In all fairness to Darwin he never believed his theory was anything other than a theory – speculation about an incomplete set of facts – but just as the cotton gin prevented slavery from dying out as a failed economic model the Spencerians applied Darwin’s model to social engineering and we have been suffering ever since. This book does not offer a profound analysis of how Darwinism was been corrupted by both the right and left to foster totalitarian regimes or simply to make everyday life miserable in the nanny state but it does offer a view of the beginnings of the onset of intellectual and moral rot that drives the current political order.
Banquet at Delmonico’s: great minds, the Gilded Age, and the triumph of evolution in America New York: Random House, c 2009 Barry Werth Social Darwinism United States History 19th century Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xxxi, 362 p.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. -325) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
In Banquet at Delmonico’s, Barry Werth draws readers inside the circle of philosophers, scientists, politicians, businessmen, clergymen, and scholars who brought Charles Darwin’s controversial ideas to America in the crucial years after the Civil War. The United States in the 1870s and ’80s was deep in turmoil – a brash young nation torn by a great depression, mired in scandal and corruption, rocked by crises in government, violently conflicted over science and race, and fired up by spiritual and sexual upheavals. Secularism was rising, most notably in academia. Evolution – and its catchphrase, “survival of the fittest” – animated and guided this Gilded Age.Darwin’s theory of natural selection was extended to society and morals not by Darwin himself but by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, father of “the Law of Equal Freedom,” which holds that “every man is free to do that which he wills,” provided it doesn’t infringe on the equal freedom of others. As this justification took root as a social, economic, and ethical doctrine, Spencer won numerous influential American disciples and allies, including industrialist Andrew Carnegie, clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, and political reformer Carl Schurz. Churches, campuses, and newspapers convulsed with debate over the proper role of government in regulating Americans’ behavior, this country’s place among nations, and, most explosively, the question of God’s existence. In late 1882, most of the main figures who brought about and popularized these developments gathered at Delmonico’s, New York’s most venerable restaurant, in an exclusive farewell dinner to honor Spencer and to toast the social applications of the theory of evolution. It was a historic celebration from which the repercussions still ripple throughout our society. Banquet at Delmonico’s is social history at its finest, richest, and most appetizing, a brilliant narrative bristling with personal intrigue, tantalizing insights, and greater truths about American life and culture.