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Analyzing Social Darwinism in the 19th century

Updated on July 19, 2013

Analyzing Social Darwinism and practitioners of the 19th century

Social Darwinism has been practiced by many over the years. One may see examples of it all through history as well as in today’s society. I will share some what I have learned and personally experienced about the Theory of Social Darwinism. From Spenser to Galbraith all the way through to my life, if it is the survival of the fiscally fit, where will we find ourselves in the economic future?

Social Darwinism became prominent in the later part of the 19th century. It was a common belief that the strongest would prevail. Also those who came into, or were born into wealth were predestined to prevail in society. Social Darwinism has no direct connection to Charles Darwin, but rather to Herbert Spencer. Spencer coined the phrase “Survival of the Fittest”. “The term social Darwinism is often used to describe the use of concepts of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest to justify social policies which make no distinction between those able to support themselves and those unable to support themselves.”(wikipedia) The phrase “Social Darwinism” was not used until 1877 by Joseph Fisher, long after Spencer’s death. If Social Darwinism were to be as prevalent today as it was in the 19th century, the United States would be completely different. The Debt Ceiling was established in 1917 as the amount of debt the US was allowed to carry, not borrow. If the US were to default on their interest payments then the government employees would not be paid, welfare social security and other government assistant programs would be cut, and federally funded buildings would close. The middle class would cease to exist.

Examples or Social Darwinism can be seen in the beliefs and actions of powerful men throughout American history. Herbert Spencer, Thomas Malthus, and Francis Galton were the founder of eugenics. “The stronger has to rule and must not mate with the weaker,” (Hitler)“Only the born weakling can consider this cruel.” ( “In Galton's view, social institutions such as welfare and insane asylums were allowing inferior humans to survive and reproduce at levels faster than the more "superior" humans in respectable society, and if corrections were not soon taken, society would be awash with "inferiors."” (wikipedia) Another one of Spencer’s practitioners was J.D. Rockefeller. He stated, “The American Beauty Rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working-out of a law of nature and a law of God.” Rockefeller also said, “I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.” Furthermore Rockefeller assumed that giving to the poor and charities would enable them unless it was used as a means to better themselves. Rev. Hennery Ward Beecher was also a disciple of Spencer’s theory. He called his system of belief "cordial Christian evolutionist". In 1885 Beecher wrote “Evolution and Religion” as a way to spread his perspective. In 1889 “The Gospel of Wealth” was written by Andrew Carnegie. He thought that wealth should be distributed only to help people better themselves and not be wasted. During the Period the Vanderbilt Family was considered the richest in America. Cornelius Vanderbilt said, “I don't care half so much about making money as I do about making my point, and coming out ahead.” The Erie Gang was comprised of Jim Fisk, Daniel Drew, and Jay Gould. A dispute with Vanderbilt, called the Erie War, started in an attempt to take control of the Erie Railroad. They were very skilled larcenist who inflated the railroad’s stocks “water stocks” The gang was involved in a gold hoarding scandal, causing many investors to lose money on September 24, 1869 now known as Black Friday. Vanderbilt filed a lawsuit to regain all of his lost assets. Gould became a very public enemy of Vanderbilt after Gould’s attempt to bribe a judge to legalize the “water stocks” backfired. “You have undertaken to cheat me. I won't sue you, for the law is too slow. I'll ruin you.” Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Jon Kenneth Galbraith wrote “The Age of Uncertainty” in 1977. Galbraith’s view on the 19th century was that the common belief was that man was created in God’s image and the weak would be weeded out over time. “Of all classes the rich are the most noticed and the least studied.”-Galbraith. He gives his views on many of Spencer’s admirers to be self-serving. In his book he paints these men as entitled and superior to anyone who has less. Albro Martin deemed Galbraith’s views to be “myths served up by history”. Moreover Martin alleged that Galbraith degrades the accomplishments of American history. He did not view the men in power as thieves but innovative thinkers.

Social Darwinism is still a theory that some hold to. In today’s society you can still see examples of those who consider the “survival of the fittest” In July of 2011 Congressman Allan West stated “I must confess, when I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool.” L.T. Gov. Andre Bauer stated in 2010 “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals, You know why? Because they breed.” I personally was in the welfare system. My Daughter and I were abandoned by her biological father. As a result I enrolled in WIC and Medicaid system to better myself, not as a sense of entitlement for being poor. Naturally qualifying for benefits is based on monthly income, which can discourage some people from pursuing better jobs. I no longer qualify for all of the benefits of the welfare system. While I had a positive experience with the assistance programs there are many who abuse it. In Conclusion, not all who are down on their luck are there because of laziness, but I feel I am not doing any favors by helping those who are not willing to better themselves and their circumstances.


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    • someonewhoknows profile image


      6 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Have to say I agree with the view that too many are taking advantage of the welfare system and that trying to improve ones position in life isn't as easy as being on welfare but, the fact is most good paying jobs today are highly skilled and expensive to train.We have to face the fact that the economic system we have created or allowed to be created is corrupted by letting money control politics and to keep the status quo rather than allowing the small business man to be on the same footing as the large corporations that can afford to pay fines and the cost of testing products for safety etc... that amount to an insignificant portion of their profits as compared to a small business and are senseless as way to control them.In fact it's the corporations that control those who make laws that are supposed to control them.

      There is nothing superior in someone inheriting huge estates from their relatives who themselves may or may not be as genetically superior than anyone else simply because of genetics.


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