In part II of his series on libertarianism, Richard Striner reviews the role of Social Darwinism. Before delving into the history Striner reminds his audience that “Darwin himself —— a fervent humanitarian and opponent of slavery —— got a bum rap in this association, since he neither coined the term ‘survival of the fittest’ nor advocated a social system based upon ruthless competition. Both the term ‘survival of the fittest’ and the doctrine of dog-eat-dog competition were promulgated by the British philosopher Herbert Spencer.” It is unfortunate that Darwin’s name became associated with this movement, because it has led to so much confusion about Darwin and his theory of natural selection. The movement should be called “Social Lamarckianism” since it was Lamarck’s theory that was the basis for Spencer’s theory that became known as Social Darwinism. But Darwin’s name was much more useful than the long forgotten Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). [For a great book on the relationship between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the subsequent rise of Neo-Lamarckianism see Peter J. Bowler’s The Eclipse of Darwinism.]
After reviewing this history my students still get this wrong on their exams. The belief that Darwin came up with both Social Darwinism and the term “survival of the fittest” persists no matter how many time I remind my students that it was Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), after all Darwin’s name is in the title!
Read part II of Stringer’s series here: