A Debate Over Social Darwinism And Reform In The Gilded Era And Modern Time
The Gilded Era began to develop after the Civil War. The Gilded Era’s reforms were the subject of much debate as to whether or not they were successful. Gilded Age prosperity and growth may have seemed to be the success of the Era, but a closer examination reveals the failures in terms of economic inequality and corruption. Social Darwinism was a hot topic of debate, but those in favor of reform also had their say. This debate has continued to be important today because it still shows the divide between classes.
It was true that the Gilded Era saw a rapid growth of the economy and improvements, but the social reforms it brought were ultimately a failure. In the Gilded Era, telephone and railroad lines spread across the United States creating new opportunities for distribution and goods. The U.S. was dominated by small farmers before these economic advancements were made. Many consumers in the U.S. were preoccupied and obsessed with owning the best products and technologies, but many others had very little. Aristocratic industrialists and financiers lived in lavish homes and indulged their amusements while those who couldn’t adapt were left on the bottom. The reforms were a reflection of an improved economy, as well as the inequality and division in society. While some rejoiced in their wealth, others suffered.
Politics also improved. In the Gilded Age, American Politics was exciting and energetic. Voter turnout rates were high and national election results were determined by intense competition. It was only a matter of time before the success of politics led to a massive corruption which ruined reforms. Ulysses S. Grant’s inefficient government at the federal level was not the only inefficient aspect of politics. The growing wealth of the upper classes was seen as having a great deal of influence on the general public. In the urban level, powerful organizations dominated city politics. They also incorporated corruption in which jobs and contracts would be bartered to gain political loyalty. These powerful organizations were run by politicians who had a disproportionate share of both power and wealth. While the wealthy class grew, the working class was forced to struggle with unfair labor laws and long hours for low pay. This corruption is a result from reforms that were made during the Gilded Era. They ultimately failed as they caused unrest in society, disrupted economics, and exposed politicians.
In addition to the debates over reforms and their success or failure, the Era included a discussion on Social Darwinism. This debate still continues in modern day America. During this period, Herbert Spencer and other wealthy individuals used Social Darwinism as a way to justify their inequalities. As the economic system of Laissez faire was favored by the Laissez Faire, the wealthy and “fittest” were recognized for their contributions to society. A majority opposed Social Darwinism. Jacob Riis is one of the writers who expressed concern about immigrants and people living in the slums. Social Darwinism became a major topic of debate, with reforms being attempted. Social Darwinism continues to be alive in America, so this debate still exists. The debate continues to exist because capitalists use Social Darwinism, which is a form of capitalism, to justify unfairness and dominate weaker firms and organizations. Laissez-Faire, the U.S.’s version of Laissez-Faire, is opposed to Social Darwinism. It introduces ways for the poorest people to succeed such as welfare or minimum wage. The growing gap between rich and low-income Americans, supported by the wealthy and their methods to close the gap by the middle and lower classes is proof that this debate is still present in the U.S.
Viewing the Gilded Era from different angles can reveal the failures of reforms as well as the debates which still influence the modern day. Reforms may have appeared to be a time of progress and growth, but the truth is that they were a failure because of the divisions created in society as well as the inequality of the economy and corruption of politics. The debate that followed the reforms was also a factor in the failure. This debate was whether or not to support Social Darwinism. It is evident that it still exists in the U.S., due to the capitalist economy of the country and the class gap.