Thursday, April 26, 2012
Social Darwinist Economics BY ALLEN GABORRO
Finally someone said it out loud. It was about time that a big political name took a different approach and stopped trying to pair Democrats and Republicans in an illusory union of generous bipartisanship. In a recent speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, President Barack Obama exposed the House Republican’s—and for that matter the wider Republican Party’s—budget plan for what it is: a harsh, anti-progressive, and inequitable solution that is rigged in favor of the rich.
President Obama remarked in the speech that the proposed House Republican budget was a “thinly-veiled” form of “Social Darwinism.” Social Darwinism is a 19th century theory that exercised Darwinian concepts in the study of society. It formed much of the basis of deregulated, free market capitalism that has adopted a central role in American economics in the last few decades.
Social Darwinism is popular with Republicans and their conservative minions because in its survival-of-the-fittest scheme, what passes for the superior and the deserving are the wealthy, while what passes as the weakest and therefore undeserving are the comparatively lower rungs of society which include the middle class. Formidably self-exonerating, socio-economic Social Darwinism inspires Republicans and conservatives into believing that their affluence is something of a god-given bequest that only a select, worthy few have a right to. Former Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain was sitting at the juncture of economic philosophy and Social Darwinism when he benightedly but seriously said that if you aren’t rich it’s your fault.
Obama hit back at this facile, sink-or-swim description of why the distribution of wealth in the United States is so stratospherically unbalanced. He also recoiled at why the Republicans refuse to concede their Social Darwinist estimations and perspectives of American society. Obama said that the House Republican budget, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, was a “Trojan Horse” that was “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who's willing to work for it—a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class.”
The Republicans grasp the free market system as any coherent Social Darwinist would grasp the law of the jungle: in free market capitalism, only the strong will and should survive. Anyone who does not measure up to that ideal will not be thrown a life preserver as the tonnage of their incompetence, their natural inferiority, their indolence, and their callous mediocrity will bring them down to the depths anyway.
Too often, Republicans strengthen a hard judgment that defends the conservative wisdom that people’s fates in life depend on what they do or fail to do, and not on socio-economic processes that can define and exploit human character and behavior. There is an obvious connection between an individual’s character and how they act in public. But there is also an obvious connection between an individual’s character and how social codes, variables, and institutions readily prime people to consider and respond to the world around them.
Barack Obama is right on the mark: the spirit of America and its democratic tradition does not hold sacred the expression “every man for himself.” Americans are not supposed to treat those who struggle to make ends meet, who work hard for a pittance, and who may have made costly financial decisions but made them with pure hearts, like lepers who are to be cast aside. America is supposed to be a melting pot community of disparate groups and cultures, a country where everyone without exception should get a fair opportunity to make whatever they want to out of their life. That is not only Barack Obama’s dream or the Democratic Party’s. It is the American Dream.
That dream however, is running against the reductionist tenor of the times which are giving way to fear and paranoia. This is the overwrought, fictional horror story the Republicans are trying to peddle to the American public. If it is true, to paraphrase the political philosopher Leo Strauss, that modern societies are better off choosing “life-giving delusion” over the truth, then we might hope as the Republicans and conservatives enjoy their view from the balcony of their towering self-righteousness and hypocrisy, that they would find it in their cold, Social Darwinistic hearts to leave a few crumbs for the non-white, non-male, non-wealthy, and non-Social Darwinists that they share this country with.