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Unit 7

7.4 Darwinism and Social Darwinism

2 min readโ€ขmay 12, 2020

Bretnea Turner

Dylan Black


Charles Darwin published On the Order of Species in 1859, after his observations in a series of trips to the Galapagos Islands brought him to question what gave some species dominance over others. He came up with the Theory of Natural Selection, in which a species evolves over a large period of time to maintain existence.ย 
Essentially, natural selection is the basic idea of โ€œsurvival of the fittest.โ€ In this theory, a species doesnโ€™t have to be dominant over all, just dominant over its most immediate threat to survive.

Social Darwinism

In 1871, Darwin published The Descent of Man, which applied the basic theory of natural selection and evolution to the human species. Social Darwinism is an ideology that applies the โ€œsurvival of the fittestโ€ mentality to human relationships and society.
Social Darwinism was used to support racial ideas and imperialist tendencies. At that time, scientific experimentation and theories were used to support the dominance of the white race over others. It was believed that the white race was more advanced socially, therefore should be most qualified to overpower other races outside of Europe.
A good example of this is Rudyard Kiplingโ€™s White Manโ€™s Burden. This poem explains it is the burden of the most intelligent, strongest, most righteous of men to โ€œtake careโ€ of natives and their possessions. Basically, it isnโ€™t just okay for Americans and Europeans to colonize, it is their duty.


Racism had long existed in Europe. Some of the first discrimination of non-white people is displayed in Renaissance writings.ย 
The belief in racial stereotypes was transformed when it became associated with biological sciences. Most notably, that of Charles Darwin and the theory of Social Darwinism. Darwin and his followers argued that all people were subject to the same rules of natural selection, creating a hierarchy of superior and inferior humans based on race.
One example is Pears Soap advertisements. These ads run in the early 19th century in Britain claimed that they could โ€œcleanseโ€ skin of dark pigmentation. This is seen in the image:
During the late 19th century and 20th century, Jews were treated more as a race than an ethnicity. The rise of anti-Semitism became more noticeable as nations defined themselves according to common histories, language, and religion. Jews were excluded from society in many places in Europe, most notably, Germany, and were subject to the same stereotypical beliefs of racism. Many Europeans believed that the Christian faith was superior to the Jewish faith.ย 
๐ŸŽฅ Watch: AP European History - 19th Century -isms


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