What Was the Business Theory of Social Darwinism?


Diego Sanchez

Social Darwinism was a business theory that emerged in the late 19th century. It sought to apply Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection to human society, particularly in the context of economics and business competition. This theory argued that in a free market, businesses would naturally evolve and prosper based on their ability to adapt and compete with other businesses.

The Origins of Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism was influenced by several factors, including the growing popularity of Darwin’s theory of evolution during the Victorian era. Many people believed that Darwin’s ideas could be applied beyond the realm of biology and into other areas of life, such as society and business.

Charles Darwin‘s groundbreaking work on evolution proposed that species evolve over time through a process called natural selection. According to Darwin, individuals with traits best suited for their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing those favorable traits onto future generations.

Social Darwinists took this concept and applied it to human societies, arguing that competition among individuals and businesses would lead to the survival of the fittest.

Key Principles of Social Darwinism

There are several key principles associated with social Darwinism:

  • Survival of the fittest: Social Darwinists believed that only the strongest and most capable individuals and businesses would succeed in a competitive marketplace.
  • Natural competition: They argued that competition is a natural part of human society and should be embraced rather than restricted or regulated by government intervention.
  • Laissez-faire capitalism: Social Darwinists advocated for minimal government interference in economic affairs. They believed that an unregulated free market would naturally weed out inefficient businesses while allowing successful ones to flourish.

Critiques of Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism has been heavily criticized over the years for several reasons:

  • Misapplication of Darwin’s theory: Critics argue that social Darwinists misapplied Darwin’s theory of natural selection, as it was originally intended to explain biological evolution, not justify social and economic inequality.
  • Ignoring social factors: Critics also claim that social Darwinism overlooks the role of social factors such as privilege, access to resources, and historical inequalities that can significantly impact an individual’s or a business’s chances of success.
  • Harsh consequences: The implementation of social Darwinism in business practices often resulted in cutthroat competition, exploitation of workers, and limited opportunities for those who were disadvantaged.

The Legacy of Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism had a profound impact on the development of economic thought and political ideologies. It influenced laissez-faire capitalism and free-market ideology during the late 19th century. However, its influence declined in the early 20th century as societies began to recognize the need for government intervention to address social and economic inequalities.


In conclusion, Social Darwinism was a business theory that applied Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection to human society. It emphasized the importance of competition and survival of the fittest in a free market.

However, it has been widely criticized for oversimplifying complex social issues and justifying inequality. Understanding its historical context is crucial for examining its lasting impact on economic thought.