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Definition of SOCIAL DARWINISM
: an extension of Darwinism to social phenomena; specifically: a sociological theory that sociocultural advance is the product of intergroup conflict and competition and the socially elite classes (as those possessing wealth and power) possess biological superiority in the struggle for existence
— social Darwinistnoun or adjective
First Known Use of SOCIAL DARWINISM
Theory that persons, groups, and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin had proposed for plants and animals in nature. Social Darwinists, such as Herbert Spencer and Walter Bagehot in England and William Graham Sumner in the U.S., held that the life of humans in society was a struggle for existence ruled by survival of the fittest, in Spencer's words. Wealth was said to be a sign of natural superiority, its absence a sign of unfitness. The theory was used from the late 19th century to support laissez-faire capitalism and political conservatism. Social Darwinism declined as scientific knowledge expanded.