Social Darwinism History

.. ts. It was also an era of extreme riches for some, and of wretched poverty for others. It was an era of the Robber Barons, as Matthew Josephson called them. One of such Robber Barons was John D. Rockefeller.

With his savings of $5,000, at a very young age John D. Rockefeller opened his first oil refinery. At that time oil was used only for lighting and not many expected much more of it. Rockefeller, however, guessed that oil would in a few years become one of the most profitable industries. He was correct — within only a few years, oil was being used for heating, lubrication, fuel for ships and automobiles, etc,. His dream was to control the whole oil industry in America. At age of 30 he founded the Standard Oil Co.

of Ohio and bought over 25 refineries. After only a couple of years, Rockefeller was one of the richest and most powerful men on the planet. Rumor had it, that he had in the palm of his hand the best United States Senators and state legislatures that money could buy. He not only controlled over 90% of the oil industry, but also was able to persuade railroad owners to grant him special fares on railroad transportation (rebates). Rockefeller was (what he and others called him) a true Social Darwinist. He believed that everyone was given the same opportunity, and that only those who were too lazy or too stupid were poor. He argued that his millions were a reward for hard everyday work – the famous phrase God gave me my wealth or, The growth of large business is merely the survival of the fittest.

.. The American Beauty rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working-out of a law of nature and a law of God. (qtd.

in Hofstadter 45) Andrew Carnegie’s career was similar to that of John D. Rockefeller. [He] had three specialties: steel, making money, and giving it away (Cooke). Carnegie was a son of a poor weaver, born in Scotland. In 1848 his family came to America and settled in Pittsburgh. He started his career at age of 12, as a bobbin boy.

Then he became a telegraph messenger, a railroad clerk, a railroad superintendent, a director, and then, steel entered his life. He created a monopoly which throughout his career brought him over 400 million dollars. Carnegie opposed the formation of pools and trusts; His preferred solution to the problems of consolidation was vertical integration. He achieved almost a total control of the steel industry in the country. His road to success was speculation for accumulation (Cashman 66). Similarly as Rockefeller, Carnegie was also a Social Darwinist.

He was known to idealize Herbert Spencer’s theories of social evolution. Carnegie wrote in Popular Illusions About Trusts, [The concentration of wealth] is an evolution from the heterogeneous to the homogeneous, and it is clearly another step in the upward path of development (qtd. in Bannister 79). There of course were others besides Carnegie and Rockefeller. Those two, however, were the most famous and their careers most interesting.

Perhaps it’s because they represented the American myth of rags to riches; perhaps because after making their millions, they gave most of their fortunes away. For Rockefeller it was starting the Rockefeller’s Foundation or the building of the University of Chicago. For Carnegie it was building libraries. Carnegie believed that a man who dies rich, dies disgraced. By his means, he didn’t die disgraced (Andrew Carnegie: The Principles Illustrated by his Career 5). With time, many Americans came to think that Social Darwinism was a chief defense of the unfair, ruthless and cut-throat business practices of the late 19th and the early 20th century. The great financial titans themselves seized on the theories of Spencer and Sumner to justify their positions.

.. Social Darwinism appealed to businessmen because it seemed to legitimize their success and confirm their virtues. It appealed to them because it placed their activities within the context of traditional American ideas of freedom and individualism. (Current 506-507) – a quotation from a history textbook. This perception, Irvin G. Wyllie argues, is greatly exaggerated.

In reality, only a very few elite entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie occasionally used Social Darwinism as an argument to justify their practices. Others, however, when called upon to justify their activities, fell upon old arguments like Christian virtues and moral platitudes, that in no way correlated with Social Darwinism (Wyllie 157-169). It’s interesting to read about men like Carnegie or Rockefeller, who regarded themselves as true Social Darwinists. Men who on one hand promoted the idea of regulating industry by competition (the very essence of social darwinism), and on the other devoted their lives to eliminating competition from within their own industries.

Men who spent two thirds of their lives cheating, buying off politicians, and growing enormously rich at the price of making others poor. Men who then retired, and became philanthropists, and gave away hundreds of millions of their lifetime earnings. And finally men who were bookish and intelligent enough to use the theory of Social Darwinism to justify their ruthless and unfair business practices. Unfortunately, there were only very few men like that. Social Darwinism, was in fact only a short-lived theory; nothing more than a greatly overemphasized myth, given much more credit than it actually deserved. WORKS CITED: Andrew Carnegie: The Principles of Industrial and Social Progress Illustrated by His Career.

The Monthly Bulletin Of the National City Bank of New York, Sept. 1919. Bannister, Robert C. Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo – American Social Thought. Philadelphia: Temple U P, 1979.

Bryant, Keith L., and Henry C. Dethloff. A History of American Business. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990. Cashman, Sean D.

America in the Gilded Age: from the Death of Abraham Lincoln to the Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: New York U P, 1984. Cooke, Alistar. Richard N. et al.

American History: a Survey. New York: Knopf, 1983. Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: Random House, 1993.

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1969. Krucoff, Larry S. and Sol Tax.

Social Darwinism. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968 ed. Wyllie, Irvin g. Social Darwinism and the Businessman.

Pivotal Interpretations of American History. Vol. II. ed.Carl N. Degler. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. 157-170.

Bibliography WORKS CITED: Andrew Carnegie: The Principles of Industrial and Social Progress Illustrated by His Career. The Monthly Bulletin Of the National City Bank of New York, Sept. 1919. Bannister, Robert C. Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo – American Social Thought.

Philadelphia: Temple U P, 1979. Bryant, Keith L., and Henry C. Dethloff. A History of American Business. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cashman, Sean D. America in the Gilded Age: from the Death of Abraham Lincoln to the Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: New York U P, 1984. Cooke, Alistar. Richard N.

et al. American History: a Survey. New York: Knopf, 1983. Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species.

New York: Random House, 1993. Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1969. Krucoff, Larry S.

and Sol Tax. Social Darwinism. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968 ed. Wyllie, Irvin g.

Social Darwinism and the Businessman. Pivotal Interpretations of American History. Vol. II. ed.Carl N. Degler.

New York: Harper & Row, 1966. 157-170.