Beck, Naomi

Deputy Director General for Strategy and International Affairs

The Council for Higher Education - Israel, Israel



Max Weber alumnus

Department of History and Civilization

Cohort(s): 2009/2010

Ph.D. Institution

Université Paris I, France


My research focuses on the history of evolutionary theory in the broad cultural context with an emphasis on the relationship between evolutionary ideas and socio-political doctrines.
In my dissertation - La gauche évolutionniste: Spencer et ses lecteurs en France et en Italie (forthcoming in 2013) - I examined how and why Herbert Spencer’s theories on social evolution inspired political doctrines that were opposed to his own liberal individualism. In France, the search for a solidarité backed up by the new evolutionary science led to an interpretation of Spencer’s organic analogy that promoted the welfare State. In Italy, Spencer’s most important followers developed a socialist, and even a Marxist reading of his theory. My comparative analysis of the diffusion and interpretation of Spencer's ideas in France and Italy highlights the importance of the historical and political context, and the role of key figures (e.g. Emile Durkheim and Enrico Ferri) in this process.
While completing the manuscript of my dissertation, I began a book-length project with the University of Chicago Press, which explores Friedrich August von Hayek's evolutionary theory. Hayek is mainly known for his defence of the free market. His use of evolutionary concepts and parallels remains relatively little explored. It is this lacuna that my book seeks to fill. I examine Hayek’s evolutionary claims, in particular his model of cultural group selection, and compare them to past developments and recent studies on social evolution. My analysis offers a fresh perspective on Hayek’s thought and an evaluation of key theoretical elements that are often overlooked. It will contribute to the ongoing discussion of the relationship between evolution, economics and politics, as well as to the newly revived debate on cultural group selection.
I published articles in the Journal of the History of Biology, Science in Context and in various collected volumes such as The Cambridge Companion to the Origin of Species.

Back to top