First of all, Economic Darwinism was formed after many wealthy tycoons used it to justify their practices and large business empires. This was seen with John D. Rockefeller, one of the first few billionaires during the time. Rockefeller was a magnate in the oil industry and utilized tactics to rid of other competitors. For instance, he would purposefully price oil at a lower price so his competitors would be forced to follow suit or sell their business. Rockefeller would later purchase or obtain most oil business, using this tactic, also known as horizontal integration, to make up approximately 90% of the oil industry later on. Economic Darwinism was used to justify this since only the strongest businesses would be able to survive and thrive, and the weaker businesses would die off; thus, only the “fit” would survive. This proved instrumental as it meant monopolies were reasonable by this logic, allowing for one or a select few to control prices and to set the working conditions of their employees. Andrew Carnegie was another magnate who believed in Economic Darwinism. Similarly, he would build a monopoly in a few select areas, such as the steel industry, through horizontal integration and maximize profit through vertical integration. As an influential businessman, Carnegie was able to also depress worker’s wages, and these workers would be unable to resist or complain due to his monopoly. Again, this meant poor working conditions for many people, including children. These tycoons would cement their place in power by influencing politics with their immense wealth to allow for favorable circumstances. As a result, Economic Darwinism was used to justify these practices, allowing for monopolies and for wealth to consolidate among a few individuals, and it directly affected many socially who had to endure terrible working conditions and wages.
Next, Social Darwinism also affected many aspects of American society. Most notably, some select individuals or groups applied the ideas of Darwinism to people. For example, Social Darwinism was used by supremacists, such as the Ku Klux Klan, to justify their racism. They reasoned that certain groups, often immigrants or African-Americans, were inferior and therefore less “fit.” Because of this, it also engendered the view that these people also had inferior cultures or religions. Consequently, Social Darwinism was utilized by these people to condone their acts of malice against other select groups and to disapprove of their corresponding culture or religion.
These ideas of Economic and Social Darwinism were hard to dispute as Darwin’s original theory of natural selection was applied to nature — not humans and other complex systems. The idea was that some individuals in a species were more suited to reproduce later on and more fit; however, many people applied this to other areas. As mentioned, people would justify practices with the notation that they were more “fit” and allowed for monopolies, acts of discrimination, and social changes in American Society. This was difficult to challenge because it seemed “natural” and what was intended for in nature, but the issue was that this was only true in nature — not necessarily groups of people and businesses. Regardless, people used these ideas to justify their actions and thinking, and as a result, it was difficult or challenging for some to disprove.
Darwin’s theory of natural selection would later be adopted by others and applied to different areas. This was seen with Rockefeller and Carnegie’s immense accumulation of wealth due to their monopolies, causing only a select few to control wealth and the working conditions of people. These tycoons reasoned that, because their business was more “fit,” they were deserving of the top position and monopoly. Similarly, Social Darwinism was used by groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, to justify their actions against other people; these people often reasoned that they were superior or more “fit” than others, such as immigrants or African-Americans. This also came with a disregard for their cultures or religions as they were viewed as inferior. Darwin’s theory would see many variations during this period in different areas, and later on, it would be used to justify other historical actions. Nevertheless, it will prove to be an incredibly potent ideology during the Progressive Era.