Explain how the concept of Social Darwinism was used to justify conditions in the 1800s.


In the 19th century, Social Darwinism was also closely allied with scientific racism. The prevailing theory was that different races were at different stages in their respective development. This led to the construction of a distinct racial hierarchy with the white Anglo-Saxon race at the very top. The white race was therefore thought superior to "lesser" races in every conceivable respect: culturally, intellectually and spiritually. Popular pseudosciences of the time such as phrenology sought to explain the difference between the races in purely biological terms.

The use of pseudoscience provided the prevailing social and economic conditions with a veneer of justification. If people were impoverished and exploited by the system of unrestrained capitalism (as many were), then it was either through their own lack of intelligence or deficiencies in their genetic inheritance. Racial oppression could be justified on the grounds that some races were simply better than others, more culturally developed and better able to lead. Social Darwinism had always sought intellectual respectability; its close relation, scientific racism, helped to provide it with a foundation which for many years enjoyed the status of irrefutable fact.

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