social darwinsim history




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