In Our Time

BBC Radio 4

Society & Culture, History

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas


IOT: Social Darwinism 20 Feb 14

February 20th, 2014

Episode 357 of 515 episodes

Social Darwinism was the idea that Charles Darwin's theory about evolution, as set out in his masterpiece On the Origin of Species in 1859, could also be applied to human society. One thinker particularly associated with this movement was Herbert Spencer, who argued that competition among humans was beneficial, because it ensured that only the healthiest and most intelligent individuals would succeed. Social Darwinism remained influential for several decades, although its connection with eugenics and adoption as an ideological position by Fascist regimes ensured its eventual downfall from intellectual respectability. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Adam Kuper, Centennial Professor of Anthropology at the LSE, University of London; Gregory Radick, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds and Charlotte Sleigh, Reader in the History of Science at the University of Kent.