Learn American History through 50 pop songs

Social Darwinism


Social Darwinism is the application of Darwinism to the study of human society, specifically a theory in sociology that individuals or groups achieve advantage over others as the result of genetic or biological superiority. Social Darwinism was an attempt to justify the widening gap between the haves and the havenots of society.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

1900 loomed at hand
And rags to riches stories crept across the land
Whispering into ears
“This is your year, boy, this is your year”

Andrew Carnegie epitomized
Hard work and relentless drive
Not giving into fears inside
Total confidence and pride

Natural law – millionaire
Let the markets be – laissez faire
You thrive or not – don’t intervene
It’s black or white – no in between

The so-called wisdom of his day
Insisted science has a way
Something must be in his genes
To bless this individual with means

They said Social Darwinism
Explained inequalities in the world we live in
Some have very special traits
Passed through generation’s gate

Natural law – millionaire
Let the markets be – laissez faire
You thrive or not – don’t intervene
It’s black or white – no in between

Like evolution in the wild
Every single woman, man, and child
Like survival of the fittest is required
Must have prosperity hard wired

This theory suited very well
4000 brand new millionaires
Who wanted eagerly to tell
Why they rose while others fell

Natural law – millionaire
Let the markets be – laissez faire
You thrive or not – don’t intervene
It’s black or white – there’s no in between


Social Darwinism— The idea during the 19th century that applies Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest to business and society.

Andrew Carnegie— Andrew Carnegie (25 November 1835 – 11 August 1919) was a Scottish-American industrialist, businessman, entrepreneur and a major philanthropist. He was one of the most famous leaders of industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He built Pittsburgh's Carnegie Steel Company, which was later merged with Elbert H. Gary's Federal Steel Company and several smaller companies to create U.S. Steel.

Laissez Faire— In economics, laissez-faire means allowing industry to be free of intervention. The phrase is French and literally means "let do", though it broadly implies "let it be" or "leave it alone.”

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

Explain Social Darwinism.

Tier 2 Questions

Consider the robber barons. How would the theory of social Darwinism help to justify unfair business practices?

Tier 3 Questions

How did Social Darwinism justify imperialism?

Test Prep Questions

Speaker A: Feeding and clothing the poor is a mistake. Just as nature weeds out unfit members, a capitalist society should be allowed to do the same.
Speaker B: To provide for the common good and protect the people, the government should pass laws to prevent the sale of alcohol.
Speaker C: To promote economic growth, the government should expand United States markets overseas.
Speaker D: Since transportation is a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the public interest.

1) Which speaker would most likely support the theory of Social Darwinism?

  • (1) A
  • (2) B
  • (3) C
  • (4) D

2) Society advances when its fittest members are allowed to assert themselves with the least hindrance.

The idea expressed in this statement is most consistent with the

  • (1) principles of Social Darwinism
  • (2) concept of assimilation
  • (3) goals of the Progressive movement
  • (4) melting pot theory of American culture

3) In the late 19th century, the ideas of Social Darwinism were used primarily to

  • (1) encourage the passage of compulsory education laws
  • (2) explain the differences in income between the rich and the poor
  • (3) urge Congress to end immigration
  • (4) support the growth of new political parties

4) In the late 1800s, the principles of Social Darwinism were most consistent with the ideas of

  • (1) Populism
  • (2) laissez-faire economics
  • (3) trust busting
  • (4) utopian socialism

5) The theory of Social Darwinism was often used to justify the

  • (1) creation of the Ku Klux Klan
  • (2) formation of business monopolies
  • (3) use of strikes by labor unions
  • (4) passage of antitrust laws

6) “The growth of a large business is merely survival of the fittest. The American beauty rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working out of a law of nature and a law of God... .”

— John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Which concept is described by this passage?

  • (1) communism
  • (2) Populism
  • (3) utopian socialism
  • (4) Social Darwinism

7) Which idea of the late 1800s is most closely associated with this cartoon?

  • (1) regulated capitalism
  • (2) graduated income tax
  • (3) Social Darwinism
  • (4) the Gospel of Wealth