What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other

Just today, Mises.com published a long and thoughtful article, What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other by William Graham Sumner.

A good article in its own right, it’s a great article to teach Christian children how to read, digest, and critique complex ideas.

Certainly, it is written from a humanist perspective: Sumner was trained as an Episcopalian clergyman, after all, and was a founding father of sociology, a field of study not noted for the amount of Christians it attracts.

Still, it is written from the pro-liberty perspective, and so — like the works of other excellent, demanding, thoughtful unbelievers — is far more valuable than the works of fourth-rate Christian scholars.

As for Sumner’s Social Darwinism…

B. Cosmic Origins and Sovereignty

The vast majority of modern academics are Darwinists, either explicitly (rare) or implicitly. This is true of economists. Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek were both Darwinists. Hayek devoted considerable space in his writings to this topic. I discussed this in Appendix B of my book, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (1982). A long section of it examines Hayek’s Darwinism. I reprinted it in Volume 2 of Sovereignty and Dominion, the 2012 edition of my Genesis commentary. Other economists are not forthright about their Darwinism. They do not self-consciously apply their implicit Darwininan theory of cosmic and social origins to their monographs and textbooks. Their Darwinism serves as a backdrop to their writing.

I am not speaking here of the tiny and peripheral late-nineteenth-century intellectual movement known as social Darwinism. That movement is thought to have had only two major defenders, both of whom were sociologists: the British scholar Herbert Spencer and the American professor William Graham Sumner. Spencer became an evolutionist before Darwin’s famous book. He coined the phrase, picked up by Darwin in a later edition, “the survival of the fittest.” Neither he nor Sumner was a social Darwinist. Social Darwinists justified the free market’s system of competition by an appeal to biological competition: “nature red in tooth and claw.” As an intellectual movement, it had few supporters. Both Sumner and Spencer believed that the free market is a social arrangement for peace and voluntary cooperation, not conflict. Mises agreed. He wrote against social Darwinism in Human Action (1949). “Reason has demonstrated that, for man, the most adequate means of improving his condition is social cooperation and division of labor. They are man’s foremost tool in his struggle for survival. But they can work only where there is peace. Wars, civil wars, and revolutions are detrimental to man’s success in the struggle for existence because they disintegrate the apparatus of social cooperation” (VIII:8:2).

If most economists are Darwinists, then the debates between the schools of economic opinion are at bottom arguments “within the camp.” Economists argue about the proper institutional arrangements for any society to make productive use of scarce resources, including the knowledge of how to use these resources. I am arguing for a radically different approach to economics. Economic theory must not begin with Darwinian theories of cosmology: cosmic chance vs. unbreakable cosmic laws. Instead, it must begin with the related doctrines of God’s creation of the universe out of nothing and His providential administration of the creation. Christian economics must begin with the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, not the doctrine of the sovereignty of the evolving cosmos. Therefore, it must not begin with the Darwinian economists’ derivative presupposition of the sovereignty of man, either individual man or collective man. I have spent the last half century developing this idea of these two incompatible rival presuppositions in social theory in general, but especially economic theory. This is why I am devoting Part 1 of this book to a consideration of foundations. It is why I wrote the Student’s Edition in terms of three approaches to economic theory: pre-fall (covenant-keeping), post-fall (covenant-breaking), and redemptionist (covenant-keeping).

Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition. Chapter 1: Presuppositions
Gary North

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