What is Social Darwinism?

Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology Read more from
Chapter Major Movements in Psychology

Social Darwinism refers to a loose group of theories that arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, following publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This was a time of European imperialism, intense immigration into the United States, and growing masses of urbanized poor due to the industrial revolution. Thus, social prejudices spread among the European and American elite who convinced themselves that the conquered and the impoverished were somehow deserving of their status. Likewise, the idea of survival of the fittest was used to justify this viewpoint. Darwin did not intend evolution to be racist or a justification of social inequity. His theory was an explanation of how animals adapted to their environments. It was not a moral prescription for society. But his work was misinterpreted to mean that only the strongest and most worthy will survive and that social disadvantage was a reflection of genetic inferiority. Galton’s theory of eugenics is a good example of Social Darwinism.


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