Can a Christian be a Social Darwinist?

I don’t have a definite answer to that although I tend to think Social Darwinism is incompatible with biblical Christianity.

My point here, however, is simply that many American Christians seem to be able to embrace Social Darwinism while rejecting (often vehemently) biological Darwinism.

I live in a social context strongly influenced by Christian fundamentalism. It’s very common to see anti-evolution bumper stickers. Books and seminars against evolution abound. Not far from where I sit there is a “Creationism Museum.” Letters to the editor often express outrage at evolution taught in public schools.

And yet, Social Darwinism seems to be the default philosophy of economics in this social context. “Survival of the fittest” is rejected as a biological explanation of the creation and survival of species, but it is embraced as the basis for proper economics.

A good example of this contrast and even contradiction appears in today’s local newspaper–owned and operated by a Christian family who, when they bought the paper, immediately put “In God We Trust” immediately beneath the paper’s name on page one. Numerous letters to the editor applauded that.

Today’s edition contains an unsigned editorial (which always reflect the editorial board’s opinion) defending “free-market” economics: “Americans should allow Darwinian, free-market dynamics to continue in the ebb and flow that so characterize this [capitalist] system.” (Waco Tribune-Herald, May 16, 2012, 6A)

I have written a letter to the editor simply asking how this affirmation of social Darwinism is consistent with “In God We Trust.”

What I really wonder is how so many even educated Christians fail to see the contradiction inherent in belief in the Christian God, the God of Jesus Christ, together with belief in Social Darwinism. Surely “In God We Trust” (in this newspaper) does not mean “In the God of Deism” we trust. Or at least that is not what most readers who applauded the motto’s inclusion thought it meant.

I am willing to bet that I am only one of a tiny number of readers who will notice this contradiction. I am willing to bet that IF the newspaper published an editorial including an affirmation of biological Darwinism there would be a huge outcry and many subscribers would drop their subscriptions. I doubt there will be even a ripple of dissent in this case.

Why do I say “contradiction?” I assume that should be obvious to any reflective Christian (or person!). The God of Jesus Christ does not endorse survival of the fittest; he endorses care for the poor, the widows and the orphans.

Now, I can just hear someone screaming “separation of church and state!” I am not recommending that Christians enforce Christian economics (whatever that would be); I am simply criticizing Christian endorsement of Social Darwinism as state policy.

This seems to me to reveal a failure of integrative Christian thinking. I have taught now in three Christian universities in which there has been controversy over “integration of faith and learning.” I can see why–when some Christians want to follow a “two truths” approach to the world of knowledge. This is, however, a failure of discipleship and a betrayal of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all aspects of reality and truth.

I suppose an argument could be made that a Darwinian approach to economics is pragmatically best in that, overall and in general, it works better than any alternative approach. But that seems like an impossible argument for a Christian to make if it is intended as a defense of survival of the fittest.

Even Adam Smith, the quintessential philosopher of capitalism, argued that capitalism can only work if there is an “invisible hand” (clearly a covert reference to God and/or government) to regulate it. Without that, extremes of wealth and poverty will inevitably develop in a totally unregulated free market economy. It as only AFTER Smith and Darwin that some economists applied survival of the fittest (not Darwin’s term but a good description of natural selection nonetheless) to economic life and argued against government regulation of business on that ground.

IF a Christian is going to embrace and endorse free-market capitalism, he or she should AT LEAST explain how “the least of these” are going to be cared for in that system. Reference to “Darwinian, free-market dynamics” seems to me to imply no care for the least, the unfit, the weak and powerless.

This whole incident simply supports my argument that Christian churches have largely failed to inculcate any serious understanding of Christian truth in their members. We have largely adopted the Kantian distinction between “facts” and “values” and cordoned off Christianity from things like economics.

Integration of faith and learning does not mean there is one “Christian economics.” It means there are some economic theories that are absolutely contrary to a Christian world view. The vast majority of American Christians think that about socialism and communism, but not about Social Darwinism. That is a failure of Christian teaching.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • J.E. Edwards

    Great thoughts. Good post. This message by Michael Ramsden echoes exactly what you are saying here.
    His message is Session #4. It’s a free listen or download.

  • Titus

    I agree with the tone of your article and find Christian Capitalism perverse. However, I don’t believe Smith’s “invisible hand” had anything to do with God or government but was a reference to the forces of the free market at work. Thanks for your insights. I would also enjoy hearing more of your thoughts on the integration of faith and learning connected with your experience in education.

    • rogereolson

      I agree about Smith’s invisible hand, however, it does not seem to have worked. In most societies with laissez faire capitalism the increasing division between the rich and the poor and the tendency of large corporations (or oligarchies) to drive small business into the ground is evident. That is why most Western societies have mixed economies. The editorial I referred to was shocking in that it seemed to imply a desire for a laissez faire capitalism system. I don’t know why else “Darwinian” would have been mentioned.

  • To play devil’s advocate (I am sympathetic to your general point) – many Christian conservative free-market capitalists would argue that, historically, the safeguarding of a free market is connected with the safeguarding of a sort of public pluralism in which freedom of expression (religious and otherwise) is also safeguarded. In Volf’s recent book “A Public Faith” he argues that Christians ought to work towards a protection of such freedom of expression / pluralism in the public square as, in part, an outworking of Jesus’ command to love our enemies. So it’s at least plausible that an argument for a free market economy – tied as it often is to a free and open liberal society in general – is actually an argument stemming from Jesus’ command to love our enemies. The conservative would then probably argue that the church and the private sector ought to be responsible for ‘social welfare’ type things – although I personally think that there is room, within strictly free market conceptions of economics, for state and federal governments to play an important social welfare role, and I don’t necessarily see the one as excluding or ruling out the other.

    I am in full agreement with your point about the lack of integrative thinking evident in many Christians’ discourse. I get the sense that many Christian conservatives find their identity first and foremost in the label “conservative” and the various political positions / philosophies that that entails, and only secondarily from “Christian” (to say nothing of the various things “Christian” signifies for different people, and the varying levels of biblical fidelity each of those labels exhibits).

  • Justin

    I earned an MA in Economics from Baylor and have spent the last 3+ years teaching economics at an evangelical Christian university. I can say that in all my years of study, teaching, and leading discussions I’ve never once heard or uttered “Social Darwinism” in the classroom at any Christian institution.
    I’m not sure what the entire editorial you refer to said, but my guess would be that it refers purely to business competition. In capitalism, if a business can’t compete it dies. Its resources then go to other businesses that were healthier or more able to compete. This perhaps sounds like Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” But what is the alternative? If a business is unable to compete and we don’t want it to die, then we can either find ways to protect it by law (like tariffs/quotas) or subsidize it. Both of these require taxing people– a coercive act– to pay for it. We then also need to justify why we devote those resources to keeping the company alive that would have gone to other companies instead.
    This has little to do with the individual person in poverty, the “least of these,” as your piece above talks about. It’s not even comparing apples and oranges, it’s like comparing apples and missiles.

    • rogereolson

      I lived in Germany for a year and observed how the government there regulates commerce to protect small businesses. It was more difficult there (as in many European countries) for massive corporations to drive “mom and pop” stores out of business. I like that. I believe some government regulation (Adam Smith’s invisible hand made visible) is best. Social Darwinism operates even where the phrase is never uttered or even thought of.

      • Andy

        While I can understand the sentiment for the “Mom and Pop” stores, the other side is that ordinary consumers with limited funds like spending less money. If the big-box store offers an item for $4 that the mom-and-pop store sells for $5, the ordinary cash-strapped consumer is going to choose $4. It seems the mom-and-pop store arguement ignores that Walmart (for example) has been a boon for the consumer. And no one is forced to shop at Lowes. You can choose to shop at a more expensive store. It might be a luxury to do so. I concede exceptions (and know of some Mom-and-pop stores that offer lower prices). The consumer is “voting” by her choice of where to spend her limited resources.

        • rogereolson

          Where I once lived the “big box stores” had driven virtually all the mom and pop stores out of business. To find them you would have to drive quite a ways out into rural areas or small towns. Let me tell you a story about this. When I moved there, there was a very nice “mom and pop” health food grocery store nearby. A large grocery store chain built a huge grocery store–one of the largest I have ever seen–right behind it. Pretty soon the chain grocery store started competing with the health food store–carrying the same (often unusual) products. It even opened a large corner of its space as a “health” section. It was obvious what was going on because other stores of that chain did not generally carry those products. As I feared and expected, pretty soon the health food store closed. It could not compete with the lower prices offered by the mega-grocery store next door. Nor could it be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The next thing was that the mega-grocery store gradually dropped many of those specialty health products, replacing them with popular food supplements. And the prices for those they kept crept up and up. Then, there was nowhere in town for diabetics and people with other health needs to buy some of the health foods the mom and pop store specialized in. I am convinced there was a conscious, concerted effort on the part of the chain to kill all competition. Before long other smaller grocery stores closed. Finally, the chain grocery store was the only one left in town. This pattern repeats itself over and over again. My argument is that there is a role for government in protecting small businesses from cut throat competitive practices on the part of large corporations–such as artificially changing stock and prices JUST TO drive smaller competitors out of business.

  • Jack Hanley

    I have made similar comments to several of my christian friends, and I would like to hear your response to what I have said to them.

    I have said that most people here in the USA think of communism as an evil system. However it was designed with the idea of fairness. The problem with communism, and the reason it will never work, is because it does not factor in the evilness, and greediness of man. The reason for capitalism, success, is that it does in fact, factor in the evilness, and greediness of man. Believe me I have ruffled more than a few feathers with this comment.

    • rogereolson

      I think there is truth in that way of looking at the two systems even if the situation is more complicated.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger.

    I think that the inclusion of the “Darwinian” term is regrettable – and a distraction. Really, what capitalists want is a level playing where merit/work is rewarded. If, in a much earlier time, I went out of my cave earlier in the morning, worked harder to gather more food, or developed tools to improve harvesting, why shouldn’t I keep what I gathered? If another is lazy and only gathers the bare minimum (or less) for the day, he will go hungry. There are very good religious reasons why I should share the fruit of my labor with this lazy man. Yet there are very good religious reasons why that should not persist without limit. Remember Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians?

    The reason why this economic system is much preferable to socialism and communism is that it promotes freedom. (It is for the sake of freedom that Christ set us free. Gal 5:1.) Besides that, it promotes hard work, taking responsibility, and allows the opportunity for people to give (those who do not have cannot give). On the other hand, the more managed economics promote equality at the expense of freedom, responsibility, and hard work. Unfortunately, history has shown us that this “equality” is really an “equally shared misery”. People try to escape such places in real life. And in real life, these managed economies tend to be headed by tyrants (ie. Castro, Chavez, Mao, Pot, Stalin – but some other countries, not so much).

    And Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” is not a reference to God (and certainly not to a government). It is the “magic” that happens when buyers and sellers are given freedom to do their work without interference. It tends to benefit all as productivity is increased and prices drop – good for both buyer and seller. It is human nature for people to work harder/better when they have such freedom to benefit their lives for having done so. This is why the Soviet Union had such terrible agricultural productivity – as did China until they started making more Capitalist reforms.

    While Capitalism is neither Christian nor anti-Christian, it is vastly more humane than the others because it allows people to earn what the marketplace will bear and keep what they earn. It is the height of fairness in economics. It has both the facts and the values that Christianity smiles upon.

    In this system, the poor are cared for by Christians (and others of goodwill) who have something to share because they earned it. It is not forced, but urged on by the mercy they’ve received from God. If the poor are failed, then they are failed by uncharitable individuals. In each of the other economic systems that you mentioned, all become poorer (have wealth confiscated) and are kept poorer and failed by the system itself.

    You had very strong language and strong challenges against those who embrace the free-market system. I hope I’ve been able to adequately articulate some of the good reasons why I do just that. In doing so, I hope to escape the difficult words you directed at us.

    • rogereolson

      I’ve read a lot of that literature including Novak’s books defending capitalism as the most Christian economic system. I’ve also read all of Olasky’s books and taken my classes to meet with him and have dialogue with him. What I believe is that unrestrained, unregulated capitalism leads inevitably to the strong (often the crafty) gathering more and more of the natural wealth of a nation to themselves to the detriment of the weak (not lazy). It is clear to me that the rich in our country are not necessarily more industrious than the poor. Obviously there’s no space here to debate this at length or in detail. Let me just say that I think capitalism is based on selfishness and counts on the “haves” to take care of the “have nots” which is itself an overly optimistic expectation. A mixed economy is best–neither pure socialism (whatever that is) nor pure capitalism What we have arrived at in the U.S., by the way, is not real capitalism but corporatism.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Proverbs talks in ways that resemble the parable of the Ants and the Grasshopper. However, Isaiah and other prophets talk about the strong and the weak as you do. Of course, they are addressing different contexts with different players. I find it rather curious that Samuel’s warnings of a highly centralized and powerful government tend to go unheeded in today’s world (as they were also ignored during Samuel’s times.) I would contend that the shift to Monarchy sparked the transition from the “Proverbs situation” to the “Prophets situation” as Samuel predicted.

        You and I both see unrestrained, unregulated capitalism as a bad system. This is anarchy – reminds one of present-day Somalia. None but thieves want this. Yet, socialism is antithetical to human nature and thus unworkable on any but the smallest scale. I throw my lot with the minarchists (minimal government, decentralized) for the reasons I explained in my earlier post.

        Why do you think that the US operates like corporatism? It is the enormous government that takes huge taxes from me (from the top line) and makes laws about what I can and cannot do with the threat of further confiscation or imprisonment if I don’t comply. (Doesn’t sound very Christ-like!) If I want to buy a widget, I can shop around the world if I like. Or I can simply go without. Maybe I’m missing something . . . ?

        • rogereolson

          As I use “corporatism,” it is an economic situation in which large corporations have so much power they can control governments and with impunity drive smaller businesses out of business creating monopolies. Corporatism is revealed when I have to buy a new computer every few years because a certain software gigantic corporation makes older computers obsolete. I’m not sure you and I are talking about the same thing when we use the term “socialism.” And I think we have very different assumptions about where wealth comes from. In my opinion, much of it is derived from dishonest, if not illegal, manipulation of markets.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Hi Roger,

            Thanks for the reply. From my point of view, wealth is fluid – in most cases it is the exchange value (usually based in currency) of what the highest bidder would exchange for it. A car can be worth more to one person than to another, but when the buyer pool/seller pool gets large enough it can be simplified generally to price. If someone is willing to pay $150 for a barrel of oil, and they are the highest bidder, that is its worth – that is the wealth contained in it.

            If I sit and watch TV every night, I’m not creating anything of value (not creating wealth). If I repair my car, compose a song, learn a language, raise vegetables, or make a product then I may very well be creating wealth – it all depends on its utility.

            Wealth is not made through printing more money. That is actually theft as it dilutes the value of each of the previously existing dollar. It is mere paper or coin – and we pretend (under the penalty of laws) that it has some value because the government says it does.

            If my stocks go up or down, that has no real-world application to wealth until I liquidate it and do something with it. Markets don’t create wealth, they buy and sell products/ownership of companies. Maybe they do it in an unethical way, but that is altogether different.

            Computers go obsolete because advanced are made at such a dramatic rate that the newer ones are quantum leaps ahead of the old. You might be right about corporatism, but the example is poor. You might as well blame the farmer when food spoils!

            If I don’t understand your use of “socialism”, I’m sorry. Please explain what you mean when you use the term.

          • rogereolson

            Like “capitalism” “socialism” is a very broad concept. I certainly don’t mean statist socialism as in Cuba or North Korea or any of the other countries commonly called “communist.” I mean any society in which a central government is involved in regulating economy and commerce to protect small business people and to guarantee that the truly indigent, “deserving,” poor are not left to starve. It also, in my definition, includes any and all attempts by government to guarantee equality of opportunity in terms of education and access to basic life needs for children and the disabled. I guess Denmark would be my example of a humane, democratic socialist society.

  • Zach

    Excellent post! Obama has rightly taken this line, and other bloggers on this site (J.E. Deyer have made the ridiculous claims that Biblical faith supports capitalism (Dyer made the argument that warnings against an Israelite monarchy were in this vein). Reinhold Niebuhr really struggled with this throughout his career, and I’ve found his thoughts to be helpful. The whole gay marriage debate is also part and parcel of this: conservatives will do anything to oppose the rights of gays, and yet are willfully ignorant of what the Bible says about economics. The most painful case is where Leviticus says ‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (18:22) and also supports land redistribution; i.e., some form of socialism. “It shall be a jubilee(P) for you; each of you is to return to your family property(Q) and to your own clan. (25:10)” There are many more examples of this, but this is the most egregious, in my opinion. What hermeneutics prompts fundamentalists and conservatives to dogmatically hold to one and completely forget the other? It seems to me that, contra to Dr. Olsen, conservatives are informed my by their politics than they are by their faith.

    • rogereolson

      How is at “contra to Dr. Olsen?” (Unless you’re talking about someone else which you might be because my name is “Olson.”)

  • David Guin

    As Wendell Berry has noted, “Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.”

    • Tim Reisdorf

      When Mr. Berry got hungry (demand), did he ask for justice and mercy? or did he ask for supply? He’s more like the rats and roaches than he cares to believe – just like all of us.

      • rogereolson

        Are we beginning to engage in stereotypes and caricatures (on both sides) here? I fear so. There is so much middle ground between statist socialism and laissez faire capitalism. Justice and mercy for the truly indigent poor (and those about to become that due to cuthroat market competition that drives mom and pop stores out of business) is not antithetical to a free market economy. The key is in regulation of the free market so that it does not become anarchy.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          You are right to highlight the need to care for the poor. But the question remains how to care for the poor. Shall we leave it open for people to give (or not give) out of their plenty by goodness or shall we have some steal the wealth from some to give to others? Whichever we choose, are we willing to live with it’s weaknesses to gain its strengths?

          I like the line of one of the recent Veggie Tales shorts: Robin Good. “Fundraise from the rich, give to the poor”.

          • rogereolson

            One of our most basic differences is, I think, that you seem to assume all the “rich” gained their wealth fairly and morally. I don’t assume that. We also seem to disagree about the common good. My belief is that even the rich benefit from living in a society with a safety net for the disadvantaged and guaranteed opportunities for the children of the poor to get ahead.

  • traveller

    Dr. Olson, I believe you are generally correct in this post. It is interesting to me almost no Christians who would support social Darwinism, whether in name, or just in concept grasp that this is essentially the teachings of Ayn Rand who was a professed atheist and clearly stated each person should live in a way that was in their individual best interest without regard to other people’s needs. Ms. Rand specifically stated this verbally and in writing.

    Of course, the real problem is that these people are lazy and living off of welfare because it is so lucrative. (Sarcasm alert.) This is the convenient “if you do no work you cannot eat” excuse for not caring about others. Certainly there are those who are all of these things. But in my thinking this is almost irrelevant. To take that argument to its logical conclusion it would mean that God only saves those who are deserving of redemption. If not all, the vast majority of people who ascribe to this thinking would never think that redemption is limited to those who are deserving. To suggest the physical world operates under a different system seems a form of dualism also inconsistent with Christianity.

  • James Petticrew

    Funnily enough I passed the statue of Adam Smith and David Hulme today on the Royal Mile, Scotland has a lot to answer for 🙂

  • “This whole incident simply supports my argument that Christian churches have largely failed to inculcate any serious understanding of Christian truth in their members. We have largely adopted the Kantian distinction between ‘facts’ and ‘values’ and cordoned off Christianity from things like economics.” Here, here! I agree. I have long been distressed that American churches have read the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of Jesus and been unwilling or unable to see how run-away capitalism leads to injustice and social evil. For too long many have unthinkingly linked Christianity, democracy, capitalism as if they are they are morally equal and as if they are one American value.

  • Andy s

    I would actually think most Christian supporters of free market capitalism are not actually Social Darwinists. I’m the former, but certainly not the latter.. I don’t think one follows the other. Most of my Christian friends, Catholics and Lutherans by and large, are free marketers, but we don’t have any interest in leaving the poor, the meek, or any less fortunates on their own by any means. We believe this is our (individually, as families, as parishes, and as neighbors) responsibility, through charitable giving and volunteering, and not the responsibility of the government, which has proven horrible , time and again, at caring for those who will inherit the earth.

    The Ayn Rand-types, atheistic free marketers AND Social Darwinists, just don’t exist in any material numbers…at least in my experience.

    • rogereolson

      My question was why a Christian publisher/editor would utter the term “Darwinian” to support his free market economic philosophy.

  • Darrin Snyder Belousek

    Thanks for this bold–and, I think, correct–assessment of the theological poverty of the economic vision promoted by many Christians these days. When we hear the chairman of the House budge committee, a professing Catholic-Christian, declare openly BOTH that his economic vision is based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand (who was a Social Darwinist if ever there was one) AND that he believes his economic vision is faithful to Catholic Social Teaching (which requires that we judge the economy on moral terms, by how the “least” are faring), we know that something is wrong with the “right.” Ayn Rand was once asked what would happen to the poor if society were ruled by her philosophy–she replied: “If you want to help them, you will not be stopped.” In her philosophy, how the poor are faring is a purely private matter. So, Rand’s view, the view embraced by the architect of the new Republican budget, is based on the very dichotomy identified here: it excludes religious values from the realm of objective reality, confining values such as “care” and “compassion” to the realm of personal subjectivity, and thus excluding moral measures such as “how the poor are faring” from public policy. I agree that there is no peculiarly Christian economic theory. At the same time, there is nothing Christian about Rand’s vision–or the economic policies based on it.

    • Andy s

      Ryan was a Randian at one point. He has moved past that at this stage of his life…as is appropriate for a Christian. Ryan has attested to this multiple times over the last two months. He did not ever once say that this budget proposal, nor his current economic vision, is based on Ayn Rand’s principals.
      However, Rand, before you get too deep, is very compelling for people of a conservative bent, because she focused on the point that Utopians will never be able to develop economic systems, or legislate away, all pain and suffering, economic or otherwise. We believe this as Christians…whereas Rand was right, but for the wrong reasons.
      It does not conflict in anyway with Catholic social teaching for a Catholic politician to propose economic belt tightening when that is clearly what is called for. If America becomes a third world country and we wipe out the innovators and investors, and then the middle class, the poorest among us will be much worse off than they are now.

      • rogereolson

        And in the meantime, how many of them will die of neglect and starvation? I often wonder if Rand Paul was named after Ayn Rand? His recent budget proposals sound very much like what she was applaud.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          According to Ron, his father, he was not named after Ayn Rand. However, there is my in Ayn Rand that Ron Paul would agree with.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            …*much* in Any Rand…

        • Jeff

          Rand Paul’s first name is Randal, and he didn’t start going by Rand until he got married. He is not named after Ayn Rand.

          • rogereolson

            That’s good to know. But, given his economic views, it’s natural to assume he is named after (or shortened his name to Rand to honor) Ayn Rand.

        • Andy s

          And how many more will die when we’ve collapsed our economy and government…we can’t sustain a governmental system that pays out more than it takes in…you are a professor…you know this. What are you really arguing against or for? You know we we can’t create heaven on earth. Especially through atheistic technocrats.

          • rogereolson

            I’m arguing against Social Darwinism. Are you saying Social Darwinism is necessary for good government?

        • Darrin W Snyder Belousek

          Don’t confuse Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) and Sen. Rand Paul (KY). Sen. Paul, like his father, Rep. Ron Paul (TX), is libertarian in philosophy (and would seem favorable to Ayn Rand’s view). In any case, it is Rep. Ryan who is chair of the House budget committee. And, in fact, Ryan IS a Randian. According to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (“Ryan shines as GOP seeks new vision,” April 25, 2009), not only has Ryan’s worldview been shaped by Rand’s ideas, but Ryan himself says: “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” That was in 2005, at a D.C. gathering honoring Rand hosted by The Atlas Society. Moreover, according to an article in New York magazine (“The Trouble with Liberty,” Dec 26, 2010), Rep. Ryan requires his staffers to read Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. So, yes, it’s fair to say that Ryan is a Randian. And Ayn Rand’s economic view can be fairly described as “Social Darwinism” (even if she herself never did call it that). Where Ryan’s arguments for his budget abuse Catholic Social Teaching is in his one-dimensional emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity without any balancing emphasis on the principle of solidarity.

          • rogereolson

            My comments about Rand Paul were sparked by an editorial criticizing his recent budget proposals. It wasn’t Paul Ryan–unless the author of the editorial was confused.

    • Well said. Got any links for an economic policy that you’ve read and liked? (And should probably include a link or two for our present day policies that show their deficiencies as spoken here)…. Thx.

  • Because of such social socialist ideologies one day Islamists and Mormons across the world will be owned America.

    • rogereolson

      Referring to social Darwinism?

  • Scott Gay

    Back in the day was my involvement with Grove City College. My interest started from a church in Chester, PA pastored by Francis Schaeffer. At that time reformed theology and liberal economics( in the traditional sense- definitely what you have called free market capitalism). were welded together at Grove City. Only the two combined were the true Gospel. I left. Family and classmates thought it was typical rebellion. It wasn’t that. When you live in a place where a philosophy is lived, and it breaks your heart, you separate.

    • rogereolson

      Wasn’t Grove City College the one that turned down all federal aid even student loans?

  • holdon

    Capitalism: “It is the height of fairness in economics.” Misuse of the word “fairness” here.

    Fairness as a moral principle has nothing to do with “fairness in economics”. Otherwise you wouldn’t need the moral “redemption” of Capitalism through the Christian faith as you said:
    “In this system, the poor are cared for by Christians (and others of goodwill) who have something to share because they earned it. It is not forced, but urged on by the mercy they’ve received from God.” Why would Capitalism need that?

    If Capitalism were fair in a moral sense, then it wouldn’t need these goodwilling Christians to repair it’s flaws. Unbridled capitalism is nothing more that animal savagery (hence the term “Darwinism”). Sinful people without morals will ruthlessly oppress and neglect others. In Capitalism the non-performing will have less (or no) reward. Rightly so. Unless you are a cripple…. In Capitalism tough luck if you fell prey to the “fittest”, those who have more than 50% of the votes: they will dominate you; make the laws to their liking; appoint the judges; vote their politicians and their agenda; reward their lobbyists; control the natural resources; etc. etc.. This is what the bible calls “the world” with its 3 features: “lust of the flesh”, “lust of the eyes”, and “pride of life”. It’s not of the Father we know.

    Now the biblical economic model (in Israel) was of course entirely different: morality was to reign (not “democracy”); in the courts; in the managing of resources and in the employment of people. Slaves (“employees”) were to be set free after a certain time; accumulated resources were to be returned in the year of the jubilee; there was to be no usury interest; there were provisions to leave food for the poor for them to come and gather it; there were provisions for the aliens, the widows and orphans; there were instructions how to prevent and deal with sickness; there were provisions for taxing and giving to the less fortunate, to be administered by a Godly institution.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Mr. Holdon,

      I am not in favor of unbridled Capitalism. However, Capitalism is fair in the sense that the worker is worth his wage (Peter). On the flip side, if one doesn’t work, then one doesn’t get the fruit of someone else’s work (Paul). How can this not be fair? Isn’t this merit-based system a good thing? If there is a system that is going to be evenhanded, then Capitalism is the best I’ve seen. Maybe you have other ideas of economic systems that are more fair than this?

      A Capitalistic society needs people to be loving and caring for one another as any would society – no change there.

      In some of the rest of your post, you seem to be confusing Democracy (a political system) and Capitalism (an economic system).

      • rogereolson

        There is, of course, a large “area” on the spectrum between unbridled (laissez faire) capitalism and statist socialism. All those points in that middle area are labeled “mixed economy.” If you don’t believe in “unbridled capitalism,” what do you believe in?

  • May I move the “screens” a bit and declare for an Evolutionary Creationism and not for Social Darwinism? The newer term seems to be a replacement for the older term of “Theistic Evolution” (whether there is a difference I’ll leave that for you to tell us; I’m assuming the newer term will have more of a “Biologos flair” to it historically and referentially). I’ve touched on some of the distinctions between the two systems here in this link –

    Further, I identify Social Darwinism (or, Scientific Naturalism) with an agnostic, if not atheistic framework; that is, one that sees the process of creation without the need for a Creator superintending over this process, or simply as a process that cannot know based upon “hard” naturalistic evidence. Alvin Plantiga stated the same last fall but made the qualifying statement that Darwin is misread to simply assume that a Creator is not involved ( Consequently, evolution may also be thought of in Christian terms, and organizations like Biologos have been working hard at rewriting a plausible Christian understanding for evolution using present day science.

    It also seems that Social Darwinism is fairly or unfairly misidentified as a type of socialism (both politically and economically) that has been commonly thought to have been used as a basis for Marxism and Communism to oppress people. Now I’m sure this is not a fair association for a strict scientific discipline but there seems to be that kind of consciousness within Christianity thus giving evolutionary creationism a further black eye of skepticism.

    And then there’s simply a long quasi-scientific list of misperceptions marking evolutionary creationism guilty by association which Biologos has listed and I’ve placed here together in another link –

    In this past year I have finally made the momentous decision to move from a “Young Earth Creationism” to an evolutionary understanding. I have debated this move for several decades and have come from an eclectic background of mathematics, science and theology which made this philosophical move a juggernaut that I basically placed on the sidelines until I could better absorb it. The problem actually lay on the theological end for me because the science of it was quite apparent early on. Lately, newer theological and biblical perspectives have given rise to make this epistemological move more acceptable. But one still fraught with sensitivity towards other Christians caught in similar dilemmas while I work out the mechanics of biblical implication.

    Thank you for your historical perspective. Any comments are welcomed.

    • rogereolson

      I, for one, do not see any necessary connection between biological evolution and social Darwinism UNLESS God is taken out of the picture. Then, without God, biological evolution as natural selection, survival of the fittest, naturally evolves into Social Darwinism. My complaint was that Christians who reject biological evolution in knee jerk fashion often embrace social Darwinism uncritically.

      • Understood and agreed. Plain enough. Thanks.

      • Fred

        I’m not an atheist, but in fairness to atheist Darwinists, very few of them would actually argue that Social Darwinism is a necessary consequence of biological Darwinism. They would likely argue that traits like mercy, compassion, willingness to share and other “Christian” qualities, at least among members of a clan or tribal group, enable that group to survive and out-compete other groups, therefore allowing the group with those qualities to reproduce more and to grow. There are arguments against that view, but you have to admit it’s not the same as saying biological Darwinism entails Social Darwinism.

        • rogereolson

          But what if the “group” I am part of is the “haves?” That is, what if I feel compassion and mercy only for those who, like me (not literally me), are strong and capable? I don’t see how the atheist Darwinist argument defeats Social Darwinism. There may be an altruistic gene, but nobody can prove it promotes altruism for everybody. It may promote altruism for “me and mine” (my tribe, my social group) only. That would fit with Social Darwinism perfectly. In my opinion, Ayn Rand was the person who best drew out and applied the implications of the natural law of “survival of the fittest” without God in the picture. When I put myself in her worldview (not easy to do and quite painful) I see things from her perspective very well. It’s only my belief in the God of Jesus that keeps me from being there myself.

          • Fred

            Well, I suppose it depends on how you define Social Darwinism. As I understood (or perhaps misunderstood) your post, you were referring to the Randian, Neitzchean version: every man for himself, crush anyone in your way, only the strong deserve to survive and devil take the hindmost, the kind of social Darwinism you might find in a Theodore Dreiser novel. It’s hard for me to see how a group with that internal dynamic could survive long in competition with groups whose members cooperate, care for their sick and wounded, help each other protect offspring, and are willing to die for the group. Certainly, there is nothing in atheistic Darwinism to prevent justifying such a group destroying or enslaving other “less fit” groups, nor does it provide resources for judging such an action immoral (that seems to me a problem with any form of atheism) But there is nothing in atheistic Darwinism that necessitates such action on the part of a group. If the other group doesn’t threaten mine or have anything we want, we might just leave them alone rather than risk the lives of our group. Alliances with other groups against still others might also be necessitated by environmental conditions. In such a situation, our altruism could become extended toward our allies, perhaps even expanded from there to any group that does not threaten us. Trade might allow us to get what we need to survive and what we want better than conquest. Free labor might suit our prosperity better than slavery. Those are at least plausible scenarios even under atheist Darwinism. The point is that atheist Darwinism does not entail the lone struggle to assert the will to power which you seem (again, perhaps I misunderstood you) to be talking about.

          • rogereolson

            Not at all. But it does entail the belief that self-interest is the highest moral norm (unless a person, for whatever reason, simply chooses to sacrifice self-interest). By all accounts, Social Darwinism is the belief that the law of nature in biology, Herbert Spencer’s “survival of the fittest,” is also the natural law of society. Helping the poor and weak survive may be a choice, but it does not need to be social policy and, in fact, is counter-productive as social policy as it weakens the gene pool.

          • abb3w

            If that’s the only think keeping you from being a Randite, then as an atheist, I would urge you to remain a Christian for a while longer.

            Your understanding of “survival of the fittest” seems uninformed by any of the last forty-odd years work on the evolution of altruism, or the implications of the covariance term of Price’s Equation. Human altruism isn’t even limited to within our species; humans often care for stray cats and dogs, just because we’re social animals who like company.

            Re-reading Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature” helps highlight some of Ayn Rand’s basic philosophical errors, though a familiarity with mathematics and the associated need for rigor and close consideration of “edge cases” in inductive reasoning may also help.

          • rogereolson

            The issue isn’t what people do. The issue is what they ought to do.

          • abb3w

            Except, as I alluded, “survival of the fittest” is only a crude approximation to the actual law, due to covariant effects in the Price Equation (“group selection”).

          • rogereolson

            And how do you derive an “ought” from that?

          • abb3w

            Technically, one doesn’t derive an ought from that alone; one derives further oughts, given an initial is-ought bridge (defining which ordering relationship over the class of choice the word “ought” is referencing). Which in my case, said initial ought-bridge would require a digression over to the Ship Of Theseus for the concept would likely be understood.

            In any case, exactly how one generates such an ought-bridge is incidental to the point I was trying to make: that “Herbert Spencer’s survival of the fittest” as an is-statement is an approximation of evolutionary theory that neglects the covariant “group selection” effects; as such, treating it as an absolute social law neglects where covariance at the group level may outweigh expected benefit; and, so far as the underlying is-premise is incorrect, the resultant ought-inferences tend to be as well.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    All systems of human government are less than ideal simply because they are the creation of human beings (anyone who is not human please raise your right hand). Free market capitalism, though not without fault, is ‘hands down’ the best economic system in the history of humanity. An observative and historic look at all other human economic concoctions will confirm that to be true. If it be argued that so-called Christian biblical communism would be a better and fairer way of distribution (be careful what you ask for), we have only to remember why it was quickly abandoned by the early church (see Acts 5:1-11 where it led to death and fear). The ONLY politico-economic system that will suffice (until God’s kingdom comes to fruition) is the free market coupled with genuine Christian compassion for the less fortunate. Anything less than that is what the world is contending with now. Nothing works right without the application of true Christian principles.

    • rogereolson

      And what happens when “Christian compassion” fails to take care of the truly indigent, deserving poor? That’s what happened in America and why the government, under pressure from Christians (allied with others) in the progressive movement picked up the dropped ball and introduced social security and welfare.

  • Jack Hanley

    After reading some of the above comments, I feel compelled to make a couple of points. Tim Reisdorf states,

    what capitalists want is a level playing where merit/work is rewarded.

    I will not dispute the intention, however, as I stated above, capitalism thrives on the greed of man, and for this reason it works, that being said, I believe it fails to take into account, those who may NOT be lazy, but are less fortunate than others, in skill or mental ability. These folks are easily manipulated, and taken advantage of in the capitalist system, and there are countless examples. Tim also states,

    The reason why this economic system is much preferable to socialism and communism is that it promotes freedom

    I agree, capitalism is preferable to either, socialism, or communism, however capitalism being preferable, does not make it any less evil. My main point here is that, I believe we as Christians should understand, and proclaim, that all systems of government, can, and will eventually fail. Therefore, we should not be like the line of Cain, who were busy building a city, in an attempt to reverse the curses God has placed upon us. Rather, we should be as the line of Seth, who simply called upon the name of the Lord, looking for the City only He can build. In other words I believe all systems of government will be flawed, until the government finally, rest on the shoulders of Christ.

    • rogereolson

      Neither capitalism nor socialism are “systems of government.” Both can thrive in a democratic or constitutional-representative system of government (or other systems.) There is democratic capitalism and there is democratic socialism. These are economic systems, not governmental systems. Denmark is a constitutional monarchy that is also democratic. It is also socialist (not communist). There is virtually no poverty there and the Danes are, by sociologists’ standards, the happiest people on earth even though they pay about half their income in taxes. They don’t complain about the government “robbing” them when it takes their taxes because they know that should they fall into misfortune (illness, calamity) they will not sink into a hole of invisible poverty to be neglected and die. That is what too often happens in unregulated economies–even democratic ones. The justification for it is usually some form of social Darwinism.

  • ME

    “I am not recommending that Christians enforce Christian economics (whatever that would be); I am simply criticizing Christian endorsement of Social Darwinism as state policy.”

    Agree with you there, but I go one step further. I don’t endorse Social Darwinism as state policy, but Christian anarchism. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the two.

    I just don’t see how one can reconcile enforcing/coercing any sort of Christian economics and call that following Jesus.

    • rogereolson

      The issue isn’t “enforcing,” but persuading. Walter Rauschenbusch had not power to “enforce” anything, but through his books and speeches he helped bring about the abolition of child labor.

  • Jack Hanley

    I certainly understand, socialism, and capitalism, are economic systems, rather than governmental, however I think you will have to acknowledge, the two are closely aligned. At any rate I could make the same point. All systems of government, and or economics, will be flawed as long as they depend on the human element. All such systems will eventually fail, and our hope should be in the One Only True Promise Keeper.

    Also, you seem to be advocating, some form of socialism, (please correct me if I am wrong). That being said, I would say that we here in the USA are a least close to being on our way to socialism. Please add up all you now pay in taxes, income tax, federal, state, and local, property tax, sales tax on every item you buy, and please do not forget the tax on every gallon of gas you buy, (the last time I checked, it was close to 30 cents on the gallon). I think you will discover you are very close to 50 cent on the dollar.

    As far as the Danes being the happiest people on earth, have you noticed the suicide rate there?

    • rogereolson

      Why don’t you tell me what the suicide rate in Denmark is. Do you know? Is it higher or lower than the suicide rate in a similar capitalist society? I don’t know the statistics. But I have heard that suicide is more common in Scandinavian countries and many attribute that to the long winters (not only cold but dark).

    • ernie

      You seem to measure “socialism” only by the percentage of tax burden, which is a pretty poor standard as long as there’s no definition for it (like up to p.ex. 45 percent you stay capitalist, after that you enter socialist territory). This has absolutely nothing to do with the reasons why conservatives here in the ‘good ol’USA’ have been using the concept to scare people away from Obama and so called ‘big government liberals’. In fact they have everything to do with the bizarre assumption that a bigger government will absolutely degenerate into Soviet-style socialism and the infamous gulags. This is a totally silly idea and is based exclusively on the fact that most Americans don’t have any idea what a real Soviet-style system is. In the eyes of the conservative propaganda peddlers there’s little to no difference between the Soviet-style socialism of North Korea and the mixed economies of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and other European countries. Why? Because the later have just a heavier tax burden than the US and provide a lot of government services to their citizens. But as Dr. Olson mentioned about Denmark, they also are the most successful societies on Earth as measured by any meaningful indicator of human development: levels of education, incidence of crimes, imprisonment levels, levels of divorce, incidence of abortion, quality of health care, levels of economic freedom, levels of political freedom, low levels of budget deficits (Norway has a constant surplus) etc, etc. This means they must be doing something right and we better try to emulate some of it, instead of labeling them as ‘worthless liberals’. Pride and ignorance has always proven to be a destructive mix.

      • ernie

        Just to clarify, I was referring to Jack Hanley’s comments, not to Dr. Olson’s response.

        • rogereolson

          I got that. 🙂

  • The real question is, “Can a Christian agree with persuasion by the barrel of a gun?” If people want to live in a community and give up their resources for the “greater need” of the community, then that’s fantastic. However, if wealth is taken from those who created it and given to those who did not, I don’t see how Christ or anyone with morals would agree with such theft.

    I would also suggest studying Austrian economics. Olasky is not a conservative. Try Lidwig Von Mises (

    • rogereolson

      Olasky is not a conservative! ? Do you know him? I do.

      • A “Compassionate Conservative” believes in social programs. A real conservatives knows these government programs fiscal capabilities are limited because of the theft of resources from the worker to the recipient. As you know, Bush is a “Compassionate Conservative,” and his policies are no different from Obama. Both believe in Keynesian economics (opposed to Austrian economics), social welfare programs, and big government. So yes, he is not a conservative.

        A conservative would be Tom Woods or Friedrich von Hayek (Road to Serfdom is a great conservative book).

        • rogereolson

          Again, do you know Olasky? I do. Believe me, “compassionate conservatism” does not mean what it sounds like. Olasky favors abolishing the government safety net entirely and leaving it to non-profit organizations to take care of the poor. Of course, his proposal is more complicated than that, but it doesn’t involve big government. Have you actually read any of Olasky’s books? Talked to him? I have read all his books and met with him (with students) on several occasions. He advocates small government. When I read and listen to him I hear echoes of Robert Nozick although I’m not sure to what extent he (Olasky) is directly influenced by Nozick, if at all.

  • Mark

    Yes a Christian can be a social Darwinist. Many of my friends are both. I have a problem equating a secular philosophy, the Chicago School of Economics, with Bible doctrine. Keynesian economics prevailed in the Wall Street bailouts. Sadly from Morgan Stanley’s Dimond, they never learned. My concern is that if the bailouts hadn’t happened our economy would be much worse shape. We could have followed the Chicago School and let all these businesses fail and allow all the collateral damage to occur. I don’t believe this experiment has been tried since 1929 to 1933. I don’t have this much faith in a secular philosophy, such as the Chicago School of Economics. I am pragmatic and hope for what is the best for all people, and this is a Biblical hope. In social Darwinism embodied in the Chicago School of Economics where is the Golden Rule?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t understand your point. Please back up and explain how a Christian can be a Social Darwinist (consistently). (I’m not asking whether there are people who call themselves “Christian” who embrace Social Darwinism; that’s obvious. I’m asking whether Social Darwinism is consistent with real Christianity as a belief system, spirituality and world view.)

      • Mark

        Social Darwinism is not consistent with Christianity for me. It comes back to politics informing religion rather than religion informing politics. Social Darwinism in the form of Austrian (of Chicago School economics) is a platform of the Right. It is survival of fittest economics, it became by extension a platform of socially conservative right.

        Yes, I do have good friends who are conservative evangelical Christians who are informed by the politics, sometimes more than their religion. They are fine Christian people who would help people in need and wouldn’t shoot to kill even though they love their guns and open gun laws. In their rhetoric they hate Obama even though the Bible would inform them they should pray for the President and wish him well. Some even would boast about how they wrote a hateful letter to a politician. In much of their behavior they are Christian and they do love Jesus. I disagree with them, and I would greatly offend them if I informed them they are adding to Scripture by their politics informing their religion. They are just doing what their leaders informed them to believe.

        Depending how much sway their leaders (more like Ayatollahs, or sources of emulation) have on them, they could become very consistent in following any kind of doctrine, no matter how extra-Biblical this doctrine could be. This is why there is criticism of many of these ultra conservative evangelical groups becoming like cults. There charismatic leader (not necessarily pentacostal) tells them what to believe, so it must be so. And God’s anointed can’t be criticized.

  • Dr. Olson, I read Renewing American Compassion by Marvin Olasky while taking your Social Justice class. And I agree, Olasky’s proposal is more complicated than abolishing the government safety net. He wants the churches and government to work together to change the hearts of those in poverty. With a combination of tax credits, state tax exemption, and other more progressive means, Olasky believes the government can help churches alleviate poverty on the local level (not smaller government, but local government).

    This is not a true conservative perspective. Olasky wants government to create funds (or steal from those who create wealth) to fight poverty. True conservatism is based on private property, free markets, individual liberty, freedom of conscience, and the rights for communities to determine how they will live within these guidelines. I see fascism as the religion of the state. Olasky believes in a conservative form of fascism; Christian love as the government’s instrument for change. Throughout history, we see that government forced Christian policies always lead to tyranny.

    A true conservative would also know from his/her study of Austrian economics that government cannot organically encourage markets. The laws of supply and demand are only hindered by government involvement.

    Lew Rockwell is another great conservative.

    • rogereolson

      Ah, Patrick. I failed. 🙁 How is your business going? I’m genuinely interested. Keep in touch.

      • Haha. You didn’t fail. You had the greatest impact on my understanding of the way the world works.
        Business is great. Launching our bottles in 1,000 Wal-Marts in July. I have the best partners, a great food broker company, and sustainable margins. It took hard work, simple living, and calculated risk to get to where we are.

        I am still here in Waco (Bruceville-Eddy) if you would like to have lunch.

        • rogereolson

          Thanks for that, Patrick! But I must have failed to communicate Olasky’s views correctly. But, then, Olasky is (IMHO) slippery, not easy to pin down. I’m glad your business is flourishing. Let’s grab a coffee sometime when you’re in town. E-mail me.

  • Luke

    I find the rejection of pragmatism in this article troubling. If the known universe was created and is held together by God and if the wages of sin is death it seems impossible to assert that the dominant capitalist system of economics is fundamentally at odds with what we know of God as he revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Market capitalism seems to be by far the best way to achieve symbiotic and mutually sacrificial relationships between producers, consumers, investors, employers, and employees.

    • rogereolson

      Again, as I said in my follow up post, you have misunderstood my point. It was not to criticize capitalism; it was to argue that Social Darwinism is a philosophy that is essentially contrary to the gospel. People can have (and do have) many reasons for supporting capitalism that do not include Social Darwinism. I would hope that any Christian who writes to support capitalism would not rely on Social Darwinism.

  • jason taylor

    You do realize that false accusation is even more unchristian then “Social Darwinism” whatever that is? The people you talk of are not generally guilty of avarice or cruelty toward the poor and in fact believe that whatever alternatives the writer proposes are in fact worse for the poor. Do you perhaps mean that government intervention which will simply mean the change of competition from competing between producers to competing between bureaucrats for success in jurisdictional imperialism is any less “Social Darwinistic”? In any case it doesn’t matter. You are making false accusations for the sake of political propaganda and that is definitely unchristian.

    • rogereolson

      And you are making false accusations against me, so…. First, you don’t know what people I’m talking about. How do you know they are not guilty of avarice or cruelty toward the poor? Second, that’s not what I said. My point is about systems, not individuals. A system can be cruel without anyone involved in it being intentionally cruel. My point was (and remains) that Social Darwinism as a belief about economics is unChristian. That is not to say any individual person who happens to be so confused as to buy into and promote it is himself or herself bad.

  • John

    I don’t want to detract from the point of your post, but you said “I have taught now in three Christian universities in which there has been controversy over ‘integration of faith and learning.'”

    What exactly do you mean by that comment? There has been controversy due to a lack of integrated faith and learning? Or perhaps it was due to an integration of faith and learning? Possibly leading down paths that the watchdogs deemed inappropriate? I was just curious.

    • rogereolson

      The specific controversies I referred to had to do with professors feeling threatened–that they would be (if faith-learning integration became mandatory) required to practice their disciplines in less than fully professional ways (as that is defined by their peers in the secular academic professional societies). I remember long and sometimes heated discussions about what “Christian math” or “Christian physics” means. I felt that “faith-learning integration” was not communicated to them as well as it could be. But even when it was, some Christian professors and researchers in the “hard” sciences were resistant. For me, faith-learning integration does not require the development of a distinctively Christian math or physics or accounting or whatever. It does require awareness that some theories in those and other disciplines might be inconsistent with Christian beliefs about reality. Unfortunately, all too often, the way professors in Christian institutions of higher education handle this issue is dualistic–a kind of “two truths” policy. One sociologist told me to my face that, for him, his Christianity had nothing at all to do with his discipline. I have trouble with any Christian, professor or otherwise, who says his or her faith has nothing to do with…(fill in the blank).

  • Mark

    In all honesty– at the end of a day — if a person reads their Bible and sincerely looks at the text, a person couldn’t be a Social Darwinist. At least, I couldn’t be a Social Darwinist. My conscience would nag at me.
    I am sorry this is even a discussion, but it is a necessary one. I don’t know if everyone across America’s political landscape is really thinking out the implications of what is Social Darwinism, and how this plays out in American and World politics and economics.