jump to navigation

Alexander M. Carr-Saunders on Social Selection, Heredity, and Tradition May 6, 2013

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Alexander M. Carr-Saunders (14th January 1886-6th October 1966) was president of the London School of Economics from 1937 to 1956.  When his The Population Problem: A Study in Human Evolution appeared in 1922, it cemented his reputation.  According to his obituary in Population Studies this book has since been viewed as a seminal contribution to “social biology” due to its formulation of the “optimum number.”  Carr-Saunders defined the optimum number as the greatest number of individuals who could be sustained by a given environment.  For Carr-Saunders, moreover, this optimum number “involves the idea of the standard of living,” where in order to reach and to maintain this standard of living, populations, from primitive to civilized, employ practices to either “reduce fertility” or to “cause elimination,” including abortion, abstinence from sexual intercourse, and infanticide, in greater or lesser proportions (214.)

Alexander M. Carr-Saunders

Alexander M. Carr-Saunders

This was not all, however, as the maintenance of the highest standard of living possible required that the  “younger generation must become proficient in the skilled methods which makes this standard possible of attainment, and in particular it is important that young men should not marry unless they are both energetic and skillful.”  In such basic facts “we may see evidence exerted by social conditions and conventions” (224.)

Carr-Saunders has attracted some attention from Hayek scholars due to his influence on Hayek’s notion of cultural evolution.  Erik Angner in Hayek and Natural Law contends, “there is good reason to think that Hayek’s evolutionary thought was significantly inspired by Carr-Saunders and other Oxford zoologists” in particular supplying Hayek’s understanding of the mechanisms of group selection.

(more…)

Advertisements

The Nineteenth Century Problem August 15, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

The universal historian Henry T. Buckle (1821-1862) was last subject of a serious scholarly monograph in 1958.  This is the fate of any number of nineteenth-century intellectuals.   The first reason for the disappearance of these writers has been the inability to connect them to the catastrophic events of the twentieth century: the World Wars, National Socialism, the deradicalization of the European right after Nuremberg, the flight of the Marxist intellectuals, and so on.   Second, the nineteenth century has been the province of sociologists and literary scholars.  Such attention continues to be selective, judging from the ceaseless publications on the canonical sociologists: springtime for Weber, and winter for Gobineau and Bagehot.

Third, ignoring the nineteenth century allows anthropologists to get on with their own work.  Fourth, and finally, while some nineteenth century economists get attention — Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) has been accumulating more slim volumes as the months go by — the impression I get from some not so cursory reading of the literature is that the with the exception of the proponents of “evolutionary” and “heterodox” economics, philosophers of economics, and Philip Mirowski, it’s Smith, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Mises, or monograph wilderness.  (more…)

Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay, and Economic Determinism January 28, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Brooks Adams (1848-1927)

Russell Kirk (1918-1994) noted that Brooks Adams was “an eccentric.” Adams was disgusted with American society in his day and thought inertia was “social death.” He believed the only solution to the ills of society was progress and change, denouncing capitalists and bankers in much the same language as Karl Marx.  Adams, much like Marx, was to Kirk, an “economic determinist,” but unlike Marx, he “detested the very process of change which he urged society to accept,” and “longed hopelessly for the republic of Washington and John Adams,” condemning “democracy” as both “a symptom and cause of social decay.”  Adams’ “detestation” of capitalism stemmed from his aversion to “competition,” enjoining his fellow man to seek stability and order.  According to Kirk, however, Adams’ dream of harmony was subverted by his own understanding of historical laws, as “by the logic of his own economic and historical theories, permanence is never found in the universe.”  Kirk underscored that the persistent theme throughout Adams’ four works — The Law of Civilization and Decay, America’s Economic Supremacy, The New Empire, and The Theory of Social Revolutions — was man’s imprisonment by economic forces and civilization as the product of ceaseless centralization (The Conservative Mind, 367-9) (more…)

Primer: Arthur de Gobineau and the Orient January 8, 2009

Posted by Christopher Donohue in EWP Primer, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Arthur de Gobineau (July 14, 1816 — October 13, 1882) was born into a family of lesser nobility and forced to make his living in Paris at nineteen years of age.  In 1843, having some minor successes as a novelist and as a serial author, de Gobineau met Alexis de Tocqueville.  In 1849, when de Tocqueville was named Minister of Foreign Affairs, de Gobineau was introduced to a diplomatic circuit from which he never departed. De Gobineau was successively posted to Persia from 1855-1858 and 1861-1863, Brazil, and finally Stockholm, from 1872-1877.  De Gobineau was well known for his rightist politics and considered it a great irony that he had been born on Bastille Day.  He styled himself the sole remaining descendant of an ancient Norman family.

It was fortuitous that de Gobineau traveled to Paris in the 1840s. As Arthur Herman in his fine The Idea of Decline in Western History notes, “Ever since scholars had accompanied Napoleon on his conquest of Egypt in 1798 and the linguist Jean-Francois Champollion had deciphered the Rosetta stone in (more…)