American Philosophy

Social Darwinism

What was Social Darwinism?

Social Darwinism was an application of the Darwinian idea of the “the survival of the fittest” to inequalities and opportunities in contemporary nineteenth century society. It was an age in which the enterprising could amass large fortunes in a short period of time, although they had to compete with other capitalists. And those who labored, often in unhealthy and exhausting conditions for barely enough pay to support themselves, also competed among themselves for available jobs.

Social Darwinists wrote popular books, sometimes consisting of what today would be considered racist or class-based eugenics, and their claims made a strong impression on general readers. They shared a belief that competition was valuable in itself and that those who failed in life’s contests failed a deeper test of evolutionary survival. Instead of social reform, their ideals were to encourage the traits that enabled success at competition by means of selective human breeding, as well as moral approval of the winners.


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