March of Progress
Social Darwinism was mainly developed by Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher from the nineteenth century. It was based on Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to which living beings evolve through a process of natural selection. Theory of evolution was then applied to political and social issues that people encountered at the time. According to Spencer, natural selection shows that only rich and powerful people have the ability to adapt to their social environment. Therefore, it is only natural and moral to let them grow, while people who struggle should not be helped – only because it is not moral to encourage weak people to reproduce. On a political level, the theory encouraged the idea that strong and advanced populations should rule the world, while weaker countries should not be assisted.
Social Darwinism was used many times as a reason to persecute the weakest. Although this theory was not a cause in itself, it served many questionable actions European governments have undertaken in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as colonialism and imperialism.
It also served eugenics, a popular current in the early 1900s. It is described as a “biosocial movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population". This so-called science promoted the idea of a superior race, and that inferior people should either be slaves or exterminated.
Eugenics led to many atrocities. From 1907, Some American states enforced laws according to which mentally ill people should not marry and that they should undergo sterilisation. Between 1907 and 1963, over 64,000 people were sterilised in the United States. And last but certainly not least, the Nazi government conducted eugenics programs in an attempt to maintain a pure German race. Between 1934 and 1937, an estimated 400,000 people were sterilised by the Nazi regime. The same regime killed thousands of institutionalised disabled through compulsory euthanasia programs. Here is a nazi poster promoting compulsory euthanasia.
“This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money, too."