Many years ago Richard Hofstadter wrote a book entitled Social Darwinism is American Thought.
His study concentrated on the effect of Herbert Spenser’s writings on Americans. Spenser hypothosized that the scientist Charles Darwin’s theory about the “survival-of-the-fittest” and its implementation in Natural Selection, explains the development of societies. It draws on the Hobbesian explaination the the “state-of-nature is a harsh and cruel place. In that place both animals and humans struggle for survival. Those that succeed, are ipso facto: the best.
America, especially, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became the fertile ground for this philosophy. The “Guilded Age”, the growth of huge fortunes, proved that those individuals and families not only deserved their fortunate lives but they did because they survived the “struggle”. Superimposed upon this social theory was the American Capitalistic economic beliefs. From the writings of Adam Smith, his “invisible hand” was equated with the “survival” mode of the science. Thus, Spensers Social theory became intertwined with Economics.
If you believe that the world is a harsh and cruel place and if you believe that life is a struggle and that those that succeed are better, you are a believer in Social Darwinism. Just consider, from their stand point the following: Those that lose the struggle are relegated to the lowest levels of society. Since it is natural to have winners and losers in that struggle, there is nothing one can do. It is both a waste of time and economic sense to have any programs to aid those losers since, by scientific logic, that would be a waste of “scarce” resources. Accordingly, any tax system, that takes wealth from the winners, and shifts it to the losers is nonsense. That would mean all social programs including: public education, free medical care, mental health services and help for the “poor” are wasteful.
Those subscribing to this view believe the only true role of government is to protect society from enemies, both foreign and domestic and to protect business, especially successful business. Justice is the right of those in power to control the meaner members of society. Just read the Constitution (ignore the Amendments). While our founding document was written long before Spenser and Darwin, the original construction (our founders were very prescient) is right in that area of philosophy. All of the writers above were defining a process and processes that are and have been ocurring since the dawn of civilization and for Darwin, eternally.
Understanding this, can make one totally understand the role that Social Darwinism plays in modern day conservative political philosophy. The only problem is, that many who subscribe to this conservative philosophy are delusional about where they stand in the peking order determined by this “natural” heirarchy. They have bought into the propaganda of those in power (and I don’t necessarily mean political party leaders) that they are part of the survivors. When, in fact, they are often poor and middle class people kept afloat by public systems like schools and safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security. Perhaps this delusion inadvertantly does its part to uphold another part of the Constitutuion to “…ensure domestic tranquility.”