Individualism and Social Darwinism
Horatio Alger- published popular books during the Second
Industrial Revolution with rags-to-riches themes. His characters
reflected the American ideal of individualism.
Individualism- Belief in the primary importance of the individual
and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.
Social Darwinism- a theory originally formed by Charles Darwin
about biological natural selection. Social Darwinists argued that
society progressed through natural competition. The “fittest”
people, businesses, or nations should and would rise to positions of
wealth and power. The “unfit” would fail. This theory is also
referred to as the “survival of the fittest.”
Individualism and the “American Dream” of success for the
ambitious and hard-working were part of the accepted wisdom
about the United States during the decades after the Civil War.
The “rags to riches” stories of Horatio Alger symbolized the idea
The philosophy of Social Darwinism justified class stratification
(separation) in the United States. One cliché of the period was that
“the cream always rises to the top,” an idea that the rich could use
to justify their position in society.
Andrew Carnegie believed that the rich had an obligation to help
society as a whole, not individual poor people.