Darwinism 2 Essay, Research Paper
Darwinism, a scientific theory that supported the belief of evolution, was manipulated and applied to different areas of life, and thus it became the shaping force in European thought in the last half of the nineteenth century. Darwin, through observation of organisms, determined that a system of natural selection controlled the evolution of species. He found that the organisms that were most fit and assimilated to the environment would survive. They would also reproduce so that over time they would eventually dominate in numbers over the organisms with weaker characteristics. This new theory was radical and interesting to the scientific world but its effects reach far beyond this small institution of intellectuals. People applied Darwinism and its belief in survival of the fittest to all areas of life. They used it as a natural law which supported their actions and beliefs. Advocates manipulated the scientific doctrine to fulfill their personal needs and to justify religious beliefs, capitalism, and military conquests.
Darwinism greatly impacted the scientific world purely through its specific doctrine. The enlightenment had paved the way for rational thinking and observation. People were willing to accept scientific data as fact and they were able to objectively consider theories that went against the church. Because of the story of creation, Darwinism would have been immediately rejected only a few centuries earlier. People used Darwinism as a weapon to strike at the validity of the powerful religious institutions of the period. It was because of the many drastic changes in the beliefs of the people and the advancement of the logical world that Darwinism was well accepted as a scientific truth.
Beyond the exact definition of Darwinism, many people found personal applications to the scientific doctrine. Not only was survival of the fittest an established truth in nature, it was also more than evident in human society. Many people, after reading the benefits associated with reproduction of the strong, began to place human activity under the scrutiny of science. Those who found that the principles of Darwinism advocated their personal goals in society took great lengths to spread the word of Social Darwinism. This was a doctrine that called for free competition among humans and a setting in which the dominating class was the major contributor of offspring.
The primary supporters of Social Darwinism included the hard-nosed capitalists who fought for laissez faire. These people wanted an economic market that was free from outside regulation. They contended that the system itself, like nature, had inherent systems of checks and balances. Because the stronger and more cunning fox survives, he passes on his positive traits and furthers the entire species genetically. Similarly, the stronger and more successful businessman weeds out his unskilled competitors. This allows the entire system to progress and provides positive examples for future generations to follow. This justification through scientific law promoted acceptance because science was held in high regard at the time. When lectures, publications, and even private conversations tackled the controversial issue of business regulation, people cited the principles of Social Darwinism time and time again. By providing firm scientific principles that could be used as evidence on popular issues, Social Darwinism consumed discussions and spread wildly.
In addition to rejecting business regulation, Darwinism could be manipulated to reject the socialist institutions that capitalists opposed. Socialist programs had sprung up in many areas of the world by this time period, but as R.J. Halliday wrote, Socialism ran counter to natural law by limiting the scope of selection and competition. People such as Marx, strongly rejected systems of social classes and sought their elimination. However, the people who benefited from the existence of social classes supported their economic views with principles of Darwinism. Socialists sought to make everyone equal and they wanted to do away with competition. Under the scrutiny of Darwinism, this would hinder the growth of society by promoting the negative traits of humans. When lazy and unskilled people are as successful as the dedicated and talented workers, the system does not flourish and growth is minimal. Social programs that aid the poor, the criminal, and the insane hurt society because they also attempt to level the playing field. This allows the weak to maintain enough power to reproduce and spread their weakness on to the next generation. Capitalists feel that the people should be left to fend for themselves, as Darwin s creatures are in nature, so that they can evolve to better things. As socialist writings such as The Communist Manifesto were spread throughout Europe, their opposition in turn spread literature about the social implications of Darwinism, and thus it became a definitive ideology of the nineteenth century.
Beyond Darwinism s application to the individual, people used it to justify actions of the state. Nations, like organisms, are in constant competition with each other. Often times, as in the natural setting, one member of a group must come to dominate over the other member. In nature, the snake steals the eggs of other reptiles. In this way the snake, being more fit, lives off of other s resources and places the reptiles in a position of submission. Governments used this idea to defend their holding of colonial possessions. As Adolf Hitler wrote, The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. For example, when a European government conquers an African nation, it is in accordance with nature because they were more fit. The stronger government should benefit from the weaker nations because it is in their best interests and they are capable of doing so. The stronger country should not restrict its capabilities out of benevolence because this would lead to a weakening of the entire global political system. When competition is restricted, motivation to advance fades away. This is why forceful acts of government are acceptable under the principles of Social Darwinism. This notion was spread to validate campaigns of governments who received criticism for being too brutal. Therefore, these governments helped place Darwinism in the public eye and enabled it to become a shaping force in European thought.
Darwinism as it applies to nature was successful and widespread simply because of its own merit. It was aided by the circumstances of the time in which reason and science were held in high regard, but the facts stood firm by themselves. Social Darwinism, however, became a definitive philosophy of the time because it was applicable to most areas of life. People manipulated the laws of nature to create laws of society that forwarded their personal goals. It was used to justify ruthless and cunning behavior because competition was seen to cultivate growth under Darwin s principles. Because leisure time had led to people s participation in the art of conversation, the issues of the period became a part of the average person s life. They discussed the controversial topics such as capitalism, socialism, and military campaigns. In discussing these issues, people cited Darwin s principles and therefore Darwinism spread throughout Europe. It was difficult to avoid the new philosophy because it had such an important role in the major controversies of the day, and it was an inherent argument in the lectures and publications produced.