Commandeering Time: The Ideological Status of Time in the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer

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Abstract

The once world-famed philosophy of Herbert Spencer is the most thoroughly developed version of what is commonly but misleadingly termed “Social Darwinism”. It will be argued that Spencer confers upon time a super-objectivity within which his own political preferences appear to lie beyond historical time, hence as not subject to politics but as a frame within which only a restricted range of political choices appear to be available. Using the example of Spencer, it is then asked how an ideology may be identified not only as effect and as process but also as to its “mechanism”. In everyday life, how is ideology done? It is suggested that the mechanism lies not on the plane of the signified but on that of the signifier, in what will be termed a “dark performative” use of language.

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