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

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.  

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