and social equality of the sexes. And when it came to the imperialism of the European powers, including the shameful actions of his own government in Britain, Spencer attacked the imperialists for their "deeds of blood and rapine" against "subjugated races."

If anything, both today's libertarians and today's progressives should spend time reading Spencer. There's nothing to be embarrassed about.

NEXT: Can the Government Require You to Eat Asparagus?

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  1. Balkinization’s appeal completely baffles me. The contributors there are supposedly among the best the left-wing legal academy has to offer? Those people don’t have the intellectual candlepower to light a glove compartment.

    1. Can we get a confirmation on the “best and brightest” allegation? Caus it’d be frikkin awesome if it were true.

  2. But, but…. Libertarians are teh 3vi1!! Racist AND eeeevil!

  3. Tamanaha argues that libertarian forerunner Herbert Spencer is equally problematic, since he “opposed all government aid to the poor and infirm because it thwarted the biological law that the weakest should die.”

    Did he?

    In Social Statics, perhaps his most famous book, Spencer argued that “the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other” was an entirely “proper” response to the “severity” of the world. Spencer believed that private charity was an essential component of true liberalism.

    I thought so.

    All this makes Mr. Tamanaha a fucking liar. Who woulda thunk it???

    1. Now, now, you could equally argue he is just an ignoran,t pompous, liberal ass.

      1. I don’t know, I think we’re better served by not assuming he’s a liar/pompous liberal ass. It’s more proper to say he incorrectly rushed to get quotes from libertarian ancestors that sound equally bad as those from progressive ancestors. Read his responses to Michael Yuri after the post. They demonstrate an attempt to be fair to libertarians. He’s wrong to associate Friedman more closely with Mises than with Hayek, but he’s trying to be fair.

        His main problem is that he’s making statements about libertarians without a complete understanding of libertarian thought/history; this is a big problem when you’re trying to play the gotcha game with libertarian ancestors.

  4. Someone direct Roderick Long over there, he has smacked down more anti-Spencer idiots than anyone alive, with the possible exception of George H. Smith.

    1. I’m pretty sure that (1) I saw Roderick Long talk at an institution-formerly-known-as-IOS seminar, and (2) that he turned me on to Spencer at that time.

    2. +1776, I’d love to see him wipe the floor with the fucking shithead who wrote all that crap. Not that Mr Root did a poor job or anything.

  5. This is a meaningful debate I enjoy reading and worth having – bring forth the blind scorn for progressives

  6. I think I’m realizing what about libertarians terrifies/enrages the leftists.

    Libertarians can actually defend–easily–the morality of their philosophy. Leftists cannot. But their entire identity is that they are the most moral, the most enlightened. And the existence of libertarians is a painful, constant reminder that there are people who can and do stick to moral principle, which they like to think of themselves as doing, but can easily, effortlessly be shown to have not.

    As Tamanaha shows, they flail around trying to pull libertarians down to their level, because they inherently know that they can’t rise to the libertarians’.



        Mustn’t forget those.

        1. And CHEAP CHINESE CRAP.

          Or is that Choad? I stopped attending to their differences long ago.

          1. you left out SOMALIA!

            1. And of course, the squirrels.

      2. In the interest of accuracy, I would just like to take this opportunity to point out that you omitted a GOOBA…

    2. That would explain the need to use strawmen and out and out fabrications on the part of many on the left. Their unwillingness to confront libertarianism as it actually is suggests that perhaps they know they have no good arguments against it.

      1. Their strawmen and distortions are also very telling, as they are merely projections of the capitalist boogeyman that seems to pervade the consciousness of every leftist; essentially the guy from Monopoly mercilessly crushing the workers as in The Jungle.

        When you have to turn your opponents into the same boogeyman, no matter how totally incorrect that caricature is, you are completely intellectually bankrupt, and it shows.

        But I’m going to go buy a monocle anyway.

        1. What a load of projection Epi. You guys cannot exist except in a place of opposition to evil liberals who want to grow government to control all aspects of life.

          Most liberals don’t care about you, because you’re irrelevant. You have to cozy up to theocratic boobs to get any attention, and they don’t like you either.

          Because, ta da, you are the caricature we paint you as. You are intellectual extremists. Sometimes you manage scraps of nuance, but you don’t really like to talk about it because the crux of your philosophy is obedience to first principles that must be true because they are simple.

          1. The most simple answer is usually the right answer.

            There is nothing more simple than live and let live.

            Nothing more simple than, what I do to myself on my own time with other consenting humans is none of your business.

            I accept the idea that as a libertarian I am “simple”

            Its not even an insult.

            I did notice your lack of any rebuttal in this little rant Tony… just saying.

            1. The most simple answer is usually the right answer.

              I presume this is a distortion of Occam’s Razor, which says we shouldn’t have more explanations for phenomena than we need, not that simpler is always better. Human life and society are complex. “Live and let live” is not a philosophy of living, it’s a trite saying. How does “live and let live” determine property boundaries? Or treaties? And what if someone else doesn’t want to “let live”?

              what I do to myself on my own time with other consenting humans is none of your business.

              I agree totally with this, but what about the say 80% of the time when what you do affects other people? Walk outside your front door and you’re going to run into other people with their own interests. People require formal means to facilitate interaction with one another, from basic etiquette to national governments depending on scope. There is nothing simple about the interactions of 3 people, let alone 3 hundred million. There are many aspects of this complexity that are totally arbitrary, say from custom alone, but still valuable as long as people agree about it.

              Simplicity may be a virtue, but I don’t see why it’s obviously so. It seems more likely that simplicity is just simple, and that’s why it’s appealing.

              1. “How does “live and let live” determine property boundaries? Or treaties? And what if someone else doesn’t want to “let live”?”

                It’s almost as if Tony doesn’t spend time on reason.com, where these questions are answered over and over again by the libertarians here.

                Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason you have caricatures is because you continually ignore or fail to understand libertarianism? And it’s not from lack of us trying to explain it to you. You don’t want to or have the ability to learn about ideas that threaten your status quo.

              2. “I agree totally with this, but what about the say 80% of the time when what you do affects other people?”

                So, chony, what do you do when you *BREATHE OTHER PEOPLE’S AIR*?
                Sorry, your ‘say 80%’ is horseshit.

                1. hellermexironoopy,

                  You collectively agree to keep it clean and breathable, for one.

              3. ‘Hope and Change’ is not a philosophy of living, it’s a trite saying.”

                There, that’s much better.

              4. Tony,

                You’re missing the point. Of course people will need to negotiate the complex day-to-day interactions. But a basic premise of libertarianism is that such negotiations should be done as locally as possible, where the people involved have the most information about the situation and the best incentives to get the answer right. In other words, libertarianism is far BETTER suited to meeting the complexities of the world than various top down, command-and-control approaches.

          2. Sockpuppet troll is sockpuppeting.

            1. Did that even count as trolling? I thought it was just weak left-wing-strawmanning. It is, unfortunately, often hard to tell the difference though.

          3. Most liberals don’t care about you, because you’re irrelevant.

            Somehow I think we all wish you fit into this category, you fucking idiot.

            Tony, you are about as much fun as getting queefed in the face from a girl with a yeast infection.

            1. That sounds unpleasant.

              I’m not most liberals. I don’t like circle jerks, so I prefer to talk to you guys. And believe it or not, you are the most rational right-wingers on the Internet. Take that how you will.

              1. Saying “I’m not most liberals” because you troll libertarian websites as you beat your cock raw doesn’t change your belief system. You have not once engaged in an honest debate where you didn’t have to immediately resort to ad hominem attacks and strawmen. At least not one that I can remember.

                You are the same Tony. Only your location for posting your gibberish is different than most lib/progs.

                And you still never answered my question from yesterday, douche.

                1. I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m willing to engage in honest debate with people who do not immediately blackball me as a “statist” or authoritarian because I believe in universal healthcare.

                  The question about Obama’s accomplishments? I gave you a facebook page! Google “Obama accomplishments” and take a look at some of the lists. I appreciate that most of his accomplishments are to you guys evil statist incursions on freedom. He’s still put most of his predecessors to shame with regard to achievements in the first half of a first term, even with a totally opposed opposition party. It’s what was prevented that counts most: a second great depression. Not that you’ll give him credit for that. Do you see the pointlessness of me listing accomplishments? What I call accomplishments you call setbacks, or pretend didn’t happen at all.

                  1. Yeah, you gave me a facebook page that lists things “in progress” or “pledged” or other such nonsense.

                    Hell, the first thing listed is: The Act included $500 million to help the Social Security Administration reduce its backlog in processing disability applications.

                    So he gives a half a billion dollars to an agency that can’t do it’s work. An accomplishment to me would have been been him firing the entire staff of the SSA because they needed an influx of A HALF A BILLION DOLLARS to process applications.

                    And the whole “He prevented a depression” thing has got to be part of a stand-up routine. There are as many economists saying the stimulus was a waste of money as there are those touting it’s success. Since we can’t run a controlled experiment and see what would have happened otherwise, I don’t think it’s a fair claim by you. It’d be like saying Stalin was better than Hitler because Hitler may have killed more people than Stalin if the Germans had won the war. We’ll. never. fucking. know. so stop using that as an example.

                    Geez, you at least accomplish your goal of irritating people because every time I see one of your posts, I go into a blind rage. And I typically wouldn’t wish ill on anyone, but I sincerely hope you get some hybrid ebola/aids/syphillis super disease that causes you to slowly rot to death with excruciating pain all day for a year.


                    1. sloopy seek help.

                      The president’s political problems have precisely to do with the fact that it’s hard to sell “it could have been worse.” But it’s simply a fact. Economists are not split evenly on the issue of whether we faced a severe economic downturn. Half a million or more jobs lost a month is not just a blip. And government policies under Bush and Obama turned it around to at least contain the bleeding. Life isn’t perfect, but why the fuck should a libertarian who thinks government can’t do anything right expect it to be?

                    2. Meh, you should just give up, sloopy. Obviously, you don’t want to give Obama any positive praise because he’s black. Bill Maher said so, tonight, on MSNBC, so it must be true.

                  2. I believe in universal healthcare.

                    And I believe Santa Claus will be giving everyone in the world a pony this Christmas. Amazingly enough reality does not tend to comply with my beliefs. It might comply with yours through sufficient application of the threat of deadly force. It’s a bit odd that you need to threaten to shoot people for health care, though…

                    1. Funny Brian because it happens in just about every modern state. The only fucking reason anyone is against universal healthcare is because they work for a health insurance company or they’re an idiotic libertarian dupe who works for them for free.

                    2. But remember, I don’t do strawmen!

                    3. I do strawmen, but only if they’re really hung.

                  3. Tony|10.19.10 @ 8:38PM|#
                    “I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m willing to engage in honest debate with people who do not immediately blackball me as a “statist” or authoritarian because I believe in universal healthcare.”

                    So, if people are willing to agree that evidence of your total ignorance is sort of OK, you’re willing to deal with them?
                    Glad to hear it.

                  4. Hey Tony, remember the time when I proved in detail that if every individual making a career average of $25000 a year could set aside 12% of their income instead of that money going into payroll taxes, that person would retire with far more money than they will ever make back from Social Security – even without investing in teh evil stock market? Remember your response? Oh yeah, I don’t, because it was SILENCE.

                    But next time you’re interested in engaging in intellectual debate, let me know in advance whether I should waste my time.

            2. glad i had finished eating before I read that…

          4. Most liberals care about us so little that they spill pages and pages of ink about us.

            1. There does seem to be quite an uptick in the mention of libertarians from both left and right.

          5. Most liberals don’t care about you, because you’re irrelevant.

            Are you one of the special left wing nut job who does care about us?

            Also if no one cares why do they blog about us so much?

            One last thing. You are not a liberal. Liberals believe in minimizing the power of the state and maximizing individual liberty.

            Libertarians are liberals.

          6. Most liberals don’t care about you, because you’re irrelevant.

            At 13,400 Team Blue seems to be not caring about Libertarians an awful lot. The official Team Blue site puts also dedicates a lot of bandwidth to shit they don’t careabout. Interesting.

          7. In this particular case, “scraps of nuance” = “intellectual dishonesty”.

          8. We are intellectual extremists.”

            There, that’s more like it.

    3. To be fair, our entire political identity is also based on being the most moral. It’s just that we have fucking brains and thought about it a little (or alot) before we went all in. Plus I think most libertarians have gone all in more than once, and had to dig their way out and do some actual serious rethinking.

    4. Don’t get worn out patting yourselves on the back, guys. While leftist philosophy is indeed an incoherent mess, there are plenty of ugly seams in the libertarian cloak as well.

      And regardless…libertarians seem content to post their position on a message board and be done with it, while liberals have managed (unfortunately) to implement their philosophy in the real world.

      1. Maybe we could offer people free shit. Seems to work for the two parties.

        1. + a refried bean burrito with the trimmings. Was it yesterday, Tulpa gave an example of an anti-libertarian site that he considered offering a disciplined well thought out counter argument and it turned out to be the same puerile shit the left has been waddling in for a good eighty years now? Well, I trusted you, Tulpa, and then I verified. Guess what? You lost that trust.

    5. I actually I have thought about this subject quite a bit.

      The libertarian philosophy is not at all discordant or disagreeable with another person’s beliefs. It does not compel anyone to do anything they do not want to do. So long as you leave me alone, I will leave you alone, and we can exist in that state in perpetuity until we agree to work together or to cooperate. We may each separately want something from the other, but because we also both believe that we are both free and autonomous there is nothing inconsistent between your views and mine and no one has to “win” for the philosophy to be validated. We’re both right.

      Modern liberalism (and conservatism, for that matter) on the other hand, requires, at some point, compulsion of other human beings to manifest itself. Somewhere somehow, in order to make things “work” someone is going to have to do something that he does not want to do. An egg will need to be broken, in other words, even if you claim to believe that eggs should never be broken.

      I think this is close to what you mean by “morally consistent”, no?

      1. I can agree with this, but what I was getting at is that leftists will sell out their supposed principles in a moment if it’s for solidarity (since they are inherently collectivist) or for achieving a goal (for instance, if a civil liberty has to be violated to gain a “greater good”, they’ll do it in a second). So they are not at all morally consistent, for if they claim to believe in something but then violate it…well, then they’re not morally consistent.

        Libertarians, on the other hand, are consistently derided specifically for sticking to their principles, even if it makes them look kooky or they can get slammed for it (usually through intentional misinterpretation). If you think about it, both the left and the right mock libertarians constantly for actually having moral consistency.

        So basically, they know, and we know, that libertarians are vastly, vastly more morally consistent than any partisan scumbag, and it makes their claims to any moral superiority laughable. And since this claim is very important to leftists’ entire self image, it drives them nuts.

        Which I love, personally. I hope their fucking heads explode.

      2. Stop being such an intellectual extremist. That’s racist.

  7. Bravo for writing this, Damon. I have long thought that Spencer was the first libertarian victim of the lying lefty slime machine. Sadly, he was not the last. I’ll link to this on my blog if I can find the time.

  8. How long does it take to type out an html link? You must be really busy.

  9. As much as I enjoy skewering lefties for their sordid intellectual history, I cannot help but remember that my own grandmother still refers to black people as “negro chaps” (let’s use it in a sentence: “Well, dear, he seems like a nice, clean negro chap.”) and my great aunt once loudly asked on a crowded SkyTrain in Vancouver, “Are we in China?”.

    But then I remember that I don’t use crazy oldies as the basis for a political philosophy to impose on others, and I feel a lot better.

    1. I think though, that in the case of the Progressives, racism wasn’t simply and incidental throwaway part of their philosophy, it was an integral factor in shaping their ideology. This is not to say that modern Progressives are racists, merely that they could be racists and actively pursue racist policies without compromising any of their core principals. A racist libertarian (yes, they exist) not only is at complete odds with his intellectual heritage, he also is, as a libertarian obliged not to pursue racist policy objectives.

    2. I believe the politically correct term is “oldsters”.

    3. I think there was another thread about this sometime back. My mom is European, so everyone’s cultural and racial history is somehow germain to the conversation or situation at hand.

      Well, he is Ukranian, you know.

      1. I have been mildly taken aback when, on the East Coast (esp. NYC), I find myself constantly fielding questions about “what” I am (Russian, Swedish & I think Ukranian have all been guesses). Never happens in the PNW, though, & I’m not sure why.

        1. Story on This American Life about a kid who was born of a black father and white mother. Born in the East Coast. He didn’t know his father was black… his mother told him he was Italian. Anyhoo, one of the little details of his story was that when he lived out East, like you, he constantly had to field questions about “what he was”. When he went to school on the west coast, no one seemed to care.

          I’m so way past figuring out what people “are”. And where I live, it’d be impossible to figure out anyway.

          1. What I can’t understand is, is it that hard to hate people as individuals?

            1. I’m too lazy for that. I just hate everyone. Spend a few minutes with me and I might get motivated to find a specific reason why I hate you, though.

              1. I like you.

        2. … just answer “Canadian”… I do.

        3. Never happens in the PNW, though, & I’m not sure why.

          Because the guys there are more interested in just screwing you? Just a guess.

          1. Or because you’re either Canuck or Chinese in the PNW. It’s not necessary to ask when the question can be answered by looking at the shape of your eyes.

            I keed. I keed.

          2. “Never happens in the PNW, though, & I’m not sure why”. I think a lot of it is generational in the sense of how many generations the bulk of the locals are removed from when their families immigrated. I am a second generation American as are most of the people in the Midwestern melting pot that I grew up in. It was just natural to ask somebody “what are you?”. My name ends in “vich” so I was always asked if I was Russian or Polish(?) or what (I’m American with Croatian ancestry).

    4. Jeesus thats the most racist thing any of your grandparents said? I’d repeat some of my grandparents much worse shit, but some of the racist cooties would rub off on me just for typing it.

    5. “she was just an old timer, that’s the way people talked back then! Didn’t mean they were racist… Although my grandmother did refer to a broken beer bottle once as a nigger knife… You know, come to think of it, my grandmother was kind of a racist. “

      1. Clerks 2?

        1. You’d have to be as blind as Anne Frank to not know that.

          1. Shit. Good thing I knew that then. I like seein.

      2. Taking back porch monkey?

      3. Best clerks line ever.

        “Try not to suck any dick on your way through the parking lot…”

  10. He probably would’ve made a better case with Ayn Rand.

    1. Maybe, but some of the most trenchant critiques of Rand have proffered by libertarians.

  11. My general view is that if you go far back enough, everyone’s “grandparents” are embarassing, when held in context against modern social mores and ethics.

    1. Is that why Robert Byrd got a pass for so long?
      Or Harry Reid?
      Or Jessie Jackson?
      Or Joe Biden?
      Or Al Sharpton?

      Shit, the list goes on and on and on.

  12. I didn’t realize that libertarians looked to Herbert freaking Spencer as some sort of intellectual predecessor.

    1. Have you ever actually read Spencer? If so, it wouldn’t be that surprising.

      Man vs. the State? Hello?

      1. Man vs. the State? Hello?

        I don’t get it.

        1. Um, it was a collection of essays by Spencer? You can kind of guess from the title that it’s at least libertarianish in its content?

          1. But… Man vs. State? Why would man be against something trying to help him? This does not compute.

            1. Why would man be against something trying to help him?

              Stalin was trying to help Russia

      2. No, I haven’t read him. He’s not someone I have heard much about, no one seems to talk about him much, and so it didn’t seem to me that libertarians thought of him at all.

        1. Spencer was a contemporary and friend of Charles Darwin. His ideas which have been misinterpreted and referred to as “social Darwinism” actually predate Darwin’s writings on biological evolution. A third hand caricature of Spencer is a convenient target for statists of all stripes, though if they had to confront the man’s actual writing they would be less capable of mustering a critique.

        2. Actually reading Spencer is interesting. It’s like actually reading what modern libertarians write instead of getting the retard summation from The Nation or New Republic or anyone else who doesn’t have a clue.

        3. I read something called Sociology Ethics(or something like that) a long time ago. I remember it being kind of boring, but I was like 21. Have to reread it.

          Also, I have been reading on and off for a couple of years, one called Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy. This one is a positive critique of Spencer’s work, possibly written by a student of his. It dwells a lot about science, evolution, and other things.

          1. As Trespassers W mentioned above, read The Man Versus the State. Good stuff.

      3. He’s the original Bear Gryls?

    2. For me, personally, “predecessor” might be a slight overstatement. But he at least deserves respect as a original* and clear thinker. And he his clearly one of the earliest examples of a guy who gas been slimed by the progessive hate machine.

      *to the extent that any thiinker can really be original … newton,shoulders,giants,yada yada yada.

  13. I didn’t realize that libertarians looked to Herbert freaking Spencer as some sort of intellectual predecessor.

    The ones who’ve read his work often do, and the ones who only know it by its almost wholly fictional reputation don’t.

    1. My point exactly.

  14. How long before they’ll be quoting Richard Hofstadter’s book on Social Darwinism and William Graham Sumner??!

    1. Probably what Tamanaha was referencing when he wrote this garbage. He just assumed the man who gave us the Paranoid Style could not possibly have been a partisan hack. Hey Professor T., you were lied to, hun. If I were you, just to clear your conscious, I would apologize for spreading propaganda unworthy of someone in my professional position paid to give qualitative analysis and not pure shit, willingly or unwillingly, and then I would be very upset that I was lied to.

  15. And Spencer’s conclusion to that section was:

    At first sight these considerations seem conclusive against all relief to the poor?voluntary as well as compulsory; and it is no doubt true that they imply a condemnation of whatever private charity enables the recipients to elude the necessities of our social existence. With this condemnation, however, no rational man will quarrel. That careless squandering of pence which has fostered into perfection a system of organized begging?which has made skilful mendicancy more profitable than ordinary manual labour?which induces the simulation of palsy, epilepsy, cholera, and no end of diseases and deformities?which has called into existence warehouses for the sale and hire of impostor’s dresses?which has given to pity-inspiring babes a market value of 9d. per day?the unthinking benevolence which has generated all this, cannot but be disapproved by every one. Now it is only against this injudicious charity that the foregoing argument tells. To that charity which may be described as helping men to help themselves, it makes no objection?countenances it rather. And in helping men to help themselves, there remains abundant scope for the exercise of a people’s sympathies. Accidents will still supply victims on whom generosity may be legitimately expended. Men thrown upon their backs by unforeseen events, men who have failed for want of knowledge inaccessible to them, men ruined by the dishonesty of others, and men in whom hope long delayed has made the heart sick, may, with advantage to all parties, be assisted. Even the prodigal, after severe hardship has branded his memory with the unbending conditions of social life to which he must submit, may properly have another trial afforded him. And, although by these ameliorations the process of adaptation must be remotely interfered with, yet in the majority of cases, it will not be so much retarded in one direction as it will be advanced in another.

    So there’s the moral justification: that aid should be voluntary. It should compel people to productive work, aid those who fall victim to extreme misfortune, or even grant people second chances.

    If you have to make up something about “oppos[ing] all government aid to the poor and infirm because it thwarted the biological law that the weakest should die,” you really, really have nothing.

    1. But all those big word are just the tool of the racist, homophobic, patriarchy. You don’t expect any actual progressivies to read them, do you?

      1. Nope. They’re busy reading progressive criticism of it and they’ll call it a day.

        It’s like understanding Beowulf by reading the criticism but not fucking Beowulf.

        1. Only STEVE SMITH can fuck Beowulf.

        2. Beowulf sure gets around for a dead guy.

  16. OK, OK, so the liberal/progressive says early libertarians were racists because they vaguely supported social darwinism? Let’s leave alone the fact that that was not what Spencer was getting at, and go to the point of what they (lib/progs) are saying:

    Survival of the fittest=racism, where Spencer never addressed race. That to me says lib/progs consider blacks to be inferior, and therefore without the benevolence of the state, they would die off as a race.

    Wow! How can black people ignore that for at least the past 80 years that they have been considered sub-standard humans by the establishment left? It boggles the mind, I tell ya.

    1. That’s what I got too! If you ain’t fit you must be… (fill in the appropriate race for the place and times)

    2. The Left usually couches it in terms of the American culture being generally against them, their arguments for affirmative action programs assume that blacks cannot aceive in this country without government putting its fingers on the scales because of their race. They merely changed the focus from finding a way to get rid of the black problem to patronizing contempt.

  17. Damon gets a +2112 for this piece. If I’d had the time, I would have responded just this way when I saw the Spencer shot in the original article.

    Of course it’s not going to change the Spencer stereotype anymore than the oodles of times libertarians have tried to show that Herbert Hoover’s failings were the product of his Progressivism and not his non-existent commitment to laissez-faire.

    1. 2112 was great. I prefer Permanent Waves though.

        1. Fucking links to A F T K, or 2112 (1).

        2. 2112 (2), and 2112 (3), might be beneficial.

          Lazy assholes.

  18. 1759 – “Theory of Moral Sentiments”

    Our great, great grandparent took care of this 17 years before he wrote “Wealth of Nations”. Invisible hand and all…

    I guess that’s what I don’t get about the criticism of libertarians as “Social Darwinist”. I suppose there’s something to that, if you concede that our libertarian great, great grandfather essentially saw morality, rights and concern for his fellow man as the ultimate social adaptation.

    1. But who cares when you harken to premodern, prescientific social theorists? I don’t go around talking about how Aristotle had these great ideas for how we should live man! Figures like Smith are of historical importance but are hardly cutting edge. Not everything that is to be figured out was done so prior to the 19th century, least of all with regard to the question of how people should live.

      1. Argument from anti-authority??? Good one. +1 troll experience points. Only 329 more points til you go up a level.

      2. So tell us, Tony. what “advances” have come about in the last century regarding how we should live.

        Since man continues to advance technologically, you can leave those parts out, BTW.

        1. Economic justice, for one. I’m sure you agree.

          1. Yeah, because Smith never talked about issues of justice. PUH-lease.

            You’ll learn more about modern human society from reading WoN and TMS than you will from the sum of the books on politics and economics written in the last 10 years, if not more.

            But when it’s easier to stick to a caricature of what classical liberalism says, why bother eh Tony?

          2. No, I don’t agree with you, Mao, and Stalin.

          3. If by economic justice, you mean progressive taxation, confiscation of wealth and consolidation of wealth by the state, then I’d have to disagree that it was a good thing.

            If by creation of trade organizations and collective bargaining for wages, free markets took care of that centuries earlier. Hell, the guys building the Pharoahs tombs went on strike for better conditions and wages. Regarding economic justice as a legal term, the Constitution pretty well guarantees an equal playing field, which was fully realized with the 14th.

            Oh, but you’re concerned with equal results as opposed to equal opportunities. Which [ding ding ding] makes you a statist.

          4. You do seem to kinda be missing the whole point, Tony.

            The point being that libertarians have been all about rights and benevolence and the good of their fellow man from the get go.

            That’s sort of the whole fundamental concept of libertarianism in a nutshell–you can’t separate a person’s rights from the person they belong to. …since they’re the same thing. That’s why we’re fundamentally opposed to Progressives–since they seem to think individual rights should only be respected if they win a popularity contest.

            To libertarians, rights and people are the same thing. You can see other, obvious foundation concepts behind it too; do unto others as you would have them do unto you? That’s a pretty libertarian sentiment actually… Would I want the government to discriminate against me if I were gay? Any way you slice it, there’s a similar strain of morality running all throughout libertarianism.

            And the morality has always been there. Always.

          5. You do stupid so well.

      3. As opposed to the “Hard Science” of the progressive eugenicists?

        1. Indeed. As Cynical points out below, THEY are the ones who took all that Darwin stuff quite literally and thought they could use science to create a better (i.e., full of white folks like them) society. Quite an advance on the analytical egalitarianism of Smith and Mill, wouldn’t you say?

          1. I’ve read that Darwin was reading both Malthus and “Wealth of Nations” on the Beagle, when he was anchored off of the Galapagos, and he was trying to reconcile the two. Started walking around looking at blue-footed this and red-footed that… And suddenly it all made sense.

            Regardless, it has always seemed astounding to me that the social darwinists who came after Darwin disregarded “Theory of Moral Sentiments”.

            If the guy that Darwinism is named for based some of his original observations on someone who wrote, essentially, a whole book about how morals, ethics and rights are an infinitely complicated product of myriad social adaptation–that they’re the greatest of social adaptations…

            I guess people still ignore “Wealth of Nations”; why not ignore “Theory of Moral Sentiments” too? I’ve often argued that true to being a social adaptation, our featuring rights prominently in our culture gave us a distinct advantage over Imperial Japan, the Third Reich and the USSR. In fact, featuring rights prominently, and those competitors specifically lacking that adaptation, could be argued to be the very reason we relegated those Progressive like movements* to ash bin of history.

            Anybody who understood what Smith was writing in 1759 understood that. Hearing Obama talk about all the personal sacrifices we were supposed to make for the common Progressive good over the past couple of years, I was getting worried everyone had forgotten what we used to know. But the culture of individual rights instinctively stood up for itself again…

            There’s still reason to be optimistic.

            *Yeah, if Progressivism isn’t about sacrificing individual rights for the alleged common good, then what is it about?

          2. Who is they?

      4. Tony demonstrates the anti-intellectual strain of the Left. Any thinker who lived more than a few decades ago is irrelevant. Rejecting the wisdom that human nature has no history and sound basic philosophy rarely becomes irrelevent to the human condition of the present.

        1. +?.

          Exception: The only dead old dead white guy allowed to have an opinion on society is Marx.

          1. Don’t forget Jeremy Bentham! Jeremy Bentham, bitches! I read the summary on the back cover of the Penguin edition of his work. It sounded TOTALLY awesome. I bought it, and I have been meaning to read it. One day I WILL read it!

            1. Enjoy your stay at the panopticon.

      5. Figures like Smith are of historical importance but are hardly cutting edge.

        When dipshit “modern” politicians start spouting off mercantilist rhetoric in 2010, Adam Smith becomes cutting edge. Why? He’s still fucking right. The dipshits are still wrong.

        1. Exactly.

          They still don’t get it.

          They really should go back and read it again.

          It’s like arguing math with people who can’t add, subtract, multiply or divide. Yeah, I know, we’re always bringing up basic Algebra and those guys are tired of it–but we keep bringing it up ’cause they still don’t get it.

          DEMAN KURV!

        2. You know what it’s like?

          It’s like if Creationists said, all you Darwinists are still bringing up Darwinism–and that’s so 1856!

          If Creationists Progressives want to get up to speed? That might be a good place to start.


          P.S. Yes, Tony, I’m comparing Progressives to Creationists.

          1. You’re an idiot. All I want from any explanatory scheme for human behavior is some numbers to back shit up. Adam Smith is short on them. So is everyone else you guys worship.

            1. You’re an idiot. All I want from any explanatory scheme for human behavior is some numbers to back shit up. Adam Smith is short on them. So is everyone else you guys worship.

              If anyone still thinks Tony is for real after reading the above remark, I will punch you.

            2. Poor Tony. He pretends to be an empiricist when arguing with rationalists, but in his heart of Team Blue hearts, he is a utopian.

              1. POW! Right in the taint!

            3. If I’m understanding you right, you want a quantitative model that will predict all human behavior–either that or Adam Smith was wrong?

              That’s like suggesting that if I can’t explain the biochemistry behind respiration and digestion, then there’s no way to be really sure I need nutrients and oxygen to survive and thrive.

              Start with the basics, Tony. You don’t need to know how a carburetor works in order to drive a car. People used pulleys for centuries before Newton created equations for gravity.

              I hope some of this is seeping through.

        3. When dipshit “modern” politicians start spouting off mercantilist rhetoric in 2010, Adam Smith becomes cutting edge. Why? He’s still fucking right. The dipshits are still wrong.

          A Secular Order? Heaven forbid! What of the Great God Demos? You libertarians would just leave the human race out in the wilderness with no protection!

      6. Tony|10.19.10 @ 8:19PM|#
        “Figures like Smith are of historical importance but are hardly cutting edge.”

        Yep, and that old bag Newton has, well, been proven right.
        Sorry, bozo, the basis of a science may be modified to increase its accuracy, but it is still the basis.

        1. Let me put it more bluntly. There was Smith, then there was Keynes. Keynes won.

          1. You’ve once again mistaken “dumbly” for “bluntly”.

            1. JI. can I have a word with you? See this –

              Tony|10.19.10 @ 8:11PM|#

              If you ignore me I’ll go away. Along with half the post count on this site.

              You too can make it happen.

              Oh, almost forgot. POW! Right in the taint!

          2. Fuck Keynes. And fuck anyone who believes the shit he created out of his brain.

          3. Let me put it bluntly to you, Galileo:

            There was Aristarchus, then there was Ptolemy. Ptolemy won.

          4. Surely you can’t be that stupid. It was Keynes vs Hayek, and Hayek won.


          5. “Let me put it more bluntly. There was Smith, then there was Keynes. Keynes won.”

            How does the existence of the liquidity trap refute Adam Smith?

            When I read what you write, it makes me wonder if Keynes believed what you seem to think he believed.

            You know who else I’ve seen describe people who refuse to believe in Adam Smith as being like modern Creationists?

            Paul Krugman.

            “Krugman has advocated free markets in contexts where they are often viewed as controversial. He has written against rent control in favor of supply and demand,[128] argued that “sweatshops” are preferable to unemployment,[28] challenged minimum wage and living wage laws,[129] likened the opposition against free trade and globalization to the opposition against evolution via natural selection,[130] opposed farm subsidies[131] and mandates, subsidies, and tax breaks for ethanol,[132] questioned NASA’s manned space flights,[133] and written against some aspects of European labor market regulation.[134][135]


            I think you’re maligning Keynesian Economics by some of things you’re praising it for–things it maybe doesn’t actually say.

            1. Ken,
              Have you been paying attention over the past few years? Tony doesn’t know Adam Smith from Harry Houdini, nor Keynes from Michael Cain for that matter, or if he does he chooses to play dumb to keep the punch line going. The one thing that is self evident is he has your number and he can push your buttons any way his heart desires.

              1. Oh noes!

                I fell for an elaborate hoax and defended free minds and free markets!

                And I’ll do it again unless somebody stops me.

                And again.

  19. Herbert Spencer is the bomb! One thing I noticed about Spencer – no matter where I dove in at random in any of his writings, they made complete sense to me. He was an admirably clear thinker and espouser of ideas. A titan. I’m now fantasizing about him running on the 2012 Republican ticket. Mutton chop sideburns and everything. My God, would he clean Obama’s clock in debate. He’d clean everyone’s clock.

    One of my demi-gods, for sure.

  20. Anyone who is morally outraged by “survival of the fittest” is ignorant of evolutionary theory. By definition a “fitter” individual is simple one that is better able to live and produce offspring in a given environment. Changing the environment only changes the characteristics that make a person fit. There is still survival of the fittest in a centralized economy. In that environment, the people most adept at applying brute force and political power for personal gain will have the most influence on the next generation.

    1. double plus good!

  21. One problem is that progressives and socialists deliberately confuse two different concepts called social darwinism (even though one would more informatively be called human darwinism).

    The first, and the one that Spencer is more well known for, is the ideas that societies are subject to evolutionary pressures just like organisms. This isn’t scary or even terribly objectionable — arguably it could be considered a consequence of the theories of memetic evolution put forward by Dawkins, et al.

    The other concept, also called social darwinism, is that lower-class people should be prevented from breeding, killed, or left to die because they suck so hard. While libertarian and conservative calls for “personal responsibility” tend to end up with the same result when taken to the extreme, libertarians tend to focus on the unjustified negative impact on the individuals who are punished because other people fucked up, whereas conservatives are more likely to look at the long-term social consequences of bailout culture, which is more in line with social darwinism (although both tend to indulge in a bit of the other’s shtick at times).

    But both forms of anti-sympathetic thought should be distinguished from eugenic thought, where a group of enlightened people decide on a definition of “fit” and impose it on society through the use of a powerful central government. That sort of hybris historically belongs to progressives and their ideological cousins. If we’re “social darwinists”, they’re “social creationists”, though they envision themselves in the role of Creator.

    1. The whole straw-man progressives paint of social Darwinism misses the fact that reciprocal altruism is a product of evolution. All sorts of animals help others outside of their immediate kin group. Humans just happen to exhibit the most reciprocal altruism and, because we have higher level intelligence, have maximized the concept with capitalism (trade being mutually beneficial sounds an awful lot like reciprocal altruism).

      The whole “selfish and cruel” nature of evolution is a giant mis-characterization by people who think intentions are required for the “needy” to receive help from the “well-off.”

      1. Some people have problems with the term “reciprocal”, because it suggests that people can prove themselves unworthy of altruism after a certain point if they just leech off other people. This is entirely fair, but it can be hard to accept for softies who don’t clearly and directly carry the burden of moochers.

  22. R.T. Long : “I don’t know what it is about Herbert Spencer that brings out the worst in cultural historians; but the tendency to recycle the same bizarre, age-old smears against him, without ever checking the facts, remains firmly entrenched. Spencer, it seems, is a ready-made scapegoat, attacked because others have made it fashionable to attack him; and few bother to read what the man actually wrote, because “everybody knows” that his ideas, whatever they were, were inhuman and worthless.”

    See here : http://www.lewrockwell.com/long/long10.html

  23. “anti-imperialism”


    yeahhhh Obama closed all our military bases everywhere!


  24. I’ll never vote GOP because if they get their way for very long they will impose a Christian theocracy on us all. So who is on my ballot? Jack Conway? I’m sure his attack ads questioning Rand Paul’s purity as a Christian is just a means of advancing the Progressive Cause so we have to bend our principles a little to get there. He sure reminds me of a handsome young JFK. Definitely Conway in November!

    1. Don’t worship Jack Conway and his false god. Worship the Aqua Buddha.

      1. Then I would no longer be the Ultimate Loser. If I can’t compete for first might as well come in last.

  25. Nice thread (not you Tony).
    Enough Herbert Spencer to get up to speed. http://mises.org/literature.as…..mp;Id=1021 Mises rocks.

  26. You forgot to mention that the older Spencer largely came to his senses on feminism. In his Principles of Ethics in the section “Political Rights So-Called,” he laid out a cogent argument against expanded suffrage, pointing out correctly that expanding suffrage would lead to a reduction in genuine rights.

    I don’t understand how any libertarian these days can be pro-feminist. Feminists are advocates of nasty forms of discrimination against men. They demonize all men in the very way that racists used to demonize black men. They could care less about equality. Feminism is about gaining total power for women, at the expense of men (Murray Rothbard dealt with feminism pretty well in Egalitarianism, although he made embarrassing statements at one point in the Libertarian Forum, defending feminist efforts to violate the rights of men accused of rape).

    If we had never adopted women’s suffrage, we would have a much more libertarian society today. Men will always be far more likely to become libertarian than women, as most women care primarily about security, while men desire liberty.

    1. I’ve always been kind of coflicted on this. For quite a while i’ve understood that most women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. However, now I also realize that most men shouldn’t be allowed to vote either. So am I a feminist now?

    2. Re: Anonymous,

      If we had never adopted women’s suffrage, we would have a much more libertarian society today.

      The problem is not women’s suffrage – it’s universal suffrage, as “giving people that want MY stuff the power to vote to HAVE my stuff.”

  27. Simply believing in human rights is enough. No need to break us down into bickering factions. One person cannot have “more” rights than another.

  28. The funny thing about Spencer’s supposed Darwinism is that he hoped that social evolution would lead to…socialism.

    He genuinely looked forward to a time when evolution would lead to the end of a distinction between a selfish and a communitarian act. In some Spencerian future, everyone will happily be Soviet New Men because societies made up of such men will have a competitive advantage, blah blah blahdy blah blah.

    So even if Spencer was some kind of monster, he’s still one of theirs and not one of ours [or, at least, not one of mine]. His unit of value was still the social group; individuals to him were still just unit counters to be played in a grand game between social groups; and he looked forward to a millenarian future of perpetual happy slavery that disgusts me in every way.

  29. Tamanaha suffers from the lefty/progressive conceit that, unless the government does it, it doesn’t happen. Thus, if the government doesn’t give aid to the poor, no aid is given to the poor.

    Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.

    1. Tutto nello Stato,
      niente al de fuori dello Stato,
      nulla contro lo Stato.

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