Not much to say for this month, but I did recently come across a liberal economic thought in one of Darwin’s letters from 1845 (he would have been 36). It is so unusual for him that I thought I would record it here.
Keep in mind that Darwin was socially conservative in almost every way and much of it seeped into his science. He preferred to view nature as a hierarchy of beings in competition rather than as a holistic collection in which every organism has an important part to play. He seemed to hate social and political expressions of equality. He did not like labor unions and cooperatives because he believed they hurt the competitive principle. In New Zealand, he did not like seeing slaves step out of line and greet someone before their owners did. Tribes that practiced equality were primitive and would not advance until they acquired strong chiefs, he thought.
So I was quite surprised to read these comments by Darwin in an 1845 letter, which concerns the taxes or duties that someone had to pay when purchasing land in England:
“I believe few things would do this Country more good in future ages than the destruction of primogeniture,—so as to lessen the difference in land wealth & make more small freeholders.—How atrociously unjust are the stamp laws which render it so expensive for the poor man to buy his ¼ of an acre, it makes one’s blood burn with indignation.”
I suppose it makes some sense for Darwin to have written this. It could be taken as consistent with his view that competition should always be encouraged, but it is still rare to see him invoke this principle in favor of the poor man. Justice in and of itself does not seem to have been a principle with him; he was after all blind, for example, to the justice that labor unions were seeking. He does not seem to have ever thought that competition might itself be unjust on occasion. He more likely believed that whenever the fittest survive (in accordance with what his conservative class considered fitness), justice simply does not enter into it.
© 2019 Leon Zitzer