Social Darwinism

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Social Darwinism. After the publication of Charles Darwin’s masterpiece On the Origin of Species in 1859, some thinkers argued that Darwin’s ideas about evolution could also be applied to human society. One thinker particularly associated with this movement was Darwin’s near-contemporary Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. He argued that competition among humans was beneficial, because it ensured that only the healthiest and most intelligent individuals would succeed. Social Darwinism remained influential for several generations, although its association with eugenics and later adoption as an ideological position by Fascist regimes ensured its eventual downfall from intellectual respectability.

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  • Adam Kuper 3 episodes
    Centennial Professor of Anthropology at the LSE, University of London
  • Gregory Radick No other episodes
    Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds
  • Charlotte Sleigh No other episodes
    Reader in the History of Science at the University of Kent

Reading list

  • Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought
    Robert C. Bannister (Temple University Press, 1988) Google Books →
  • Darwin's Coat-Tails: Essays on Social Darwinism
    Paul Crook (Peter Lang, 2007) Google Books →
  • The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex
    Charles Darwin (John Murray, 1871) Google Books →
  • In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought
    Carl Degler (Oxford University Press, 1992) Google Books →
  • Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History
    Stephen Jay Gould (Jonathan Cape, 1996) Google Books →
  • Social Darwinism in European and American Thought 1860-1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat
    Mike Hawkins (Cambridge University Press, 1997) Google Books →
  • The Cambridge Companion to Darwin
    J. Hodge and G. Radick (eds.) (Cambridge University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • Social Darwinism in American Thought
    Richard Hofstadter (Beacon Press, 1992) Google Books →
  • Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman
    Angelique Richardson (Oxford University Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind
    Angelique Richardson (ed.) (Rodopi, 2013) Google Books →
  • Reflecting on Darwin
    Eckart Voigts, Barbara Schaff, Monika Pietrzak-Franger (eds.) (Ashgate, 2014) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. When Charles Darwin published his masterpiece on the origin of species by means of natural selection in 1859, he laid the foundations for a new era in scientific enquiry.