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Everyone knows Charles Darwin. Often coined the father of evolution, Darwin revolutionized the way the world thought, and sent massive ripples throughout the field of scientific thought during the phases of his initial discoveries. His publication, On the Origin of Species, is considered the foundation for evolutionary biology, and is one of the most cited scientific journals of all time. We are aware of the scientific effect that Darwin had on society, however one effect less noted is how Darwin’s biological ideas also changed society and humanity in a major way.
Many famous leaders and prominent thinkers from the last 100 years have based their ideology on the work of Charles Darwin. Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic sentiment expressed in his autobiography, Mein Kampf (meaning my struggle), is partially based upon the idea of survival of the fittest and natural selection. Hitler believed that the German people were objectively and scientifically superior to others, including Jews, and that the two races should not mix and risk compromising the German’s ultimate and perfect genes. This ideology laid the foundation for Hitler’s rise to power, leading to the infamous Final Solution towards the extermination of the Jewish people. While Hitler is retrospectively regarded as one of the worst murderers in human history, his values were very convincing for a German population that was crippled by awful living conditions, crippling national debt, and an extremely inflated money supply. Whether directly or not, Charles Darwin’s work on evolutionary biology changed the way people thought about society, and one of the most despicable men in history used this work to build an ideology that justified committing genocide on over 12 million people.
Charles Darwin’s influence extended past just historical powerhouses. His work on biology also influenced the world of economics and politics. One of the most famous thinkers and opponents to Capitalism of all time, Karl Marx, drew heavy inspiration from evolutionary theory. Karl Marx wrote, “Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.” The connection to economics that Karl Marx drew was that all societies are on a natural path towards Marxist influenced Communism, in a form of natural selection and survival of the fittest that can be compared to evolutionary biology. Capitalism, Marx thought, drives an increasingly large wedge between the proletariat, or working class, and the bourgeoisie, or the profit rich private owners. As the wealth gap grows, the proletariat becomes more aware of the divide, and revolts. This dramatic shift from one economic system to another is inevitable and guaranteed in any society that is dominated by private ownership according to Marx. By taking Darwin’s ideas of survival of the fittest and natural selection and applying them to the world of economics, Karl Marx invented a brand new socioeconomic train of thought that has been prominent for over 150 years.
Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx are not the only ones who have based their ideas on the heavily controversial works of Charles Darwin. Joseph Stalin’s political ideology is largely based on the ideas propagated in On the Origin of Species. In the field of social ethics, Darwin’s work has caused massive ripples. While Darwin believed sympathy was a very important evolutionary factor for humans, as it allowed them to cooperate and benefit each other, others threw this idea out of the window in favor of eugenics, a train of thought that holds humans are stunting natural selection by allowing the less smart and healthy to breed over the smart and healthy. Whether for good or bad, Charles Darwin’s famous and controversial work in the field of biology will be remembered and cited forever. It gave humans a much more fundamental understanding of how, and perhaps why, we are here. For that, humanity is eternally grateful for his work, and the work that his work inspired and influenced.