Front Page Titles (by Subject) Carnegie and Spencer - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1979, vol. 2, No. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Carnegie and Spencer - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1979, vol. 2, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Carnegie and Spencer
“Andrew Carnegie and Herbert Spencer: A Special Relationship.” American Studies 13(1979):57–71.
The intimate friendship of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie and philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) provides some insight into the reception of Spencer's theory of social evolution by the American business class of the Gilded Age. Carnegie proclaimed himself a dedicated follower of Spencer: “he was my intellectual and spiritual savior.” The rational theory of progress developed by Spencer was very attractive to Carnegie, even in its early formation. Social evolution provided Carnegie with an intellectual basis for his enduring optimism, his cherished belief in human progress, and a justification for highly competitive business mores.
Though Spencer regarded business survival to be a keen competition of “eat or be eaten,” he did not encourage the proliferation of this commercial cannibalism. His correspondence with Carnegie indicated he was highly critical of American competition, monopolistic practices, and pervasive materialism. At a farewell dinner hosted by Carnegie for Spencer, Spencer expounded on the ills of American “persistent activity” (much to Carnegie's chagrin): “I hear that a great trader among you deliberately endeavoured to crush out everyone whose business competed with his own; makes life harder for all others engaged in it; and excludes from it many who might otherwise gain competencies. We have had somewhat too much of the ‘gospel of work.’ It is time to preach the gospel of relaxation.”
Several times Spencer asked Carnegie to use his great wealth to promote world peace and solve conflicts, since they shared an antipathy of militarism and imperialism. Spencer's personal philanthropy had a tremendous impact on Carnegie, influencing Carnegie to display a social responsibility by employing his wealth for the general welfare during his lifetime—a novel idea in this industrialist period. Between 1887–1907, Carnegie gave $125 million to philanthropic enterprises, but never in terms of direct aid to the poor and underprivileged. His generosity was colored with a shrewd discretion of the Spencerian moral: Carnegie aided only those who he felt could help themselves. Like Spencer, he saw no reason to save the unfit.
Perhaps the more interesting point of their friendship was the deep fondness they felt for one another, particularly Carnegie's warm emotions toward Spencer. At Spencer's death, Carnegie tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade the Dean of Westminster Abbey to place a bust of Spencer in the Abbey. “If Spencer enters the Abbey, it is not to worship, but to be worshipped,” he wrote. In Andrew Carnegie, Herbert Spencer had a good friend and admirer who helped his name and theories reach the American public. In Spencer, Carnegie had an intellectual mentor and inspiring idol. It was a unique relationship that was both spontaneous and useful to two of the most influential men in the nineteenth century.