By: Rebecca Lopes
23 July 2013
In 1864, the theory of evolution became very well-known when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Here he explained about his belief in what he called natural selection. Years later, after reading all about natural selection and becoming quite intrigued by it, a man by the name of Herbert Spencer, a polymath philosopher, came up with a synonym phrase for natural selection: “survival of the fittest.” This term, although referring to the capabilities of species to adapt to their environments, soon became a term used to describe real life. This became known as Social Darwinism.
Social Darwinism was as well based “survival of the fittest.” This was a theory stating that the rich would be the best off in society and make it life, while the poor wouldn’t and should basically just be allowed to die. This theory arose from the philosopher Herbert Spencer and a Yale professor, William Graham Sumner, who generated their belief from Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection as well as from David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus, British laissez-faire economists. “Later mislabeled Social Darwinists, these theorists argued that individuals won their stations in life by competing on the basis of their natural talents. The wealthy and powerful had simply demonstrated greater abilities than the poor.” (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey P.472) Herbert Spencer became known as the “father” of Social Darwinism and it was quickly spreading.
Many argued that Social Darwinism was extremely unjust, unethical and went against peoples’ morals. It was said to have become a justification for the rich to worry about themselves and not care so much for the poor, because being poor meant a person was not willing to work and that was the reason they had not achieved wealth. The rich and Social Darwinists believed they were wealthy because they independently achieving it and working for it. “Many of the rich, especially the newly rich, had pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps; hence they concluded that those who stayed poor must be lazy and lacking and enterprise. The Reverend Russell of Philadelphia became rich by delivering his lecture “Acres of Diamonds” thousands of times. In in he charged, “There is not a poor person in the United Sates who was not made poor by his own shortcomings.” (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey P.472) Of course the poor disagreed with such opinions. How could it be that the same rules and theories which applied in nature for animals could apply for human being as well? How could the rich allow themselves to keep getting richer and do nothing for the poor simply because they felt it was part of nature for things to occur this way? It was an unfair belief.
Social Darwinism was ruled out not too long later, as it had been proved to be unethical and unjust. The attitudes of the rich were not pleasing and made it very hard to allow social reform for America. Now it may be a bit hard to believe or understand, but while Social Darwinism was taking place and many were believing still in “survival of the fittest,” there was some positivity to all this. Early Social Darwinists were much more selfless you could say, than later Social Darwinists. “Some major capitalists, such as Andrew Carnegie, combined philanthropy with Social Darwinism; he used his vast fortune to set up hundreds of libraries and other public institutions, including a university, for the benefit of those who would choose to avail themselves of such resources. He opposed direct and indiscriminate handouts to the poor because he felt that this favored the undeserving and the deserving person equally.” (According to library.thinkquest.org) I think this was a great thing done and a very positive outcome from Social Darwinism, but unfortunately there was so much more negative in this theory then positive. I believe the rich agreed with Social Darwinism to be able to only worry about themselves, as inhuman as it may sound, but that it was what Social Darwinism was: inhuman.
In conclusion, Social Darwinism became a rapidly wide-spread theory from philosopher Herbert Spencer, branching off the theories of Charles Darwin. Using Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Spencer came up with “survival of the fittest.” This phrase was used to discriminate the poor in every which way. The rich got richer while the poor would suffer. Society had become inhuman, as it was justifying its acts with a theory originated for animals, forgetting that they were human beings! Social Darwinism was seen as unethical within time, finally allowing for social reform.
Kennedy, David, M, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas Bailey, A. The American Pageant, 14th Edition. N.p.: Suzanne Jeans, 2010. Print.
A, Kate. "Social Darwinism." Think Quest. Team C004367, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://library.thinkquest.org/C004367/eh4.shtml>.