Social Darwinism

How was Social Darwinism used to classify some “races” as inferior and justify actions against them?  Did these philosophies distinguish between “race” and “ethnicity?”

Answer:

Social Darwinism was a pseudoscientific ideology that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, drawing upon Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and applying it to human societies. Proponents of Social Darwinism used this ideology to justify various forms of discrimination, oppression, and violence against certain racial and ethnic groups, particularly those deemed “inferior” or “less evolved.”

One way in which Social Darwinism was used to classify certain races as inferior was through the application of hierarchical frameworks that placed different racial groups on a linear scale of evolutionary development. According to this worldview, so-called “civilized” or “advanced” races, typically of European descent, were positioned at the top of the hierarchy, while indigenous peoples, Africans, Asians, and other non-white groups were deemed “primitive” or “savage.” This classification served to legitimize colonialism, imperialism, and racial segregation, as proponents of Social Darwinism argued that it was the natural order for superior races to dominate and exploit inferior ones for their own benefit.

Furthermore, Social Darwinism justified actions against these supposedly inferior races by framing them as obstacles to progress and civilization. Advocates of this ideology argued that it was necessary for the advancement of society to remove or suppress those deemed biologically or culturally unfit. This rationale was used to justify practices such as forced assimilation, cultural genocide, enslavement, and eugenics programs aimed at controlling the reproduction of certain populations.

In addition to justifying actions against racial groups, Social Darwinism also contributed to the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices based on ethnicity. While the concept of race often encompassed physical characteristics such as skin color, ethnicity was more broadly defined by cultural, linguistic, and national identities. However, proponents of Social Darwinism often conflated race and ethnicity, using pseudo-scientific theories to reinforce stereotypes and hierarchies based on perceived differences in intelligence, morality, and cultural sophistication.

Overall, Social Darwinism played a significant role in shaping attitudes towards race and ethnicity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, providing a pseudo-scientific justification for discrimination, oppression, and violence against certain groups deemed inferior. While distinctions between race and ethnicity were sometimes blurred within this ideology, both concepts were used to perpetuate systems of power and privilege that marginalized and subjugated non-white and non-European populations.

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