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
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.