Social Darwinism is a sociological theory, according to which the laws of natural selection and the struggle for survival, identified by Charles Darwin in nature, apply to relationships in human society. Social Darwinism was especially popular from the end of the 19th century until the end of the Second World War, although some critics believe that modern socio-biology can also be classified as a form of social Darwinism.
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Elements of the social-Darwinian theory are used by various conservative movements, libertarians, supporters of militarism. In its extreme manifestations, social Darwinism borders on eugenics and racism. Social Darwinists in their teachings often used Malthusianism, as well as the provisions of the eugenic idea, to substantiate the superiority of the hereditary properties of the ruling classes, for example, people of the white race over blacks. It did not create a scientific school or a pronounced political trend. This term is used today in an academic environment to describe anti-humanistic and anti-socialist tendencies in socio-economic theory.
The poem aims to show that a person of White racial background possesses a certain amount of responsibility for his/her so-called dominance. The writing makes the assumption that people of Caucasian ethnicity are superior to others intellectually and morally. It seeks to remind a White person that he/she needs to satisfy the necessities of inferior people. In addition, the poem emphasizes that the Caucasian race is more intelligent and wiser; thus, they should make their speech simple and understandable (Kipling, 1899).
Kipling’s poem is highly racist and ethnocentric because it dramatizes the non-existent notions of White superiority. The main consequence of the White Man’s Burden is that it promotes and spreads the paradigm of White racism and prejudices through a literary approach.
The poem contains numerous examples of ethnocentrism, which is highly racist driven and discriminatory towards other races. The writing states, “your new-caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child,” which means that there is something negative about them (Kipling, 1899). The poem also claims “by open speech and simple, a hundred times made plain,” which means that White people possess intellectual superiority; therefore, there is a need for simple conversation instead of complex one (Kipling, 1899).
Moreover, the White Man’s Burden states, “take up the White Man’s burden – The savage wars of peace,” which claims that other “lesser” races are wild barbaric people with no intellectuality (Kipling, 1899). All these examples are explicit representations of the White imperialistic message, which is promoted in the given poem.
It is important to state that the so-called “half-devil and half-child” people were not uncivilized but possessed different customs and norms than those of White people. However, the writing promotes the notion of White imperialism and superiority, which views values of the Caucasian race as normal and traditions of other cultures as barbaric. US militarism and imperialism have deep roots in American history and the political and economic logic of capitalism.
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In fact, the United States was an empire from the very beginning, but the growth of the nation is not a feature of the United States alone or a simple result of the policies of individual states. It is the systematic result of the whole history and logic of capitalism. Since its inception, capitalism was a globally expanding system, which was the one that creates a hierarchical relationship between the metropolis and the satellite, the center, and the periphery.
Kipling, R. (1899). The White Man’s Burden. United States, NY: Book on Demand.