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Social Darwinism

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Social Darwinism, a school of thought which attempted to apply Darwin's ideas about evolution to human society.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Social Darwinism. After the publication of Charles Darwin's masterpiece On the Origin of Species in 1859, some thinkers argued that Darwin's ideas about evolution could also be applied to human society. One thinker particularly associated with this movement was Darwin's near-contemporary Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase 'survival of the fittest'. He argued that competition among humans was beneficial, because it ensured that only the healthiest and most intelligent individuals would succeed. Social Darwinism remained influential for several generations, although its association with eugenics and later adoption as an ideological position by Fascist regimes ensured its eventual downfall from intellectual respectability.


Adam Kuper
Centennial Professor of Anthropology at the LSE, University of London

Gregory Radick
Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds

Charlotte Sleigh
Reader in the History of Science at the University of Kent.

Producer: Thomas Morris.

Available now

42 minutes

Last on

Thu 20 Feb 2014 21:30


Adam Kuper at the LSE, University of London


Gregory Radick at the University of Leeds


Charlotte Sleigh at the University of Kent


The Descent of Man - Darwin Online


Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement


Social Darwinism - Wikipedia





Robert C. Bannister, Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought (1st edition 1979; Temple University Press, 1988)


Paul Crook, Darwin’s Coat-Tails: Essays on Social Darwinism (Peter Lang, 2007)


Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (John Murray, 1871)


Carl Degler, In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought (Oxford University Press, 1992)


Stephen Jay Gould, Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History (Jonathan Cape, 1996), especially ch. 24, ‘The Most Unkindest Cut of All’


Mike Hawkins, Social Darwinism in European and American Thought 1860-1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat (Cambridge University Press, 1997)


J. Hodge and G. Radick (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2009), especially ch. 9, ‘Darwin, Social Darwinism and Eugenics’ by Diane B. Paul


Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (1st edition 1944, Beacon Press, 1992)


Angelique Richardson, Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman (Oxford University Press, 2003)


Angelique Richardson (ed.), After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind (Rodopi, 2013)


Eckart Voigts, Barbara Schaff, Monika Pietrzak-Franger (eds.), Reflecting on Darwin (Ashgate, 2014)



Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Adam Kuper
Interviewed Guest Gregory Radick
Interviewed Guest Charlotte Sleigh
Producer Thomas Morris


  • Thu 20 Feb 2014 09:00
  • Thu 20 Feb 2014 21:30

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