Coincidentally (?) just as I was blogging about Social Darwinism last week, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was getting ready to publish a major op-ed piece about the subject. I don’t know what access you might have to it on line, but it is on the front page of the “Opinion Exchange” section (OP1) Sunday, May 27 (2012). Hopefully, if you want to read it, it is available on line.
The article is entitled “Survival of the fittest: The evolution of an idea” and is by Stephen B. Young (global executive director of the Caux Round Table, “an international network of business leaders working to promote a moral captitalism”).
What’s expecially interesting about the article is the author’s drawn connection between Herbert Spencer’s idea of social “survival of the fittest” and John Calvins’ follower’s (especially in post-Civil War America) idea of prosperity as a sign of election. A bold print side bar (drawn from the article itself) underneath pics of Spencer and Calvin says “The base of today’s Republican Party is enthusiastically behind Herbert Spencer’s demand for minimal government funded by minimal taxation of private wealth combined with a special American Calvinist conviction about God’s desire to reward those who enter the lists of social and economic combat to win through as witnesses to Christ’s truth.”
Now, it must be said that it was, at most, only SOME Calvinists who believed in prosperity as a sign of election. Many Calvinists (especially those influenced by the Kuyperian tradition) believe strongly in social justice including redistribution of wealth to care for the weakest members of society.
This seems like a strange coincidence. If I were a Calvinist I would trumpet it (the publication of this op ed piece a few days after my post here about Social Darwinism) as evidence of God’s providential imprimatur of my argument. Even as a non-Calvinist I could do that. But I won’t. It’s probably just a coincidence. However, it’s a kind coincidence.
Please, as you are able, read the entire column. While I think it could use more documentation, I won’t fault it for that lack as it is an op-ed piece and not a scholarly article. It’s convincingness is based on “seeing as.” I am convinced by the overall thrust of the article because it sheds light on what I see happening in contemporary American politics and economics and its roots in American and European history.
As I see it, this is why many Americans, including some Christians, love Ayn Rand. When they read her they find literary justification for their presupposed uniquely American brand of Social Darwinism.
The problem is, of course, that this leaves the weakest members of society, orphans and widows, the indigent and disabled, behind in the dust in the mad scramble for hoarded wealth. And it provides justification for it. Sure, Christian Social Darwinists will alter strict Social Darwinism to include private charity for the “deserving poor.” But that has not worked. That is no safety net. Too many fall between the cracks of charity. Some element of redistribution of wealth via a system of entitlements is the only thing that works to guarantee that at least most of the deserving poor are helped to live minimally decent human lives.