Social Darwinism Essay Example


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Social Darwinism Essay Example

Social Darwinism Essay: Introduction

William Graham Sumner is a U.S. sociologist and a public activist of Social Darwinism (“Online Library of Liberty,” para. 2). Social Darwinism is a theory, based on Darwinism, as the name would imply, by which the social order is accounted as the product of a natural selection of the people best suited to social, economic and conditions around them would rise through the social ladder and place themselves on a higher class (Beck 7). In other words, social Darwinism means one's spot in society, and social hierarchy is directly correlated to their skills and their contributions to the environment and economy around them.

Body Paragraphs

Progressivism is a movement dominated by the middle class, a movement that had been openly hostile to Populists. The legacy of progressivism is deeply controversial. Richard Hofstadter saw progressivism as a status revolution: "moralistic, culturally intolerant, ceremonial resolutions of political and economic problems” (Milkis n.p.). Historian Robert Wiebe – The Progressive represented the rise of a new middle class. The moralism of the Progressives led to the Temperance Movement, which culminated in Prohibition. With these descriptions, one can observe the proposed theories, their basses, and their respective goals (Milkis n.p.). It aims to form a society where people deserve where they are. Social Darwinism is an acknowledgment of the norm.

Progressivism was, in summary, a wave of reforms that begun late into 19th century, and lasted until the early decades of the 20th century, during which scholars respected in their fields, and social reformers in the United States sought to address the glaring economic, political, and cultural flaws that had revealed themselves with the rapidly accelerating dawn of the Industrial Revolution which sow the seeds of capitalism as we know in The United States (Milkis n.p.). The Progressives believed that these changes marked the end of the old order belonging a different social, political and economic climate and therefore required the creation of a new set of rules appropriate for the new industrial age. Therefore, progressivism, on the other hand, aims for social reforms. The Progressive movement arose as a response to these negative effects of industrialization. These progressive reforms intended to regulate the industry while also strengthening the protections for workers and consumers, exposing corruption in both government and big business, and generally improving society. Progressive reformers took their first step within the context of America is to address the problems that arose with the emergence of a modern, rapidly expanding urbanization and industrialized society.

The U.S. population nearly doubled between 1870 and 1900. This was caused by urbanization and immigration, both to the United States and from smaller towns to big cities skyrocketed. This was coupled with technological breakthroughs that the industrial revolution brought along caused a shift from small-scale production to on a mass scale (Milkis n.p.). These technological breakthroughs created a need for new markets, and sources of capital and raw materials caused economic growth to reach new extremes. From 1863 to 1899, the production rate rose by more than 800 percent. Meanwhile, Social Darwinism, on the other hand, simply states that people more adept are going to climb the social and economic level faster than those that aren't (Beck 22). This, however, assumes that there's a level playing field for every man. In essence, if a talented man that would otherwise prosper is stuck in a dead-end because of his poor upbringing defeats the idea of social Darwinism, because the very idea of the best shining through is proven false. This, however, causes noteworthy problems as it causes a disparity between the ideal social Darwinism and reality.

With these definitions, goals, manifestos, and boundaries in mind, one can envision societies from the perspectives of both Social Darwinism and Progressivism, respectively (Beck 27). Social Darwinism intends to form a hierarchy in which the higher class is formed by adequately equipped individuals that fit the current social, economic and political climate whereas progressivism aims for a society where class disparity or even concepts such as upper class, middle class or lower class to be less prevalent, if not abolished altogether. If anything, the mutual coexistence of both of these theories assures the success and survival of each other. Because equal rights and chances granted by progressivism assures that the true adept has access to necessary means to acquire what he needs to thrive in the current social, political, and economic climate that one might found themselves in. On the other hand, Social Darwinism reassures that these thriving individuals reassure these reforms are able to work effectively (Beck 28). The ripples started by Sumner, Addams, Dewey, Holmes, and Croly still show themselves in today’s politics as Conservatives advocating for Social Darwinism meanwhile various other groups that fall to the left side of the political spectrum such as socialists, liberals and appropriately titled progressives (Milkis n.p.). With both sides advocating for these theories and offering for bills that fit the philosophies behind these theories, whether it's for universal health care or basic income or better education.

Social Darwinism Essay: Conclusion

To summarize, these conflicting yet nonetheless intertwined theories for human society, in spite of the fact that they have rather glaring, flaws had noteworthy impacts on our society, its structure, and its history and it continues to shape our future with its current and present society through the influence it holds in our current political climate. The upcoming United States 2020 election, economic turmoil looming over the United States, is quite reminiscent of 1920 great depression and social classism tied to consumerism growing more and more prevalent with each passing day, the implications and foreshadowing of these ideologies reveal themselves more and more with each passing day.


Beck, Naomi. Social Darwinism. Max Planck Inst. of Economics, Evolutionary Economics Group, 2012.

Milkis, Sidney M. “Progressivism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 Oct. 2019,

“Online Library of Liberty.” William Graham Sumner - Online Library of Liberty, 2019,

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Zendaya Kane
Zendaya Kane
Content Lead at Tamara Research. Major in Advertising, loves working.

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