Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Economists versus Eugenicists, 1776-1900   posted by Herrick @ 7/07/2009 10:42:00 AM

Anti-Irish caricatures, the hypothesis that some races contain little intra-race variation, and how economists keep arguing--normatively and positively--for the rough equality of humankind: It's all in Peart and Levy's book The Vanity of the Philosopher.

The book is highly recommended to GNXPers with any interest in the complicated historical relationship between genetics and social science. The major value-added comes from the oft-ignored tension between economic theorists and evolutionary theorists. Well, that and the cartoons.

The book builds on Levy's earlier work How the Dismal Science Got its Name. A free, abbreviated version of that story is here, and is wiki'd here.

For some HBD newbies, the best part of Vanity will be the discussion of the Irish: In the early days of Darwinism, the people of the Emerald Isle were Exhibit A (or B) of an inferior race. Peart and Levy have a great discussion of how 19th century intellectuals hoped the Irish to evolve to become as well-mannered as, say, the English. And in the 19th century, whenever attacks on the Irish started up, attacks on abstract, unrealistic, ahistorical economic theory were rarely far behind. Funny, that...

Oh, one more reason to take a look at Vanity: Peart and Levy slide the knife into Charles Dickens, a sight always to be relished.