Meaning of social evolutionism
What is social evolutionism:
In anthropology, social evolutionism assumes that all societies go through the same development process and that Western civilization is superior to all others.
Social evolutionism was the first scientific theory in the area of anthropology and it sought to interpret social changes and explain the evolution of societies.
Also called social Darwinism, it was formulated by the Englishman Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), who applied the laws of the evolution of species by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) to formulate his scientific studies in psychology, sociology, biology, education and ethics.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of social evolutionism is abandoned in cultural anthropology for being speculative and ethnocentric, for example, by collecting data only through missionaries and merchants and assuming Western superiority over all other civilizations.
Social evolutionism becomes popular, since its postulates justify and support colonialism, war, fascism and Nazism.
On the other hand, social evolutionism in biology studies how social interactions arise, change and are maintained in individuals of the same species, such as how cooperation overcomes immediate selfishness.
Characteristics of social evolutionism
Social evolutionism, sometimes also referred to as cultural evolutionism or Darwinism, assumes two premises:
- The existence of a universal order of cultural evolution in societies (savagery, barbarism and civilization), and
- The superiority of Western culture due to its technological sophistication and for believing in the true religion that is Christianity.
It is also characterized by opposing social policies and considering that war is an instrument that promotes evolution.
Later, Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) subdivided savagery and barbarism into low, middle and high states. Another well-known social evolutionist, Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917), claimed that societies have different levels of intelligence. These theories are no longer valid in contemporary science.
Examples of applications of cultural evolutionism can be found in the practices of eugenics during Nazism.
Nowadays currents of thought are promoted where there are no social or cultural absolutisms such as, for example, that of cultural relativism.