Thomas Huxley and the Issue of Social Darwinism

In Michael S. Helfand’s article, “T.H.Huxley’s ‘Evolution and Ethics’:The Politics of Evolution and the Evolution of Politics”, Helfand refutes what he considers a common misconception about T.H. Huxley’s views on science and policy. He begins by arguing against a position taken by a majority of scholars, that Huxley withheld from involving Darwinism in social or political policy. Helfand argues against this by claiming that Huxley delivered a speech 1893 in which he uses the theory of natural selection to justify a liberal imperialist political policy. Helfand also acknowledges that Huxley had many critics after making this speech, such as Alfred Russel Wallace. A major point that Helfand notes is Huxley’s opposition to the views of Herbert Spencer. Huxley went from accepting Spencerian theory of evolution to later resenting it, criticizing him of his scientific accuracy. Helfand does a great job of expressing his own views on Huxley while also including counter arguments against Huxley, such as mentioning that even though Huxley began to resent Spencer, they both started out as middle-class citizens that believed in labor and hard work. He includes that Huxley’s defenses for supporting Darwinism were based in Thomas Malthus’s theory of natural selection and the idea that class status and rankings are inevitable and part of the “natural selection” process. Helfand claims that Huxley believed the Malthusian theory of natural selection and overpopulation applied to humans and that he used Darwinism to justify this. This, he explains, is in direct contrast to the common belief that Huxley refrained from allowing science to influence social and political policy. Helfand highlights that Huxley’s comments seem to indicate that he believes that competition is relevant and necessary to most social and economic issues. If competitive social policy was to be eliminated, it would only worsen overpopulation. Ultimately, the position that Helfand takes is that Huxley, though perhaps implicitly, uses the authority of science to justify Malthusian theory and social, political, and economic Darwinism.

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