The great event of the New York cultural season of 1882 was the visit of the sixty-twoyear-old English philosopher and social commentator Herbert Spencer. Nowhere did Spencer have a larger or more enthusiastic following than in the United States, where such works as ―Social Statics and ―The Data of Ethics were celebrated as powerful justifications for laissezfaire capitalism. Competition was preordained; its result was progress; and any institution that stood in the way of individual liberties was violating the natural order. ―Survival of the fittest —a phrase that Charles Darwin took from Spencer—made free competition a social as well as a natural law. Spencer was, arguably, the single most influential systematic thinker of the nineteenth century, but his influence, compared with that of Darwin, Marx, or Mill, was short-lived. In 1937, the Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons asked, ―Who now reads Spencer? Seventy years later, the question remains pertinent, even if no one now reads Talcott Parsons, either. In his day, Spencer was the greatest of philosophical hedgehogs: his popularity stemmed from the Page 54 fact that he had one big, easily grasped idea and a mass of more particular ideas that supposedly flowed from the big one. The big idea was evolution, but, while Darwin applied it to species change, speculating about society and culture only with reluctance, Spencer saw evolution working everywhere. ―This law of organic progress is the law of all progress, he wrote, ―whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development of Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, [or] Art. Spencer has been tagged as a social Darwinist, but it would be more correct to think of Darwin as a biological Spencerian. Spencer was very well known as an evolutionist long before Darwin‘s ―On the Origin of Species was published, in 1859, and people who had limited interest in the finches of the Galápagos had a great interest in whether the state should provide for the poor or whether it was right to colonize India.