Social Darwinism History Social Darwinism and its use to Justify Business Practices of the 19th and 20th century. Thesis: The need for a justification of enormous wealth of a few and an unimaginable poverty of millions was, as many tend to believe, fulfilled by the emergence of a theory called Social Darwinism, which on one hand was regarded as a primary defense of business activities, and on the other, was nothing more than a myth. I. Definition and origin of Social Darwinism A. Contribution of Charles Darwin 1. Natural selection 2. Survival of the fittest B.
Derivation of Social Darwinism C. First Social Darwinists 1. Herbert Spencer 2. William Graham Sumner II. Changes in American Society A. Growth of the industry B. Myth of the self made man 1.
John D. Rockefeller 2. Andrew Carnegie III. Overemphasis on Social Darwinism A. Rarely used by entrepreneurs B. Relied on Christian and other arguments During the late 19th, and early 20th century, the United States experienced a growth of industry like it has never seen before.
New patents and inventions flourished. New products flooded the market. While thousands of poor, hungry, and unemployed crowded the streets, the rich were busy displaying their enormous wealth. Even though the need for reform was overwhelming, for the majority of Americans, nothing was being done. The big bosses were able to buy off the politicians and persuade them to vote in their favor. While the rich were getting richer, and the poor getting poorer, the politicians watched.
The need for a justification of the enormous wealth of a few and an unimaginable poverty of millions was, as many tended to believe, fulfilled by the emergence of a theory called Social Darwinism, which on one hand was regarded as a primary defense of business activities, and on the other, was nothing more than a myth. Social Darwinism, the experts say, was a short-lived theory of social evolution, vigorously discussed in America, which rationalized and justified the harsh facts of social stratification in an attempt to reconcile them with the prevalent ideology of equalitarianism. The emergence of Social Darwinism was perhaps the most visible effect on the social sciences of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (Tax and Krucoff 402). In simple terms, Social Darwinism was an application (many believe a misapplication) of Charles Darwin’s laws of evolution and natural selection to human society. In his most famous book The Origin of Species, Darwin included four major arguments: that new species appear; that these new species have evolved from older species; that the evolution of species is the result of natural selection; and that natural selection depends upon variations and the maintenance of variation in spite of the tendency of natural selection to eliminate ‘unfit’ variants (403). Darwin explains the process of natural selection in these words: As many more individuals of each species are born that can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.
From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form (Darwin 21). According to Darwin, natural selection is depended on the struggle for existence among individuals. Any organism that is able to obtain the necessary resources, often at the expense of other organisms, will survive, reproduce and pass on the favored qualities onto it’s offspring (the principle of inheritance). In short, the weak, unfit will die, and the strong, will continue its existence. This whole theory was summarized in one laconic phrase – survival of the fittest.
For almost a decade before Darwin’s The Origin of Species was the first published in 1859, a well educated Englishman named Herbert Spencer had been writing about the doctrine of evolution. He was first ever to use the popular phrase survival of the fittest and was among the first to apply the doctrine of evolution to human society. Along with William Graham Sumner, they portrayed the society as an arena in which individuals struggled and where the fittest survived. They agreed that from within societies, the businessmen proved to be the fittest. Sumner once said, The men who have not done their duty in this world never can be equal to those who have done their duty. ..The class distinctions simply result from the different degrees of success with which men have availed themselves of the chances which were presented to them. Their doctrine stated that the government should not interfere, and help the less fit (and by doing so hurting the society).
It should maintain a laissez faire policy. There could be no laws to help the poor. There could be no laws to regulate the businesses for they created artificial barriers to natural selection of the strongest firms. Competition would regulate the industry. Others followed with their opposition to tariffs, trade regulations, state banking, government postal services etc,.
(Bryant, Jr. and Dethloff 253). Those, at that time very controversial issues, brought them, but especially Spencer, a lot of negative publicity. In 1875, the economist John Elliott Cairnes announced that Spencer transferred laws of physiology to the domain of social science. Ten years later, the Belgian sociologist, Emile de Laveleye added that Spencer was anxious to see the law of the survival of the fittest and of natural selection adopted in human society.
A number of intellectuals and sociologists had later accused Spencer and Summner of supporting the unjust and brutally individualistic regime of Spencarianism or Social Darwinism (Bannister 34-36) There were of course scholars who supported the ideas of Spencer and Sumner. Even Charles Darwin who in his The Origin of Species purpously avoided the issues of social evolution later addressed them in his book The Descent of Man in a key chapter titled On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties. Darwin recognized the argument that if one were to apply the laws of survival of the fittest and natural selection to society, should the society preserve it’s weaker members? The key passage from The Descent of Man reads as follows: With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment. ..Thus, the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.
No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed (qtd. in Bannister 30) Clearly, even Charles Darwin wasn’t ignorant toward the reasoning behind Social Darwinism. He never really stated whether he fully supported it or were against it. Historians tend to believe that his opinion laid somewhere in between (Bannister 30-31). Social Darwinism in United States goes hand in hand with the Gilded Age and with the rise of the industry. The Gilded Age, the period from 1865 to 1901, was an era of great industrial and economic growth for America.
It was an era of numerous inventions and paten …