England went through dramatic changes in the 19th century. English culture, socio-economic structure and politics where largely influenced by the principles of science. Many social expressions occurred due to these changes. Transformations which categorized this time period could be observed in social institutions; for instance: the switch from popular Evangelicalism to atheism, emergence of feminism and the creation of new political ideologies (Liberalism, Conservatism and Radicalism). These are just a few of the changes that took place. All of this social alteration can be attributed to the importance of science. The English people began to trust more in empiricism and logical thought than in faith and glory of the empire . One who contributed greatly to this transformation was Charles Darwin. In his two most famous works, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Darwin introduces the concept of "the survival of the fittest" and "natural selection".
The Darwinian ideas introduced into English society justified a great number of political policies and social movements. England at the turn of the century was still a largest power in the international system. The English perceived, through the justification of Darwinism, they were fit to be the imperial hegemon in the world. The issue this essay will deal with is Imperialism and how Darwinism justified its practice. Darwin argued in his work, The Descent of Man, "When civilized nations come into contact with barbarians, the struggle is short except where a deadly climate gives its aid to the native race. . . the grade of civilization seems to be a most important element in success in competing nations."(Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 297).
In this observation, Darwin connoted superiority to civilized nations. In this same work, he referred to the indigenous people as "savages, barbarians and tribal men". This immediately transfers a condescending attitude toward the "uncivilized people". Darwin classified them as tribes while the English and other Aryan cultures were a race.
These claims of basic inequality, gave the English the "jurisdiction" philosophically, to exploit the colonies to a greater level than previously attained. The drive to "Christianize" the colonies was abandoned, politically. The view shifted from "owing the primitive world" education and Christianity, to a more self-interested "we English are naturally better". Therefore, the we should be exploiting you, because, that is why you are here.
Charles Darwin had a tremendous amount of influence on the scientific community and the English population. It can be seen that Darwinism played a large part in justifying the imperial behavior of England. Darwin's studies on nature and the behavior of animals had unlocked "Pandora's Box" in a manner of speaking. He studies reveal how close to nature humanity really is. The English empire quickly saw themselves as a dominant predatorily species of the world.
The English Empire used Darwinian concepts to justify the on-going process of imperialism. Charles Darwin's ideas elevated the egos of the English people to over-estimate themselves socially and globally. The effects of Darwinism can be seen throughout the spectrum of social interaction both in the animal kingdom and human society.