Mill’s Evil Twin
I take a class at Michigan called History 318: Europe in the era of total war taught by Professor Porter-Szucs. The first weeks reading assignments consisted of Mill and another liberal thinker of the time, Herbert Spencer. Many people have called John Stuart Mill the “Father of Liberalism”. If that is the case, then Spencer would be considered his evil twin brother. Spencer takes Mill’s ideas about individual liberty to an extreme level. We have read and discussed Mill in depth and it is clear that one of Mill’s key ideas is the idea that people have the right to better themselves as long as they do not harm others. Spencer takes this key idea of Mill and perverts it.
The cornerstone of Spencerism is the idea of “the struggle for survival”. While this idea is often associated with Darwin, it is Spencer who made the greatest impact on European politics. Spencer believed that individuals have the right to better themselves at all costs. He believed that charity was immoral and was adamantly opposed to Christianity. While this brutish version of Mill would not seem politically relevant the opposite is true. One of the most important figures in European history, Adolf Hitler, was influenced by Spencer.
Spencer’s ideas are crystal clear in Nazism. Nazism does not exist without the element of antisemitism. Since Nazism is a fascist regime, Hitler preached strengthening the state above all else, including the individual. Although this differs from the beliefs of Herbert Spencer, we can still see the “struggle for survival” mentality in the Nazi attempt at an ethnic cleansing. Hitler believed that the Aryan race was the strongest and therefore was the only race worthy of survival.
Although John Stuart Mill would be completely appalled by Hitler and Spencer, his ideas helped to shape the ideas of the latter two. Herbert Spencer’s ideas were not that important in terms of mainstream political theory but they are certainly important in terms of world history.