Pragmatism and the American Mind: Essays and Reviews in Philosophy and Intellectual History

By Morton White | Go to book overview

14. Social Darwinism and Dewey's Pragmatism1

One of the most illuminating accomplishments of Richard Hofstadter's extremely informative book, Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915, is to show convincingly that not all Americans who admired evolutionary thought derived from it the laissez-faire conclusions of the influential sociologist William Graham Sumner. For example, Lester Ward was a sociological "meliorist" who encouraged active intervention in the social process; and Ward was not alone. Between the Civil War and the First World War, many American thinkers dissented from the social doctrines of Sumner and Herbert Spencer, for example, Henry George, Edward Bellamy, preachers of the social gospel, Herbert Croly, and John Dewey; and some of the most interesting parts of Hofstadter's book are devoted to those who believed that mutual aid and social solidarity, rather than rugged individualism, are natural outgrowths of evolutionary development. However, in spite of Hofstadter's skill in depicting the nature and background

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1
This essay originated as a review of Richard Hofstadter Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915 ( Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944) in the Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume VI ( Janu­ ary 1945), pp. 119-22. It is reprinted here, in considerably revised form, by permission.

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