Charles Darwin And Imperialism
England went through dramatic changes in the 19th century.
English culture, socio-economic structure and politics
where largely influenced by the principles of science. Many
social expressions occurred due to these changes.
Transformations which categorized this time period could be
observed in social institutions; for instance: the switch
from popular Evangelicalism to atheism, emergence of
feminism and the creation of new political ideologies
(Liberalism, Conservatism and Radicalism). These are just a
few of the changes that took place. All of this social
alteration can be attributed to the importance of science.
The English people began to trust more in empiricism and
logical thought than in faith and glory of the empire . One
who contributed greatly to this transformation was Charles
Darwin. In his two most famous works, The Origin of Species
and The Descent of Man, Darwin introduces the concept of
"the survival of the fittest" and "natural selection".
The Darwinian ideas introduced into English society
justified a great number of political policies and social
movements. England at the turn of the century was still a
largest power in the international system. The English
perceived, through the justification of Darwinism, they
were fit to be the imperial hegemon in the world. The issue
this essay will deal with is Imperialism and how Darwinism
justified its practice. Darwin argued in his work, The
Descent of Man, "When civilized nations come into contact
with barbarians, the struggle is short except where a
deadly climate gives its aid to the native race. . . the
grade of civilization seems to be a most important element
in success in competing nations."(Darwin, Descent of Man,
In this observation, Darwin connoted superiority to
civilized nations. In this same work, he referred to the
indigenous people as "savages, barbarians and tribal men".
This immediately transfers a condescending attitude toward
the "uncivilized people". Darwin classified them as tribes
while the English and other Aryan cultures were a race.
These claims of basic inequality, gave the English the
"jurisdiction" philosophically, to exploit the colonies to
a greater level than previously attained. The drive to
"Christianize" the colonies was abandoned, politically. The
view shifted from "owing the primitive world" education and
Christianity, to a more self-interested "we English are
naturally better". Therefore, the we should be exploiting
you, because, that is why you are here.
Charles Darwin had a tremendous amount of influence on the
scientific community and the English population. It can be
seen that Darwinism played a large part in justifying the
imperial behavior of England. Darwin's studies on nature
and the behavior of animals had unlocked "Pandora's Box" in
a manner of speaking. He studies reveal how close to nature
humanity really is. The English empire quickly saw
themselves as a dominant predatorily species of the world.
The English Empire used Darwinian concepts to justify the
on-going process of imperialism. Charles Darwin's ideas
elevated the egos of the English people to over-estimate
themselves socially and globally. The effects of Darwinism
can be seen throughout the spectrum of social interaction
both in the animal kingdom and human society.