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Anything But Social Darwinism


On The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson deconstructs “social Darwinism” in order to “raise some questions about the usefulness of [the term] and the way it has been applied.” The concept has little to do with Charles Darwin, but it has often been misapplied to his idea of natural selection. Instead, social Darwinism springs from the sociology of Herbert Spencer, the man who coined the term “survival of the fittest” and believed the poor should be left alone and not aided by the government. From there, things get even murkier–in the 20th century the term “social Darwinist” was applied not only to the laissez-faire Spencer, but also to the imperialist Teddy Roosevelt, the eugenicist Adolf Hitler, and a selection of other disparate individuals. As Johnson writes, social Darwinism “is a mere amalgamation of tenuously related ideas that do not form a unified structure,” a theory that has been retroactively concocted and applied. Take some time to read through the series, which Razib Khan on Gene Expression calls “blogging as scholarship at its best.”

Links below the fold.


  1. #1 abb3w
    January 14, 2010

    I’ve thought for a while that “Social Spencerism” might be a better umbrella term.

  2. #2 A
    January 14, 2010

    And in this country those to whom the label ‘social Darwinist’ might be best applied are those, who are against teaching ‘evolution’ or ‘Darwinism’ in the schools. Go figure.