Intellectual descent: Darwin’s place in the lineage of liberal thinkers such as Adam Smith is more clear to the British, whereas conservatives in America often just don’t get the connection between Smith’s economics, of which they approve, and Darwin’s biology, of which they don’t. ~Steve Sailer
Mr. Sailer makes a great point here (in addition to an entertaining Jeeves and Wooster reference elsewhere in the post), which incidentally touches on something that Tom Bethell said in one of his articles from the last two months when he acknowledged the affinity between laissez-faire and Darwin’s thought as a way of discrediting Darwin.
Thus Mr. Bethell:
Newton, in fact, thought that the “most beautiful system” of sun, planets, and comets could “only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.” But the laws of physics that govern these motions are simplicity itself compared with the immense complexity of the biological machinery that governs the development, proliferation, growth, and aging of millions of reproductive species. These mechanisms have yet to be discovered or described. To believe that the feeble tautology of natural selection — laissez-faire political economy from the 1830s imported into biology — constitutes a sufficient explanation of the marvels of nature is to display a credulity that makes our fundamentalists seem sagacious by comparison.
Leaving aside the other remarks for a moment, here’s the rub: Darwin “imported” liberal economics into biology. This is supposed to discredit Darwin for being an ideologue pushing liberal political economy in the laboratory, so to speak, and at the same time, I suppose, attempting to ground that theory of economics in nature. For the “classical” liberal who also accepts Darwin’s theory, the similarities between the two kinds of thought might suggest that there is something true in both of them and be very encouraged by this attempted put-down.
Mr. Sailer is right to suggest that it would be an odd thing to disparage one and affirm the other, so how much more strange is it to ridicule Darwin on account of his affinities with liberal economics and, by extension, with Smith? The charge of “importing” laissez-faire is an interesting charge (to which the evolutionary biologist could counter with perfect seriousness and not a little truth that ID is merely the importing of patristic theology into biology). It is all the more interesting because more than a few biologists over the years have complained that so-called Social Darwinism was the mistaken and inappropriate “importing” of a distortion of something they take as scientifically true into the social and political order.