Social Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest

Social Darwinism has given rise to the idea that some races are naturally stronger than others, and that this explains the social order of the planet. Is there any truth in this idea?
Social Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest

Last update: 15 September, 2022

Social Darwinism is an approach that attempts to apply the concepts of natural selection to specific individuals and societies. From this point of view, one could derive the idea that the same thing should happen in society as happens in nature. In other words, only the strongest survive.

Social Darwinism has given rise to a volume of theories and policies of doubtful validity to justify different forms of discrimination. In fact, more than a few figures have resorted, and continue to resort, to this approach to demerit the value of people of a certain ethnic group or origin.

The most execrable manifestation of social Darwinism was Nazism, which, amazingly, still hasn’t completely disappeared. Indeed, there are more than a few neo-Nazi groups in existence today. From these concepts, different forms of supremacism have emerged that have done untold damage to the world.

All our human ancestors are from Africa. From there we began to expand throughout the world. Back then, no one was thinking of building a wall to prevent immigration.”

-Michel Brunet-

Digital portrait of Darwin
Charles Darwin is the author of the theory of evolution, although it was Herbet Spencer who brought it to the social world. Editorial credit: roseed abbas / Shutterstock.com

Social Darwinism

Charles Darwin proposed the theory of evolution and with it marked a definitive milestone in the beliefs of that time about nature. His theory proposed that different species evolve from natural selection. This is a process by which the strongest organisms adapt and survive, while the weakest disappear over time.

This means that, in nature, there’s a continuous struggle for survival that the strongest are destined to win. The first to transfer these concepts from the natural to the social world was Herbert Spencer. The postulate of social Darwinism is really simple: if the strongest prevail in nature, the same must happen in the human world.

The first problem with this approach is that it doesn’t define what ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ means. For instance, was Stephen Hawking ‘weak’ because of a disease, despite having been one of the world’s most brilliant scientists? Was Adolf Hitler ‘strong’ for having invaded almost all of Europe, even though this only brought misery and destruction?

A groundless theory

Social Darwinism hasn’t served so much to classify ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ individuals but has been more oriented toward classifying entire societies and ethnic groups. In reality, it’s been a theoretical apparatus to justify the violence exerted by some people on others and by some individuals on others. Behind this, there’s nothing more than ignorance and a desire for power and wealth.

Race is one of the favorite topics of those who defend social Darwinism. Indeed, the supremacy of one race over others has been the leitmotif of many discriminatory and violent acts. It’s also often the reason why some individuals feel entitled to attack or belittle those who have darker skins than themselves.

Science has dismantled the very concept of race and discovered that there’s nothing genetically significant between people with different skin colors. It’s simply due to a difference in their levels of melatonin. This has been known since the 1970s. Furthermore, we all come from the same black ancestors. This isn’t a new finding. In fact, the French paleontologist, Michel Brunet tested it more than 20 years ago.

The evolution of man
Social Darwinism has been oriented more toward classifying societies and ethnic groups.

A convenient excuse

Social Darwinism has served as a pretext to justify mass robbery and murder. For example, it upheld the belief that black people didn’t have a soul, thus entitled others to enslave them and appropriate their labor force. Therefore, it generated wealth for others for life, without any major investment required. The belief was that people of a different color belonged to an inferior culture, which justified invading their countries, subjugating them, and keeping all their assets.

Wild capitalism has also appropriated some edges of social Darwinism to justify unacceptable inequality. It proposes that poor people they’re poor because of their inferiority. It doesn’t account for the fact that they might’ve been systematically expropriated or limited by others. Nor that they may not have had the same historical or conjunctural opportunities.

Social Darwinism also gives some individuals the opportunity to justify their pathological narcissism. This was precisely the case with Hitler and many other individuals who unleashed their destructive desires on others, hiding behind baseless theoretical concepts. Indeed, social Darwinism is used as an opportunity for individuals and sectors that equate brutality with force to commit serious injustices and derive great private benefit from it.

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  • Barbero González, J. I. (2012). El darwinismo social como clave constitutiva del campo de la actividad física educativa, recreativa y deportiva. Revista de Educación.
  • Blázquez Ruiz, Francisco Javier (2014). Nazismo, derecho, estado. Madrid: Dykinson.