Monday, 19 March 2012 07:46

Herbert Spencer: Men of Ideas

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Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was an English engineer turned philosopher. He built on Charles Darwin’s ideas (Origin of Species) and tried to construct a universal ethics based on the notion that animals evolve and adapt to changes in their environment or die.

He went beyond Darwin’s views (according to Darwin changes take place in the environment and animals adapt to them, and those who adapt survive and they do so by making changes in their physiology, and those who do not successfully change their genetic configuration to adapt die out; the world is littered with died out species of animals, dinosaurs, for example).

Spencer extrapolated from Darwin and tried to construct a social Ethics whereby life in society is characterized by struggle and competition and only the fittest survive. Those who are not able to compete, struggle, die out and that is natural selection at work and no one should cry for them. Let the competition go on unmitigated and let those who have what it takes to compete succeed and become rich and live and let those who cannot die out.

Society should not worry about those who cannot compete, for nature dictates that they die off. The mentally ill, the developmentally handicapped, the homosexual and others who have handicaps and cannot compete ought to be left to die and not be protected.

Why spend enormous amount of money on special education, as we currently do, if those students are not ever going to be an Albert Einstein? Let them fail at school and ultimately in society and die out. There is no use keeping the unfit alive.

Why keep folk alive if it takes other people, tax payers to support them?  If you cannot support yourself you ought to die and that is all there is to you. No one should live to take care of you.

It is feeble Christian theology that makes folk feel guilty about the weak and out of guilt feeling take care of them.

If your child is autistic, physically deformed, mentally ill, a homosexual leave him or her to die, for nature meant him or her to die; nature rewards only those who can compete and survive.

Spencer’s philosophy, as you can see, fitted the age he lived in. He lived during the nineteenth century when Europe was on the lose taking over the lands of weaker races and taking over the resources of those who could not compete with them.

The rubber barons of America’s industries, men like Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Vanderbilt used the masses to accumulate wealth; they permitted their workers to live in abject poverty.

If Spencer is correct those industrialists should not feel bad that their workers worked sixteen hour days and were paid stipends and could not support themselves and their families. Nor should the government reduce the number of hours these slaves worked or improve their working conditions.

These wage slaves were the unfit to survive and ought to be used to work and let die. Alas, by the same amoral argument that Spencer was advocating the workers ought to kill their masters and take over their factories and if they succeed they would have become the strongest who survived.

The ethics of the law of the jungle that Spencer was advocating cuts both ways. I am afraid that Spencer would not accept a situation where the unfit killed the so-called fit. Of course, he was full of it, making noise and thinking that his noise is philosophy.

The only true philosophy is doing unto others as you want them to do to you. How do you want other people to do to you? You want them to love and care for you; therefore, love and care for all people.

Biological justifications for evil are simply the philosophy of evil persons. A sick Spencer looked for other people to care for him; why should they? The old fool ought to have been left to die on the streets of London, a homeless old fool.

One really does not have to say more about Spencer other than to add that since mankind is always looking for ways to justify evil that the rulers of society embraced his amoral ethics and used it to justify abusing of the poor.

American industrialists embraced him and used his jungle law to justify oppressing their workers.

Racist whites used his hypothesis to justify their belief that they are superior to black folk and oppressed them.

Spencer influenced governments and businesses of his time and up to a point is still doing so. He was a conservative fascist; his views helped produce Adolf Hitler; little men with brain dead ideas like Spencer make it possible for mass murderers, like Hitler, to do what they do.


Herbert Spencer. Social Statics. (1892)

Herbert Spencer. The Principles of Biology. (1864)

Herbert Spencer. The Principles of Psychology (1855)

Herbert Spencer. The Principles of Sociology. (1875)

Herbert Spencer. The Principles of Ethics. (1897).

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176