The great event of the New York cultural season of 1882 was the visit of the sixty two year old English philosopher and social commentator Herbert Spencer. Nowhere did Spencer have a larger or more
enthusiastic following than in the United States, where such works as “Social Statics” and “The
Data of Ethics” were celebrated as powerful justifications for laissez fair capitalism. Competition was
preordained; its result was progress; and any institution that stood in the way of individual liberties wasviolating the natural order. Survival of the fittest a phrase that Charles Darwin took from Spencer madefree competition a social as well as a natural law.
Spencer was, arguably, the single most influential systematic thinker of the nineteenth century,but his influence, compared with that of Darwin, Marx, or Mill, was short lived. In 1937, the Harvardsoci
ologist Talcott Parsons asked, “
Who now reads Spencer?”
Seventy years later, the question remainspertinent, even if no one now reads Talcott Parsons, either. In his day, Spencer was the greatest ofphilosophical hedgehogs: his popularity stemmed from the Page 54 fact that he had one big, easilygrasped idea and a mass of more particular ideas that supposedly flowed from the big one. The big ideawas evolution, but, while Darwin applied it to species change, speculating about society and culture onlywith reluctance, Spencer saw
evolution working everywhere. “
This law of organic progress is the law of all progress, “he wrote, “ whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development of Life uponits surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language,Literature, Science, [or] Art.“
Spencer has been tagged as a social Darwinist, but it would be morecorrect to think of Darwin as a biological Spencerian. Spencer was very well known as an evolutionist
long before Darwin’s “
On the Origin of Species was published, in 1859, and people who had limitedinterest in the finches of the Galapagos had a great interest in whether the state should provide for thepoor or whether it was right to colonize India
In New York Spencer told his admirers that they had got him seriously wrong. He did notapprove of the culture of American capitalism, and, while he admired its material achievement, he wasconcerned that, for Americans, work had become a pathological obsession. Americans wereendangering their mental and physical health through overwork, and many were turning gray beforetheir time-ten
years earlier than the British, Spencer believed, America needed “a revised ideal of life,”he said, and it was time to “preach the gospel of relaxation. ”He went on, “Life is not for learning, nor is
life for working, but learning and working are for lif
e.” Having administered that slap to the face of
national virtue, Spencer steamed off back to England
According to the author, why was Spencer so popular in the 19 th century?
A.He supported capitalism
B.He extended Darwin’s theory of evolution to a lot of things
C.He was a friend of parsons
D.He had one board and simple idea and many specific ideas flowed from it.
What would the author most likely agree with?
A. Darwin’s idea of evolution preceded that of Spencer
B.Both Darwin and spencer got the idea of the evolution at the same time.
C.Spencer’s idea of evolution preceded that of Darwin
D.Darwin and spencer worked on totally different models of evolution
What must have been the most-likely response/reaction of the New York audience to Spencer’s talk in 1882?
Which people is the author referring to in the statement: “people who had limited interest in the finches of the Galapagos”?
A.People who were not interested in the bird finch
B.People who were not interested in finches in particular from Galapagos
C.People who were not interested in animal species or natural evolution
D.People who did not have interest in birds.