Racism and Darwinism

In my last article I wrote about social Darwinism, and specially remarked the historical background in which it originated. We’ve said that social Darwinism is simply a label for a group of utilitarian philosophies that attribute human progress to competition among individuals. For many late 19th century Europeans and Americans, the most important area of competition was not within a society, as I said in my last article, but the competition between races and nations. Social Darwinism was invoked to justify Western imperialism, colonialism, militarism and scientific racism. This was just the time when Europe was pushing out and colonizing Africa and Asia, and many justified their actions using social Darwinism.

Of course racism predated Darwinism. Racism has been with humans since the beginning of time. Biological evolution, however, appeared to justify racism. They called it scientific racism now. Many racist biologists of the time considered that the more civilized races were simply further along in evolutionary development from the less civilized ones. The cultural development of Western Europe expressed a basic biological difference over the aborigines of Australia, or the people of Africa. The cause of European superiority was considered biological.

Darwinists, including Darwin, saw a single line of human development, and inevitably viewed Northwestern Europeans as further along in that development. They explained this by saying that Europe has a harsher environment, and that forced humans to develop their brains further.

Darwin and Spencer believed that racial struggle contributed to human evolution by superior races replacing inferior ones. Indeed, Darwin’s book is titled: “On the Origin of Species, or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life”. No one could read that title without thinking of human races.

It is really amazing that many Americans of European origin believed that Native Americans and African Americans would simply die out in the United States. They thought the European races would just naturally survive and dominate.

Beginning in the late 1800’s, Germany’s leading biologist, Ernst Haeckel, argued that nations and races advance through competition. And as an ardent nationalist, he advocated a strong united Germany that should dominate the world. Haeckel’s social Darwinism contributed to German militarism that led to World War I. Studies and interviews conducted in Germany during World War I, show that military leaders justified their actions on Darwinian terms, borrowed directly from the writings of people like Haeckel.

Germany’s defeat in that war deeply embittered Haeckel and his followers. Convinced of the biological superiority of the German people, though, some of Haeckel’s followers contributed to the rise of Nazism. It also contributed, rather sadly, to Hitler’s policies of racial purity. I think that we don’t need to go into that here; we all know what it is about. What I take from this, though, is that we should leave the job of selecting to nature, she knows better.

Be the first to leave a comment

Copyright © 2010
Template by bloggertheme