Darwinism vs Social Darwinism
Herbert Spencer a 19th century philosopher was one of the most thoroughly known philosophers who prompted the idea of Social Darwinism. Social Darwinists use the term “survival of the fittest” which derives off Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” he explained that biology was subject to long-term transformations and that those transformations exhibited evolutionary patterns (Stewart). Using this theory, he came to the belief that populations most suited for specific environments would live and survive rather than those populations who did not adapt or transform, thus creating the natural selection process. Darwin based his theory off the animal kingdom, he was acutely aware that he would receive a rough reception from those who considered God to be the indispensable element of any phenomena. Spencer on the other hand based his Social Darwinism off man. (Stewart 394)
Spencer’s ideas began as a political doctrine designed to be the anti-utilitarianism. It characterized the lower class and some races as relatively less equipped for survival than the other prosperous middle class (Sechandice). Therefore, government programs should not be used on these classes of people, and Social Darwinism should take effect “survival of the fittest”. This thought came about from the European Empires conquest of African and Asian peoples in the late nineteenth century (Sechandice). We would later see this same mentality form and used in a different way when the Nazi party of Germany would claim that the Arian race was the superior race and all others should be exterminated.
To the question of if this ideology and theory is still used today, I believe the answer is yes. Especially in America today. Being the wealthiest country in this planet’s history, I think it would be naive and wrong to think that our society is not on top of the food chain when it comes to the survival of the fittest. But that is a macro way of looking at it. In a more micro sense I believe the racial barriers we have placed in this society through racism have harmed and hindered our growth. Example of this would be affirmative action. Legislation in our country had to be passed to give other races equal opportunity because in the mind of many people in positions of power, people of color could not get the job done. This would be where survival of the fittest fails to consider the sabotage other humans can place upon others to fill their ideals and or narratives.
What Social Darwinism failed to look at when it took the human aspect into view in my opinion, was the emotions and feelings that the Darwinism of the biological sphere didn’t have to consider. A lion in the animal kingdom has one thing on his mind, that is to survive. Kill or be killed. Humans do not have that same biological and social structure. We have emotions and feelings such as empathy, sympathy, remorse and compassion. If you are born into the lower class, you still have a chance to adapt, learn and flourish in our society. Albeit it may be harder to accomplish but that opportunity is still there. If you were born a rat, you will always be a rat. You do not have that opportunity to ever become the king in the animal kingdom such as the lion. But we humans have the capability and the adaptability to be born in the worst of situations and persevere through it and give ourselves the chance to be the king of our domain.
Sechandice, Aristide. “Social Darwinism and Racism.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2014. EBSCO, Access No. 96397674.
Stewart, Iain. “Commandeering Time: The Ideological Status of Time in the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer.” Australian Journal of Politics and History vol. 57. no. 3, pp. 389-402, September 2011. EBSCO, Access No. 65110834.