Duquesne University

Social Darwinism and Philanthropy in Pittsburgh's Gilded Ages: The Untold History of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Two of the "Richest Men in the World"

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Paul Krause February 20, 2009, 7:00-10:00 p.m. Union Ballroom

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Paul Krause is a Professor of History at the U. of British Columbia. Dr. Krause wrote the definitive history of the Homestead Lockout (The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel), the pivotal battle between organized labor and the powerful steel magnate Andrew Carnegie in Pittsburgh in 1892. The late nineteenth century was the heyday of “Social Darwinism”, the consequences of which were on full display at Homestead and throughout Gilded Age America. Indeed, it can be argued that these ideas remain important in the 21st century United States.

Abstract: This talk explores the hidden connections between American philanthropy, the practice of which was codified by Pittsburgh’s own Andrew Carnegie, and the ruthless business methods which he also mastered and which, over the course of a century, have constituted no less important a bequest than his Gospel of Wealth. In seeking to legitimize his path-breaking commercial ventures, Carnegie publicly wrapped himself in the banner of biological science and its philosophical offshoot, but his understanding of both Darwin and Spencer was flawed and self-serving. The 21st Century has begun with a new Gilded Age – only twice in our nation’s history has our wealth been so heavily concentrated in so few hands – and despite important new ventures in philanthropy, many of them emanating from Pittsburgh, the very questions of justice and equity that bedeviled social critics of 100 years ago seem to remain, largely unchanged. In this new history of Carnegie and his thinking, and of Bill Gates and his, some important questions are raised about the nature and meaning of democracy, citizenship, and freedom in a global economy that continues to privilege the unfettered pursuit of wealth.

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