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US prez Obama accuses political opponents of “social Darwinism”

In “What does social Darwinism mean to Obama?” (Miami Herald, April 4, 2012), Jennifer C. Kerr reports,

President Barack Obama invoked the theory this week to criticize his likely Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, for embracing a new House GOP budget-slashing plan.

Obama argued that the plan was “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

Some of us were surprised that he would use such a term when communicating with the public. If you haven’t had a certain sort of education, you wouldn’t know what he was talking about. You might even think he was anti-evolution. (He isn’t.)

Social Darwinism was a theory of society developed by Darwin’s associate Herbert Spencer, who also coined the term “survival of the fittest” to describe Darwin’s theory (a term Darwin accepted).

According to Spencer,

The concept of adaptation allowed him to claim that the rich and powerful were better adapted to the social and economic climate of the time, and the concept of natural selection allowed him to argue that it was natural, normal, and proper for the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak. After all, he claimed, that is exactly what goes on in nature every day.

It is a bit difficult to map any such views onto Obama’s apparent target, GOP prez hopeful Mitt Romney. Thus, political communication maven Kathleen Hall Jamieson

… doesn’t think that is what Obama is suggesting when he uses the term. Instead, what he is probably trying to convey is that he thinks Republicans subscribe to a theory that each person is on his own – no help from others, no government help.

The term is loaded with all sorts of negative historical associations. It has ties in the past to the rationalization of inequality, says Jamieson, as well as to the eugenics movement and the idea that those who are unfit should not be allowed to propagate.

And that’s probably not what the president intends to suggest.

Well, we can’t read the guy’s mind, but Jamieson says he also used the term back in 2007.

Could end up hurting him more than his opponents if people have to guess what he means.

Unless – just a thought – he wants people to think he is anti-Darwinism … ? The Darwin elite know what he really means, so he is safe from their troll rolls. But there may be votes to gain by the misunderstanding, no?

More.

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4 Responses to US prez Obama accuses political opponents of “social Darwinism”

  1. I think the author is of the article is correct in this statement:

    Instead, what he is probably trying to convey is that he thinks Republicans subscribe to a theory that each person is on his own – no help from others, no government help.

    This is also what I think is the popular conception of “social darwinism” as being equivalent to a struggle for survival without benefit of others to come to your assistance, as opposed to a description of the historical movement.

  2. Some of us doubt that many people are even familiar with the term. There are more colloquial, easily understood ways of explaining the idea, such as “every man for himself” or “winner take all.” Or “devil take the hindmost.”

  3. One could define “social darwinism” as “the ideas, products and companies that are not good enough, get removed from society”.

  4. As for me, I’m an anti-social Darwinist.

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