Survival of the Fittest: Business and Darwin

"The social Darwinism description of nature, with its emphasis on the survival of the fittest and a claw-and-fang mode of natural selection, precisely reflects the relations that prevailed in the nineteenth-century marketplace. The fit is almost perfect, and it is hard to say whether natural Darwinism produced Social Darwinism or the very reverse." Murray Bookchin. Biology as a social weapon. (1977)

The term "survival of the fittest" did not come from Darwin but rather Herbert Spencer. Spencer, an economist and philosopher, first used the phrase - after reading Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) - in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between Spencer's own economic theories and Darwin's biological ones. Darwin then borrowed Spencer's new phrase as a synonym for "natural selection" in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869.

The acceptance of natural selection by many people brought up the question whether social processes might also be subject to these laws. Spencer suggested interpreting social organization by strict analogy with the physical organism. The social equivalent of the biological struggle was the free play of market forces (laissez-faire economics).

Darwin's theories were interpreted by businesses as saying whoever adapted to changes in the environment was bound to prevail, while those who could not were doomed. John D. Rockefeller saw Darwin's law of nature no different from the law of the marketplace, saying "The growth of a large business was merely survival of the fittest. " In modern times Bill Gates has been characterized as; "He's Darwinian. He doesn't look for win-win situations with others, but for ways to make others lose."

This selection of business articles shows how this popular interpretation of evolutionary thought is still an active metaphor for competition.