Eugenics and Social Darwinism in American Society

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 689 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Nov 6, 2018

Words: 689|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Nov 6, 2018

What is Social Darwinism?

Social Darwinism is a sociological hypothesis that gained popularity in the US in the 19th century. The theory combines Charles Darwin's sentiments about the issue of natural selection and several theories coined by Herbert Spencer to justify racism, imperialism, and conservative economic and social policies. Those who believed in the theory argued that people and communities, same as animals or plants, had to compete with each other if they were to be successful in life. Proponents utilized this claim to justify the fact that the individuals who were successful economically, politically or socially legitimately belonged at that top since they had fought off others and had indeed proven themselves to be best suited to be at the top (Bannister, 2016). Any political or social intervention that destabilized the existing order, they argued, would severely affect the natural order.

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On the other hand, opponents of the social Darwinism theory such as Lester Ward, argued against the proponents justifications on the status quo issue and proposed another theory called Telesis, meaning premeditated social evolution. Most social Darwinists focused their arguments on the role or function of competition in the social or natural world. Lester highlighted the significance of cooperation in the development of the social order and brought historical evidence to help him argue that progress in the human world was the result of intelligence as well as cooperative activities, not cruel competition. Lester used this breakdown to urge political and social leaders to implement measures intentionally aimed at human social improvement.

Social Darwinism and eugenics are some of the major pseudoscience movements that helped to shape immigration through implementation of eugenic ideas. These ideas prevented immigration to certain ethic groups considered to be biologically superior by eugenics. These movements greatly influenced immigration in the US where reformers, politicians and local leaders filled with Americanism gladly enacted laws that limited immigration into the US because the felt that they were superior and desirable. In a society filled with struggling immigrants, the eugenics and social Darwinism movements were set to cement that the future of America would be inherited only by the “native” Americans.

These movements were forms of social selection that were based on Darwin’s natural selection theory. The immigration policies implemented were aimed at ensuring that only the people who were regarded as “superior” were allowed to move freely since they had a better chance of enhancing development and success of America. This can be considered to be form of selective breeding as postulated in Darwin’s theory hence the phrase social Darwinism.

People who were referred to as "social Darwinists" did not describe themselves as such. It was their opponents who criticized their economic and social policies who came up with the term as a derogatory term to depict their position as one that was wrong. Modern historians have tried to emphasize the social effect of Darwin's theories. For instance, the nineteenth-century British rule tended to emphasize the aspect of competition while overlooking altruism and cooperation in the natural world of business. In regards to migrant workers in the U.S, the effects of social Darwinism shows that there was a reciprocal relationship between society and science, as social issues affected the expansion of the evolutionary theory that it turn influenced social structures that led to slavery and job discrimination (Degler, 2016).

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When the idea of eugenics and social Darwinism came into being for the first decades, there was immense support to it because many policy makers viewed it as a way of race betterment. Many influential and prominent leaders such as Alexander Graham Bell also advocated for the idea. However what seem to be an optimistic aspect became misused through implementation of discriminatory immigration policies that affected social integration. This directly affected the influence of eugenics since the main ideology was elimination of the unfit in the society. Eugenics and social Darwinism are attributed to the implementation of genocidal policies as well as the immense racism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The rise of fundamentalist groups has however neutralized the negative effects of social Darwinism and eugenics in the modern society to create harmonious living and correlation of individuals regardless of their social class.

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Eugenics and Social Darwinism in American Society. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
“Eugenics and Social Darwinism in American Society.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
Eugenics and Social Darwinism in American Society. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2023].
Eugenics and Social Darwinism in American Society [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 26 [cited 2023 Nov 29]. Available from:
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