The Legacy of Social Darwinism: From Railroads to the 'Reinvention' of Regulation

80 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2012 Last revised: 26 Sep 2012

See all articles by Yair Sagy

Yair Sagy

University of Haifa - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 14, 2012


According to accepted wisdom, new paradigms of regulation are upon us. This Article challenges this conception. It revisits the work of the leading regulator and theoretician of regulation in post-Civil War U.S., Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and argues that contemporary regulation reverts to Adams' theory of regulation, rather than introducing a revolutionary chapter to the intellectual history of regulation in the United States. The Article operates on three levels. On one level, it offers a new interpretation of Adams' seminal theory by revealing the hold that Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinism had on his work. On another level, the article uncovers the influence evolutionary thinking had on the rise of the American administrative state in general, and on the work of one of its greatest regulators in particular. Finally, in exposing the imprint of Social Darwinism in Adams' theory of regulation and connecting this theory to present models of regulation, the Article unearths and explores key theoretical foundations of much of contemporary thinking and practice in the field of administrative regulation. Thus, the Article reveals that the legacy of Social Darwinism, which originated in nineteenth century U.S. regulation, persists to this day.

Keywords: Intellectual History and Theories of Regulation, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinism, Railroad Regulation, The American Administrative State

Suggested Citation

Sagy, Yair, The Legacy of Social Darwinism: From Railroads to the 'Reinvention' of Regulation (August 14, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Yair Sagy (Contact Author)

University of Haifa - Faculty of Law ( email )

Mount Carmel
Haifa, 31905

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics