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Social Darwinism

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Social Darwinism
The social theory or ideology of Social Darwinism, which was prominent during the late 1800s, was a source of both controversy and conflict in Victorian Society and other nations, where imperialists, capitalists and colonialists manipulated Social Darwinism to justify horrific acts of genocide and cultural destruction.
Upon the publication of Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution, The Origin of Species, uproar was caused in Victorian Society at the notion that humans were related to apes, to animals, which was unthinkable at the time largely because it contravened prevailing religious beliefs. This upheaval was the very beginning of a new age of political thinking and sociological ideas. Society was very quickly divided into those who applied Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection to society and philosophy, and those who opposed the idea, maintaining that Darwin’s theories should not be applied to Homo sapiens…us and that these theories contradicted the most fundamental of moral beliefs and principles. Hence, Social Darwinism was born in all its controversy. However, despite the controversial nature of Darwin’s theories, science and its trends were held in high esteem in Victorian England. Through this, fraudulent governments and individuals motivated by greed for wealth and power were able to justify their actions by manipulating Social Darwinism to fit their purpose, claiming that if science said so, then it must be so.
However, Social Darwinism was not confined to Victorian Society, for it soon became widespread across the world as it was manipulated by powerful and wealthy people using it to their own ends, with sometimes catastrophic consequences for those deemed inferior. More often though the forms in which Social Darwinism arose might be better described as benign. These manifestations were; imperialism, capitalism and colonialism, which were always represented in the most positive manner the benefits concealing Social Darwinism behind ‘scientific theories’. Social Darwinism was a complex ideology, appearing in many forms, employed by the powerful and wealthy to benefit themselves in ways which were destructive for those who were lacking in both influence and wealth.
Victorian Society was rocked to its very foundations by the birth of Social Darwinism. It caused Social uproar with the disruption of religious beliefs, the political and social status quo. Social Darwinism was first introduced through the publication of Charles Darwin’s much acclaimed book; The Origin of Species. In his book, Darwin made two over-arching claims that were the foundations of the theory of Social Darwinism which brought about catastrophic events. Firstly, that to enable Natural Selection, ‘survival of the fittest’ was employed. Secondly, Darwin believed that humans were closely related to animals and that a process called Natural Selection made this possible.

Wealthy philosophers and psychologists in society such as Herbert Spencer “argued on the basis of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, that the best adapted humans naturally rose to the head of social, political and economic strata … therefore members [in these] positions are the best adapted citizens” (Social Darwinism Emerges and Is Used to Justify Imperialism, Racism, and Conservative Economic and Social Policies, 2012). In arguing this he was applying natural selection to humanity, whereas Darwin had used Natural ‘selection’ as a metaphor for filtering out those organisms which lack fitness minimal for survival long enough to reproduce themselves (Alex Roseberg, 1). This stood in contrast to those such as Spencer who applied the notion of natural selection literally to humanity, causing profound moral and religious conflicts within Victorian Society.
The application of natural selection to humanity was dubbed Social Darwinism by Herbert Spencer who “became the first to apply Darwinism principles rigorously to society” (Grigg.R, 1). Those who were faithful had their religious principles refuted as “[they] believed every word in the Bible was true” (Stewart.R, 80). Controversially Social Darwinism contravened Christianity, Judaism and Catholicism as not only did it proclaim that “God had [not] created all living organisms in a single, original act of creation…the Origin of Species crystallized these thoughts and provided…evidence” (Fullick.A, 30). This fuelled the worst fears of the faithful, conflicting and altering the religious views and opinions of many, destabilising Victorian Society. However, although the Victorian majority of those in Victorian Society felt that Darwinism refuted all religious beliefs encompassing God and his single original act of creation, there were those who, though religious, found a theory that allowed for Darwinism and religious beliefs. These were a group of scientists who believed that there was no need for Darwinism to conflict with their faith as they considered evolution as creation over a much longer period of time (Burvill-Shaw.S, 140). At the time it was unfortunate that this group were not more influential in society as they could have prevented much of the unrest and horror to come. There were even debates between the Darwinists and the Church. One such debate was arranged “in 1860 [by] the British Association for the Advancement of Science” (Fullick.A, 31) between Thomas Huxley (known as Darwin’s bulldog because of his support for Darwin’s ideas) and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. The discussion was acrimonious and was not settled then or indeed for years afterwards.
Not only were the mainstream religions of Victorian Society affected, the implications for social class and political power and control were many and complex. As individuals with great influence and wealth in society converted to Social Darwinism those surviving in the most extreme forms of poverty were abandoned to sink further. This was the result of an argument supposedly based on natural selection “[asserting] that those “best able to ‘survive’ demonstrate their ‘fitness’ by accumulating property, wealth and social status”(World Book, 1). It implied that having revenue and influence placed such fortunate individuals above those who were poverty ridden, as those possessing wealth, property and high social status’ were more deserving of life and privilege.
The beliefs of men like William Sumner were, however refuted by a group of people called Reform Darwinists and Social Scientists. Social Scientists criticized Social Darwinism as [it] failed to consider that many of those influential in Victorian Society inherited their power, [wealth] and influence; these people owed their fortune to social position rather than natural superiority. Indeed Walter Bagehot, British business and journalist, realized that Darwin actually sanctioned Altruism with the hypothesis of pangenesis which Darwin explained with other phenomena of inheriting acquired characteristics. Darwin himself believed “environmental factors did, to some extent, influence the stock itself” (McConnaghey.G, 407). Therefore, Darwin, unlike Social Darwinists, had believed that environment played an important role in insisting on efficacy of social reform. Social Darwinism’s adherents in the upper echelons of Victorian Society with large incomes gradually widened the gap between themselves and those who were poverty stricken by making Social Darwinism a “micro-economic issue, claiming that social welfare programs that helped the poor and disadvantaged were contrary to nature itself” (All About Science, 2002). Reform Darwinists argued the same issue, however from the opposing perspective, asserting that because those people were ‘superior individuals’ with such social responsibility they were obligated to aid the less fortunate. As demonstrated by the vehemently opposing perspectives on the subject the genesis and evolution of Social Darwinism was a source of much corruption and controversy in Victorian Society.
Social Darwinism manifested itself within manifold configurations, such as imperialism, capitalism and colonialism. These manifestations were the long term effects as the adaptions of the theory were manipulated to justify the corrupt actions of fraudulent governments and other insatiable individuals. This was reflected in the laws of Social Darwinism as seen in their “reliance on natural laws [that] allowed social, political and scientific leaders to dismiss those who sought to redistribute wealth and power”(Bookrags, 2012). This implies that those advocating for aiding the poor were dismissed. As the upper class sought to increase wealth and power, Social Darwinism was employed to justify the increasingly large and obvious gap between the rich and the poor. Evidence of this was found in the policies of Yale Sociologist, and prominent American Social Darwinist, William Graham Sumner. Sumner argued against governmental and private charity attempts to improve the conditions of the lower classes. Not only this, he also legitimated aggressive competitive practices with American businessmen declaring their activities the source of human evolutionary progress. One who argued directly against Sumner was Lester Ward, who “highlighted the importance of cooperation and [contended] that human progress was the result of … intelligence”(Bookrags, 2012).
Sumner’s British counterpart Herbert Spencer believed that “not only was the survival of the fittest natural, it was morally correct”(Grigg.R, 2012). Such views provided justification for some of the more brutal aspects of the period, often justified or unassailed as demonstrated in the international application of Social Darwinism. The argument was that due to natural selection some governments and cultures were more ‘fit’ and ‘able’ to rule, which was used to justify the exploitations of non-Europeans on the basis of inferiority (Burvill-Shaw.S, 141). Therefore, imperialism and colonialism were the natural ideologies through which Social Darwinism would manifest itself. Prior to this the explanation or justification for European expansion had been God, Gold and Glory. In the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteenth century the nature and motives of Imperialism were dramatically altered. Neo-Imperialism led by Great Britain, through a wave of expansion placed Europe in control of over eighty-five per cent of the globe. British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli during the 1870s argued and was supported by the public and Queen Victoria that the renewal of imperial expansion would protect vital overseas markets, resources and jobs-these facts were grossly exaggerated if not completely false and the real reason for this expansion was Social Darwinism (Butler.C, 2007). Britons saw themselves as bringing the benefits of their religions and civilisation to less developed cultures. “This claimed that [some] human cultures, the same as animals are better able to survive than others”(Butler.C, 2007), reasoning that it was the ‘white man’s burden’ to bring his superior civilisation and override those of less developed cultures, forcing them to engage in practices and activities that were not part of their own culture. This form of Social Darwinism was a pseudo-scientific term for racism. The British imposed their own cultural and social beliefs on other cultures, thus virtually eradicating whole cultures.
Not only was Social Darwinism integrated into imperialism, and colonialism, but it was also woven into capitalism, corrupting what had the potential to be a successful political and economic system into a competitive, violent environment. During the late 1800s and 1900s the gaps between the social classes widened as the upper class sought to increase their influence and power by crushing the poor and poverty stricken, misappropriating the theories of Social Darwinism as their justification, resulting in power-hungry, influence-wielding businessmen with ruthlessness extents. This biogenetic doctrine not only provided criminals with warped scientific explanations to justify their actions but it “[promoted] an attitude of acceptance towards radical capitalism, racism, sexism and war”(Bergman.J, 2012) and allowed many wrongs to go unchecked for a long time afterwards. What little money the poor had left was stolen or taxed to fund the illegal activities of the upper classes. Their lack of concern for the social welfare of the middle and lower working class ruined millions of lives. Working injuries and deaths due to dangerous working conditions were a major cause suffering. Yet, Spencer argued that “those … unemployable … should be allowed to die rather than be made objects of help and charity”(Bergman.J 2012) To allow those sick or injured to die would apparently strengthen the race, by weeding out unfit individuals-this was used to justify the very worst impulses of human beings. Social Darwinism, misappropriated and misconstrued, as it was under the pseudonyms of imperialism, colonialism and capitalism and used to benefit a wealthy and influential minority, at a great cost to those without power or influence.
Social Darwinism was deployed, therefore, to justify global acts of sabotage against humanity. Disguised as imperialism, colonialism and capitalism the ideology caused catastrophic damage to some cultures and social classes and “justified exploitation of ‘lesser breeds’ without the law by a ‘superior race’” (Wikimedia, 2012). During the 1800s the Dutch government took over Imperial expansion into Jakarta where they traded in spices. A financial crisis soon followed creating a government dictated system of agriculture in the colonies … creating famine and disease for the peasant farmers who were brutally forced to work on the plantations (Burvill-Shaw.S, 130). This was only a small portion of the various epidemics and diseases transferred from Europe during European imperial expansion into Asia, resulting in the suffering and deaths of thousands.
Colonialists from Europe attempted to impose beliefs, religions and practices on these colonies, supposedly for their benefit (Butler.C, 2007) too try and force them into believing and engaging in the ways of Europeans, thereby destroying their culture and values. While Europeans worked tirelessly to abolish slavery, others killed thousands of natives through forced labour, SLAVERY, to complete their building enterprises and bring the ‘benefits’ of civilisation to the Eastern colonies. Essentially, it was wrong for non-Europeans to have slaves and be people smugglers, but being European or white meant that it was acceptable to smuggle five thousand young women across America for the sex trade, or young children to become slaves for the upper classes amongst whom it was fashionable. In Africa, where Europeans inflicted their culture upon the native Africans they applied many of their ways to override that of tribes. Their agricultural techniques ruined the soil. They “taught African school children poems about daffodils, even though there were no daffodils in Africa”(Butler.C, 2007). The imposition of culture on colonies with such diversity of religion, languages and rituals was barbaric, as it annihilated so much, all in the name of Social Darwinism.
It was not only the Eastern nations that suffered from this treatment. Darwin’s own cousin, Sir Francis Galton invented the term Eugenics, the study or belief in … improving the quality of the human species by being selectively bred-the fittest encouraged to do so – the unfit restrained by force and by law (Dictionary.com). The application of this theology in the “[United States of America] in the 20th Century resulted in the forced sterilisation of some 70, 000 victims, including criminals, the mentally retarded, drug addicts, paupers, the blind, the deaf and people with Epilepsy, [Tuberculosis] or Syphilis”(Grigg.R, 2). Similar practices were engaged in Sweden, Norway and Canada. In Germany Hitler’s Nazis superseded sterilisation and eugenics by the attempted annihilation of the Jews, whom they considered to be ineligible for life itself. Adolph Hitler believed in the theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ and he made what was “to fit his reality of what was the fittest and who was deemed the fittest” (Custom Writing Service, 2009). To justify his barbarous acts of genocide against the Jews, Hitler cited Social Darwinism as one of his main sources for supporting his ambition to achieve a purer race. Various figures in history manipulated Social Darwinism to validate acts of genocide and holocaust with appalling consequences world-wide.
Social Darwinism was a complex ideology that became integrated into Imperialism, Capitalism and Colonialism, causing conflict and disharmony within England and other nations as it was used to justify atrocities throughout the world. Darwinism was a source of great debate in Victorian Society, triggering huge political and economic changes and causing a social uproar that shook Victorian England to its foundations. Greedy businessmen wielded Social Darwinism in such a way as to use it to justify their more ruthless actions and growing competitiveness served to feed the ideology further. Overseas, Social Darwinism in the guise of imperialism and colonialism was destroying diverse cultures by superimposing European culture upon native cultures. Manifesting itself in destructive ways, Social Darwinism was one of the most complex and manipulative ideologies that ever posed a danger to humanity world-wide and we should learn from the past, remaining ever vigilant.

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...What do we mean at DePaul by a “Socially Responsible Leader”? DePaul’s Vision Twenty12 calls for a special focus on “developing socially-responsible leaders and engaged alumni.” This goal is central to the full expression and realization of our Catholic, Vincentian and urban mission, which challenges us to maintain vigilant attention to the common good and to the sacred dignity of all people, especially the poor and marginalized. The development of socially responsible leaders in today’s complex, global, and ever-changing world requires a commitment to students’ holistic and integrated learning by a community of faculty, staff and University partners who accompany and mentor students on their developmental path. Moreover, it requires that the University community itself embody what it seeks to develop in its students, thus acting as an effective mentoring community and environment. At DePaul, five broad categories have emerged as central to our understanding of socially responsible leadership: 1. Self-Understanding & Personal Integrity Socially responsible leaders have achieved a sense of self-authorship or personal agency. They critically assess and actively discern how their personal gifts, talents, resources, and abilities might best contribute to the broader human community. They articulate and live with a sense of authenticity, purpose, and ethical integrity. They maintain an appreciation for the transcendent dimension of human life, and seek ongoing personal...

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