Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and Social Darwinism

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The publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 had far reaching consequences. One of the most important notions in his ground-breaking book was the claim that no species is fixed. Rather “a well marked variety may .... well be called an incipient species,” demonstrating that nature is not static but a continuum where varieties beget species. Assuming that man was a part of nature, a concept many scientists had come to accept, this principle could be extended to include human societies. Thus, by applying the principles of evolution, human stock could be manipulated and improved. Evolutionary principles were also applied to justify particular ideologies and human social organisations. Traditionally, Social Darwinism was defined in narrow terms, as a right-wing view. Modern historians have revised this view, claiming Social Darwinism encompasses a larger range of ideologies and evolutionary doctrines. Social Darwinists used evolution to justify laissez-faire capitalism, but not to the extent that traditional historians imply. Eugenics was a radical application of evolutionary principles to society, trying to build a ‘fitter’ race through direct measures. But Social Darwinism did not have the major influence on imperialism, militarism and nationalism which has been ascribed to it. Socialists were particularly taken by evolution, and far from it being self-defeating, Social Darwinism was used as a justification for socialism as a more evolved society. Darwin himself appeared to be a Social Darwinist, viewing society in terms of his own doctrine, judging from his writings. Social Darwinism is difficult to define, as it encapsulates a number of concepts. Traditionally it has been viewed as a right wing phenomeno... ... middle of paper ... ... Doctrine." In Economic and Political Weekly 39, No. 35 (2003): … Perry, Marvin. et al. Western Civilisation: Ideas, Politics and Society. 7th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2004. Pichot, Andre. The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler. London, UK: Verso, 2009. Spencer, Herbert. Social Statistics: or, The Conditions Essential to Happiness Specified, and the First of them Developed. 1st ed. London: John Chapman, 1851. Tucker, Aviezer. A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2009. Turda, Marius. Modernism and Eugenics. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Weikart, Richard. From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Weikart, Richard. "A Recently Discovered Darwin Letter on Social Darwinism." In Isis 86, No.4, (1995): 609-611
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