Social Darwinism is a theoretical position that arose at the end of the 19th century and that extrapolated Darwin’s theory of evolution to sociology, economics and politics. In other words, he applied the biological concepts of natural selection and the struggle for existence to explain the laws of social development and the relationships between human beings.
In this sense, social Darwinists argue that the best gifted and strongest human beings are those who remain in power and prevail over the weakest.
This theory has been used to justify imperialism, racism, the conquest of territories and the subjugation of the population. It justifies the idea that there are superior ethnic groups or races that must prevail and dominate in society. Let’s analyze it.
Darwin’s theory of evolution
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was an English natural scientist who made several contributions to evolutionary biology. In his most famous work, The origin of species (1859)he theorized the evolution of organisms on the basis of two processes:
- The struggle for existence.
- Natural selection (or survival of the fittest).
On the one hand, the struggle for existence defends it, In nature, living organisms are in constant conflict to survive in the environment.. In this case, the dependence on specific factors forces them to compete and destroy each other for the limited resources available. An example of this would be the fight between animals for food or to mate.
For its part, natural selection is the process by which better adapted organisms replace the less adapted ones through the slow accumulation of favorable genetic changes over the generations. In this sense, natural selection alludes to the advantages some have over others.
These two concepts are interdependent in Darwin’s theory of evolution. In this case, natural selection depends on the struggle for existence, which would be the engine of evolution.
Origin of Social Darwinism
The origin of social Darwinism is attributed to the philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903), who adapted Darwin’s evolutionary notions to human societies. In his work first principles (1862), Spencer qualifies human social groups as organisms governed by the laws of nature. and that they are within an evolutionary framework.
In this sense, the author defines social evolutionism as follows:
With this claim, Spencer argued that human social groups transform from an undifferentiated, horizontal population (inconsistent homogeneity) to an organization stratified by rulers and governed (consistent heterogeneity). It calls social transformation, in which the rulers impose themselves and eliminate the “less fit” governed, justifies it through natural and biological processes: struggle for existence and natural selection.
Darwin and Social Darwinism
Currently, there is controversy as to whether Darwin supported social evolutionism. The natural scientist’s defenders argue that he himself expressed doubts about the proposal, opposing the application of the mechanism of natural selection to human societies.
However, various critics think otherwise. They argue that Darwin never distinguished between “biological evolution” and “social evolution”.
What is certain is that Darwin postulated that people were divided into “civilized” and “wild” races.based on the cranial difference. Therefore, in an alleged asymmetry of intelligence. Therefore, he described Europeans as having the greatest intellectual capacity, while Asians and Aboriginal Australians would be the ones with the least capacity.
Also, in his work The origin of man (1871), addressed how he believed natural selection affected so-called “civilized nations.” There he uses the concepts of “inferior race” and “superior race”. He argues that the proliferation of inferior races affects the increase in numbers of those “men of superior qualities.”
Consequences of the postulates of social evolution
Although Social Darwinism initially emerged as a sociological theory, his postulates served as inspiration for a number of political and social movements which justified the structures of domination and the capitalist economic system.
Nazism is one of the clearest examples. of the appropriation of the ideas of social Darwinism. the postulates of the superiority of one race over another and the idea that human evolution is given by the survival of the fittest inspired the atrocities of Hitler and his followers.
in his essay My fight (1925)Hitler stressed the importance of purity of blood and made parallel arguments to Spencer’s, defending the need for a society based on a pattern of elite domination. This led to the mass extermination of what he considered “inferior races” (Jews, blacks, homosexuals, among others) and the promotion of maternity and eugenics programs, aimed at the reproduction of Aryan genes and the training of girls and boys with the ideology of the party.
For its part, it is possible to identify how Darwin’s ideas influenced the constructs of gender and deepened the dominance of the masculine gender over the feminine. For example inside The origin of man (1871), Darwin makes the following distinction:
This idea found its way into social Darwinism and favored a social structure of domination by men over women. The former are considered to be stronger, fitter and more intelligent.
Social Darwinism today
Social Darwinism lost its status as a scientific theory after World War I. and was completely discredited at the end of WWII. This was due to his association with Nazism and the growing scientific consensus that he was baseless.
Indeed, biologists and historians have argued that this is a naturalistic error. The theory of natural selection only tries to describe a biological phenomenon, which cannot be extrapolated to human society.
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