Changing Of Social Darwinism Over Time

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In 1859, Charles Darwin had published On the Origins of Species, which talked about the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. Thinkers at the time had applied Darwin’s discoveries to human society; one of them being Herbert Spencer who was the proponent leader of the movement. He believed that social justice consists of individuals making whatever they can of their lives. He acknowledged that people are naturally unequal, resulting in people either succeeding or failing in life due to their own efforts. The catchphrase ‘survival of the fittest’ had spawned from this ideology: those who adapt appropriately to social environments will therefore do their best. Herbert Spencer had seen this as the natural order of things. A contemporary of Spencer was Samuel Smiles, and he turned Social Darwinism into a quasi-religion. He believed that it is within the capacity of the individual to improve themselves, and humans succeed according to our efforts. One of his most famous quotes comes from his book Self Help: ‘The healthy spirit of self-help created amongst working-people would, more than any other measure would raise them as a class.’ This means that the poor would try their hardest to move up the social ladder if they are not given any help to do so, as they would only have themselves to blame. Smile’s book was released in 1859 and sold 150,000 copies, conveying that there were some people who had agreed with him and his views were fairly popular at the time. However, the peak of Darwinism definitely occurred with the presence of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in the United Kingdom. The want for privatization and much more under her government linked to Social Darwinism, as it conveyed ‘survival of the fittest. In a deregulated society, dynamic people will succeed and lazy people will fail and get what they deserve, which is very little. Additionally, there was also the belief that Welfare had become excessive- creating a dependency culture.

Social Darwinism had started to grow in popularity throughout the rest of Europe, as people witnessed the expansion of European imperialism. Darwinism was used to justify the idea of there being a superior race, and they were part of it and that it was their duty to help civilize the people that were part of the weaker race.’Social Darwinism could be harnessed to the explanation and justification of imperialist policies.’ An example of this is Napoleon III, who after the success of The French Revolution deemed France and French culture superior to others and thought that it was their responsibility to spread this way of life around the world, with their targets primarily being those with a different race to them. The idea was because they had discovered this new ideology at the time, which was liberalism, they had won the race and biological battle with others, and were in the lead, as they were at the forefront of this belief of ‘survival of the fittest.

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The theory of evolution was applied evolution to the social and economic actions of imperialists. Imperialists could therefore claim that they were just following natural law and that it was science if any were to criticize imperialism and label it as unethical. To imperialists at the time, taking control of other civilizations had meant that they were contributing to the forwarding of human evolution and that it was the natural order of things. This would have helped many Europeans support the movement, as most were traditional conservatives, meaning they believed that it is a part of human nature for there to order and hierarchy in society, further exhibiting that those at the top of society have a duty to keep those at the bottom of society in check- imperialism would be used to do so, therefore gaining less backlash. In short, Social Darwinism gave imperialism some sort of scientific legitimacy, and was used to justify notions of racialism and the idea of ‘the white man’s burden.’

To amplify this idea that social Darwinism was used as an excuse to colonize was the fact that the theory of evolution was never intended to be applied to race and biology. Darwin was more concerned with competition between species, rather than in a social context with humans. Darwinism had been rejected by most legitimate sociologists, emphasizing this idea that it was never meant to be applied in a social context.

Darwin-inspired eugenics had played a crucial role in inspiring Hitler and his followers. Darwinism justified and encouraged the Nazi views on both race and war. The dismissal of the Christian belief that all humans come from Adam and Eve, suggests the holocaust would not have happened as there would have not been this view of the superior race. Nazis claimed that their actions were not mainly because they hated the Jewish race, but because they did not want them polluting their superior race. Hitler had claimed that Jewish people should be eradicated as ‘in the long run nature eliminates the noxious elements’, ostensibly claiming that Jewish people are inferior and that they are just hurrying up the pace of their extinction, as it was inevitable. Hitler had also argued that due to this, the government should apply the ‘laws of nature’ mainly being ‘the survival of the fittest, and promote the elimination of the inferior races. Hitler had been very fearful of the breeding of the Aryan race with other races. The resulted in the creation of the ‘final solution’, which was that inferior races had to be eliminated so that future generations of the Aryan race would always be grateful for the improvement of humanity. In a speech Hitler had stated: ‘The Germans were the higher race, destined for a glorious evolutionary future. For this reason, it was essential that the Jews should be segregated, otherwise mixed marriages would take place.’ Hitler even went as far as comparing inferior races to animals- ‘the Jews, labeled subhumans, became beings.’   


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