Social Darwinism and the Gospel of Wealth

Topics: Charles Darwin, Natural selection, Evolution Pages: 2 (706 words) Published: November 18, 2008
Essay 1: Social Darwinism and the Gospel of Wealth
Social Darwinism was the use of Charles Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution and natural selection to a society’s development. The theory stated that in nature, only those who were the fittest survived. This explanation was adopted by many American businessmen who believed the theory to be scientific proof of their power. There were two men who stood out from the group of businessmen; Herbert Spencer and William Graham. Both of these men were extremely influential.

Herbert Spencer was an English social philosopher and leading supporter of Darwin’s theories. Among all of the other leaders in his era, Spencer did the most to gain acceptance for the theory of evolution. He applied the Darwinian Theory to human development. Spencer argued that material goods and power were signs of fitness and mankind benefited from the extreme competition and elimination of those that were weak and unfit. Spencer was broadly admired among American capitalist leaders.

William Graham Sumner was a Yale based sociologist and political economist who promoted an extreme lenient position. Sumner argued that the government had no role in the economy’s functions. Sumner argued against many issues such as, antitrust legislation, protective tariffs, and government interference on behalf of management in labor strike situations. Sumner believed that the economy was a natural event and that it needed no guidance in its evolutionary path. In 1907, Sumner published one of his most influential books, Folkways. In the book, he argues that customs and traditions were the most powerful influences on human behavior, even when they were illogical. At the end, he interprets that all forms of social reform were useless and misguided. Sumner’s views contrasted roughly with the advocates of the Social Gospel.

The Gospel of Wealth, sometimes known as the Gospel of Success, was the term for the idea promoted by several...
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