On Social Darwinism: Charles Darwin and E.P.’s “The Many and the Few”

First, it should be noted that Charles Darwin was not the eminent proponent of social Darwinism, and it did rise later on in the century, but the connection is too choice to not be made. With that said, there was a specific line that drew me to connect the two texts, and it reads from E.P.’s “The Many and the Few” as this, “Ye noble rulers of our land-oh! Where have ye had birth?/ For we must be, ye God-like men, of other, baser clay.” This poem was written before Darwin’s magnum opus, and before the advent of Social Darwinism, but it is a good avenue for exploring how birth relates, and will continue to relate to social and economic status. Indeed, the notion of ‘baser clay’ played a large role in Social Darwinism, as the theory posits that genetic makeup factors heavily into the class hierarchy, and that people poorer than the wealthy deserved their status. Indeed, the poem itself rejects this notion, and questions the proposition that one is marked from birth for a certain station. Additionally, the idea of Social Darwinism began gaining steam during the actual conceptualization of Darwin’s own theory. This can be reasonably said by Gosse’s credit to Agassiz for gathering data that helped to further ground the study of evolution. To wit, this is important because Agassiz was a notable practicer of phrenology, (which is the study of skulls) and it can thus be noted that some of the data that helped ground Darwinism may have grounded Social Darwinism as well (the data Agassiz collected on skulls was proven fraudulent). As for tying it back together, the notion of the few having right to rule over the many seemed to be under harsh fire in a lot of the literature we read, and it seems that there were many in the upper elite that used Darwin’s concept of evolution in a controlling fashion so as to mask their rule in a scientific validity (that of course was false).

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