Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx

Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx

Essays on Institutional and Evolutionary Themes

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx examines the legacies of these two giants of thought for the social sciences in the twenty-first century.

Chapter 3: Social Darwinism in Anglophone Academic Journals

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, evolutionary economics, history of economic thought, institutional economics


Social Darwinism, as almost everyone knows, is a Bad Thing. Robert Bannister (1979) 3.1 INTRODUCTION Social Darwinism has been blamed for providing ideological and pseudoscientific motivations for a number of twentieth-century horrors. These include eugenics, two world wars, Nazism and the Holocaust (Perry, 1918; Hofstadter, 1944; Crook, 1994; Hawkins, 1997). The majority of social scientists today would protest against racism, fascism, imperialism or sexism, and against any abuse of biology in support of these doctrines. I count myself as one of these protestors.1 This chapter differs from preceding accounts in that it is primarily a contribution to the history of the term itself, rather than of the impact of Darwinism on social science and political ideology.2 I ask: who used the term and what did they mean by it? I trace the uses of the term ‘Social Darwinism’ within the academic journals of the Anglo-American academic community, whose scientific literature became dominant over all others by 1945.3 Of course, the study of the impact of Darwin’s ideas on the social sciences is important, but it is full of traps for the unwary. Many authors have attributed to Darwin ideas that he did not hold. Others blame Darwin for any celebration of competition in the social sphere, examples of which are easy to find. In fact, Darwin himself saw benefits in cooperation as well as 1 2 A version of this chapter first appeared as Hodgson (2004d). Klaes (2001) makes a strong argument in favour of investigations into the history of...

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