The Immorality Of Social Darwinism Ideology

Social Darwinism is a set of ideologies introduced by Herbert Spencer in the nineteenth century. These principles were used by imperialists as a means of justification and proof of their right to colonize land overseas. Social Darwinism is an immoral evil that cannot be ethically justified. To further understand the immorality behind using Social Darwinism and the even greater immorality behind using it as an excuse for overseas expansion, we must understand the origins and foundations of which Social Darwinism is based. It all began with an English man named Charles Darwin and his newly introduced perspective on the evolution of life.

Charles Darwin was a nineteenth century scientist and natural philosopher who came up with a theory that has radically changed the world ever since its origination. After making observations about various species native to the Galapagos Islands, Darwin noticed that nature has a tendency to “select” the most fit breed of any given species to survive for future generations. Darwin then published a scientific literature piece titled “The Origin of Species” in which he outlined the idea of nature selecting the species best fit to survive in a given environment. This selection, over time, leads to the overall evolution of the particular species. The “superior” traits of a species live on, while the inferior traits die out. This is based on the physical and mental ability of the species to survive and thrive in its environment. Darwin referred to this phenomenon as Natural Selection. Not only did Darwin’s new, forward thinking, outlook on the evolution of life change scientific perspective across the world, but it also changed how people viewed themselves, global social conditions, religion and civilization altogether. This is an idea that was so brilliant and ahead of its time that it is still used in modern scientific theory. When applied from a scientific perspective, it provides answers to many questions that humans have been asking about the origins of life.

The influence of Darwinism wasn’t all that great, however. The idea of Darwinism was adapted by Herbert Spencer in the nineteenth century. Spencer applied the principles of Darwinism to human social, political and economic issues and proclaimed that the survival of the fittest applies to human societies which became Social Darwinism. In John Offer’s “Critical Assessments of Leading Sociologists” he traces Spencer’s influence and dissects various points made by Herbert Spencer himself. He quotes Herbert Spencer when analyzing Spencer’s perspective of Social Darwinism. “The prosperity of a species is best supervised when among adults each experiences the good and evil results of his own nature and consequent conduct. ” Spencer also states “It is much better that the ruminant animal, when deprived by age of the vigor which made its existence a pleasure, should be killed by some beast of the prey, than that it should linger out a life made painful by infirmities, and eventually die of starvation. ” It is at this point that Spencer begins to cross Darwinism’s take on natural selection to social conditions.

While Spencer is still speaking in reference of animals, he describes the death of animals as a means of relieving their pain and suffering. This is where Spencer begins to speak in reference to humans. “A sad population of imbeciles would our schemers fill the world with, could their plans last. A sorry kind of human constitution would they make for us – a constitution continually going wrong, and needing to be set right again – a constitution ever ending to self-destruction. Why, the whole effort of Nature is to get rid of such – to clear the world of them, and make room for the better. ” This is a telltale sign of Spencer’s sense of superiority. He makes the point that poor individuals should not be assisted because they are genetically predisposed to be poor by nature, and the superior individuals will strive. It is these ideals that were rooted in Europe’s strive to colonize foreign territories.

One instance of Social Darwinism ideals fueling the race for overseas colonies was the Scramble for Africa, which was the colonization of African territories by European imperialists. The Europeans felt as though they had the right to claim African territories due to the lack of development. The Europeans referred to the lack of development in Africa as a step back in the evolutionary scale that Social Darwinism discusses. They believed that if they intervened, the territories would become more advanced. By 1902, the remaining unoccupied countries were Ethiopia in northeast Africa and Liberia on the west coast of Africa. Majority of the land was claimed by either the French or the British. The Europeans believed they were doing the indigenous people of the African territories a favor. In reality, the Europeans were using Africa for profitable interests, all while claiming the principles of Social Darwinism as a scapegoat for their greed.

In a different part of the world, in the same time period, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his Frontier in American History Thesis speech in 1893 and outlined the need for Americans to expand west. Frederick Jackson Turner spoke on the need for Americans to move west to benefit both parties. He stated that not only would Americans gain land and a better living, but the “foreigners” would benefit from our rule due to the American’s advancement and their lack thereof. This is a textbook definition of the application of Social Darwinism into justification of colonization.

In 1898, the Hawaiian Islands were officially annexed by the United States of America. There was a five year dispute between Americans and native Hawaiians about control over the Hawaiian land. The end goal for America was to take advantage of Hawaii’s sugar trade and profit from it. Although Hawaii did significantly benefit from the annex, the Americans were pursuing this land purely for profitable gains. Arthur Curtiss James, a wealthy nineteenth century businessman, wrote an article titled “Advantages of Hawaiian Annexation” in the North American Review where he outlines the reasons what America would gain from the annex. “Agriculturally they have not begun to be developed. They are situated in the most fertile part of the world, with a climate simply perfect, and are capable of producing ail the sugar and coffee which this country can consume. . . They would provide us with three excellent harbors for commerce and coaling stations. . . ”

The Social Darwinist ideals are hinted throughout his article, as he speaks of the Hawaiians having heightened superiority to Cubans due to the fact that there was European bloodline within the Hawaiian Islands, while Cuba was predominantly Latin and African. He describes Cuba as “thickly settled by a mixture of the negro with the scum of a decayed Latin race. ” He then speaks on the native Hawaiians not being consulted about the annexation and justifies it by stating that 'The natives have proved themselves to be incapable of governing and unfitted for the condition of civilization, as is shown by their rapid decline in numbers and their inability to adapt themselves to changed conditions…” This inability to adapt to changed conditions has deep roots of Social Darwinist influence.

Social Darwinism refers to the concept of the natural selection of the best genetically and socially fit societies. The White Man’s Burden is a poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1899 and speaks from the perspective of the European imperialist and explains why the Europeans must conquer foreign territories. “Send forth the best ye breed, Go bind your sons to exile” In the mind of the European imperialists, the societies around the globe were not as developed in the evolutionary sense. The Europeans saw it as their duty to restructure the social environments in these foreign societies. These principals are shared with Social Darwinism.

The ideals of Social Darwinism were used to justify the racist and immoral colonizing of foreign societies, and the White Man’s Burden is a more extreme interpretation as it describes the act of imperialism as a social duty. The nineteenth century was one of the most shameful time periods in human history due to the fact that there was a group of people who viewed the world as there’s for the taking due to genetic superiority. The attitude of The White Man’s Burden and Herbert Spencer’s ideals match those of Adolf Hitler’s, in the sense that genetic superiority giving people greater rights over others. It is an immoral school of thought, and tainted Charles Darwin’s brilliant ideas with a wrongful justification of oppression and discrimination.

31 October 2020
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