The Impact of Social Darwinism

The Impact of Social Darwinism


Social Darwinism encompasses applying the natural selection theory to economic, social and political issues. This theory is utilized to justify the struggle for existence, which is arrived at through social policies that are not sympathetic to those people who cannot support themselves during the struggle for existence (Benjamin 210). This theory advocates for survival for the fittest. Social Darwinism refers to the type of strength in which principle and virtue are not included in the social forces. This is the reason why during the Nazi regime, Hitler allowed officers and staff members to fight over promotions, in order for the strong to prevail over the weak. Social Darwinism is a theory that was employed in the justification of numerous exploits, which can be identified as having dubious moral virtues currently. The two most common exploits as justified by social Darwinism are the white man’s burden and colonialism

How the application of Darwin’s ideas to society helps to stimulate the race for overseas colonies.

In accordance to the contentions of Social Darwinism, the post colonialism world was ridden with competition for the limited resources that were available at that time. Only the strong nations could be able to take advantage of the resources situated in the weaker nations regardless of the political, economic and social impact their actions would have on the nations in question. The stronger nations perceived the weakness of the natives and formed the notion that they were unfit to survive hence they as the stronger nations were justified to seize the natural resources and land situated in the native countries (Romano 123). The pre-colonial America was a land made up of indigenous native tribes whose way of life was inferior as compared to the ways of life f the British. The British felt that without religion and the social aspects adopted in Britain, the native Indians tribes could not survive and the best way to remedy this problem was by colonizing them and spreading the British superior way of life.

Conversely, while Britain was colonizing America, the other European countries were on the quest for overseas colonies in Asia and Africa. This was followed later by Japan and United States after the United States gained its independence (Duiker and Spielvogel 185). The European countries felt that for them to be stronger and be able to survive the war that was brewing among the European countries. They had to source for an expansion of their territories. The best countries that would make the best candidates for their expansion were situated in Africa and Asia, as they do could not easily survive through an attack from the strong European countries. Owing to the superior weaponry utilized by the European countries during their expansion activities, the African and Asian countries had to contend with their weaknesses and allow the European countries to colonize them. Social Darwinism at the time of colonization applied to military actions that were used to suppress the colonies.

The casualties from the colonies were always written off owing to their unfit conditions therefore, the European countries felt that they were justified to colonize the colonies regardless of the number of people who lost their lives in the process (McKay et al 234). To them, casualties and those who lost lives were weak and could not survive hence ethically and morally they were justified to colonize the overseas countries using the inhuman means they used. Their soldiers could confidently fight against the African and Chinese tribes because they were confident that they were stronger as compared to their opponents. The natural resources available in Africa and Asian countries interested the European countries as they felt that in accordance to the Darwinian theory of natural selection, the African and Asian population would become extinct owing to their limited survival chances. The best option to take would be to colonize these nations for the reason of exploiting the available natural resources as there would not be exploited after the extinction of the weaker Africans and Asians.

The 1884-1885 Berlin Conference acted as the main regulating body for the conflict between the European countries in terms of territories and boundaries. This conference accorded the European powers with a realization of the strength that was at their disposal and the weaknesses of the African and Asian countries. For this reason, the conference employed social Darwinism as a justification for the colonization of Asian and African countries by the European countries in their quest to extend their territories through effective occupation (Romano 285). During the conference, no African country was represented yet the conference was supposed to arrive at agreements based on boundaries, navigations and trade of central Africa. Great Britain, Germany, Portugal and France were the main active countries in the conference, who advocated for the division of Africa into fifty countries. These countries would be colonized by specific European powers as identified in the conference owing to their weaknesses in terms of survival and religious practices.

The African and Asian countries had diverse indigenous religions that were deemed weaker as compared to the religions adopted by the European countries. In accordance to social Darwinism, the European countries felt that they were morally, socially, culturally and ethically justified in forcing their superior religions to the weaker Africans whose religions were weak and would not allow them to survive in the ever-changing world. By the time France decided to soothe its pride in 1871, Great Britain had already colonized Burma, South Africa, Canada, Egypt and India. To soothe its pride, France decided to venture into overseas countries because it could not fight against Germany, which was equally strong (Benjamin 323). The African and Asian countries were the ideal candidates for soothing its pride because according to social Darwinism, these countries possessed weaker power as compared to France and so it could survive through a war wagged between them.

Economically, the trading methods utilized by the Africans and Asians were inferior as compared to those utilized by the European countries. Most of the African and Asian countries used the barter method of trading in which they exchanged items with other items instead of using money to purchase all the items they would need. China was the first Asian country to be colonized by the Russians, Germans and the British. The French colonized Vietnam while the Americans colonized Philippines and Hawaii (McKay, et al 156). The western countries felt that the African and Asian countries could not survive with the weak trading methods that were applied. For this reason, the western countries colonized Africa and Asia with the aim of spreading the superior trading methods adopted by the western countries. The western countries would benefit economically from this venture as they had trading power over the African and Asian countries in accordance to social Darwinism.

How social Darwinism helped to shape the attitude of the white man’s burden.

The white man’s burden translates to the fact that the Western countries that are dominated by the whites possess the obligation to rule over as well as augment the cultural development of people from diverse cultural and ethnic origins until they occupy a superior position in the world through the adoption of the western ways of life. This can be identified as a form of cultural imperialism but the white people feel that they are obligated to help the poor countries of Africa and Asia whether they are in need of the help or not owing t the fact that the western countries are rich and superior (Duiker and Spielvogel 280). Though this phenomenon has been advantageous, to some extent it has caused more harm that good. This is because the whole idea is based on the oppressive stipulations of social Darwinism. The notion of the white man’s burden is deemed racist because it is behind racism, imperialism and laissez-faire liberalism. These are the main social evils against humanity in the social, Economic and political arena. The term has been used as an excuse for the holocaust, genocide, apartheid, racism and slavery.

The white mans burden is the reason anti-Semitism ideologies spread in Germany during the Nazi regime such that the Nazi who were Christians in terms of religion decided to get rid of the Jews who could not convert to the superior religion of Christianity. The eugenics programs of sterilizing those that were deemed not fit to be known as Germans was based on the justifications of social Darwinism (Romano 238). The Germans were willing to impose Christianity on the Jews regardless of the methods employed as they felt that the Jews were a minor race that should be replaced through the adoption of the characteristics exhibited by the Christian Germans under the rule of Hitler. Many of the western countries took part in the colonization of African and Asian states because these poor countries required the civilization of the white man to come out of the poverty that had caused the countries to remain underdeveloped for many decades.

In America, social Darwinism was the main reason behind slavery and slave trade. The white Americans subjected the Africans to slavery with the aim of spreading their western ways of life that were superior to the Africans ways of life. The Africans were forced to change their cultural orientations in favor of the white cultural orientations that were deemed superior. This was viewed as a way of changing the undesirable traits found in the Africans by the desirable traits found in white Americans (McKay et al 89). Though the white Americans were in favor of aiding the Africans to acquire the western aspects of life, they were not willing to relinquish their power to the Africans. This is the reason why even with view of the civil right movements the white Americans were not willing to end racism in America. In terms of social Darwinism, they were willing to uptake the burden of changing the lives of the African Americans but they were not willing to relinquish their superiority to them.

During the holocaust, the Nazis felt that they were justified in sterilizing all the children that had some form of physical defect. This is because in accordance to their beliefs all people should be as perfect as the Germans who were deemed perfect in all aspects of life. The children were sent to the gas chambers to create an end to the defective genes. In this case, the Germans felt they had the burden of helping the poor and the defective in the society (Benjamin 390). This is because they were deemed unfit and according to social Darwinism, only the fit can survive in the society (McKay et al 248). The reason why the British colonized the indigenous tribes in America was that the indigenous tribes had an inferior way of life that was based on poverty, uncivilization and primitivity. The British perceived that they could civilize the indigenous tribes by spreading their superior way of life.

According to social Darwinism due top their superiority they felt that they had the burden of aiding the indigenous tribes to acquire civilization, riches and eliminate primitivity. The indigenous groups were not willing to change their ways of life, as they were content but the British believed that even though the groups were not willing to change their primitive ways of life they should be forced into adopting the western way of life (Dickens 243). This did not go down well with the Indians but at the end of the day, the British managed to colonize America and change it into a white man’s nation as evidenced by the white dominion during the slave trade and slavery. Currently the most prominent race in America is the white race, which is a clear evidence of the remnants of social Darwinism that caused the spread of westernization in indigenous America.

The western countries felt that Christianity was an integral way of life that could change the lives of different people. Most western countries that had adopted the Roman Catholic religion felt that it was superior to all other types of religions (Dickens 150). This culminated into the spread of Christianity all over Africa as many white missionaries felt the burden of introducing a superior religion to Africa as the African religious practices were based on uncivilization and the countries could not develop and adopt the western culture if they maintained their religious beliefs. Feeling that the western civilization is above all the other types of civilization in the worlds is a justification of social Darwinism because as per the theory one group possesses superior qualities that make enable it to survive in the world. The best way that the group can aid other weaker groups to acquire these superior characteristics is by enforcing them on the weaker groups whether they like them or not. In this way, a world of survival for the fittest is created and only those with superior characteristics can survive in this diverse world.


Social Darwinism is a theory utilized to justify the discriminatory attributes of the western countries. It translates to survival for the fittest, which means that in the adverse world only those with superior characteristic can survive while those with inferior characteristics have to be eliminated. During the colonial period, the colonialist justified their inhuman acts based on the stipulations of the social Darwinism (McKay, et al 280). They believed that due to their strong military tactics, they could easily take over the land and resources owned by the inferior countries. This is because the population found in the weak countries would go into extinction as it could not survive through natural selection and the resources would go to waste. Social Darwinism can also be used to identify the factors that shaped the attitude of white man’s burden. According to this attitude, the white dominated western countries have the burden of changing the cultural developments of the diverse ethnic and cultural groups in the world to that they can adopt the superior western way of life. In conclusion, social Darwinism has culminated into most of the social and cultural evils that have been experienced in world history.





















Works Cited:

Benjamin, Thomas. Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450: P-Z. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2007. Print

Dickens, Peter. Social Darwinism: Linking Evolutionary Thought to Social Theory. Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000. Print.

Duiker, William and Spielvogel, Jackson. World History: From 1500. Clifton Park, NY: Cengage Learning, 2006. Print.

McKay, John P., Hill, Bennett D., John Buckler, and Patricia Buckley Ebrey. A History

Of world societies Vol II: Since 1500. 5th Edition. New York, NY: Bedford Books, 2009. Print

Romano, Michael. CliffsAP European History. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2010. Print



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