by Evan Razdan
The age of imperialism in Europe reached its peak in the years between 1850 and 1950. During this time nations such as Great Britain controlled vast regions of the globe and exerted their dominion over the conquered peoples of their territories. In order to justify their control of the colonial population, Europeans had for centuries stated that the colonial population was subhuman and therefore needed to be controlled by the more intelligent Europeans. However, this changed in the second half of the nineteenth century with the publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. The publication, though attacked for its opposing stance to the church and the bible, was soon employed as a “scientific” explanation for the dominance of Europeans. Since Darwinism became a major justification for racism and imperialism, especially by fascist governments, such as Hitler’s Germany, it is important to understand the reasoning behind much of it. In terms of historiography, it is important to note that Darwin himself did not have any involvement in the creation of the various interpretations of his theories, therefore he should not be blamed for the numerous human rights abuses justified using those interpretations.
1. Definitions and General Overviews
This site gives a general overview of imperialism and also some examples of imperialist policies.
Imperialism (political science) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 2012.
This site gives a general overview of social Darwinism.
social Darwinism — Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 2012.
2: Darwin’s Writings (Primary sources)
This primary source is Darwin’s original thesis on the process of natural selection. While he does not make any decisive
remarks or hypotheses pertaining to race, many social Darwinist arguments take much of their ideology from this work.
Darwin, Charles. On the origin of species by means of natural selection; or, The preservation of favored races in the struggle of life. 1868.
In contrast to his original publication (see above), Darwin writes specifically about the issues of race in humanity. His conclusion is that race and color are merely superficial and that people act “savage” due to a lack of civilization.
Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. 1989.
3: Additional Primary Sources
This website is an online digital archive of primary sources, endorsed by Fordham University. Included in the archive are several documents pertaining to Darwin and social Darwinism, featuring articles endorsing and discouraging social Darwinism.
Internet History Sourcebooks. FORDHAM.EDU. 2012.
The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler (Print)
This work gives an in depth explanation as to how social Darwinism was created out of the theories of Charles Darwin. It also discusses some the ways it was employed by colonial powers to legitimize their imperial takeovers.
Pichot, André. The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler. London: Verso, 2009.
Social Darwinism in American Thought (Print)
This work presents the reasons why social Darwinism was adopted by many nations and groups of people, as well as how those people utilized social Darwinism to their own ends. Despite the title, much of Europe’s involvement with social Darwinism is explained as well.
Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955.
Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat (Print)
This publication discusses what social Darwinism is, where it was derived from, and how it impacted the foreign policy of Europe and the United States. The author also describes how important a role social Darwinism played in the goals of Nazism and fascism.
Hawkins, Mike. Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945: Nature as Model and
Nature as Threat. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Racism in Europe, 1870-2000 (Print)
This book features commentary about the reverse-scientific method by which social Darwinism was devised. It also touches upon class-racism and why Europeans believed themselves to be superior based on social Darwinism.
MacMaster, Neil. Racism in Europe: 1870-2000. New York: Pelgrave, 2001.
Republic to Reich; the making of the Nazi revolution (Print)
This collection of essays demonstrates the perceived superiority on the part of the European community (in this specific example, Germany). It illustrates how Europeans at the time thought about social Darwinism. They were written separately between 1902 and 1969.
Hajom Holborn. Republic to Reich; the making of the Nazi revolution. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
Militarism, Imperialism, and Racial Accomodations: an Analysis and Interpretation of the
Early Writings of Robert E. Park (Print)
This particular publication describes many of the methods and reasons given for atrocities carried out against colonized peoples by “civilized” Europeans. This provides a counterargument against social Darwinism, which the author states is one of the preeminent reasons for colonial subjugation.
Lyman, Stanford M.. Militarism, Imperialism, and Racial Accomodations: an Analysis and Interpretation of the Early Writings of Robert E. Park. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1992.
This video provides graphic evidence and experts’ views on the ideas behind racism, in particular in the colonial domination of Africa. The video explains the ideas of social Darwinism and the changes different colonial powers made to those ideas in order to better suit their imperial policies.
Racism: A History – Fatal Impacts. British Broadcasting Corporation. London: BBC, 2007.