Aliaksandr Paharely. Towards the Problem of Social Darwinism and Its Contexts in West Belarusian Periodical Press

This article is an attempt to contextualize Social Darwinism in the discourse of interwar West Belarusian press in Poland. The study focuses on the case of Belarusian Christian Democratic periodicals. Social Darwinism is understood here as a worldview (after Mike Hawkins) consisting of five interlocking components stressing that nature could be perceived as both a model and a threat for human society. While not an ideology per se, Social Darwinism lacked the prescriptive element that was provided by its combination with an ideology. On the face of it, the beliefs and principles of the Belarusian Christian Democrats appeared to be incompatible with Social Darwinism. Indeed, neither the very name of Darwin, nor the term ‘Social Darwinism’ were ever mentioned in the press of Belarusian Christian Democracy. Nevertheless, several discourses and factors both on the level of more educated and those less educated villagers fed into Social Darwinist rhetoric and made West Belarusian society more susceptible to the components of Social Darwinist worldview. These were the ‘image of the limited good’, which was important in itself for the Christian Democratic project of modernity focusing on evolutionary social change, the use of biological metaphors in Christian Democratic media and the experience of a massive loss of life, hunger and disease during the period of wars and revolutions in 1914-1921.

Moreover, Christian Democratic periodicals were constantly on the defensive against Social Darwinist claims of Polish parties and politicians that Belarusians would soon disappear as a unique nation with distinct cultural identity. They also identified other threats to Belarusians, which were ultimately the threats to their project. In this respect, Friedrich Engels’s discourse on the so called ‘non-historic’ peoples and the link Herbert Spencer made between competition, size and progress claiming that ‘small’ nations were bound to disappear were also important. Indeed, one finds ‘struggle for survival’ and ‘existence’ surfacing in Christian Democratic newspapers and magazines from time to time. Various components of Social Darwinist worldview reflected deep insecurity over a variety of issues such as the danger of assimilation and loss of cultural identity, famine, social conflicts, and values of the next generation. This was ‘Social Darwinism of the weak’.