Social Darwinism

Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, a scientific theory that supported the belief of evolution, was manipulated and applied to different areas of life, and thus it became the shaping force in European thought in the last half of the nineteenth century. Darwin, through observation of organisms, determined that a system of natural selection controlled the evolution of species. He found that the organisms that were most fit and assimilated to the environment would survive. They would also reproduce so that over time they would eventually dominate in numbers over the organisms with weaker characteristics. This new theory was radical and interesting to the scientific world but its effects reach far beyond this small institution of intellectuals. People applied Darwinism and its belief in survival of the fittest to all areas of life. They used it as a “natural law” which supported their actions and beliefs. Advocates manipulated the scientific doctrine to fulfill their personal needs and to justify religious beliefs, capitalism, and military conquests.

Darwinism greatly impacted the scientific world purely through its specific doctrine. The enlightenment had paved the way for rational thinking and observation. People were willing to accept scientific data as fact and they were able to objectively consider theories that went against the church. Because of the story of creation, Darwinism would have been immediately rejected only a few centuries earlier. People used Darwinism as a weapon to strike at the validity of the powerful religious institutions of the period. It was because of the many drastic changes in the beliefs of the people and the advancement of the logical world that Darwinism was well accepted as a scientific truth.

Beyond the exact definition of Darwinism, many people found personal applications to the scientific doctrine. Not only was survival of the fittest an established truth in nature, it was also more than evident in human society. Many people, after reading the benefits associated with reproduction of the strong, began to place human activity under the scrutiny of science. Those who found that the principles of Darwinism advocated their personal goals in society took great lengths to spread the word of Social Darwinism. This was a doctrine that called for free competition among humans and a setting in which the domin...

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... to become a shaping force in European thought.

Darwinism as it applies to nature was successful and widespread simply because of its own merit. It was aided by the circumstances of the time in which reason and science were held in high regard, but the facts stood firm by themselves. Social Darwinism, however, became a definitive philosophy of the time because it was applicable to most areas of life. People manipulated the laws of nature to create laws of society that forwarded their personal goals. It was used to justify ruthless and cunning behavior because competition was seen to cultivate growth under Darwin’s principles. Because leisure time had led to people’s participation in the art of conversation, the issues of the period became a part of the average person’s life. They discussed the controversial topics such as capitalism, socialism, and military campaigns. In discussing these issues, people cited Darwin’s principles and therefore Darwinism spread throughout Europe. It was difficult to avoid the new philosophy because it had such an important role in the major controversies of the day, and it was an inherent argument in the lectures and publications produced.
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