Based on the text, write 5 paragraphs answering the following questions…Identify the aspects of Darwin’s thought that his contemporaries drew on to justify imperialism. Do you think Darwin’s text supports their views or not?Explain the relationship between Darwin’s text and the Enlightenment tradition. Pay special attention to his views of nature and his use of the scientific method.Contrast the sources of the nation’s strength as identified in the second two documents. What barriers, if any, stand in the way of expansion?How do you think Gandhi would reply to O’Sullivan and Okuma?
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Evolution and Imperialism
In the second half of the nineteenth century, a handful of nation-states, most of them in Europe,
renewed their competition for overseas colonies. Class conflict at home and resistance to their efforts
overseas diminished Europeans’ faith, inherited from Enlightenment thinkers, in the harmony of the
natural world. A new, conflictual vision emerged around the world that stressed competition and
struggle in nature as well as human affairs. Doubts arose about the progressive nature of the changes
ushered in by the era of the French and industrial revolutions, in particular the idea that granting more
people the vote and spreading free markets would lead to peace and prosperity for everyone.
Colonizers increasingly believed that they must control ever-greater expanses of territory or risk
defeat by rival powers.
Major scientific work on evolution shaped thinking about politics in general, and especially imperialism.
In On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin examines the evolution of different species in
nature. In addressing the question “How and why are new species created?” Darwin describes the
process of natural selection, in which nature creates overabundance so that the “fittest” species
survive and adapt themselves to their environments. Although his book says nothing about human
beings and Darwin himself was appalled by human suffering and the exploitation of imperialism, many
of his contemporaries used Darwin’s ideas as a justification for imperial expansion.
The other three documents provide material from imperialists influenced, directly or indirectly, by
Darwin’s work as well as a reaction of the Indian anticolonial leader, Mohandas Gandhi. In the second
selection, New York newspaper editor John L. O’Sullivan coins the term “Manifest Destiny” in 1845, to
explain how the “manifest design of Providence” supported the territorial expansion of the United
States. Okuma’s Fifty Years of New Japan (1907â??1908) explores the sources of Meiji Japan’s power
and the role of competition with the West. Finally, Gandhi calls into question the degree to which
material wealth and physical force will determine the outcome of global competition. As you read
these excerpts, consider how they relate to the aggressive competition for imperial expansion at the
turn of the twentieth century.
Primary Source 17.1
On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin
Again, it may be asked, how is it that varieties, which I have called incipient species, become
ultimately converted into good and distinct species, which in most cases obviously differ from each
other far more than do the varieties of the same species? How do those groups of species, which
constitute what are called distinct genera, and which differ from each other more than do the species
of the same genus, arise? All these results . . . follow inevitably from the struggle for life. Owing to
this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any
degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic
beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be
inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the
many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have
called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural
Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection. We have seen that man by
selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through
the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural
Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably
superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.
We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence. . . . I should premise that I use
the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being
on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in
leaving progeny. Two canine animals in a time of dearth, may be truly said to struggle with each other
which shall get food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the
drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent on the moisture. . . .
A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to
increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer
destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on
the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no
country could support the product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive,
there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same
species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. . . . Although
some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world
would not hold them.
It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every
variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good;
silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of
each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these
slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages, and then so
imperfect is our view into long past geological ages, that we only see that the forms of life are now
different from what they formerly were.
SOURCE: Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, ed. Philip Appleman (New York: W. W. Norton and
Company, 2002), Chapters 3 and 4.
Primary Source 17.2
“Manifest Destiny” (1845), John L. O’Sullivan
Texas has been absorbed into the Union in the inevitable fulfilment of the general law which is rolling
our population westward; the connexion of which with that ratio of growth in population which is
destined within a hundred years to swell our numbers to the enormous population of two hundred and
fifty millions (if not more), is too evident to leave us in doubt of the manifest design of Providence in
regard to the occupation of this continent. It was disintegrated from Mexico in the natural course of
events, by a process perfectly legitimate on its own part, blameless on ours; and in which all the
censures due to wrong, perfidy and folly, rest on Mexico alone. And possessed as it was by a
population which was in truth but a colonial detachment from our own, and which was still bound by
myriad ties of the very heart strings to its old relations, domestic and political, their incorporation into
the Union was not only inevitable, but the most natural, right and proper thing in the world. . . .
California will, probably, next fall away from the loose adhesion which, in such a country as Mexico,
holds a remote province in a slight equivocal kind of dependence on the metropolis. Imbecile and
distracted, Mexico never can exert any real governmental authority over such a country. The
impotence of the one and the distance of the other, must make the relation one of virtual
independence. . . . The Anglo-Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of the
irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it, armed with the plough
and the rifle, and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and
meeting-houses. A population will soon be in actual occupation of California, over which it will be idle
for Mexico to dream of dominion. They will necessarily become independent.
SOURCE: John L. O’Sullivan, “Manifest Destiny,” Democratic Review (July 1845), pp. 7â??10, in Clark C.
Spence, ed., The American West: A Source Book (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1966), pp.
Primary Source 17.3
Fifty Years of New Japan (1910), Okuma
By comparing the Japan of fifty years ago with the Japan of today, it will be seen that she has gained
considerably in the extent of her territory, as well as in her population, which now numbers nearly fifty
million. Her government has become constitutional not only in name, but in fact, and her national
education has attained to a high degree of excellence. In commerce and industry, the emblems of
peace, she has also made rapid strides, until her import and export trades together amounted in 1907
to the enormous sum of 926,000,000 yen. Her general progress, during the short space of half a
century, has been so sudden and swift that it presents a rare spectacle in the history of the world.
This leap forward is the result of the stimulus which the country received on coming into contact with
the civilization of Europe and America, and may well, in its broad sense, be regarded as a boon
conferred by foreign intercourse. Foreign intercourse it was that animated the national consciousness
of our people, who under the feudal system lived localized and disunited, and foreign intercourse it is
that has enabled Japan to stand up as a world power. We possess today a powerful army and navy,
but it was after Western models that we laid their foundations by establishing a system of conscription
in pursuance of the principle “all our sons are soldiers,” by promoting military education, and by
encouraging the manufacture of arms and the art of shipbuilding. We have reorganized the systems of
central and local administration, and effected reforms in the educational system of the empire. All this
is nothing but the result of adopting the superior features of Western institutions. That Japan has been
enabled to do so is a boon conferred on her by foreign intercourse, and it may be said that the nation
has succeeded in this grand metamorphosis through the promptings and the influence of foreign
civilization. For twenty centuries the nation has drunk freely of the civilizations of Korea, China, and
India, being always open to the different influences impressed on her in succession. Yet we remain
politically unaltered under one Imperial House and sovereign, that has descended in an unbroken line
for a length of time absolutely unexampled in the world. We have welcomed Occidental civilization
while preserving their old Oriental civilization. They have attached great importance to Bushido, and at
the same time held in the highest respect the spirit of charity and humanity. They have ever made a
point of choosing the middle course in everything, and have aimed at being always well-balanced. We
are conservative simultaneously with being progressive; we are aristocratic and at the same time
democratic; we are individualistic while also being socialistic. In these respects we may be said to
somewhat resemble the Anglo-Saxon race.
SOURCE: From Okuma, Fifty Years of New Japan (Kaikoku Gojunen Shi), 2d Ed., (London: Smith,
Primary Source 17.4
Excerpts on the Struggle for Existence (1907), Gandhi
Darwin was a great Englishman of the last century who made great scientific discoveries. His memory
and his power of observation were amazing. He has written some books that deserve to be read and
pondered. With a mass of evidence and arguments, he has shown how man came into being; how he
has evolved from a particular kind of monkey. After a large number of experiments and much sifting
of evidence, he realized that there was not much difference between the anatomy of man and that of
the ape. Whether this conclusion is correct or not has not much to do with ethics. Besides this, Darwin
has also shown how ideas of morality affect mankind. . . .
The question now arises: Does the influence of environment lead us to be moral? Or can it be that the
forces that surround us are indifferent to morality?
At this point it becomes necessary to consider Darwin’s views. Though Darwin did not write as a moral
philosopher, he has shown how close the connection is between morality and environment. Those who
think that morality is unimportant and that physical strength and mental capacity are the only things
that matter should read Darwin.
According to him, there is an instinct of self-preservation in men as in other creatures. He also says
that those who survive the struggle for existence may be regarded as successful, that is, those who
are unfit to tend to extinction, but that the issue of the struggle does not depend on mere physical
SOURCE: Gandhi, Collected Works, 100 vols. (Delhi, 1969â??1994), 6: 316â??17.
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