The “Robber Barons,” Darwin’s Followers
Darwinism lies behind a great many dangerous intellectual trends, ideologies and practices that have persisted down to the present day. It is most interesting that it constitutes a foundation shared by ideologies that are completely opposed to one another. Darwinism played a role in the birth and spread of Nazism, fascism and communism, in the alleged justification of racist and communist massacres, and also constituted the alleged scientific basis for “unrestrained capitalism.” In Victorian Britain and America, in particular, Darwinism received great acclamation and was hugely strengthened because of the support it offered to ruthless capitalists known as the “robber barons.”
Savage capitalism's most important error is in putting no limit on the extent to which weaker businesses (and weaker individuals) can be crushed, exploited and eliminated. No doubt this cruelty and ruthlessness are totally unacceptable. Today this error is summed up in the saying, “Big fish eat little fish.” In other words, small enterprises are eliminated—or acquired—by larger ones. That is Darwinism applied to the world of business.
During the 20th century, the world tried two main different economic models: the liberal one, based on private property and free intervention; and the socialist one, based on state property and a planned economy. Socialist economies failed in every country, inflicting poverty and misery on their societies. Liberal economics, on the other hand, displayed unquestioned success, bringing greater well-being to individuals and societies.
But by itself a liberal economy is not enough to bring well-being to a whole society. Thanks to the liberal economy, a society's economic well-being generally rises, but not everyone can enjoy his share of that increase. The poor remain poor, and the danger of social injustice begins to increase. To prevent that danger and to eliminate social injustice, two things are necessary:
1) The state must extend a hand to the down-and-out and the unemployed, as a requirement of the concept of the “social state” and take measures to help them.
2) Feelings of cooperation and solidarity, that religious moral values require, need to pervade society as a whole.
The second requirement is particularly important because in the end, it tends to define the first. If a society attaches powerful importance to religious and moral values, then the liberal economy that society implements will provide both economic development and social justice. The rich will use part of their acquired capital to help the poor and establish social programs to support the weak. (Indeed, this is the economic model revealed by God in the Qur'an. Private property does exist in Islam, but its owners are charged to use part of their assets, in the form of alms, to assist the poor and those in need.)
If a society undergoes moral degeneration, then the liberal economy turns into “savage capitalism” in which the poor and down-and-out are oppressed and receive no help at all, in which there are no social welfare programs, and where social injustice is regarded not as a problem but as a “natural” state of affairs.
The economic model we shall be criticizing here is not the liberal economy—the free economic model based on private property and competition—but savage capitalism.
The source of inspiration behind it, as we shall show in due course, is Social Darwinism.
Those who first brought Darwinist practices into the business world were the Americans known as the “robber barons.” They believed in Darwinism and thought that its claim regarding “the survival of the fittest” somehow justified their own ruthless practices.18 The result was the start of a ruthless competition in business, capable of ending even in murder. The robber barons' sole aim was to make even more money and gain even more power. They had no interest in social well-being, even for their own workers. Millions of lives were ruined when Darwinism entered the economy, causing extremely low wages, appalling working conditions, and long working hours. The lack of any safety precautions caused workers to fall ill, become injured, or even die.
The Cruelties of Darwinist Employers
With the Industrial Revolution that began in England and soon spread to the whole of the rest of the world, new factories were built and machines began to be used in them. People were frequently injured because some employers attached no value to human life, especially that of the workers, and refused to take the necessary safety precautions. Most of these injuries resulted either in death or in the loss of fingers, hands or arms. It has been determined that in the 1900s a million workers a year died, suffered serious handicaps or fell sick.19
For workers who spent their lives in a factory, the loss of a limb or organ was almost inevitable. During their working lives, more than half of workers either fell ill or suffered serious injuries such as the loss of arms and legs, or of sight or hearing. For example, workers manufacturing stiff brim hats suffered mercury poisoning. Almost all radium dial painter workers ended up with cancer.20
Although employers were fully aware of working conditions and the accidents taking place, some took no steps at all to improve conditions. Many steel mill foundry workers worked twelve-hour shifts in temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees C (117oF) for very low wages.21 In 1892, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison summarized these inhuman conditions by saying that every day, the average American worker faced the same hazards as a soldier at war.22
Some capitalist businessmen attached no importance to human life and regarded it as expendable. During the construction of the railroads alone, hundreds lost their lives due to bad conditions.23 One of the most striking examples of this ruthlessness is of the American businessman J.P. Morgan, who purchased 5,000 defective rifles at $3.50 apiece and sold them to the U.S. Army for $22. In other words, he had so lost any trace of moral comprehension that he was capable of cheating his own nation and endangering the lives of its enlisted men. Soldiers who used these defective rifles had their thumbs blown off.24 Troops injured by these rifles sued Morgan but lost, because in those days the courts generally decided in favor of the robber barons.25
When asked to build roof protection for his workers, one of the capitalist employers of the time replied, that “men are cheaper than shingles”—another example of the ruthlessness of those days.26
At the root of all this cruelty, the influence of Darwinism can be easily discerned. A world view that regards humans as a species of animal, and believes in the lie that some people are less developed than others, that life is a place of struggle where only might prevails, results in ruthlessness, pitilessness and oppression.
The Damage Wreaked by Darwinism in the Business World
Most businessmen who supported unrestrained capitalism had actually been raised as believers in God. Later, however, under the influence of Darwinism's false suggestions, they abandoned their belief. For example, the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, one of the foremost names in the steel industry in the 19th century, had first been devoted to Christianity. In his autobiography, Carnegie openly described how he and many of his friends had fallen under the deceptions of Darwinism.
However, the theory of evolution that Carnegie regarded as a fact, consisted of falsehood in its entirety. In the years that followed, advances in the world of science revealed the true face of that deception. Yet at that time, other businessmen who made the same error as Carnegie accepted savage capitalism as a result of Darwinist suggestion. This led them into regarding ruthless competition as perfectly justified to make even more money, and into attaching no value to altruism and human life.
Carnegie thought that competition was an inevitable law of life and constructed his entire philosophy upon that error. He maintained that, although the law of competition made it difficult for some people, it was best for the race, because it ensured the survival of the fittest in every department.27
Those who first introduced Carnegie to Darwinism were a number of so-called free and enlightened thinkers seeking a new “religion of humanity,” whom he met at the home of a New York University professor.28 One of the members of Carnegie's intimate circle was Herbert Spencer, the follower of Darwin and one of the most important figures in Social Darwinism. These businessmen adopted the twisted thinking of Spencer and Darwin, but were unable to calculate the impasse into which it would drag both them and their society.
Richard Milner, an anthropologist from the American Museum of Natural History and author of The Encyclopedia of Evolution, describes how Carnegie fell under the influence of Darwinism:
Carnegie rose in business to become a powerful, ruthless tycoon who exploited man and Earth, crushed competition, and justified his actions by a philosophy of Social Darwinism. Entrepreneurial competition, he believed, does a service to society by eliminating the weaker elements. Those who survive in business are “fit,” and therefore deserve their positions and rewards.29
Carnegie and those who thought like him made a grave error to assume that being powerful and ruthless was part of business life. It is perfectly natural that people should earn a living in order to live at ease and in comfort. However, it is completely unacceptable to cause harm to others, to turn a blind eye to people in difficult circumstances for the sake of one's own interests, or to oppress the weak in order to increase one's own power still further. God has commanded people to be honest in business, as in all other spheres, and to protect the rights of the needy. It is an enormous lie to suggest that by oppressing the weak and even seeking to eliminate them altogether, one is aiming for the good of society.
In his later years, Carnegie always used Darwinist expressions in his conversations, statements and writings. In his book Andrew Carnegie, the historian Joseph F. Wall says this:
Not only in his published articles and books but also in his personal letters to business contemporaries, Carnegie makes frequent and easy allusions to the Social Darwinist credo. Phrases like “survival of the fittest,” “race improvement,” and “struggle for existence” came easily from his pen and presumably from his lips. He did see business as a great competitive struggle...30
Another of those taken in by Darwinist suggestions was the famous American industrialist John D. Rockefeller, who said that: “growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest ... the working out of a law of nature…”31
One can see one of the clearest instances of the effect of Darwinism on the business world in Spencer's American trip, which Richard Hofstadter describes in Social Darwinism in American Thought:
However imperfect the appreciation of the guests for the niceties of Spencer's thought, the banquet showed how popular he had become in the United States. When Spencer was on the dock, waiting for the ship carry him back to England, he seized the hands of Carnegie and Youmans. “Here,” he cried the reporters, “are my two best American friends.” For Spencer it was a rare gesture of personal warmth; but more than this, it symbolized the harmony of the new science [Social Darwinism] with the outlook of a business civilization.32
One reason why some capitalists adopted Social Darwinism was that it absolved the wealthy from any responsibility for the poor. In societies that preserve moral values, the rich are expected to show an interest in helping the poor and needy, and Social Darwinism attempted to eliminate that virtue. In The Golden Door: The United States from 1876 to 1918, science writer Isaac Asimov comments on this ruthless aspect of Social Darwinism:
Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” and in 1884 argued, for instance, that people who were unemployable or burdens on society should be allowed to die rather than be made objects of help and charity. To do this, apparently, would weed out unfit individuals and strengthen the race. It was a horrible philosophy that could be used to justify the worst impulses of human beings.33
Just as those who implemented savage capitalism supported Darwinism, so Darwinists supported them. For example, William Graham Sumner claimed that millionaires were “the fittest individuals in society,” then made illogical deductions that they therefore deserved special privileges and were “naturally selected in the crucible of competition.”34 In an article about Social Darwinism in The Humanist periodical, professor of philosophy Stephen Asma describes Spencer's support for capitalists:
Spencer coined the phrase survival of the fittest, and Darwin adopted the parlance in later editions of his Origin of Species. ... According to Spencer and his American disciples—business entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie—social hierarchy reflects the unwavering, universal laws of nature. Nature unfolds in such a way that the strong survive and the weak perish. Thus, the economic and social structures that survive are “stronger” and better, and those structures that don't were obviously meant to founder.35
But as has already been emphasized, spiritual values and their preservation represent the principal element in the progress of societies. In societies where the spirit of cooperation and solidarity is strong, where people approach one another with compassion and respect, economic difficulties in circumstances can easily be overcome in a spirit of togetherness. But where human relations have disappeared, and people lacking any compassion and understanding regard everyone else solely as rivals, many more destructive effects began to arise, even if there is economic progress. Therefore, all individuals in a society need to produce solutions to raise the quality of life and well-being, to bring about an environment where people can enjoy not just economic but psychological security. Obviously, that can only happen by living by religious moral values. As has been proved countless times, no movement or ideology incompatible with religious moral values can ever provide the well-being, peace and security for which people long.
Savage Capitalism: The Joint Product of Social Darwinism and Irreligiousness
From the 19th century onwards, Darwinist capitalists maintained that only the rich and powerful had the right to live and that the poor, the weak, the crippled and sick were “useless burdens,” establishing oppressive systems in a great many countries. In this climate of ruthless competition, it was seen as perfectly justified to exploit, oppress, intimidate, frighten, injure and even kill people. No forms of immoral or illegal activity were prevented or condemned, since these were regarded as “compatible with the laws of nature.”
In many countries where people do not live by religious moral values, this system still continues today. The gap between rich and poor is growing at an ever-increasing rate, and the conditions in which the needy live are ignored. According to the propaganda of Social Darwinism, protecting and caring for the poor and needy is a violation of the laws of nature, and since such people are regarded as a burden, no help is extended to them.
Great differences between levels of well-being exist not only within a country, but also between countries. As the level of well-being rises rapidly in the West, famine, sickness and poverty afflict many Third World countries, where people are dying from starvation and neglect. If used in a rational and conscientious manner, however, the world's resources are plentiful enough to provide for all those now abandoned to hunger and poverty.
In order for the world's resources to provide humane conditions, it is essential that Darwinism's intellectual influence be eradicated all over the world. When Darwinist views and understanding are replaced by the moral values of the Qur'an, such problems will naturally be resolved. That is because while Darwinism inculcates the idea of ruthless competition and the oppression of the poor, religious moral values impart compassion, protection, mutual cooperation, solidarity and sharing. For instance, our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) says in one of the hadith, “A believer is not the [mature] one who eats his fill when his neighbor is hungry.”36 These wise words of the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) are one of the indications of Muslims' affection and compassion.
In many of His verses, God has commanded love, compassion, affection and altruism and given Muslims examples of proper moral behavior. While social Darwinism consists of the rich using the poor and needy as stepping stones in order to rise, Islamic moral values command the rich to protect them. Some of the verses on this subject revealed by God are as follows:
Those of you possessing affluence and ample wealth should not make oaths that they will not give to their relatives and the very poor and those who have migrated in the way of God. They should rather pardon and overlook… (Surat an-Nur, 22)
They will ask you what they should give away. Say, “Any wealth you give away should go to your parents and relatives and to orphans and the very poor and travelers…” (Surat al-Baqara, 215)
... Eat of them and feed those who are poor and in need. (Surat al-Hajj, 28)
[Believers are] those in whose wealth there is a known share for beggars and the destitute. (Surat al-Ma'arij, 24-25)
They give food, despite their love for it, to the poor and orphans and captives: “We feed you only out of desire for the Face of God. We do not want any repayment from you or any thanks. Truly We fear from our Lord a glowering, calamitous Day.” (Surat al-Insan, 8-10)
In the Qur'an, God also reveals that those who do not help the poor and weak will be rewarded with Hell:
They [the companions of the Right] will ask the evildoers: “What caused you to enter Saqar?” They will say, “We were not among those who performed prayer and we did not feed the poor.” (Surat al-Muddaththir, 41-44)
Then bind him in a chain which is seventy cubits long. He used not to believe in God the Magnificent, nor did he urge the feeding of the poor. Therefore here today he has no friend. (Surat al-Haqqa, 32-35)
It must not be forgotten: It is Almighty God, the Lord of all existence and all the universe, Who gives everyone his earnings and success. A person does not become wealthy by engaging in ruthless competition in the “struggle for survival” or by oppressing the weak. It is God Who gives everyone all that they possess, distributing wealth among them in order to test them. A wealthy person is actually tested by means of that wealth. God reveals this fact in a verse:
We made everything on the Earth adornment for it so that We could test them to see whose actions are the best. (Surat al-Kahf, 7)
A person is responsible, therefore, for using all the blessings given him by God in the best manner possible, in order to earn His approval. A true believer must act in the knowledge that all he possesses are a blessing from God, and that just as our Lord can increase his possessions whenever He chooses, He can also take them away.
18. Jerry Bergman, "Darwin's Influence on Ruthless Laissez Faire Capitalism," March 2001; http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-333.htm
19. Robert Hunter, Poverty, New York: Torchbooks, 1965.
20. Jeanne Stellman, Susan Daum, Work is Dangerous to Your Health, New York: Random House Vintage Books, 1973.
21. Otto Bettmann, The Good Old Days! They Were Terrible! New York: Random House, 1974, p. 68.
22. Ibid., p. 70.
23. Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, New York: Harper Collins, 1999, p. 255.
25. Bettmann, The Good Old Days! They Were Terrible!, p. 71.
27. Kenneth Hsu, The Great Dying; Cosmic Catastrophe, Dinosaurs and the Theory of Evolution, New York, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986, p. 10.
28. Joseph F. Wall, Andrew Carnegie, New York: Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 364.
29. Richard Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution, 1990, p. 72.
30. Wall, Andrew Carnegie, p. 389.
31. William Ghent, Our Benevolent Feudalism, New York: Macmillan, 1902, p. 29.
32. Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, p. 49.
33. Isaac Asimov, The Golden Door: The United States from 1876 to 1918, Boston: Houston Mifflin Company, 1977, p. 94.
34. Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution, p. 412.
35. Stephen T. Asma, "The New Social Darwinism: Deserving Your Destitution," The Humanist, 1993, 53(5):11, 10/3.
36. Sahih al-Bukhari, Al-Adab Al-Mufrad; al-Hakim and al-Baihaqi.