Charles Darwin and ideology: Rethinking the Darwinian revolution

Janet Browne


This short paper critiques the idea of any coherent Darwinian ideology. Charles Darwin himself did not adopt any obvious ideology, except perhaps that of anti-slavery. However, his published work, and that of other evolutionists, led to the emergence of social Darwinism. Herbert Spencer’s role in fostering social Darwinism, and the rise of eugenics, are briefly described. The connection, if any, between the historical figure of Darwin and the social movement that bears his name is discussed. While Darwin’s On the origin of species or The descent of man can hardly account for all the racial stereotyping, nationalism, or political bigotry seen in the half century after his death, there can be no denying the impact of his work in providing an authoritative biological backing for eugenics, colonial belligerence, and western notions of racial superiority.


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