• The idea that there is a science of society as opposed to religious
• Not only the idea that you could use science to understand society but
that you should use it and that you could use it to shape responses,
esp public policy
• Had a lot of different permutations.
• The notion that the American economy and its tremendous growth allowed
all people the opportunity to rise up.
o Horatio Alger - wrote childrens books about kids who practices
the virtues of clean living and hard work and then has a chance
to display his awesomeness to a rich guy and then he goes from
rags to riches…
o Social mobility!
• In the late 19 th century, it meant something very different than
o Classical liberalism – the key idea is that the market is self-
regulating so the best public policy is to let the market do its
thing, not let govt touch it. (Laisse Fair)
o FICTION: The idea that there can be a market that isn’t regulated
by govt. without govt, there is no property. Really they can’t be
• People who believed in this lived in cities, urban, middle-class, well-
educated, usually republican (though not exclusively).
• American Social Science Association – founded 1865 for the purpose of
discussing education, health, economics in order to devise appropriate
o Thought American society was framed by natural laws that if you
figured them out, you could propose scientific legislation,
anyone else who tried to influence market (govt) was promoting
o Doomed to futility. (See Harper’s Weekly April 30, 1887)
Special interests – no one is getting anywhere
o Natural laws worked out in a super elitist ways.
(eg. Farmers wanted to regulate the rrs with Granger Laws
which were supposed to regulate rates and stop
discriminating blahh. Liberalists were like, this is class
legislation; supply and demand! Farmers asked why workers
had such power – because they organized to have more
o The idea of natural law v class legislation was really in the eye
of the beholder.
II. Social Darwinism
• Evolution – Charles Darwin – 1859 – Origin of Species
• Herbert Spencer tried to apply Darwin’s theory to the social world.
o Spencer said “survival of the fittest”
• Society develops through the competition
• You shouldn’t interfere with natural laws – its unavoidable and good if
the weak get pushed to the side and cant reproduce! • What kind of human behaviors are deemed natural?
• William Graham Sumner – Yale professor – competition in society is
natural – he wasn’t squeamish about defining who is fitter – the
millionares were the best.
• Any effort to allow equality is bad because it rewarded those who don’t
• Virtue and hard work was the only explanation for millionares wealth
and power – class relations, rich and poor.
• Others applied it to race..!
o “The role of survival of the fittest as well as to the animal
• Social science developed in response to social Darwinism.
III. Social Science
A. Amateurs to professionals
• ASSA to university depts.. (ASSA had no training, though well educated.)
• Henry George – born in PA, moved to SF, watched SF in the gold-rush era
– Wrote PROGRESS AND POVERTY
o What fascinated him was the impact of economic growth on land
value, esp the role of real estate spectators