Explain “Social Darwinism” - how does the concept relate to big business leaders, such as Carnegie and Rockefeller?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The essence of Social Darwinism was a misreading of Darwinian thought to justify the advancement of big business in American society during the Gilded Age.  Social Darwinists took Darwin's "survival of the fittest" and applied it to an "anything goes" atmosphere of economic growth and material acquisition. Titans of industry like Carnegie and Rockefeller were able to use Social Darwinism as a justification for why they did what they did.  The ability to crush competition, increase their own control of economic profit centers, and embrace sometimes questionable business practices became justified under Social Darwinist philosophy and thought.

In connecting Darwinian philosophy with capitalism, big business leaders were able to find a philosophical justification for why they did what they did.  Rockefeller and Carnegie took to Social Darwinism as a way to expand their reach into profit- making centers and industrial growth.  Social Darwinism was used to praise individual endeavor and the will to act in a manner that stressed dominance and success.  These elements existed at the very heart of Industrialist efforts.  In Social Darwinism, men like Rockefeller and Carnegie saw a validation of their own being and their place in the world.  It is for this reason that Social Darwinism was so important to the emergence of growth and economic power during the Gilded Age.  

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Social Darwinism, an ideology that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century, justified the practices of business leaders like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller in several ways. First, Social Darwinism asserted that human relations, like those in the natural world, were a struggle for survival. Only the "fittest" would flourish. So, as in nature, there was no place in business for sentiment. If a business leader could corner a market, driving competitors out of business, then that was simply the way of things. Social Darwinism also strongly suggested that government intervention in business activities was self-defeating, because it tended to prop up the weak to the detriment of the entire economy. It was better to allow strong, savvy, and ruthless business leaders like Carnegie and Rockefeller to compete without restraints. Those who had succeeded were held by Social Darwinists to be the victors in the struggle of life, and they were to be celebrated. While both Carnegie and Rockefeller believed that wealth and success conferred social responsibilities, both wanted the ability to amass as much wealth and power as possible.

mtht95 | Student

Social Darwinism was the application of Charles Darwin`s scientific theories of evolution and natural selection to contemporary social development. Social Darwinism became the rationale for the Captains of Industry such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt.