Darwin and Evolution are inextricably linked in the minds of most people who have had the opportunity to study them in basic biology. However, Darwin's theories of selection and survival of the fittest have been applied to moral, economic, political, and other cultural aspects of society. Dennett briefly touched on some of the political and social ramifications of Darwin's theories in the final chapter of Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Other philosophers and thinkers have also adapted Darwin's evolutionary ideas, in order to apply them in a societal or cultural context. One great example of this adaptation of the biological concept of evolution, is the appearance of Social Darwinism during the 19th century.
Social Darwinism, by definition, is the principle that "the survival of the fittest" applies to human ethics and politics just as it does to biological evolution. (1) The theory of Social Darwinism was introduced by Herbert Spencer. The theory was then used by White Protestants, men, and others to proliferate the idea that they were socially superior. However, the context in which this paper will discuss the theory of Social Darwinism is economic.
Laissez Faire Capitalism of the early 20th century led to very clear class distinctions in the United States. The Captains of Industry (or Robber Barons, depending on whether you saw them as philanthropists or criminals), subscribed to a concept of "Social Darwinism" which promoted a survival of the richest ideal and was reflected in their business dealings. Men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and others justified their incredible wealth with this theory.
Following the teachings of Herbert Spencer, Captains of Industry and others like them, believed that competition...
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...cranes versus skyhooks. Capitalism and Communism are examples of socio-economic evolution. Communism, was an unrealistic and ineffective system which attempted to control government and economy. It is a skyhook because of its overly idealistic principles. Capitalism, however, set into motion a series of political changes, which in turn affected other aspects of society. Thus, in Dennett's model Capitalism is a crane.
1. "What is Social Darwinism?" http://www.ioa.com/~shermis/socjus/socdar.html
2. People and Events, "Andrew Carnegie" http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/carnegie/peopleevents/pande03.html
3. Engels, Fredrick. The Principles of Communism. October 1847. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/11/prin-com.htm
4. Dennett, Daniel. Darwin's Dangerous Idea:
Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
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