The Evolution of Devolution: Explaining the Modern GOP's Embrace of Social Darwinism

The Evolution of Devolution: Explaining the Modern GOP's Embrace of Social Darwinism

When you believe people are inherently inferior, you see no problem in treating them as subhuman.

When you believe people are inherently inferior, you see no problem in treating them as subhuman.

"Just leave them all behind." 

That was my response to a question posed by my high school law studies teacher in the fall of 2001 regarding the philosophy of English political theorist Herbert Spencer. After I presented a brief report on Spencer's life and work, my teacher put me on the spot in order to test my deeper understanding that went beyond a simple summary. To do so, he asked me how Spencer viewed those in the lower class and what, if anything, should be done to help them advance. After my initial confused silence, my teacher followed up by asking what Spencer would recommend doing for those we viewed as inherently inferior. After a brief pause, I gave my above response and received a nod of approval from my teacher.  

At the time, I recalled being slightly unnerved by my own response. For someone to believe that an entire segment of the population should be written off seemed extremely harsh. Even my sixteen-year-old brain had a hard time believing that at some point in history people had actually believed they were superior to others based simply on how they were born. 

Yet, this was exactly what was happening in the late-1800s. Spencer's theory, which came to be known as Social Darwinism, stated that certain races were inferior because of evolution. Spencer used this twisted interpretation of the works of Charles Darwin to advocate for policies that intentionally discriminated against those who were non-White, and took specific aim against those of Japanese ancestry whom he believed would "dilute" the White European race through mixed marriages. Spencer's theory appealed greatly to the English conservative movement of the time, drawing particular support among the nativist branch who had a growing disdain for immigrants in the country. Fortunately, Spencer's theory eventually fell out of fashion by the turn of the century and eventually was seen as a parody a half-century later. After World War II, there was simply no logical way to believe that people were inherently inferior simply because of how they were born.

Unfortunately, today's Republican Party is anything but logical. 

Despite Social Darwinism having been long disproven as having any basis in scientific fact, the Republican Party somehow continues to believe that certain segments of our population are inferior simply because of how they were born. It is this distorted worldview that allows them to dehumanize those who are born from lower social classes as well as non-White males. If you believe someone is inherently inferior then you don't have any reason to advocate for policies that could in any way help them advance. These policies could address such issues as education, healthcare, a living wage, transportation, addiction, or gun control among others. This is why Republicans today lack an empathy that helps create and maintain programs to build and strengthen the social safety net. Republicans see no reason to waste valuable time and resources on an entire segment of the population that was designed to be left behind. 

This is also why Republicans simply refuse to acknowledge any systems in place that they have personally benefitted from. Because to admit this benefit would be to admit that they were once one of the "others" who were designed to fail. It is why someone like former Congressman David Jolly can repeatedly vote against the Affordable Care Act despite benefitting from it when he was unemployed. It is why someone like Paul Ryan wants to cut social security benefits despite being able to attend college because of it. And it is why Mitch McConnell currently wants to strip health care from millions of people with preexisting conditions despite having been diagnosed with polio as a young child. 

Like Herbert Spencer, Republicans today have a deep-seated belief that certain people are superior to others. Because of this, they are incapable of feeling empathy toward their fellow human beings. But is more than a simple lack of empathy that plagues modern-day Republicans. Like Spencer, they too adopted a racist mindset to justify their beliefs. By doing this, they are able to dehumanize and vilify the most vulnerable among us. What was once subtle dog whistles have now become open xenophobia, racism, and stereotypes in the age of Donald Trump. All Muslims are terrorists. All Mexicans are rapists. All those without health care are lazy and undeserving. When Republicans consider certain segments of the population to be unworthy and these segments don't have political power in their home districts then they have no reason to hide their true feelings anymore.  

But like Herbert Spencer's theory, this current Republican ideology of "I've-Got-Mine-Nobody-Else-Should-Be-Allowed-To-Get-Theirs" will eventually come to be mocked and ridiculed. Republican congressmen have already put themselves on the hot seat for their health care vote. It's easy to say how undeserving people are of something like health care; it's a lot harder to take it away from people that already have it. Republicans may very well still believe that those 24 million Americans are unworthy of health care but to come out and publicly say that is now a huge political risk. It is one thing to sprout off Social Darwinism beliefs behind closed doors to like-minded individuals; it's another thing entirely to publicly write off an entire segment of the population in the year 2017. That kind of vicious cruelty and heartlessness has no place in the modern day.

Even an average high school student can see that.



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