Libertarian History/Philosophy

Another Bout of Anti-Libertarian Nonsense from the Left-Wing Center for American Progress

Confronting the ugly record of "genocidal progressivism."

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Public Domain

Yesterday I commented on an article published by Ian Millhiser of the left-wing Center for American Progress which described the late 19th century social theorist Herbert Spencer as an advocate of "genocidal libertarianism" who "literally argued that the impoverished and the unfortunate should be left to die in order to purify the human race." In reply, I noted that Spencer repeatedly championed the virtues of "Positive Beneficence," "human benevolence," "spontaneous sympathy of men for each other," and other forms of private charity designed to mitigate "the operation of natural selection." In short, I argued, it is simply incorrect to say that Spencer "literally" advocated letting the poor and unfortunate die in the streets.

Today Millhiser has published a response. Although ostensibly written as a rebuttal, I could not help but notice that Millhiser quietly admits his own initial errors, thereby conceding the validity of my case. For example, Millhiser now acknowledges that there were in fact instances "where Spencer believed that private donors should improve conditions for the poor." Furthermore, Millhiser also now admits that "it is true that Spencer did believe that charity was appropriate under limited circumstances."

Can those new admissions be squared with Millhiser's overheated initial claim that Spencer "literally argued that the poor and the unfortunate should be left to die in order to purify the human race"? No, they cannot. It's time for Millhiser to admit that he got it wrong and stop trying to dig himself out of the hole.

Strangely, Millhiser also accuses me of "chang[ing] the subject to eugenics." I would have thought the connection was obvious. Herbert Spencer is falsely smeared as "genocidal" by an organization that champions the legacy of late 19th and early 20th century Progressive activists, yet many of those same Progressive activists openly advocated eugenics, which typically involved state-sanctioned sterilization (and sometimes murder) of "unfit" people. Sounds fairly "genocidal" to me.

So I pointed out that rather than trying to smear Spencer (and libertarians more broadly) with trumped-up charges, Millhiser should instead confront his own organization's recent cheerleading for a bunch of people who literally endorsed the tactics of "genocidal progressivism."