Coined by Charles Darwin in the late 19th C, the theory of Social Darwinism suggests that humans of all groups and races should be guided by the laws of natural selection, just in the same way as plants and animals. This theory argues that humans, like plants and animals should also live by the mantra of ‘’survival for the fittest.’’ Those who supported this theory were referred to as Social Darwinists.
Social Darwinists claimed that the theory should applied to the economic, political and social settings of human life. To them, the world only belonged to those with strength and might to assert their rule over the others. This theory viewed it as morally right, to let the weak and poor suffer and eventually perish, even at the expense of the strong. Many consider that the theory was a way of promoting the idea of White supremacy over other races.
Origin of Social Darwinism
The roots of the theory of Social Darwinism can be traced back to the last quarter of the 19th C in Britain. In the most famous works of Charles Darwin, he specifically focused on plants and animals. However, in 1871, he came up with ‘’The Descent of Man,’’ a study whereby he applied his natural selection theories.
The work was hugely criticized by many who argued that Darwin was justifying harsh social policies at home and imperialism in foreign countries. However, this did not bring the concept to light, until sociologist Herbert Spencer came up with the phrase, ‘’survival of the fittest’’ to define the result of competition between social groups.
In his work titled, ‘’Social Statistics’’ published in 1850, Spencer claimed that competition would cause social evolution, which would create the most prosperous people with unparalleled liberties in the history of mankind.
Spencer’s ideas gained significant popularity across Britain and the United States. In fact, many intellectuals and elites began embracing the argument by Spencer. In the 1880s, American Social Darwinist, William Graham Summer told audiences that there was no any other alternative to the theory of ‘’survival for the fittest.’’
Social Darwinism in the 20th C
The concept of Social Darwinism was carried along through the years until the 20th C when its popularity and support began to diminish. After World War I, many blamed the theory for having been behind the militarism of Germany and rise of Nazism. Developments on anthropology during this time also discredited the theory.
During the 1920 and 1930s, anthropologists, Franz Boas, Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict proved that human culture makes people to be different from animals, discrediting the biological foundations of Darwin’s theory. Through a better understanding of genetics, eugenics was also undermined. This convinced many that Hitler’s application of eugenic arguments in championing for a ‘’master race’’ was a disgrace.
After 1953, social theories on biology gained new support, after James Watson and Francis Crick presented a study on the structure of DNA molecule. This led to more studies on the relationship between DNA, human behavior and the environment by various anthropologists. In 1970s, Richard Herrnstein, an American psychologist re-ignited the argument of social Darwinists, that intelligence is mainly determined through biology and not impacts of the environment.
In the years that followed, many biologists came up with various studies aimed at finding the truth behind the theory. One of the most striking ones is American biologist Edward Wilson’s work, ‘’Sociology: The New Synthesis in 1975, which claimed that genetics have the greatest impact on human behavior, contrary to the belief of many scientists during that time. In fact, his studies became the pillars of sociology and were mentioned in several works. However, critics have argued that Wilson’s studies are just another version of the social Darwinist theory.
Conclusion- Social Darwinism theory
Charles Darwin is man who was passionately against oppression and social injustice, and would be greatly dismayed by the aggression and unpleasant events that were triggered by the concept of Social Darwinism. For instance, the Nazis used the theory to justify the killing of Jews during World War II as a way of eliminating inferior genetics. These actions have resulted from the misuse of the theory. However, it still raises questions with regards to the evolutionary theory.
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