3.2 Social Darwinism
When Thomas Malthus argued that population growth beyond resources was ordained by God to get humans to work productively and show restraint in getting families, this was used in the 1830s to justify workhouses and laissez-faire economics. Evolution was seen as having social implications.
Darwin thought “absurd to talk of one animal being higher than another”, but soon after the “Origin” was published in 1859 critics derided his description of a struggle for existence as a Malthusian justification for the English industrial capitalism of the time. The term Darwinism was used for the evolutionary ideas of others, including Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” as free-market progress, and Ernst Haeckel’s racist ideas of human development. Darwin did not share the racism common at that time. He was strongly against slavery, against “ranking the so-called races of man as distinct species”, and against ill-treatment of native people.
Writers used natural selection to argue for various, often contradictory, ideologies such as laissez-faire dog-eat-dog capitalism, racism, warfare, colonialism and imperialism. However, Darwin’s holistic view of nature included “dependence of one being on another”. Darwin insisted that social policy should not simply be guided by concepts of struggle and selection in nature.