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The Social Darwinism and The Development of The Humanity

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Through much of the nineteenth and twentieth century, the society in which one lived in was greatly dictated by the theory of one philosopher named Herbert Spencer. As the Industrial Revolution began in eighteenth century Europe, the economy drastically changed from one that was mostly based on farming to an economy dependent on industries and manufacturing. People began to leave their old lifestyle to start a new life in the city. The migration of millions of people into the city brought about major social issues such as poverty, malnutrition, disease, and crime. The distinction between the lower-class and the upper-class became pronounced. Many of history’s greatest thinkers began to wonder why problems such as poverty exists. During the Age of Enlightenment, philosophers such as Herbert Spencer used science and reason to offer ideas and solutions for the various social issues occurring in that time. For instance, issues such as social-class, race, and discrimination.[1] Thus, Herbert Spencer proposed a theory based on Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection referred to as Social Darwinism.[2] The process of applying the theory to the evolution of human society nearly destroyed humanity. Social Darwinism erroneously interpreted the sociological evolution of humans to justify the differences between the inferior and the superior in society, in which it inspired movements to ostensibly advance the human race such as the application of eugenics, sterilization, and the Nazi racial propaganda.

To begin, Social Darwinism is based on the theory of natural selection merged by Charles Darwin. In 1859, Charles Darwin published the book On the Origins of Species, which discussed the evolution of plants and animals as a result of a competition for survival. Darwin proposed that the cause for a change in an organism’s anatomy and behaviour was the result of an adaptation that led the organism to have a selective advantage, thus, it increased their chance of survival. While heredity is generally the cause of species continuality of selected genes, there are also mutations that occur during sexual reproduction that can provide an advantage for species in a particular environment. If the specific mutation did allow for a selective advantage, their offspring will inherit the specific mutated gene and as a result, it will enhance their ability to survive and reproduce. Darwin argued that over time, the process of natural selection would allow for the appearance of new species and the elimination of others.[3] Inspired by the work of Thomas Malthus, Darwin concluded that through this process, organisms constantly competed for resources, thus, those with the slightest advantage would most likely win “the struggle for survival.” Thomas Malthus is an early nineteenth century British philosopher. In his book, Essay on the Principles of Populations, Malthus proposed that organisms will produce far more offspring than the environment can sustain. The lack of resources for an organisms’ survival in an environment meant that there would be a constant struggle for survival among members in a population for resources such as food. Malthus wrote, “in nature, plants and animals produce far more offspring than can survive, and that Man too is capable of overproducing if left unchecked.” Similar to animals, Malthus concluded that unless the human population was properly regulated, people would live in misery because of a famine that would spread an epidemic and eventually kill the human race. Darwin applied the theory of Malthus to deduce that organisms that are the best adapted in a population are more likely to obtain resources for survival and reproduce offspring to pass those desirable traits to the next generation. In contrast, those individuals that are poorly adapted to their environment will not obtain resources for survival, hence, they cannot survive and reproduce, and it would eventually lead to the elimination of those species.[4]

In addition, during the century that Darwin published his book on the theory of natural selection, many philosophers began to adopt their own theories on the evolution of the human race based on Darwin’s theory of natural selection; what historians would call “the eclipse of Darwinism.”[5] Herbert Spencer was a popular English philosopher, known for his interpretation of Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the application of the theory of natural selection to the human population. However, Social Darwinism does not just relate to the physical sense of human evolution but, also the psychological characteristics that play a fundamental role in social interactions. Humans are cultural and social beings, thus, when discussing the nature of humans, Social Darwinism relates to aspects of human sociology and psychology. Social Darwinism is the view that religion, ethics, politics, culture, human behaviour, and civilization can all be explained through the laws of natural selection. Moreover, Spencer states that society must place emphasis on skills, intellect, and technological innovations, to stimulate human advancement.[6] To be clear, Social Darwinism is not factual. It is merely an assumption or a theory on the nature of humans that influenced the views of society during the 19th and 20th century. Spencer’s work was extremely popular because it suited the American scene and it reassured progress for the human race. Social Darwinism satisfied the demands of the era; a time in which everything was defined by philosophical thought and science. In 1864, the Atlantic Monthly commented, “Mr. Herbert Spencer is already a power in the world…He has already influenced the silent life of a few thinking men whose belief marks the point to which the civilization of the age must struggle to rise. Mr. Spencer has already established principles which, however compelled for a time to compromise with prejudices and vested interests, will become the recognized basis of an improved society.”[7] Consequently, every philosophical thinker of the age was impacted by the ideologies of Spencer. Spencer believed that if mental and physical attributes could be inherited, then collectively the human race can become superior if the individuals in the population inherit desired alleles only. Hence, the analogy of the phrase, “struggle for survival” with human nature became the justification for vice in the Gilded Age.[8]

Next, Social Darwinism dangerously rebuked creationism and the existence of God, causing extreme controversy with creationists. The biblical accounts of creation in the book of Genesis was the only foundation for ones understanding of human creation before Darwin composed his theory.[9] The Genesis story explains that God created the earth in six days, and in the seventh day He rested. Regarding humans, the story of creation in Genesis states that God created all humans equal and unique in His own image and likeness. Christians at the time interpreted the text as divinely authored by God, thus, all accounts from the bible were believed to be true. Christians who interpret the Bible literally, argued that Darwinism goes against the concept that God created the earth. Darwinism established a new approach to explaining the laws of nature, exploiting the concept of creation.[10] For the theory of natural selection to occur, God must be superfluous in the process. Darwin supported his analogy by stating that creationism is false. Instead, Darwin suggested that all life forms are not fixed, rather, they are constantly evolving to best suit their environment. The natural selection theory states that “evolutionary change comes through the abundant production of genetic variation in every generation. The relatively few individuals who survive, owing to a well-developed combination of inheritable characteristics, that give rise to the next generation.”[11] Hence, according to Darwinists, the notion of a divine creator is a myth. Darwinism became very problematic, as much controversy transpired between the two distinct ideas. To support his thoughts Darwin wrote, “when two races of men meet, they act precisely like two species of animals-they fight, eat each other, bring diseases to each other, and etcetera, but then comes the more deadly struggle, namely which have the best fitted organizations or instincts to gain the day.”[12] Darwin states that humans are similar to animals in the way that humans act towards each other when it comes to life or death situations. By taking God out of human life, Darwin reduced humanity to the level of an animal. Humanity was suddenly defined by the laws of nature. The laws and teachings of the Bible such as the Ten Commandments were ignored. Alternatively, competition and “the survival of the fittest” for those organisms whose genetic mutations resulted in the most successful adaptations became what defined the differences in human life. Even with human social structures, in which one might think has occurred as a result of a plan intended by God, was all unreasonably justified through the principles of Darwinism. For example, in the Age of the Enlightenment, intelligent thinkers theorized that a higher-class group was more superior because they had been further developed on their descent of lineage, while those considered to be lower-class have not yet developed their lineage. In contrast, creationists would argue that the poor existed to pressure people to do good and help the less fortunate, accordingly to Gods will. Social Darwinism encourages society to go against human virtues and the innate moral values of man. Darwin wrote:

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused…The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind…though this is more to be hoped for than expected.[13]

Because of Social Darwinism, many philosophers encouraged the practice of Social Darwinism, unethically, because they believed it was for the long-term benefit of humans. As a result of the absence of God in everyday morals in replace of Social Darwinism, several catastrophic events occurred throughout history.

As a consequence of the widespread popularity of Social Darwinism in the early twentieth century, a national eugenics movement occurred to attempt to eliminate the “defective” kinds in society in order to advance the human race. The cause of these movements had a direct relationship to Social Darwinism. In 1883, inspired by Social Darwinism, Francis Galton proposed the science of eugenics. Eugenics is the scientific study of the possibility to improve the standards of human species by discouraging the reproduction of those individuals who are categorized as having undesirable characteristics -negative eugenics- while also encouraging those with desirable characteristics to reproduce -positive eugenics. Galton understood eugenics as the rational planning of the human species, based on his understanding of the mechanisms of heredity. In 1904, Galton wrote that eugenics is, “the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally.”[14] A study done on the Juke’s family revealed much about the social behaviors caused by their inherited mental abilities. Over two thousand individuals related to the Jukes family lineage were “feeble-minded.” Psychologist Henry. H Goddard stated that the Juke’s family did not become “feeble-minded” due to the impact of environmental conditions on their behavior, rather, an inheritance of that attribute.[15] Thus, eugenicists assumed that low intelligence is inherited and collectively, the reproduction of these people would weaken the human race. A revised study implemented the laws of eugenics to breed out the “feeble-minded” from the family lineage. The next generation of the Juke’s family exhibited normal behaviors.[16] As a result, based on the study done on Juke’s family, philosophical thinkers who supported eugenics believed that by applying eugenics to a larger complex society, it would created a more advanced superior race.

The first task faced by eugenicists was to determine those who should not reproduce. Galton proposed that to create an ideal society, laws must be put into place to manage the fertility rates of those who are known to carry diseases or unwanted genes. In 1884, an experiment in Oneida, New York, attempted to create an ideal community by controlling reproductive rates. The leaders of the town forced upon rules for reproduction. According to one of the woman, she reports, “We have no right to personal feelings in regards to children…if necessary, we will become martyrs to science.” However, most woman did not agree with eugenics like some of the woman in Oneida, New York.[17] Advocates such as American psychologists Leta S. Hollingsworth, suggested to provide compensation or incentives to promote the marriage and reproduction of those individuals considered desirable or fit. For example, in the 1960s, Germany had serious debates about compensation payments and the approval of eugenic sterilizations. In the beginning of the year 1945, Western Germany confirmed the law. Young men and woman must have a physical and mental screening. Before marriage, a health certificate must be presented to the registrar to ensure that both the man and woman was of “good condition” before marriage.[18] If they were of good health, the couple would also be given an incentive to encourage them to produce children. Much of the eugenics programs established targeted marriages first. Their primary motive was to advocate eugenics and force sterilization.

Moreover, heredity forms of mental defects also became one of the main targets. Some eugenicists also targeted those who were criminals, prostitutes, and other socially unacceptable behaviors that were understood to be inherited. For example, the American Neurological Association in the United States promoted sexual sterilization for some disabilities and mental illnesses like epilepsy. In Germany, those people who were suffering from cognitive illnesses such as feeblemindedness, blindness, deafness, or Huntington’s disease to name a few, were also sterilized. Through the promoting of eugenics in society, many highly educated men agreed with the scientific process of eugenics. One popular German biologist stated, “we must see to it that these inferior people do not procreate.”[19] Unlike other countries, eugenics in Germany became too extreme. In 1914, the Davenports Eugenics Record Office proposed to sterilize one-tenth of the population. According to the Eugenics Record Office, sterilizing of the “worthless one-tenth” of the population would allow the next generation to have a population representative of the effects of eugenics.[20] Although no other country implemented eugenics to the extent as Germany, the United States Supreme Court did support the model of eugenics. Furthermore, in the United States, eugenicists attempted to convince Americans to adopt the practices of eugenics. Popular books were sold that explained the importance of implementing the science of eugenics on the mentally ill, disabled, or the undesirable persons. In addition, eugenics in high school was taught to young adults. Teachers urged students to select “socially desirable mates,” in effort to not directly but intentionally apply the laws of eugenics to society.[21] Although eugenics in the United States did not gain widespread attraction like Germany, it did incite much controversy.

Furthermore, the practice of eugenics led to a new branch of science known as sterilization. Sterilization is the practice of preventing a mentally and physically “defective” woman from passing down their hereditary characteristics to their offspring. The method involves surgical procedures or birth control medication.[22] Sterilization is forced upon mentally and physically ill people such as those considered to be “feeble-minded.” Sterilization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries segregated the socially undesirable and the unfit in society. For example, after World War Two, Japan greatly promoted sterilization for the purpose of creating an ideal society. In 1948, the Eugenics Protection Law legalized abortion in Japan. The Law permitted a physician to sterilize the person with her own, and the partner’s consent. Japan believed it would “prevent the birth of eugenically inferior offspring, and protect maternal health and life.” Japan permitted the abortion of a child if either of the parents had a mental illness, a psychopathic disorder, carried a deformed hereditary gene, or physical disability. The Japanese promoted these laws and therefore, abortion and sterilization became widely used across the country. A statistic for only the year 1951 shows that there were one million abortions and twenty-three thousand sterilizations since the law was implemented.[23] Great Britain is another example of a country that put sterilization into practice. In the year 1913, Great Britain drafted the Mental Deficiency Act. This act allowed the government to incarcerate any persons with a mental illness. They also allowed for physicians to sterilize woman that were below their standards. Eugenics in Britain saw the “feeble-minded” as a hereditary issue, causing numerous social problems like poverty. In Britain, as World War One was occurring, depression and laying off of the less employable became a concern. Thus, to prevent mentally ill people from further worsening the conditions of the society in World War One, Social Darwinism brought about the concept of sterilization. The department committee in Great Britian reported that a mental deficiency was inherited and therefore, they recommended sterilization of woman.[24] Social Darwinism influenced the practice of sterilization, causing millions of lives to be lost, and depression and anxiety to develop in some individuals affected by it. A comparative study was conducted in two cities in China’s Sichuan by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. The study indicated, “surgical sterilization has long-term psychological effects. Depression was significantly higher among sterilized men and women. The risk for depression was 2.34 times greater after tubal ligation and 3.97 times greater after vasectomy. The risk for anxiety was 2.88 times greater after tubal ligation and 4.79 times greater after vasectomy.”[25] As a result of Social Darwinism, sterilization was put into practice in two large countries, thereby, killing millions of lives and directly provoking mental-disorders such as anxiety and depression in those affected by the laws and practices of sterilization.

Also, as discussed earlier, Social Darwinism in Germany was of extreme popularity. In the mid-nineteen hundreds, Social Darwinism inspired the extermination of the “unfit in German society” by selectively breeding using eugenics.[26] With no doubt, Social Darwinism did indeed heighten race consciousness to a greater degree. Correspondingly, Social Darwinism inspired the Nazi Racial Propaganda. According to the works of early 1900 German biologists, it is expressed through their writings that Spencer’s theory of Social Darwinism did have a major influence on the Nazis’ motives. They also stated that when Adolf Hitler’s government formulated their racial policies, it heavily reflected the ideas of Social Darwinism. Hitler’s ideology relied on Darwin’s theory of natural selection; taking the context literally and applying it to the human population.[27] According to Richard Weikart, the author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany he states, “Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism… neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world’s greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy.” As Weikart mentions, the most prevalent factor that was the cause of the Holocaust in World War II is Spencer’s notion of “the survival of the fittest.” Joseph Tenenbaum, the author of the book Race and Reich, noted that the political philosophy in Germany was based on the philosophical theories of the time period. He states, “struggle, selection, and survival of the fittest, all notions and observations arrived at … by Darwin … but already in luxuriant bud in the German social philosophy of the nineteenth century. …Thus, developed the doctrine of Germany’s inherent right to rule the world on the basis of superior strength … [of a] “hammer and anvil” relationship between the Reich and the weaker nations.”[28] Hence, because Social Darwinism conformed with the ideology of Hitler, Social Darwinism was often looked at as a scientific reference. The eugenics program in Germany was specifically aimed at purifying the populations of the ‘inferior race’ and the mentally and physically defective persons. Moreover, Social Darwinism taught unethical virtues within the school system. To begin the Nazi racial propaganda, Hitler pushed away from Christian Doctrines in schools, to replace it with the concept of Social Darwinism. In the curriculum, students were taught about the benefits of racial cleansing and eugenics. Hitler himself had declared that “no boy or girl should leave school without complete knowledge of the necessity and meaning of blood purity.”[29] This was one of the primary reason that Nazism reached a national level. Germans were taught to accept the words of Hitler, who ruled based on modifying the theory of natural selection, with the idea to socially engineer the most superior race of Germans. Hitler states that “we [the Nazis] must understand, and cooperate with science.”[30] Unlike in modern day, the idea that all are equal did not exist because of the major eugenic movement inspired by Social Darwinism. In addition, Social Darwinism in Germany ensured that if all the inferior were eliminated from the human population, the result would be a race ruled by only superior characteristics. Hitler believed that humans are animals- similar to the animals Darwin observed- and in order to develop the human race, the Aryan’s must control the nature of evolution. Using selective breeding techniques, the Nazis developed and implemented laws designed to oppress the inferior race. The Nazis’ believed Social Darwinism to be pure facts and that they were simply applying proven science to the human race. Historian R. Hickman states that Hitler, “…was a firm believer and preacher of evolution. Whatever the deeper, profound, complexities of his psychosis, it is certain that [the concept of struggle was important because] … his book, Mein Kampf, clearly set forth a number of evolutionary ideas, particularly those emphasizing struggle, survival of the fittest and the extermination of the weak to produce a better society.”[31] As a result of Social Darwinian ideology, the Nazis practiced the laws of eugenics to an extreme level. Nazi policies inflicted harsh hatred specifically towards the Jews, but not limited to other races such as the Slovaks, Gypsies, disabled, feeble-minded and others who were not easily distinguishable from the pure ‘Aryan’ race. Hitler had a vision to exterminate all non-German people from the country to prevent the ‘pollution’ of the superior race.[32] Starting with the Jews in World War II, Hitler imposed the Blood Protection Law, or more commonly known as the Nuremberg laws on September 15, 1935. These laws segregated all Jews from German life and stripped away all basic human rights. For example, the Nazis believed that those who were an outcast could breed and pass on their undesirable characteristics thus, infecting the genes of the Aryans. For this reason, one of the Nuremberg Laws states that marriage or sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood,” must be prohibited. Not too long after the laws were implemented, Hitler demanded to privately murder all Jews in concentration camps.[33] According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, as much as six million Jews, two-hundred thousand disabled people and seventy-thousand repeat criminals were brutally murdered as a result of Hitler’s irrational logic establish by Darwinism.[34] Hitler was convinced that Social Darwinism was true and he believe he was the ‘savior’ of the human race because he could raise humanity to a supreme level. His attempt to slaughter the whole population of Jews will forever be known as one of the greatest heinous crimes witnessed in mankind and Spencer’s philosophy to be the forefather of this atrocious event in history.

Although racism predated Social Darwinism, many philosophers used the theory of evolution to support the role of competition and racial superiority. Racial struggle was a main focus in Spencer’s interpretations of sociological change in society. Social Darwinism was used as defense for the oppression of the weaker races. Although Darwinism was not the source of aggressive ideology and racism, it became a new tool for explaining the struggle of certain races. Max Nordau in the North American Review 1889 stated, “Since the theory of evolution has been promulgated, they can cover their natural barbarism with the name of Darwin and proclaim the sanguinary instincts of their inmost hearts as the last words of science.”[35] European’s and American’s of higher-class used social Darwinism to justify the class difference and their oppression of the poor. To further explain, Social Darwinists employed scientific explanations to explain the obvious differences between the rich and the poor. Some Social Darwinists suggested that competition among races is crucial for human evolution. A man named Ernst Haeckel stressed imperil and racial competition. He hated the fact that things such as charitable organizations existed to ease struggle because it would “sow the seeds of future racial decadence,” and stop the removal of the unfit. For example, in 1927, Oliver Wendell Holmes from the U.S. Supreme Court Justice stated, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute the degenerate offspring, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”[36] According to this quote, Holmes declared in the court that it is appropriate to prevent the birth of a certain race instead of having to execute them later in life. Social Darwinism assumes that it is always the inferior in a society that threatens the quality of the entire race of country by continuing to breed and produce offspring.[37] Social Darwinians observed competition among nations as a deciding factor for the evolution of human race. In other words, these men believed in the idea of “racial superiority,” or making a race that was the ultimate race. As a result of Haeckel’s ideas, a man named Gustave Le Bon who studies racial psychology, argued that breeding between superior races were beneficial to society whereas breeding between the superior race and the inferior would cause complete disaster and annihilation, if it prolongs in future generations. In Le Bon’s volume L’Homme et les Societies, he mentions that, “it was always the inferior specimens in society which bred prolifically and threatened the quality of the race.” Thus, Le Bon strongly disagreed with racial and social equality. Likewise, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck saw the various human races in different biological stages of their hierarchy. His theory was that those that were of lower hierarchical race were underdeveloped, and as those individuals matured, it would repeat the evolutionary process until it formed a civilize race. In addition, Spencer and Haeckel both viewed humanity in hierarchies of evolving races and claimed that the, “the Germanic race in North-western Europe and in North American” is on top while, “the Negro race is still in childhood,” meaning it is still developing.[38] Thus, Social Darwinism was used as an explanation to state that the differences in race was the cause of natural selection and evolution.

Furthermore, in Spencer’s book, Social Statistics, he stated that civilized men monitor elimination by building institutional buildings from the mental ill, the sick, and establishing laws for the poor. Thus, the weak continue to survive and breed, which makes it pernicious to the human race. One contradicting idea that was popular in England is Malthusianism. Malthusianism contradicted the idea of equality and helping the poor and gave a reason for the oppression of the rich over the poor. Because of this idea, the rich were often relieved of responsibility for the poor. The theory was used as a “guilt-free pass,” because the rich believe it was not their duty to watch over the poor.[39] Hence, the higher-class individuals were taught by Darwinism to not interfere with the natural evolution of humankind. The less-fortunate groups in society were left to starve because it was believed that they were in the lower taxonomic status, thus, they must be left alone to develop into a higher-status race. This belief continued to gain widespread and the rate of death among poor arose. In contrast, modern scientists have yet to discover a gene that proves one major race more advanced or intelligent than the other. Intelligence has a genetic basis, but, no genetic variation that enhance intelligence has been found to this day. According to the American Anthropological Association, “Race is not real in the way we think of it: as deep, primordial and biological. Rather it is a foundational idea with devastating consequences because we, throughout history and culture, made it so.”[40] In the quote, it explains that race cannot be explained through science. The fundamentals of race is predominantly a human invention and not just biology. Unfortunately, the theory of natural selection and the concept of “the survival of the fittest” arrived at a dangerous time. Social Darwinism resulted in poorly developed perceptions on race, ethnicity, and class. Darwinism appeared during a time were people questioned and sought scientific explanations for the outcomes and conditions of life. As a result, people misinterpreted social Darwinism as a social progress among different ethnicities, status and race.

The many interpretations of Social Darwinism dangerously led philosophical thinkers to come to many fallacious conclusions. As a result of Social Darwinism, several reprehensible theories about racial and societal “hygiene” brought about the eugenic and sterilization movement into existence. Beginning with Charles Darwin’s theory, Herbert Spencer constructed his theory of Social Darwinism, and began a movement in the nineteen century.[41] First, Social Darwinism persuaded many influential thinkers to adopt their own theories based on Social Darwinism. This caused a shift in the way philosophers looked at society, which triggered wrong ideas and practices. Next, in the time that Herbert Spencer formulated his philosophy, many people hoped for higher standards and to develop a more advanced race. Spencer proposed the idea of evolution for man that called for cruel elimination of the poor, in order to expand population with ideal characteristics.[42] One popular method proposed to achieve this goal is eugenics. Eugenics manipulated and interfered with one’s natural way of life that was supposedly meant to improve the quality of the human population, resulting in a more impeccable society. In addition to eugenics, sterilization of woman became popular especially in Germany, Japan, and Britain. In Germany, Hitler took the context of Social Darwinism and the phrase “the survival of the fittest” literally, and as a result, several millions of people died.[43] Furthermore, Social Darwinism resulted in poorly developed ethical opinions on race, ethnicity, and class. It was also

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