These photos reflect a very small part of the tragedies inflicted on humanity by Social Darwinism. Conflicts in the name of racism, fascism, communism or imperialism assumed a scientific guise with Social Darwinism. Conflict was claimed to exist among animals and nature, and was regarded as being inherent in human beings, too. Powerful states used this flawed logic and the slogans of Darwinism to oppress weaker nations and try to eliminate them.
One of the theory of evolution's most basic claims is that the development of living things is based on a struggle for survival. According to Darwin, there was a ruthless eternal conflict in nature. The strong always vanquished the weak, thanks to which progress became possible. The subtitle to his book On The Origin of Species summed up his view: By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.
Darwin's source of inspiration on this subject was the British economist Thomas Malthus's book An Essay on the Principle of Population, which implied a rather gloomy future for the human race. Malthus calculated that, left to itself, the human population would grow very fast, doubling every 25 years. However, food resources could not increase at nearly that quickly. The human race would therefore face a constant shortage of food. The main factors keeping population under control were such disasters as war, famine and disease. In short, some people would have to die while others lived. Survival meant constant war.
In October, 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long continuous observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances, favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work. 228
Influenced by Malthus, Darwin applied this view to the whole of nature and suggested that in this conflict, the strongest and fittest would survive. Darwin's claim covered all plants, animals and human beings. Moreover, he particularly emphasized that the struggle for survival was a legitimate, unchanging law. He encouraged people to abandon their religious believes by denying creation, and thus targeted all those moral criteria that might stand in the way of the ruthless struggle for survival.
For that reason, Darwin's theory acquired a great deal of support from the moment he announced it-first from the established order in Britain, and then from that in the wider Western world. The imperialists, capitalists and other materialists delighted in a theory that scientifically justified the political and social order they had established, and lost no time in supporting it.
In a very short time, the theory of evolution became the sole criterion in every field of concern to human societies, from sociology to history and from psychology to politics. The basic idea in all spheres was the slogan "survival of the fittest," and nations, political parties, administrations, businesses and individuals all began behaving in light of them. Since the ideologies that dominated society had lined up behind Darwinism, open and covert Darwinist propaganda appeared in all fields, from education to art and from politics to history.
Attempts were made to link everything to Darwinism and to account for everything in Darwinian terms. As a result, even if people were ignorant of Darwinism, societies that lived the kind of life it foresaw began to emerge.
Darwin himself approved moral conceptions based on evolution and their application to the social sciences. In a letter to H. Thiel written in 1869, he wrote:
You will readily believe how much interested I am in observing that you apply to moral and social questions analogous views to those which I have used in regard to the modification of species. It did not occur to me formerly that my views could be extended to such widely different, and most important, subjects.229
With the adoption of the idea that the conflicts in nature also existed in human societies, in the forms of racism, fascism, communism and imperialism, the powerful nations' attempts to crush those they regarded as weaker acquired a supposedly scientific justification. Those who carried out barbaric slaughter, who began wars, who denigrated others because of their race, who caused businesses to close due to unfair competition, and those who refused help the poor were now not to be criticized or restrained-because they acted in conformity with a law of nature.
The American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, one of the leading present-day advocates of the theory of evolution, admits as much:
Subsequent arguments for slavery, colonialism, racial differences, class struggles, and sex roles would go forth primarily under the banner of science.230
In his book Darwin, Marx, Wagner, the professor of history Jacques Barzun analyzes the scientific, sociological, and cultural reasons for the terrible moral collapse in the modern world. These comments in Barzun's book are noteworthy in terms of Darwinism's impact on the world:
. . . in every European country between 1870 and 1914 there was a war party demanding armaments, an individualist party demanding ruthless competition, an imperialist party demanding a free hand over backward peoples, a socialist party demanding the conquest of power, and a racialist party demanding internal purges against aliens-all of them, when appeals to greed and glory failed, or even before, invoked Spencer and Darwin, which was to say, science incarnate . . . Race was biological, it was sociological, it was Darwinian. 231
Evolutionary theory, after all, has a long and largely sordid history of application to human affairs. After being mingled with political philosophy around the turn of the century to form the vague ideology known as "social Darwinism," it played into the hands of racists, fascists, and the most heartless sort of capitalists. 232
228. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Introductory Note, p.4, http://www.bartleby.com/11/101.html
229. Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, pp. 293-294.
230. Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, , 1981, p.72.
231. Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958, pp. 94-95, cited in Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God, Baker Book House, 1989, p. 70.
232. Robert Wright, The Moral Animal, New York: Vintage Books, 1994, p. 7.