The concept of Social Darwinism was a widely accepted theory in the nineteenth-century. Various intellectual, and political figures from each side of the political spectrum grasped the theory and interpreted it in various ways. In this paper, we will discuss three different nineteenth-century thinkers and their conception of Social Darwinism. The conservative, Heinrich von Treitschke, and liberal Herbert Spencer both gave arguments on the usefulness of competition between people on a global scale. The anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, refuted the belief of constant competition among members of the same species and emphasized mutual aid.
Heinrich von Treitschke's defense of Social Darwinism was a direct result of his view on the state and nation. He believed that only brave nations could stand the test of time, and argued that nations who did not showcase their power would eventually be preyed upon and parish. Treitschke makes this clear when he states, “History wears thoroughly masculine features; it is not for sentimental natures or for women. Only brave nations have a secure existence, a future, a development; weak and cowardly nations go to the wall, and rightly so.” (Treitschke, 11). He believed that competition between nations reflected the superiority of the victor.
Treitschke proclaimed that there were two main functions of the state, the second is for the state to make war and is most important for understanding his defense of Social Darwinism. He believed that only through war would a great nation succeed. In his thought, he takes the idea of competition between animals that Darwin argued, and placed them on a global scale where nations competed for superiority. Competition between nations was the only way to progress and evolve to Treitschke. He expresses this claim of great advancement that lies within warfare when he states, “The great advances of mankind in civilization can only be entirely realized in the face of the resistance of barbarism and unreason, by the sword.” (Treitschke, 22).
He gives the example of the Netherlands and how they had become a weak nation which was to be preyed upon. He argues that the Dutch were at a state to be revered when they were combating the Spanish. Treitschke believed that when they were making war against the Spaniards, the Dutch were at their highest point. Once peace had been settled and they focused on economic prosperity alone, he believes that submitted themselves to the position of prey. He elaborates on this disapproval of Dutch submission when he states, “In misfortune there lies a hardening influence for noble nations; in prosperity even they run the risk of becoming prey to the sloth. Thus the once so brave Dutchmen have turned into creditors of the state and have degenerated thereby, even physically.” (Treitschke, 20).” In Treitschke's eyes, once the Dutch gave up the martial spirit, they degenerated into a nation of weakness.
Treitschke's advocation of war...