Display of Social Darwinism in United States


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The Role of Darwinism in America

Darwinism has been a factor in American society since around 1859, although at that early time Charles Darwin had only addressed animal and plant-based evolution. In 1871, with The Descent of Man, he brought to the public’s attention his views and theories on natural selection. Most people do not know much of what Darwin wrote, due to the criticism leveled against it, as well as people mistaking the “Survival of the fittest” philosophy for Darwin’s invention; however, this particular tenet was actually created by Herbert Spencer, who suggested that competition would eventually, basically, thin out weak and produce more strength and prosperity (Bannister, 2000).

As a consequence of Spencer’s claims, which were overly logical, failing to take emotion and fairness into account at best, downright cruel at worst, came the people who embraced them. While many Christians rejected these ideas because, as phrased by Francis Bowen, the only acceptable version of evolution is the “story of God’s providence and incessant creative action throughout the long roll of the geologic ages of this earth” (Bowen, 1879). This was the most direct, and first major attack of Darwinism by a major Christian figure, but many, even the majority of the religion, echoed those views. Many other people however, including some Christians who were not Biblical literalists, supported this social Darwinism and saw it as practical and intelligent.

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This led to some brutal and now anachronistic social policies. Many people would justify acts of dishonesty and personal cruelty by saying that they were “fit”, and “strong”, and the people whom they victimized were not. “Survival of the fittest” became less natural selection and, to some people, more man-made selection. It no longer meant that humans would overcome the obstacles thrown to us by life and nature, but that they would throw obstacles at other people without discrimination, and whoever could not overcome them and move forward in life despite hindrance did not deserve to. Looking back at that time frame of 1880 and 1920, there was no resolution of these problems, only abuse of the principles causing them by conservative and liberal politicians alike to advance their personal causes (Tilman, 2001).

Last to be included in this essay, but by no means at all the least significant of the problems presented by Social Darwinism, was the effect it had on the Immigrant Experience. As mentioned, many people were outright cruel and vicious to their fellow man and woman because Social Darwinism policies allowed for and justified it. The individuals who got the worst of this, of course, were the already socially unwanted immigrants from China, Italy, Ireland, and of course, Africa. These people were in America, after a hundred years of its existence as an existent power and coming known as “the melting pot” and “land of the free”, because they wanted this freedom. Songwriter/singer Jeff Bates once said in his song “Rainbow Man”, “people from all countries come here because they’re hungry for what’s cooking in America’s melting pot” (Bates, 2003). Of course, to these people in the 1880s and the times immediately following, who had been given a free pass to inflict as much malice as they saw fit, they were also unworthy of survival in this survival of the fittest world.

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