World War I discussion: Social Darwinism and ethnocentrism


The exploitation of colonial resources and indigenous labor was one of the key elements in the success of imperialism. Such exploitation was a result of the prevalent ethnocentrism of the time and was justified by the unscientific concept of social Darwinism, which praised the characteristics of white Europeans and inaccurately ascribed negative characteristics to indigenous peoples. A famous poem of the time by Rudyard Kipling, White Man’s Burden, called on imperial powers, and particularly the U.S., which the poem was directed at, to take up the mission of civilizing these “savage” peoples.

Read the poem:

  • 1899
  • Take up the White Man’s burden—Send forth the best ye breed—Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half child.
  • Take up the White Man’s burden—In patience to abide, To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride; By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain, To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.
  • Take up the White Man’s burden—The savage wars of peace—Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;[360]And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought, Watch Sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hope to naught.
  • Take up the White Man’s burden—No tawdry rule of kings, But toil of serf and sweeper—The tale of common things. The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread, Go make them with your living, And mark them with your dead.
  • Take up the White Man’s burden—And reap his old reward; The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard—The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—”Why brought ye us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”
  • Take up the White Man’s burden—Ye dare not stoop to less—Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloak your weariness; By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,[361]The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your Gods and you.
  • Take up the White Man’s burden—Have done with childish days—The lightly proffered laurel The easy, ungrudged praise. Comes now, to search your manhood Through all the thankless years, Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!
  • After reading the poem, address the following in a case study analysis:
  • Define social Darwinism in your own words.
  • Analyze the motivations and consequences that Kipling presents for undertaking the “White Man’s Burden.”
  • What specific examples of ethnocentrism can you identify?
  • Were the “Half-devil and half-child” peoples truly uncivilized?

Writing Requirements (APA format)

  • Length: 2-3 pages (not including title page or references page)
  • 1-inch margins
  • Double spaced
  • 12-point Times New Roman font
  • Title page
  • References page
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