The Farewell To Alms Theory – Older Than We Think

I am currently (re)reading The National System of Political Economy by Friedrich List (published in 1841), and this jumped out at me:

In no European kingdom is the institution of an aristocracy more judiciously designed than in England for securing to the nobility, in their relation to the Crown and the commonalty, individual independence, dignity, and stability; to give them a Parliamentary training and position; to direct their energies to patriotic and national aims; to induce them to attract to their own body the élite of the commonalty, to include in their ranks every commoner who earns distinction, whether by mental gifts, exceptional wealth, or great achievements; and, on the other hand, to cast back again amongst the commons the surplus progeny of aristocratic descent, thus leading to the amalgamation of the nobility and the commonalty in future generations. By this process the nobility is ever receiving from the Commons fresh accessions of civic and patriotic energy, of science, learning, intellectual and material resources, while it is ever restoring to the people a portion of the culture and of the spirit of independence peculiarly its own, leaving its own children to trust to their own resources, and supplying the commonalty with incentives to renewed exertion. In the case of the English lord, however large may be the number of his descendants, only one can hold the title at a time. The other members of the family are commoners, who gain a livelihood either in one of the learned professions, or in the Civil Service, in commerce, industry, or agriculture. The story goes that some time ago one of the first dukes in England conceived the idea of inviting all the blood relations of his house to a banquet, but he was fain to abandon the design because their name was legion, notwithstanding that the family pedigree had not reached farther back than for a few centuries. It would require a whole volume to show the effect of this institution upon the spirit of enterprise, the colonisation, the might and the liberties, and especially upon the forces of production of this nation.

So perhaps Gregory Clark wasn’t quite as original as many make him out to be.

PS. I myself am quite skeptical about the theory. As Ron Unz summarized it, “And I agree that Clark’s evolutionary model for England suffers from similar problems, namely that he’s produced an interesting theory explaining why the English are smarter and longer-time oriented than all the other Europeans. Except they aren’t.”

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  1. […] How Social Darwinism Made Modern China – “A thousand years of meritocracy shaped the Middle Kingdom.” – good stuff from ron unz. see also the derb and peter frost and anatoly. […]

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