Gove and Hague: The Contradictions of Social Darwinism

In the last week, we have seen two prominent ministers in the ConDem coalition making comments with a clear Social Darwinism ideological (associated with Herbert Spencer, not Charles Darwin) framing. Michael Gove, firstly, attacked poorer students for not doing as well as richer students at school, claiming that wealth differences is not a justifiable reason for educational attainment differences. Essentially, the best, naturally, should rise to the top if allowed, despite wealth. This same ideology is clear within William Hague’s comments that people should just work harder and stop complaining, again ignoring inequalities in resources and opportunities. 

Essentially, however, there is a clear contradiction with Social Darwinism in that people who advocate such an ideology also rely on state and policy constructions to enable them to create an uneven playing field so that they can create a circle of elites where the same people keep getting into power, so the status quo doesn’t get rocked. For instance, millionnaire Gove can attack a culture that rightly criticises poverty as a block to educational attainment whilst getting an education through institutions that are privileged.

Gove states that:

They show us all that there need be no difference in performance – none whatsoever – between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from wealthier homes. They show us that a difficult start in life can be overcome, with hard work and good teaching.

Grammar schools, Oxbridge, private schools – all these cost money, and are more accessible for richer wealthier students, not to mind the difference in aspirations people from different backgrounds often have. Having to get a job alongside working, having pressures at home, undermined access to essential things such as food, resources and time – alongside the economic sadistic cuts this government is undertaking are all socio-economic factors that undermines poorer people’s ability to educationally attain skills and qualifications. It also shows how this Social Darwinism mantra, that those who work hard are the one’s who achieve, is simplistic and incorrect.

As mentioned, too, those in power such as Gove, especially ones that have relied upon privileged institutions to get where they are, have been helped by biased, interest-vested institutions to then criticise people for not trying hard enough when they have no idea what it feels like to live in poverty, desperation and try to achieve the same things as those who are telling them they aren’t doing/trying well enough. As for women re men, poorer disadvantaged groups have to try twice, at least, as hard to get to the same places that people from wealthier backgrounds do – not to mention the lack of status, and respect such people get in society even if they succeed. Social Darwinists’ advocate natural selection whilst relying on socially constructed privatisation, for instance, to ensure dominance.

The same can be said for Hague’s comments, who argued that the government’s strategy for growth is simply for people to work harder. How insulting and offensive to all those people who get up, work so hard for not enough to maintain a decent living. How insulting for a government, intent on helping the 1% through socially constructed measures such as allowing bankers’ bonuses to go on at the high they are, lowering corporate tax, whilst cutting benefits at disgusting amounts and arguing benefits such as Disability Living Allowance have been exploited when there is only around a 0.5% fraud rate for this benefit, not to mention only around £1bn of fraud committed by welfare claimants in general as those at the top get away with more than £100bn a year of fraud/evasion. To then hear Hague say the problem with the economy, now back in a recession, is not the government’s austerity measures – which are being rejected around Europe as we speak – but rather is the fault of individuals not working hard enough – adds insult to injury. Again, Social Darwinism blames the individual, whilst ignoring the socially constructed vested interests that ensure the same people get into power and then tell those off who aren’t in power, for being lazy, thick, scroungers and just essentially, they feel, beneath them.

These two outbursts show the underlying ideology of the Tory party clearly. They don’t care who they hurt, who they offend, as long as they’re getting paid and screwing over those who aren’t like them, those who don’t have the privilege of institutions carved out for them to maintain their power and status quo. What’s worse is the continual pretense that institutions, context and conditions do not have an influence on people’s ability to take action. Instead of blaming other people, through Social Darwinist rhetoric, the government needs to evaluate its own position in maintaining structures and power relations that make growth, fairness and equality damn hard. There again, they know that and they love it.

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