Social Darwinism and Its Effect on Today's Society
Sorry about the weird spacing i dont feel like trying to fix it as im very impatient, but i hope you get a new prospective on life and morality from this paper.
During the history of the United States of America, social economics has been discussed in a variety of different ways by a variety of different people. Many of the ideas from past ideologies of some philosophers of economics are still present, while many lay in the distant past. During the mid to late 1800's and even early into the 20th century, Social Darwinism, which was preached by Spencer and Sumner, played a very key role in the economic dynamics of society in the idea that the fittest survive, clearly showing the rich and the powerful were those who were "’most fit" in society, and that the government should play no part in this society. Many of their critics deeply swayed against them saying that unrestricted competition was wrong and that the likes of the business or upper class society was predatory. In my personal opinion of social economics and governmental involvement, society should be based on hard work, determination, perseverance, luck, and good merit not because your father was rich, so in turn, the children of that man shall also be wealthy.
During the 1700 and 1800’s, many economic philosophers were on the forefront of social
economics. Each believed in a very different concept on how society should be ran in an economic and social standpoint. For example, Robert Owen believed in a utopian society where everything owned is
shared within a cooperative settlement. He believed people in nature were selfish because they lived in
a “dog eat dog world."’ ln today's world this would never work because people take too much pride in the ownership of their possessions to share them with their neighbors. Means of having and obtaining
capital is the way of the world, and a utopian society would not work. Adam Smith, another economic
philosopher of his time, believed in the laws of supply and demand. He stated that there are two
natural laws that if let to operate freely will automatically regulate economy, which are supply and
demand and law of competition. This means that if the need for a product goes up as does the price,
and as the need for a product goes down, as does the price. The law of competition means for example,
if two businesses are selling virtually the same product, one will sell a better at a higher price, as the
other will sell a cheaper product with lesser quality. Both companies work in competitive nature against
each other for business, but both will thrive due to the quality and price of their respective product.
This ideology is still incorporated in today's society, but a third law is now in effect, “brand name." A
company's name plays a big role in the sales of the product because people buy what they see on
television not the best product or cheapest product available. David Ricardo is yet another gentleman
whose socioeconomic ideals were prevalent during his time as well as today. He believed there existed
an “iron law of wages." This law he proposed was based on the idea that if labor was plentiful it is
cheap, and that is expensive when scarce. He also believed as population increased wages went down.
This idea basically is stating that as the need for employment in society is high, then society will take a
job even for little pay. At the same time, not many people seek being a lawyer or physician, then
the pay may be higher. This idea is still in place today, as work is hard to come by and the
unemployment rate is through the roof so, in turn, people will take jobs that pay poorly in today’s
standards. At the same time, college is expensive, especially medical school and law school, so the labor
force within that area of expertise is scare, so they are paid more by nature. The idea of the evils of
Iaissez faire economics was brought upon a gentleman by the name of John Stuart Mill. He believed
that government should have no effect on the economy, and he stated the government should only act
to protect the welfare of the people. The idea of laissez faire is an excellent way to conduct economics,
but without government regulation the tyrants of business would ruin society without some
government regulation. Even in today's standards, government involvement needs to be in place to make sure corporations do not conduct unlawful business, but I feel as though the government and corporate America are quite too intermingled with one another, and ”pat each other on the back,” so to speak. The final socioeconomic philosopher was Thomas Malthus. He believed poverty can never be eliminated from the world, because population increases at such a rapid rate that the food supply of the world cannot keep up with the pace. This idea never really took off because food shortages were never on a global scale. ln today's society, poverty is still a problem, but with today's technology, scientific innovation, and public and private funding famine in not a problem in developed countries of the world, and probably will not be for quite some time. In conclusion, much of the ideology of the 1700 and 1800 in terms of socioeconomic ideas are still prevalent in today’s society.
Herbert Spencer and Charles Sumner were two of the greatest proponents of social Darwinism during the late 19th century in the United States. Spencer believed in a society based on the survival of the fittest and the idea of competition. He believed that humans were the peak of evolution which started from single celled organism. ln his idea of social Darwinism, he intertwined the laws of the jungle with the human race. He believed that the most intellectually and physically superior people of society should be the fittest, and the others shall die off or be inferior. ”His doctrine of ”the survival of the fittest" confirmed his evolutionary optimism because it caused a need for progress by placing a premium on skill, intelligence, self- control, and the power to adapt through technological innovation; it had stimulated human advancement and selected the best of each generation for survival. He believed that intellectual evolution of man would be better than the evolution of a physical specimen of evolution" (pg. 39) As a result, the ideology of Spencerian social Darwinism was greatly supported by industrial tycoons such as Carnegie and Rockefeller. They believed that since they were rich and powerful, so in turn, they were seen as the fittest, often bullying the working class into believing they were inferior. He believed strongly in a laissez faire society in which all people should do as they please as long as they did not infringe of human right rights of others. ”The government was in place to ensure that freedom is not curbed."(pg. 40) “Spencer had a strong conservative view on society which was easily seen in his views on the poor; on state-supported education, sanitation, regulation of housing conditions and protection from medical quacks, in which he greatly opposed state aided funds, and said that the poor were unfit and should die." (pg. 41) In the end, he believed an industrial society would better suit a progressing society over a militant one. "An industrial society requires security for life, liberty, and property. The idea of state regulations would be those of a militant society for it would be fatal to the survival of the industrial society: it would penalize superior citizens and their offspring in favor of the inferior; and a society like this would be outstripped by others.” (pg. 41, 42) Spencerian philosophy, in essence, was based upon the two main principles: “survival of the fittest" and "'the law competition or struggle for survival. These two main principles brought the nature of the jungle to human society, and within the U.S. society, the rich and the powerful exploited their conservative ideals to justify their way of life. Along with Spencer, William Graham Sumner was also one of the great ideologists of the social Darwinism theory. ”Sumner's synthesis brought together three great traditions of western capitalist culture: the Protestant ethic, the doctrines of classical economics, and Darwinian natural selection." (pg. 51) He believed that the Protestant ethics which included: industrious, temperate, and frugal man as the ”fittest” in the struggle for existence. He believed in a Iaissez faire society and the idea of determinism. When Sumner talks about the struggle for existence, he believed that the greatest step in this struggle is the means to achieve and produce capital or money. ”Capital increases the fruitfulness of labor and provides the necessary means of an advance in society. (pg. 58) He also believed that to advance in society, one must come from wealth, so one can preserve the wealth for his children. He believed that the rich were seen as the fittest in the struggle to survive, as money was the token of success. “Millionaires are the bloom of a competitive civilization: The millionaires are a product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of man to pick out those who can meet the requirement of certain work to be done, and they should decide who will they see fit to be worthy of that wealth, for they have high wages and live in luxury”(pg. 58) He also believed that those with courage, enterprise, good training, intelligence, and perseverance would end up on top. Sumner believed that in order to rid the world of poverty, ”let every man be sober, industrious, prudent, and wise, and bring up his children to be the same, and poverty will be abolished in a few generations. (pg.61) Sumner saw democracy as simply transient stage in social evolution which was determined by the man to land ratio and more or less necessary of the capitalist class. “Conceived as a principle ofadvancement based on merit, democracy met his approval as socially progressive and profitable. Conceived as equality in acquisition and enjoyment, he thought it was unintelligible in theory, and thoroughly impracticable." (pg. 60) Men were not equal in the capitalistic world because he believed some men were more worthy than others in workmanship and industrial virtue. He believed that the government should only defend against crime, and was in strict opposition of most state affairs within economics outside of education. He saw government involvement as a sway toward socialism which he saw as a ”device whose aim was to save those individuals from any of the difficulties or hardships of the struggle for existence and the competition of life by the intervention of the state.” (pg. 63) In the end, he believed in the concept of social determinism. ”Society, the product of centuries of gradual evolution, cannot be quickly refashioned by legislation." (pg. 60, 61) He believed that “social meddlers” were only creating artificial laws since there were no natural laws of social order. Sumner too, believed that the struggle to survive was greatly seen through the wealthy because they “had it." This of course was capital, and those who “have it" were not likely to give it up, which caused great uproar among the philosophical community in devouring within the social and economic politics of society. Before discussing these critics though, one must discuss the ideology of the Wage Fund Theory. ”According to the Wage—Fund Theory, which was popular among proponents of Iaissez faire, labor is paid out of capital fund which is fixed at any given time; and the average wage of the laborers is determined by the ratio of the number of workers seeking employment to the amount of the wage-fund.”(pg. 145) To these conservatives, this theory could have no government involvement. In essence this meant that the greater the number of employees seeking work, the less that the business class would pay for a given job, which deepens the exploitation of the upper class society. I feel even though this theory is absolutely erroneous, it is rooted deep within the industrial world. People today feel manual labor is "easy" requiring almost no mental capacity, so in turn, they pay less. On top of this ideology, the U.S. unemployment rate is sky-high, so business owners feel as though they can pay less because the jobless will take any wage hoping to stay afloat in the economic crisis. Many of the critics deeply oppose the Wage Fund Theory, and in addition, oppose the ideology of social theory, and the exploitation of this by the business class. Lust as Spencer and Sumner justified their views on social Darwinism in ideology on "the survival of the fittest" and the ”struggle for existence", their critics had significant evidence backing their opposition of the these two main proponents of social Darwinism. Richard Ely was one of the main critics against both Spencer and Sumner. In his essay on “The Past and present of Political Economy, Ely attacked self-interest or the dog-eat-dog-world that Spencer and Sumner greatly emphasized. "This younger political economy no longer permits the science to be used as a tool in the hands of the greedy and the avaricious for keeping down and oppressing the labor class." (pg. 146) He also believed that Iaissez faire was not an excuse to watch and do nothing as people starved literally and financially, or “survival of the fittest" as a ploy to grind out the poor with hard labor and stingy wages. In 1885, under the leadership of Ely, a group of younger economist formed the American Economic Association. The fundamental principles of the organization were that they regarded the state as an agency of assistance towards the progression of society and , believed that the political economy was still in its infancy. In addition to Ely, Simon Patten was another significant critic to the ideology of social Darwinism. He published a critique of “The Premises of Political Economy." In this critique, he questioned the social utility of unrestricted competition. ”He expressed his dissatisfaction with Malthus, Ricardo, and the wage-fund doctrine.”(pg. 146-47) He saw industrialism as a new world of existence, and thought if this new world was to be better, then economic changes should follow suit. Simon Patten, yet another critic of social Darwinism, began his
The two most outstanding names in urban discontent are Henry George and Edward Bellamy.
They felt the necessity of refuting the conservative arguments of evolutionary sociology, but Henry
George differed from others because he believed in competition as a necessary way for economic life.
George refuted the ideas of Malthus's classical economic ideas of the belief that population had not
overtaken the food supply. ln the last section of Progress and Poverty, George commented on the
struggle for existence by saying, ”is a sort of hopeful fatalism, of which current literature is full."(pg.111)
He believed in his own theory of conservative society in that “it holds that no change can avail, save
these slow changes in men’s nature."(pg. 111) It is possible that the history of civilizations rises and falls
in a wave-like rhythm, and that each race has its own energy, and once that energy is gone, as is the
nation. George thought "That the obstacles which finally bring progress to a halt are raised by the
course of progress; that what has destroyed all previous civilizations has been the conditions produced
by the growth of civilization itself."(pg. 112) George believed that the two main qualities of social
progress are equality and association, and society was threatened by both of them. The Nationalist
movement that came about after publication of Bellamy's book, Looking Backward, ”brought upon the
principle of the competitive system upon the institution of private property itself."(pg. 113) He believed
in the idea of a utopian society where he proposed a society to nationalize industry. He believed the
principle of competition was essentially the rich cunning brutal mentality upon the rest of society.
Therefore, as long as this competitive or brutal nature is still in place, then the highest development of
man cannot be reached. ln an address before a Boston audience Bellamy declared that "the final plea
for any form of brutality in these days is that it tends to the survival of the fittest; and very properly this
plea has been advanced in favor of the system which is the sum of all brutalities."(pg. 114) If the rich
were the fittest, then there would be no social question, but in this case, the unfit do survive in this
competitive system as well. In the end, he believed this system brought out the worse in all classes not
just the rich. Outside the immediate ranks of labor, an articulate source of reform sentiment in urban
communities was the social—gospel movement. Many Protestant clergymen struck down industrialism.
The clergy living in the cities saw the horrible living conditions of the working men, their low wages,
unemployment, and the enforced labor of the woman of the family. Alarmed by the industrial scene
and growing scare of socialism, they wished to seek compromise between the harsh individualism of
competition and the possible danger of socialism. The most famous and active members of the social
gospel was Washington Gladden, and some his main contemporaries of this social reform movement
were Lyman Abbott, Walter Rauschenbusch, Rev. A.J.F. Behrends and George Herron. Together, they
put together a movement against individualism, as well as socialism. Many of these men were great
intellectuals, and had a profound influence on Christian social thinking during this time. During this time
many liberal clergymen were starting to change their abstractions of theology into social questioning,
I which broke down the insularity of religion. The reformers believed in an inevitable progression toward
a better order of earth, known as the Kingdom of God. Rauschenbusch wrote, "Translate the
evolutionary theories into the religious faith, and you have the doctrine of the Kingdom of God. "(pg. _
108) They wished "social salvation"' which implied a harmony of interests between classes, which
served to end class conflict, and reached out for state intervention. Social gospel members did believe
in a slow, gradual reform and the belief that social order should be transformed by human character of i
individuals, but they detested the beliefs of free competitive order, but were in general agreement on
the idea of modifying it. Rev. Behrends wrote, "Christianity cannot grant the adequacy of the Iaissez
faire philosophy, cannot admit that the perfect and permanent social state is the product of natural law
and of an unrestricted competition."(pg. 108) Gladden believed that the working class would eventually
unite against the business class, and attack the competitive system of order. To mend this, he proposed
an "industrial partnership between employer and employee, and employers should deal with their
employees with Christian conscience and with much more generosity. He went on to say that, "survival
of the fittest," is the law of plants and brutes and brutish men, but is not the highest law of civilized
liberty, but the principle of good will, of mutual help, begins to operate the social order."(pg. 109) In the
end, the social—gospel reformers denounced the ideasof the competitive order and "survival of the
fittest," and wished for a better cooperation between employers and their employees.
In my opinion, Spencerian social theory is absolutely erroneous because of the fact that one
cannot bring the laws of the jungle to man. In a competitive world, there are boundaries and rights for
all classes in which the government should be able to intervene when necessary. I believe in the ideas
of the social gospel which introduces the ideas of cooperation in the work place, for this will lead to
economic prosperity for all.
So how does the social Darwinistic approach to human nature have to do with today’s society? As we’ve progressed as a nation and society, the corporate executives and CEO’s have held the mindset that there is no morality in the financial sector of society. As one looks back at the intellectual revolution that started exponentially changing societal views on social ideology, there is a direct reflection on Social Darwinism in America. It all started with a Herbert Spencer. This man gave industry giants such as Rockefeller and Carnegie a scape goat in social ideology in a sense that because they are rich and powerful that they are better people in general, but in my eyes that is completely wrong. During this time corporate America started to take shape leaving all competitive nature out of the mix, but you cannot bring the law of the jungle to human existence. What makes us different from animals is our ability to change at any given moment. For example, a man is a drug dealer, and gets arrested and subsequently goes to prison can change his life around instantaneously and realize that hard work and perseverance will bring you better things in life as long as you set your MIND to it. Unfortunately these money hungry industrial leaders felt otherwise. They used this social Darwinism movement to get the approval of the other wealthy and powerful people as well as the government to buy into this idea. At the same time, the average American cannot do anything about it because they do not have the financial backing even if they have the mental capacity to change their status in society. Overtime, the corporate giants rolled in the capital gains without any income tax because that Amendment to the constitution did not come until many decades later during the birth of the technological revolution which began during the first few decades of the 20th century. At the same time, companies were consolidating to form corporations which ended all free-market competitions altogether unless you came up with a new idea or innovation which was then taken over by the government. As a result, this mindset towards life, liberty, and money was trickled down to their children (our grandparents), then to go even farther their children (our parents). You can see that now in today’s society with families such as the Bush family, as well as all the CEO’s of today. An immoral action to create more money for yourself is a crime and should be frowned upon by the court of public opinion as well as criminal court because our U.S. Constitution says, “Life, Liberty, Property (Money).” This mindset towards life should change for everyone not just this plutocratic society that we call the “one percent.” At the same time, the intellectuals of society much give up their discoveries to the government because they want to use things in the right away, which is not always the way the government wants them to go, and the atomic bomb Is a great example because look at what happened to J Robert Oppenheimer when he brought moral reasoning towards the art of warfare, and look where that got the world today. As time has gone on the military industrial complex has just gotten larger and larger and more complex, but if one just thinks for a minute it’s not that difficult to grasp. The national government just tries to say things are too difficult just brainwash society into thinking that. Instead of causing wars just to exploit other countries, which is what countries did like 200-300 years ago, why not start a new chapter in the book of human evolution and extract things from space and bring them home instead of destroying Mother Nature that has provided us with the fruit of life. Science and technology are two very important things, and they never get the medial attention because the government does not want the average American to know what we are now capable of doing, and once again its immorally wrong. If the response of the American people is panic, then as one has already seen with professional athletes that get arrested, the hype of the people and media always dies down eventually. Change is never an easy thing to do because as Americans we’ve built a comfort zone within our society and one gets complacent within those means. The 19th century prospective to human ideology is not something that should be instilled in the modern 21st century world. In the end, we must end this social darwinistic approach to life, money, and morality and prosecute these immoral people in the court of public opinion as well as criminally for what they’ve done to our world. All they have done was separate themselves more and more from the average person at the expense of the average American’s financial well-being.
The Book I used to write this paper is called, "Social Darwinism in American Thought "By Richard Hofstadter, Published by Beacon Press in Boston Mass.