The Return to Social Darwinism
America’s Moral Crisis
By DAVID ROSEN | January 28, 2011
The Great Recession of 2007-2009 was more than a financial and political crisis. At root, it was a moral crisis.
Bernie Madoff and a handful of other racketeers were prosecuted, but all those actively or passively involved in the financial scam were not exposed, let alone legally dealt with.
The harm inflicted on the American people by the venal practices of those who orchestrated, implemented and/or facilitated the Great Recession is incalculable. Millions of peoples’ lives were turned upside-down, if not destroyed; America’s long-term future put in doubt.
Those morally culpable for the crisis involved many more than those who masterminded the vast plunder and got away with it. Truly, one can expect little in terms of moral leadership from the conspirators hidden in their Wall Street corner offices. A new car, an expensive bottle of wine or a couple of zeros on their paychecks is all that is needed to assuage the qualms they might have felt about the immoral if not illegal practices they consciously engaged in.
The Great Recession’s true moral crisis goes deeper, involving all those down the chain of greed that unites the system of plunder. This chain links the CEO of a major hedge fund or bank to the lowest mortgage broker or loan officer. It reaches out to still others, including credit rating agencies, government regulators and the self-serving financial media. It involves all those who knew and not only did nothing but joined in to get their own.
This shared greed is a distinguishing expression of America’s new moral order. It is rooted in a return to the all-American morality of Social Darwinism that ruled during the late-19th and early-20th centuries, a period that Mark Twain disparagingly called the Gilded Age.
Gilded Age values were rationalized in a simple dictum: I’ll get mine; screw the next guy. It’s the morality of the huckster, those who know how to artfully con the uninformed, get-rich-quick schmuck; in America, as the 21st century version of the old adage proclaims, a schmuck is born everyday.
Social Darwinism defined morality during American capitalism’s first stage of global ascendancy. The question haunting America today is whether it defines today’s deepening crisis and thus the nation’s historical eclipse.
* * *
Social Darwinism was a late-19th century belief system that applied Darwin’s theory of natural selection to human existence. It was especially popular among the American and British elite because it placed them, the white Christian male, at the top of evolutionary scale.
The first rule in this misreading of Darwin’s theory was a self-serving moral assumption: Humans occupy the highest rung in the evolution of animal life. Some went further, arguing that consciousness separated humans from animals and, thus, from natural life itself. Once this fundamental break with Darwin’s belief in nature’s interconnected integrity was made, humans could easily further legitimize fragmenting themselves into still more hierarchical structures, whether based on age, gender, race, geography, belief, class, sexual orientation or whatever.
Proponents of Social Darwinism, particularly Herbert Spencer, popularized concepts like “the struggle for existence” and “the survival of the fittest.” This belief system took different forms in different countries, sometimes with horrendous consequences. In Germany, the biologist Ernst Haeckel divided humankind into races with “Aryans” at the top and Jews and Africans at the bottom.
In the U.S., notions of racial identity were augmented by concepts of personal purity and global conquest. Teddy Roosevelt was the prime representative of this all-American belief system, turning it into a national policy. Proponents of Social Darwinism championed a moral belief system based on three interrelated principals. First, self-hood was represented by the rugged individualist, the masculine warrior who achieves his full human realization on the battlefield of laissez-faire capitalism. Second, to function at its most optimal, this social system required “social purity” of sexual repression and a eugenics-breeding program. Finally, this new American value system assumed that the globe was a terrain of conquest; it embraced an international, imperialist outlook proudly called manifest destiny, the “white man’s burden.”
These principals fashioned a moral outlook that linked the truth of one’s conduct to the social position one occupied. If one was rich, socially prominent and white one could get away with almost anything. Thus, the “crimes” of the rich and the poor were both legally and morally different. For Social Darwinists, morality was based on class privilege.
No one was more a proponent of Social Darwinism then John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil trust and America’s grandest robber baron and Christian philanthropist. He argued that his efforts were the result of “a survival of the fittest, … the working out of a law of nature and a law of God.”
Rockefeller, and others who shared his belief system, engaged in a great intellectual trick. They artfully suppressed the fundamental contradiction between Christian theology and scientific rationality. They collapsed Darwin’s theory, grounded in empirical observation, into Christian doctrine, a faith in Adam and Eve.
This rationalization of religion and science, of God and Darwin, facilitated the rationalization of still other intellectual and political practices. Rockefeller and many of the other titans of American capitalism of his generation felt no moral discomfort over the murderous suppression of strikes in Ludlow or military interventions in Cuba and the Philippines.
* * *
The Great Recession ushered in the immoral morality of a new, 21st Social Darwinism.
This immorality is legitimized by the growing income inequality. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson analyze this phenomenon in their compelling book, “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.” The popping of the housing bubble was the result of not simply a financial crisis, but the victory of a decades-long political campaign waged by the rich against the rest of us. The authors make clear that the Great Recession was a great diversionary smokescreen so that the financial sector and the rich could seize increased control of the nation’s wealth.
One remarkable dimension of this new Social Darwin morality is the widespread willingness to suspend disbelief. This is a lesson to be drawn from the series of crises that U.S. has faced over the last decade.
The attacks of 9/11 ‘by foreign terrorists’ took place because the U.S. intelligence services failed to connect the dots.
The Iraq invasion was undertaken due to false claims of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
New Orleans’ suffering was due to nature run wild, not the failures of the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers.
Global market forces caused the financial crisis of 2007-2009.
The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 was an accident and BP was an inadvertent casualty of a fluke occurrence.
The Tucson shooting was the act of a psychopath; the shooter’s target was chosen arbitrarily, with no voices whispering in his ear.
Except for the Tucson shootings, no actual person/s has been held accountable. Sure, Jared Loughner, like Bernie Madoff, got busted, but each is the exception that proves the rule: No one is responsible for national crises; forces beyond human control determine events. Like 9/11, Katrina, the Iraq war, the Recession and the Gulf spill, unknown forces conspired and no one can be held accountable.
Today’s new Social Darwinist morality is one additional knife in the heart of the remarkable half-century of American egalitarianism that defined the 1930s through ’70s. From the Depression and World War II period through the post-WW II consumer revolution and the revolutions of the 1960s-70s, America struggled to fulfill its democratic ethos. It was an era in which America shared a deep moral vision, one expressed by John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath” and many other creative works.
The last three decades have witnessed the systematic erosion of this spirit of egalitarianism and the re-imposition of class tyranny. Like a dictatorship or police state, class rule requires the complicity of a world of enablers. This complicity is the true moral order that characterizes today’s America.
Preachers, politicians and pundits may prattle on about the nation’s virtues, but anyone screwed daily by the system of greed knows firsthand America’s new immoral morality. How they deal with it as social life continues to erode remains the unanswered question.
David Rosen is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009). He can be reached at email@example.com.
6 Comments »
or go to
From the Archives
A Pretext for War
Year after year, people in the Arab countries are helpless spectators to the ongoing destruction of Iraq and Palestine by the United States and Israel. They see families wiped out by bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. They see Arabs tortured and humiliated in Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo. They see Israel regularly carrying out “targeted” assassinations in the Occupied Territories (splashing death around the target) while extending its illegal settlement of land belonging to Palestinians. Probably no people have greater cause to yearn for an equitable system of international justice. But where are they to look for it?
Well, what about the International Criminal Court (ICC)? The ICC is supposed to punish perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has been in operation since July 2002, but seldom gets as much attention as it received during a symposium in mid-January at the Academy of Graduate Studies in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Underlying the two-day discussion on the “ambition, reality and future prospects” of the ICC was the question: is the ICC a first baby step toward international justice? Or is it just another element of Western “soft power”, imposed on small countries?
Although Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi has expressed the second view, on balance most of the legal experts and academics — from Libya and other Arab countries, but also from Europe, China and South America — tended to lean toward the first view. Although nobody denied the evident shortcomings of the ICC, lawyers and jurists generally see it as “better than nothing” and point out that democratic legal systems have evolved from institutionalized power relations toward greater justice. … continue
Aletho News Exclusive Content
This article will examine some of the connections between the US and UK National Security apparatus and the appearance of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory beginning after the accident at Three Mile Island. … continue
Also by Aletho News:
March 8, 2011
February 25, 2010
February 7, 2010
December 26, 2009
December 4, 2009
May 9, 2009
Visits Since December 2009
- 2,731,259 hits
Follow Aletho News on TwitterMy Tweets
roberthstiver on Obama should be investigated o… aletho on BDS Changed its Goal Statement… Greg Bacon on Will justice be served to Pale… curiousegypt123 on BDS Changed its Goal Statement… Brian Harry, Austral… on Russia only country in Syria a… Wallflower on Russia only country in Syria a… Wallflower on US Impunity Erodes World … Brian Harry, Austral… on Russia only country in Syria a… Brian Harry, Austral… on BDS Changed its Goal Statement… richard on Teaching Tokyo Independence: R… Brian Harry, Austral… on US Impunity Erodes World … rediscover911com on The Tragedy in Yemen Wallflower on Speaking truth to power: The k… roberthstiver on Speaking truth to power: The k… Greg Bacon on “Denial” movie contra David Ir…
- Protest against Bahraini king’s visit to Downing Street halted by police October 26, 2016
- Guatemala Indicts Top Ex-Military Men for War Crimes and Rape October 26, 2016
- Obama should be investigated over Clinton’s emails: Trump October 26, 2016
- Europe’s Battle: Nationalists vs. Elites October 26, 2016
- Time for West to stop supporting terrorists – Russian ambassador to US October 26, 2016
- Gambia announces intention to withdraw from International Criminal Court October 26, 2016
- BDS Changed its Goal Statement Once Again October 25, 2016
- US Impunity Erodes World Justice October 25, 2016
- Russia only country in Syria acting under int’l law – German statesman Willy Wimmer October 25, 2016
- Myanmar army forces about 2,000 Rohingyas from homes October 25, 2016
- Teaching Tokyo Independence: Rodrigo Duterte Goes to Japan October 25, 2016
- NGOs Supporting America’s Imperial Ruthlessness in Syria October 25, 2016
- The Tragedy in Yemen October 25, 2016
- Speaking truth to power: The killing of Dag Hammarskjöld and the cover-up October 24, 2016
- “Denial” movie contra David Irving backfires October 24, 2016
- Russian Ambassador-at-Large Surprised by Active CIA, FBI Role in US Vote October 24, 2016
- Belgium’s Wallonia rejects ‘undemocratic’ EU ultimatum on CETA October 24, 2016
- Sadly, Nobody Likes America These Days October 24, 2016
- Media Silent as Anti-Corporate Trade Deal Protests Take Europe by Storm October 26, 2016
- Why Trump Might Still Win – If the Vote is not Rigged October 26, 2016
- Pentagon video warns of “unavoidable” dystopian future for megacities October 25, 2016
- Hillary’s ‘Puppet’ Screed October 25, 2016
- Washington’s ‘Pivot to Asia’: A Debacle Unfolding October 24, 2016
- Kafr Qaddum: Peaceful people under violent occupation October 25, 2016
- Protective Presence at Burin olive harvest October 24, 2016
- Settler attacks school-children and orders soldier to assist her October 24, 2016
Looking for something?
Categories"Hope and Change" Aletho News Book Review Civil Liberties Corruption Deception Economics Environmentalism Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism False Flag Terrorism Full Spectrum Dominance Illegal Occupation Islamophobia Mainstream Media, Warmongering Militarism Nuclear Power Science and Pseudo-Science Solidarity and Activism Subjugation - Torture Supremacism, Social Darwinism Timeless or most popular Video War Crimes Wars for Israel
Tags9/11 Afghanistan Africa AIPAC al-Qaeda Argentina BBC Benjamin Netanyahu Brazil Canada Central Intelligence Agency China CIA Colombia Cuba Da’esh Donald Trump Egypt EU European Union FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation France Gaza Germany Hamas Hebron Hezbollah Hillary Clinton Honduras Human rights India International Atomic Energy Agency International Solidarity Movement Iran Iraq Iraq War ISIL ISIS Israel Israeli settlement Japan Jerusalem John Kerry Latin America Lebanon Libya Mexico Middle East Military National Security Agency NATO New York Times NSA Obama Pakistan Palestine Police Press TV Qatar Russia Sanctions against Iran Saudi Arabia Syria Turkey UK Ukraine United Nations United States USA Venezuela Washington Post West Bank Yemen Zionism
Contact:atheonews (at) gmail.com
This site is provided as a research and reference tool. Although we make every reasonable effort to ensure that the information and data provided at this site are useful, accurate, and current, we cannot guarantee that the information and data provided here will be error-free. By using this site, you assume all responsibility for and risk arising from your use of and reliance upon the contents of this site.
This site and the information available through it do not, and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Should you require legal advice, you should consult your own attorney.
Nothing within this site or linked to by this site constitutes investment advice or medical advice.
Materials accessible from or added to this site by third parties, such as comments posted, are strictly the responsibility of the third party who added such materials or made them accessible and we neither endorse nor undertake to control, monitor, edit or assume responsibility for any such third-party material.
The posting of stories, commentaries, reports, documents and links (embedded or otherwise) on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such posted material or parts therein.
The word "alleged" is deemed to occur before the word "fraud." Since the rule of law still applies. To peasants, at least.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more info go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
This is information for anyone that wishes to challenge our “fair use” of copyrighted material.
If you are a legal copyright holder or a designated agent for such and you believe that content residing on or accessible through our website infringes a copyright and falls outside the boundaries of “Fair Use”, please send a notice of infringement by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will respond and take necessary action immediately.
If notice is given of an alleged copyright violation we will act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material(s) in question.
All 3rd party material posted on this website is copyright the respective owners / authors. Aletho News makes no claim of copyright on such material.
Site infoAletho News
Blog at WordPress.com.