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Social Darwinism and Eugenics

This week’s primary objectives are:

Accurately and effectively communicate ideas, information, arguments, and messages to present material in a historical context.
Investigate and evaluate historical information from global, social and ethical perspectives to guide decision making.
Convey historical information by writing and speaking clearly and appropriately for different audiences and with an appreciation of diverse viewpoints.
Engage in history as a moral and ethical practice, recognizing a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.
Demonstrate a chronological understanding of the different peoples, events, and cultures that have shaped human civilization.
From Darwin, we move to Herbert Spencer whose incorrect interpretation of Darwin’s work came to be known as Social Darwinism.

Eugenics too emerged in this period, as we see in “Eugenics in America: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 States.” Eugenics was the drive to eliminate suffering in society and to advance humanity by eliminating the possibility to reproduce for those deemed inferior.

Three articles from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum illustrate how eugenic theories fed into a concept called “racial hygiene.” These articles further explore the inconceivable industrial implementation of racial hygiene policies to culminate in the Holocaust






Social Darwinism and Eugenics

The importance of ‘social Darwinism’ is eclipsed not just by the use of Darwinism to vindicate an assortment of proposed social arrangements, but by the way that many scholars at the time dismissed the principle of natural selection or downplayed its essentialness. English scholar Herbert Spencer contended that stiff economic competition would winnow the unfit and furthermore inspire improvement. For Spencer, competition causes the competing species to work harder, and in this manner to utilize more of their organs and resources. This is converse to Darwin’s theory that competition worked, for the most part, to spread minority characteristics all through a population. The mental forces, aptitudes and characteristic traits encouraged by this competition would be transmitted to future generations, bringing about a steady material and moral advancement. At long last the evolutionary process would deliver a perfect society portrayed by dependability, congruity, peace, benevolence and collaboration. All things considered, as Spencer wrote in 1850, ”the whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, to make room for better” (Elliot, 1970).

By the turn of the century, Francis Galton’s point of view on the significance of inherited intellect, inspired support for selective breeding(Eugenics). It was a prevalent view that the main solution for social issues was to discourage procreation by those with undesirable attributes, while encouraging procreation by society’s worthier persons (Galton, 1889). At first, selective breeding took the form of the isolation of “defectives” during their procreative years but eventually the institutionalization became costly and sterilization was adopted as a mainstream alternative particularly after the start the economic depression in 1930.

The most widespread and ruthless eugenic measures were later adopted in Germany. Hitler’s rising to power, brought the German Rassenhygiene an enormous project of sterilization, the Nuremberg Laws that outlawed Jewish–German unions and ultimately the Aktion T-4 program which sanctioned the Holocaust (Burleigh, 1996).


Burleigh, M. (1996). Confronting the Nazi past: New debates on modern German history. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Elliot, H. S. (1970). Herbert Spencer. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press.

Galton, F. (1889). Natural inheritance. London: Macmillan.

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