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 Decent 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 Decent of Man, “When civilised
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 civilisation seems to be a most important element in success in
competing nations.”(Darwin, Decent of Man, p. 297).
In this observation, Darwin connotated 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 “uncivilised 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 predatorial species of the world.
In conclusion, the English empire used Darwinian concept to
justify the on-going process of imperialism. Charles Darwin’s ideas
elevated the ego’s of the English people to over-estimate themselves
socially and globally. The affects of Darwinism can be seen throughout
the spectrum of social interaction both in the animal kingdom and human
society.