The publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 had far reaching consequences. One of the most important notions in his ground-breaking book was the claim that no species is fixed. Rather “a well marked variety may .... well be called an incipient species,” demonstrating that nature is not static but a continuum where varieties beget species. Assuming that man was a part of nature, a concept many scientists had come to accept, this principle could be extended to include human societies. Thus, by applying the principles of evolution, human stock could be manipulated and improved. Evolutionary principles were also applied to justify particular ideologies and human social organisations. Traditionally, Social Darwinism was
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He classifies Social Darwinism as right wing, citing a number of contemporary journals which refer to capitalists as Social Darwinists because of their use of Darwinian principles to justify and support their right wing ideology. Hobson’s assessment of contemporary journals finds that Social Darwinism was often a criticism levelled by the left wing against the right. This biased contemporary assessment influenced traditional historians, such as Hofstadter. He believed that Social Darwinism was largely defined by Darwin’s core doctrines. If taken literally, these could be interpreted to support either an individualist, no-regulation viewpoint or an interventionist eugenicist one.
However, Halliday believes this narrow view of Social Darwinism is flawed in two respects. First, he contends that as there were many different views of how evolution occurred, Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not the only approach to how nature, and thus society worked, or how it could be manipulated. He cites as an example Spencer’s work, Social Statistics, which was published eight years before The Origin, so cannot have been influenced by Darwin. His opening chapters make clear his belief in Lamarckian evolution . Thus, by Hofstadter’s definition, even Spencer would not be a Social Darwinist. Halliday also argues that the belief that Social Darwinism is committed to right wing ideologies is flawed because, as Robert Bannister points out, most of the literature supporting this