Long before Darwin, colonialism began growing in 16th-century Europe. Exactly like racism, however, colonialism later drew strength from Darwin's theory and turned to a new target. Following the Industrial Revolution especially, commercial aims fueled the spread of European states to new continents and countries. Looking for new markets and raw materials, Europeans set about exploiting countries on other continents. Imperialist initiatives of the 19th century were based on different motives, however, which is why they became known as the new imperialism.
Social Darwinist suggestions dominated the new imperialist view of the world. One of the Darwinist causes of the new imperialism was the race for superiority. The British, French, Germans and other nations competing with one another were deceived into thinking that they needed to acquire new lands in order to emerge victorious as the most powerful nation in the race for superiority.
They were also driven by the mistaken goal of proving their superiority over other races. The Anglo-Saxons and Aryans regarded it was their natural right to assume control over the Africans, Asians and native Australians, whom they regarded as “inferior races,” and to exploit their workforces and natural resources. Thus 19th-century imperialism developed more as a result of Darwinist aims than out of any economic concerns.1The 1946 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica says that:
This new period of imperialism at the end of the 19th century found its spiritual support in Bismarckism and social Darwinism, in all the theories glorifying power and success, which had swept over Europe... Racial theories seemed to give to this new attitude, which was in opposition to all traditional [i.e. Christian] values of morality, a justification by “science” and “nature,” the belief in which was almost becoming the dominant faith of the period.2
A great many researchers and authors accept that Social Darwinism represents the origin of the 19th century's new imperialism. For instance, in Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, Professor of History Gertrude Himmelfarb says this about the close relationship between Social Darwinist racism and imperialism:
Social Darwinism has often been understood in this sense: as a philosophy exalting competition, power and violence over convention, ethics, and religion. Thus it has become a portmanteau of nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and dictatorship, of the cults of the hero, the superman, and the master race.3
The well-known German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler describes this aspect of Social Darwinism in these terms:
... it [Social Darwinism] allowed the emancipatory aspirations of the workers or colonial peoples to be dismissed as the futile protestations of inferior subjects in the struggle for existence. Vested with an aura of 'irrefutable' scientific knowledge, it was this versatility of application that gave Social Darwinism its power in its very real connection with the ruling interests. As an ideology it proved virtually ideal for justifying imperialism, [and] was kept alive by a host of popularizers in the industrialised nations.4
One can see Social Darwinist views in lines written in favor of imperialism in the retired German General Friedrich von Bernhardi's 1912 book, Britain as Germany's Vassal:
In the interest of the world's civilization it is our duty to enlarge Germany's colonial empire. Thus alone can we politically, or at least nationally, unite the Germans throughout the world, for only then will they recognize that German civilization is the most necessary factor in human progress. We must endeavor to acquire new territories throughout the world by all means in our power, because we must preserve to Germany the millions of Germans who will be born in the future, and we must provide for them food and employment. They ought to be enabled to live under a German sky, and to lead a German life.5
The hunger to acquire new territories, caused by the new imperialism, led to conflicts between the imperialist countries themselves. Again based on the errors of Darwinism, regarding local peoples as “inferior races” led to enormous cruelties. Imperialists maintained that they were setting out to bring civilization to the lands in question, but inflicted a terrible amount of tears and suffering.
One of the aspects of God's having created different races, tribes and nations on Earth is cultural exchange among them. In the Qur'an, God reveals that He has created different human societies “to know each other.” (Surat al-Hujurat, 13)
According to Social Darwinism's worldview, human beings exist not to get to know one another, but to fight. Accordingly, the most important impetus for human progress is conflict between races and nations. Social Darwinism's irrational assumptions state that in order to emerge victorious from the conflict between races, new discoveries will be made. As a result, the “civilized” and “superior” will come out on top, and humanity will thus progress. To suggest that people will progress by killing and massacring one another, persecuting and oppressing others, is nothing more than barbarism. Disagreements and problems will arise from time to time. Yet all difficulties can be resolved by peaceful means. To imagine that violence offers a solution only makes the difficulties in question even more intractable. As already made clear, nations are perfectly justified in taking precautions to protect their future interests. But it is both illogical and a violation of good conscience to frame a policy ignoring the rights of other nations or believing that one nation's interests lie in destroying those of others.
Present-day evolutionists seek to portray Darwin, as “humane” and opposed to racism, but actually he was a proponent of conflict between races and advanced the lie that the “civilized”—at least in their own lights—white race would emerge victorious from such conflict. Some lines from Darwin's The Descent of Man read as follows:
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 their civilisation seems to be a most important element in the success of competing nations.6
Elsewhere in his book, Darwin refers to the conflict between “savages” and the “civilized,” and claims that the latter will emerge superior. By these totally illusory assumptions, he prepared the groundwork for the chaos and suffering that would continue for nearly a century.
A great many Darwinists who came after him treated conflict between races as if it were scientific fact. For example, National Life from the Standpoint of Science by Karl Pearson, a 19th century evolutionary theorist regarded as a follower of Francis Galton, is important in revealing contemporaries' view of inter-racial conflict and the causes behind the new imperialism. Like other Social Darwinists, Pearson claimed that conflict between races is necessary, and that struggle within a single race is insufficient for evolution. Some of these claims of Pearson, which are devoid of any scientific truth, read as follows:
What I have said about bad stock seems to me to hold for the lower races of man. How many centuries, how many thousand of years, have the Kaffir or the negro held large districts in Africa undisturbed by the white man? Yet their intertribal struggles have not yet produced a civilization in the least comparable with the Aryan. Educate and nurture them as you will, I do not believe that you will succeed in modifying the stock. History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely, the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race.7
Twisted statements like these provided imperialism with an allegedly scientific backing. The Europeans who occupied the African continent and a large part of Asia, as well as persecuting the Australian native peoples, claimed that their occupations were based on natural law and the only way for humanity to progress. (That this claim had no foundation was later proven by subsequent advances in the scientific world.) According to Pearson, wars formerly conducted in an unconscious manner would now have to be waged in a conscious, pre-planned fashion:
There is a struggle of race against race and of nation against nation. In the early days of that struggle it was a blind, unconscious struggle of barbaric tribes. At the present day, in the case of the civilized white man, it has become more and more the conscious, carefully directed attempt of the nation to fit itself to a continuously changing environment. The nation has to foresee how and where the struggle will be carried on... I have asked you to look upon the nation as an organized whole in continual struggle with other nations, whether by force of arms or by force of trade and economic processes. I have asked you to look upon this struggle of either kind as a not wholly bad thing; it is the source of human progress throughout the world's history.8
In the 19th century, this deviant belief that conflict between races and nations was a path to progress and which regarded races and nations other than its own as “inferior,” took control over large parts of the world. Some imperialist Europeans behaved most ruthlessly towards the inhabitants of their conquered lands. From the measures they adopted, it was evident that they regarded these peoples as weak and inferior, denigrated them, and refused to accept them as humans who enjoyed equal rights with themselves. The new imperialism was a 19th-century implementation of Social Darwinism on a world scale.
One reason why Darwinist ideas received such wide support was that Europeans of the time had moved away from religious moral values, which require people to live in peace. God has commanded people to be tolerant and forgiving toward one another. Corrupting order in the world and inciting war and conflict are evils that bear a heavy responsibility in the sight of God. In the Qur'an, God has revealed that He does not love corruption or harm being inflicted on people:
When he leaves you, he goes about the Earth corrupting it, destroying crops and animals. God does not love corruption. (Surat al-Baqara, 205)
The deceptive idea that inter-racial conflict could lead to nations' progressing also laid the foundation for wars. Before World War I, when Social Darwinism was widespread, war was considered the “most appropriate means” for the elimination of the weak and the eradication of people seen as burdens, the survival of the strong, and the development of the human race.
Throughout history, many wars have been fought, but usually they took place within limits, not aimed directly at civilian populations, between the armies of the nations concerned. But in wars waged by Social Darwinist means, the real target was the people, to reduce the “surplus population” of the so-called “unfit” and the allegedly “inferior.”
Before World War I, numerous writings and speeches described the Darwinist bases of war. Richard Milner, a contributing editor to Natural History, the magazine of New York's American Museum of Natural History, writes of the warlike Darwinist views of German intellectuals at the time:
During World War I, German intellectuals believed natural selection was irresistibly all-powerful (Allmacht), a law of nature impelling them to bloody struggle for domination. Their political and military textbooks promoted Darwin's theories as the “scientific” basis of a quest for world conquest, with the full backing of German scientists and professors of biology.9
During those years, General F. von Bernhardi engaged in propaganda on behalf of Social Darwinism. In his book Germany and the Next War Bernhardi maintained that conflict was a biological obligation and the best way of ridding the world of the unfit: “War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind that cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization.”10
The idea that war is a “regulative element” cannot be justified in rational or logical terms, nor with scientific facts. War is a destructive force that causes enormous losses of life and property, and its effects on society are enormously difficult to repair.
Nonetheless, those who regarded constant war and slaughter as requirements of so-called civilization continued to call for them. Elsewhere in Bernhardi's book, for instance, he wrote:
War is not merely a necessary element in the life of nations but an indispensable factor of culture, in which a truly civilized nation finds the highest expression of strength and vitality. ... War gives a biologically just decision, since its decisions rest on the very nature of things. ... It is not only a biological law, but a moral obligation and, as such, an indispensable factor in civilization.
No doubt that one of the greatest errors made by those taken in by such ideas was to assume that war is compatible with human nature and thus, inevitable. In that view, the more people wage war, the more power and vitality they acquire. This is a great falsehood. God has created human beings in such a way that they are happiest when at peace. Chaos and conflict cause terrible tension in the human soul. The most rapid social, economic and cultural progress is made possible in a climate of peace and security. In her book Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, Gertrude Himmelfarb makes the following comment:
For the general [Bernhardi], it was the needs of war that came first, the imperialist adventures and nationalist experiments that followed. For others it was the reverse: the imperialist and nationalist aspirations brought war and militarism in their wake. There were even some who would have liked the virtues of war without the onus of militarism or nationalism; this was social Darwinism in its purest, most disinterested form.12
Sir Arthur Keith, an evolutionist anthropologist and biographer of Darwin, openly admitted that he was all in favor of war. Although he personally liked the idea of peace, he feared the results of such an experiment. Also, he made the illogical prediction that after 500 years of peace, the world would turn into “an orchard that has not known the pruning hook for many an autumn and has rioted in unchecked overgrowth for endless years.”13
Keith's words indicate just how ruthless Darwinist suggestions can make people. Keith believed that the world needed to be “pruned” from time to time, that those “elements” that delayed the strengthening of the world needed to be cut away and discarded. He was openly supporting savagery. The “pruning” referred to by Keith was war, and those who died in war, whom he felt needed to be discarded, were helpless men and women and children. Those taken in by the deceptions of Darwinism feel no sympathy for these innocent people. The theory that in order to strengthen and develop the white race, those regarded as weak may be eliminated led to cruelties never seen before.
Social Darwinism's twisted views are one of the main reasons for the wars, conflict and slaughter that have continued unabated since the 19th century. As a result of the constant calls for war, even some who knew nothing about Social Darwinism fell under its spell.
In the early 20th century, those who came to believe that war was essential were not just a group of marginal ideologues, but a great many journalists, academics, politicians and civil servants.14 They encouraged the eradication of women, children, the elderly and the needy, and the heedless expense of young lives on the battlefield supposedly for the “benefit of humanity.”
These views were shared at the very highest levels. For instance, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg subscribed to the belief, common among the middle class when World War Ibegan, that conflict between Slav and Teuton was inevitable.15 The Kaiser is known to have held similar views. Many historians regard the wicked claims that war was unavoidable and the cleansing of inferior races was natural and useful as some of the principal causes of World War I.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was also one of the most prominent supporters of Social Darwinism in Germany. According to him, the ideal social system should be based on armed conflict: “Man shall be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly.”16 According to Nietzsche's twisted view, life consisted solely of war, and war contained everything within it.
Hitler, a fanatical Social Darwinist and great admirer of both Darwin and Nietzsche, put their warlike views into practice. Combining militarist thinking with the theory of evolution, Hitler said:
The whole of nature is a continuous struggle between strength and weakness, and eternal victory of the strong over the weak.17
These ideas advanced by Hitler and others like him were products of a terrible ignorance. Those who imagined that with the theory of evolution they were basing their militaristic and aggressive thinking on a scientific foundation were merely deceiving themselves. Yet with the tens of thousands of people they induced to follow them, they inflicted ruin on the world on an unprecedented scale.
In an article titled “The Philosophy and Morals of War,” Max Nordau—one of the leaders of the Zionist movement—identifies Darwin as the primary supporter of war:
The greatest authority of all the advocates of war is Darwin. Since the theory of evolution has been promulgated, they can cover their natural barbarism with the name of Darwin and proclaim the sanguinary instincts of their inmost hearts as the last word of science.18
In Darwin, Marx, Wagner:Critique of a Heritage, Jacques Barzun, a history teacher at Columbia University, stated that Darwin stoked the fires of militarism and warfare everywhere:
War became the symbol, the image, the inducement, the reason, and the language of all human doings on the planet. No one who has not waded through some sizable part of the literature of the period 1870-1914 has any conception of the extent to which it is one long call for blood... The militarists of the second half of the century poeticized war and luxuriated in the prospect of it. With relative impunity for themselves, they took it for granted that all struggles in life must be struggles for life, and the death of the loser its “natural” goal.19
In the same book, Barzun described how Europe in particular fell under the influence of Darwinism's racist, militaristic tenants:
In every European country between 1870 and 1914 there was a war party demanding armaments, an individualist party demanding ruthless competition, an imperialist party demanding a free hand over backward peoples, a socialist party demanding the conquest of power, and a racialist party demanding internal purges against aliens—all of them, when appeals to greed and glory failed, or even before, invoked Spencer and Darwin, which was to say, science incarnate. ... Race was biological, it was sociological; it was Darwinian.20
These deceptions, identified and described by many academics, account for the 20th century's history of war, slaughter and genocide.
- Jim Knapp, Imperialism: The Struggle to Be Superior, http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jimknapp/papers/Imperialism.html
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition, vol. 12, p. 122A.
- Gertrude Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, Elephant Paperbacks, Chicago:1996, p. 416.
- Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire, 180; http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Rampart/4871/Darwin.html
- T. D. Hall, "The Scientific Background of the Nazi "Race Purification" Program, US & German Eugenics, Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide, and Population Control;" http://www.trufax.org/avoid/nazi.html
- Darwin, The Descent of Man, p. 297.
- Karl Pearson, National Life from the Standpoint of Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1900, pp. 11-16, 20-23, 36-37, 43-44.
- Milner, Encyclopedia of Evolution, p. 59.
- Oscar Levy, Complete Works of Nietzsche, 1930, vol. 2, p. 75.
- Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, p. 417.
- W. Carr, A History of Germany 1815-1990, 4th. ed, p. 205.
- Ibid., p. 208.
- Levy, Complete Works of Nietzsche, vol. 2, p. 75.
- H. Enoch, Evolution or Creation (1966), pp. 147-148.
- Max Nordau, "The Philosophy and Morals of War," North American Review, 169 (1889), p. 794.
- Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Garden City, N.Y. :Doubleday, 1958, pp. 92-93.
- Ibid., pp. 92-95.