Please provide an easy explanation of Social Darwinism.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Darwinism, of course, refers to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and of survival of the fittest.  This theory says that organisms in the natural world are in a state of competition to survive and pass on their genes.  Only the fittest organisms, those best adapted to their circumstances, prosper and procreate.

The theory of Social Darwinism was very widely accepted in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  This theory applied the idea of survival of the fittest to human society.  It argued that people, like other organisms, are in a competition.  People are generally not competing to survive because those people who lose in the competition of modern life do not generally get killed.  Instead, people are competing to get wealth and power.

Social Darwinism says that the people who gain wealth and power have won in the competition of life.  This shows that they are the fittest and best people.  Those who are poor and lack power are clearly the least fit people.  It is therefore proper that the rich should be wealthy and powerful and the poor should be weak and impoverished. 

Social Darwinism, then, was a theory that was used to justify the huge gaps in wealth between the rich and the poor around 100 years ago.  The theory said that inequality was just and even good for society because it was based on a Darwinian struggle.  The fittest people won the struggle and became rich while the least fit lost the struggle and lived in poverty.

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katwood001's profile pic

katwood001 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

An easy explanation of Social Darwinism would begin with a quote from the book Ragtime: "All men are born equal, but the cream rises to the top." This quote is made by the characters Henry Ford and JP Morgan. They were both born poor and rose to be the wealthiest men in America. Their success was attributed to the fact that they were born with genetic traits that made them successful, just like giraffes with the longer necks who got the leaves. 

Both men in history are considered examples of Social Darwinism.  It centers around the idea that some people are born with the "success gene" and others aren't.  Successful people, according to the theory, will find a way to be successful no matter what problems they encounter.  

Social Darwinists proposed that the United States should do nothing to help the poor in order to speed up the refining of the "American Society." Under their theory, if the unsuccessful people died off, eventually the United States would be filled with only successful people.  

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