The Social Darwinist is someone who believes that the Darwinist theory of evolution — i.e. "survival of the fittest" to grossly oversimplify it — applies to people, and sometimes entire societies or nations. To the Social Darwinist, all life is a struggle for survival in which the strongest naturally prosper at the expense of the weak — and it is right, and natural that they should do so, because that's just the way things are, and/or natural law is Above Good and Evil (they won't, of course, consider that their chances for survival may have started higher than others due to inheriting wealth, or being a certain ethnicity that isn't targeted for genocide for the usual bigoted reasons).
If they do talk about evolution, they are very likely to talk about Evolutionary Levels and Goal-Oriented Evolution rather than Darwin's actual theory.
Fictional Social Darwinists generally come in four major flavors:
The first type believes in Social Darwinism, which misinterprets the idea of evolution and natural selection and holds that people who rise to the top in society are automatically "superior," even going so far as to praise the evils of over-ambitiousness and condemn kind behavior. Despite it being nothing more than a Theme Park Version, this philosophy is still frequently held by fictional characters.
The third type is a racist or speciesist who believes that their race is a Master Race, and by extension, the only one fit to live and thrive in this world, and uses this belief as a justification for subjugating, enslaving or just plain getting rid of those that they consider "inferior" (as the Real LifeNazis did). Scary Dogmatic Aliens are very likely to have this mindset, as is any society modeled upon the Nazis. Occasionally also held by superheroes.
The fourth type is simply selfish and uses Social Darwinism as just a justification for unfettered / sociopathic behavior. This character may not actually believe in the theory or may not care, but finds it a convenient excuse for the way he or she was going to behave anyway. Often overlaps with Straw Hypocrite.
In fact, actual evolutionary scientists posit The Power of Friendship and general co-operation as the best survival strategy for most people most of the time, and human civilization in general.
: either by ganging up and beating the crap out of him and his cronies, or by the leader of the group (often The Messiah) doing it himself while repeatedly driving home that he's fighting for his friends. A particularly profound way to 'disprove' Social Darwinism is to have the Big Bad beaten by a character who has glaring physical or mental handicaps.
Compare Evilutionary Biologist, Evil Evolves, and Kill the Poor. Sometimes overlaps with Objectivism and the "Übermensch" concept. There's a bit of this trope in the Satisfied Street Rat.
Note that Charles Darwin himself would not be amused by all of these guys and the way they interpreted his works; he proposed nothing of the sort. You never see a social Darwinist treating societies in the same way a real Darwinist treats species: Darwinists are interested in maintaining biodiversity and never want to wipe out an endangered (and therefore unfit) species out of spite - after all, nature already does that. Darwinism is a description of the way species work, not a prescription for what species should live and die. See Appeal To Nature for the fallacy of using science to prescribe any behaviour (moral, immoral or not), and also see the trivia page for this trope for more information on that. This did not stop Social Darwinism from becoming a fairly mainstream philosophy from the Victorian era to WWII, when it became associated with the Nazis; this association contributed greatly to its loss of popularity. However, the emergence of culture war politics in the late 20th century appears to have revived it to a certain extent.
Code Breaker: Though not yet outright stated, Ogami's brother implies this is his group's ideal when he wonders why Ogami is protecting an ordinary (?) human.
Emperor Charles zi Britannia in Code Geass has this philosophy — though it applies at its most ruthless to his children, as if any are weak, they deserve to die. The protagonist, a deposed prince of the empire, directly opposes this attitude as it's what cost him his mother and crippled his little sister — while Charles did nothing. Subverted, as this was all a facade by the emperor himself.
Vicious of Cowboy Bebop shows shades of this, particularly in his attitude towards those who lose their ruthless side. Notably, he assassinates his former Mentor Mao Yenrai for attempting to make peace with another Syndicate, (then dismissively describes him as "a beast who lost his fangs") denounces the Elders of the Red Dragon as "corpses that can't fight," and demands to know why Spike Spiegel, his personal and romantic rival, survived his exile if he's no longer as cold-blooded and ruthless as Vicious.
In Darker Than Black, Amber's organization "Evening Primrose" is sort of the Contractor Resistance movement, and while it's not clear to what extent Amber herself has this viewpoint, her obsessive follower Maki definitely does, and in one scene, he actually refers to Contractors as something like a "master race". The interquel villain Harvest is also an insane social darwinist, and has several lines about "the next stage in evolution".
Light Yagami in Death Note develops from a Well-Intentioned Extremist into this trope, and he happens to be the protagonist. He believes that by using the Death Note to pick off criminals and the unpleasant, he can make the world consist of good people only. As he puts it, if Kira (his mass-murdering alter ego) is caught, then he's evil; if he wins and rules the world, he's righteous.
Vegeta from Dragon Ball believes the Saiyan race is the most powerful in the universe and that Earthlings are weak and inferior to them. His transition to Majin Vegeta is largely because this belief, saying (in the English dub) "It's survival of the fittest. The strong will survive, and the weak shall perish!" Even Goku pointing out that during their battle they may have inadvertently revived Majin Buu is dismissed by Vegeta, saying (though he hardly believes it himself) that the two of them have evolved far beyond even Kaioshin's expectations to the point that Majin Buu is not a concern anymore.
In Fullmetal Alchemist, there are Father and his Homunculi, and Kimblee, who is an ideological and philosophical Social Darwinist. He doesn't believe that weak people should be automatically killed (though he does enjoy blowing up people regardless of how helpless they are), but he believes violence is the only way to solve philosophical disputes; whoever is alive at the end of the day was right. There are also non-villain examples. Olivier Mira Armstrong, for instance, is General Badass and leads the Briggs fortress border troops, who are the most Bad Ass soldiers in all Amestris. Her credo is "survival of the fittest", which she applied to everyone, including herself.
"Don't you get it? My men aren't going to come and rescue me. Because if I die here, I'm not worthy to lead them anyway."
The Jester a.k.a. Kaizan Doushi in the anime series Grenadier.
Lord Fezearl Ezelcant from Gundam AGE believes that the only way to create a perfect world is to wipe out the weak. It doesn't matter to Ezelcant if you're caught in the middle of an attack on a Federation colony, suffering from the overwhelming poverty within Vagan or dying from diseases due to Mars Ray exposure. If you do not have the will to survive and the willpower to do ANYTHING to have the means to do so, you don't belong in his utopia and you deserve to die. What makes this hilarious is that he states that he thinks peaceful and kindhearted people will come out of this, rather than hardened survivors. Thus proving that Social Darwinists don't always understand the very science they're putting their faith in.
The Leader of the PLANTS from Gundam SEED, Chairman Patrick Zala, actively believes that Coordinators, genetically modified humans, are a different species from Natural-born humans. This leads him to actively pursue the death of every single Natural on the planet Earth. (His aggression towards Naturals likely stemmed from his wife being killed in an event before the series by the Earth Alliance, who was not pleased that Coordinators had been able to grow their own food.)
Rudolf von Goldenbaum from Legend of Galactic Heroes firmly believes in this trope. One of the most infamous laws he passed after he established the Galactic Empire was the so-called "Inferior Genes Exclusion Law", which essentially involved the killing of people deemed to possess "inferior genes".
Mazinger Z: The Dragon Baron Ashura is a type four who uses the "survival of the fitest" like an excuse/justification to make whatever he wants. In a story arc of the Gosaku Ota manga alternate continuity Baron Ashura manages kidnapping Kouji and tries to talking Kouji in joining him (or her. It. Whatever). When Kouji retorts he has no interest in becoming a criminal, Ashura goes in a What Is Evil?Might Makes Right angry rant, uttering that in the nature the weak succumbs to the will of the strong and the strong survives. That is how the world always did, does and will work, and "good", "bad", "peace", "justice"... are meaningless, empty words human beings came up with because they are too coward to accept reality and too weak to protect themselves.
Gihren Zabi of Mobile Suit Gundam. He believes that the strong should rule and the weak should simply get out of the way. This idea governs most of his actions throughout the show, and lead to his ultimately assassinating his father and seizing control of Zeon for himself.
Tomonori Komori from Narutaru is a sociopathic teenager who finds the modern world overly complicated, and so he intends to use his Mon to kill the educated and the sickly, effectively turning things back to the Stone Age, to create what he claims would be a healthy, pure society. Ironically, it's revealed some time after his death that he had a sickly mother he was taking care of, and that he wasn't the healthiest of boys himself. He must've been bitter.
One Piece has Captain Morgan, who seems to think that the fact he struggled to earn his rank (never mind that part of his promotion came as a patsy in someone else's scheme) gives him the right to kill anyone who questions his orders or opposes his methods; and Arlong the fishman, who thinks the physically superior fishmen should rule over the weak and puny humans.
To be fair to Morgan, he never figured out that he was a patsy and presumably having his arm and jaw cut off made him quite a grumpy person. And while it doesn't justify his actions, Arlong was a victim a racism since he was a child. These guys don't hold a light to the Celestial Dragons, who basically run around, getting away with whatever they please because they can. Whatever they please includes murder, slavery, and setting the poor district of towns on fire before they arrive anywhere. This trope is best shown with how rich families reacted to the destruction of the poor district: "It's their own fault, they shouldn't have been born poor."
The philosophy of Rurouni Kenshin'sBig Bad Makoto Shishio is that "the flesh of the weak is the food of the strong" — and he drives his point home by taking a bite out of the hero. He is inevitably defeated, but afterwards, Kenshin observes that his victory has not truly proven anything — and that, if the one in the right is merely the strongest warrior, then Shishio was correct all along...
In Saint Beast, Zeus believes that angels who are not "beautiful and strong" are not fit to serve him.
Pokémon: The First Movie is a somewhat strange example of the trope, due to the shifting of roles between the Japanese and English versions of the film. Both Mew and Mewtwo have shades of this in the Japanese version, though it is Mew, the hero, that is more of a Darwinist; in fact, it's Mew that offers the suggestion that the two sides fight without their abilities. In the English version, Mew shows none of these traits, leaving Mewtwo as the sole Darwinist.
Several superpowered characters living in Academy City in A Certain Magical Index believe the powerful rule and the weak are just fodder and playthings for them. Shizuri Mugino used to be like this, but after her Heel Face Turn, she's done a full 180 turn in attitude. Having grown to love and respect Shiage Hamazura, the Badass Normal who managed to defeat her, she learns about how Academy City allocates funds to people with promising powers while denying them to people with weak powers or none (like Shiage), assuming they are worthless. Mugino gets angry and declares that Shiage may not have any powers but he is definitely not worthless.
Mr. Sinister originated as a 19th-century eugenicist.
Professor Xavier in X-Men Noir is an actual psychiatrist, and as such his spin on this is unique: he believes sociopaths are the next stage in human behavioral evolution. Chief of Detectives Eric Magnus, meanwhile, believes the criminal element is hereditary and genetic — and has to be contained or eliminated for the good of society. Emma Frost, an old student of Xavier's, combines the two ideas as warden at Genosha Bay, but also feels sociopathy is communicable.
Venus Bluegenes in Rogue Trooper fits this trope in her initial appearance. She believes that GIs are inherently superior to humans, and killed the rest of her crew as she thought them inferior.
Niles Caulder turns out to be this at the end of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol run. In fact, it's revealed at the end that he's planning a giant worldwide cataclysm that will enable the human race to emerge stronger as a result.
The Norwegian cult comic The Great Four: When the Dead Awaken features a social darwinist Big Bad who is planning to start a new world war using steampunk gasoline technology. When the heroes arrive to stop him, he offers them an ultimatum: If he defeats them, they will join him in his conquest. If they defeat him, he has a self-destruct ready to destroy his Supervillain Lair and will let them pull the switch, because if he was weak enough to be defeated his works weren't worth anything anyway. He actually seems content with losing until the heroes decide to leave the lair intact so his gasoline-driven undead minions can continue to 'live'.
In a contrasting portrayal when compared to the usual, in the Avatar fanfic, Children of Gaia, Earth is portrayed as one, plus Well-Intentioned Extremist, always working the evolution to benefit the strongest and don't even mind people mining her (a rather interesting subversion of Gaia's Lament). So, she gets really offended when she learns about how Eywa rules the Na'vi and actually agrees with humans on their policy over them.
The Immortal Game has both Titan and his Dragon, General Esteem, who both believe that power is the only thing that matters, and that only those with power have the right to rule.
Ace Combat The Equestrian War has Red Cyclone as Type II; he wants to create a world where only the strong live while the weak are mercilessly slaughtered.
Pony POV Series has Strife, Anthropomorphic Personification of Natural Selection, a more realistic version of the Social Darwinist. She is a Blood Knight who has no intention of letting her prey escape, and she knows that she is far more powerful than any mortal, but she at least fights battles personally instead of wiping her foes out instantly, because she believes every being has the right to prove itself and fight for its survival.
In The Great Slave King, the strong ruling the weak ends up becoming the Slave King's modus operandi.
Rourke: Get off your soap box, Thatch. You've read Darwin. It's called Natural Selection. We're just helping it along.
In Ice Age Sid, a (mostly) incompetent sloth outwits an (albeit also fairly incompetent) saber tooth cat. While repeatedly jumping on his victim Sid shouts: "Survival! Of The! Fittest!" and finishes with: "I don't think so..."
Kron from the Disney movie Dinosaur is implied to be something like this. He even lampshades this when the herd is fleeing from the carnotaurs.
Aladar: (Concerning the elders in the back) But the others in the back! They'll never make it!
Kron: Then they'll slow down the predators!
Aladar: (Outraged) You can't sacrifice them like this!
The villain of the 1945 film The Spiral Staircase cites this as his reason for killing women with any sort of physical defect, such as the mute heroine:
"There is no room in this whole world for imperfection. What a pity my father didn't live to see me become strong, to see me dispose of the weak and imperfect of the world, whom he detested. He would have admired me for what I am going to do."
In Wall Street, Gordon Gekko's philosophy is Social Darwinism of the economic kind. Several of his quotes are "It's a Zero Sum game*
—somebody wins, somebody loses" or "In my book you either do it right or you get eliminated". His entire "Greed is good" speech is of Social Darwinist nature. In the first movie, he lost the game, but in the second movie, he won the game and now is a top dog within the British economy.
He only applies this trope to companies, weak people don't die, they just don't succeed in business, which is a fairly basic tenet of capitalism. Gekko, however, is more than willing to cheat to win if he can't succeed on pure talent.
In First Knight, the villain Malagant is a firm believer in this, and cannot understand his rival King Arthur's philosophy that it is the duty of the strong to help and protect the weak. He hypocritically calls Arthur a tyrant for trying to stop him from terrorizing the weak peasants.
Ash: You still don't know what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. It's structural perfection is matched only by its hostility. Lambert: You admire it. Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Landfall, humans arrive on Darkover as the survivors of a crashed starship — fortunately a colony ship, unfortunately meant for another world altogether with existing infrastructure. Fewer than 70 women survived who might be capable of childbearing. The medical practitioners deliberately decided not to make any special effort to save any woman who looked like dying in childbirth, on the grounds that their gene pool wasn't large enough to include the weak. Definitely an example of the Type 2 fictional Social Darwinist — and this was presented as an I Did What I Had to Do situation. An especially bad example because 70 females is nowhere near enough genetic diversity to sustain a population.
In the David Brin book The Postman the Holnists believed in right of the strong to rule over, enslave, and rape the weak (The Movie turns them into simple racists misguidedly following a self-help book, one of many reasons that Brin has disowned the film).
In Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, Philip Lombard fits this category quite nicely. He freely admits to having left twenty-one African men to starve to death, and is well-known for participating in quasi-legal activities. His justification is, "self-preservation is a man's first duty." However, this ultimately becomes his own undoing during the showdown between himself and Vera Claythorne at the end.
The Dark One from the Wheel of Time. This clearly backfires because his chief servants, the Forsaken, fight with each other as much as with Rand al'Thor- except that he actually seems to like that, too. He is the personification of not only evil, but also chaos and paradox, after all.
In Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, the entire population of the world of Geta are Type 2 fictional Social Darwinists; the native life of the planet is mostly not edible, and famines are historically common. Cannibalism is part of their way of life, in which people with less kalothi (worthiness to survive) go to feed those of higher kalothi in times of need. The end of the book reveals that in the far future they have become a different species.
The Fremen and Sardaukar of Dune: by living on a Death World where merely surviving is a struggle, they have become the toughest and most effective soldiers in the known universe. Dune Messiah adds a dose of realism when Stilgar informs Muad'Dib of the various difficulties that the Fremen, himself included, have had on other planets, especially water-rich planets. Since the Fremen have adapted to an extremely arid and dessicated environment, it makes sense that they would suffer illness and weakness in water-rich environments.
The Ship Who Searched has a minor character (Haakon-Fritz) who fits this. He actually belongs to an organization called the Neo-Darwinists. When the archaeological team he's on is attacked by a pack of what are alien wolves, his response is to bolt for the nearest building and lock the door, leaving the rest of the team out.
In the same series, the villains of Anne McCaffrey and S. M. Stirling's The City That Fought are a race of social darwinists who, like the Fremen, have grown up in an extremely harsh environment.
In Wyrd Sisters, Lady Felmett repeatedly describes those not as ruthless and tyrannical as her as "weak".
In Interesting Times, the Agatean Empire's entire ruling class is more or less like this.
Carpe Jugulum has Count Magpyr and his family, who through most of the book speak condescendingly of every other species on the Discworld, view humans only as prey for vampires, and look down on other vampires who haven't overcome traditional vampire weaknesses like they have. Appropriately, it's revealed that the "weaknesses" of traditional vampires are actually survival mechanisms that keep the vampires safe from their main predator: hordes of angry peasants.
The Fifth Elephant introduces Sergeant Angua's werewolf-supremacist brother Wolfgang, who leads a Nazi-esque gang of like-minded young werewolves.
Hrsh-Hgn: Intelligence is humanity's prime survival trait, therefore it is as well that those who don't show it be weeded out.
Captain Wolf Larson of The Sea Wolf.
Mortal Engines has Municipal Darwinism, a system by which the inhabitants of mobile cities justify eating smaller mobile cities, stripping them down for spares, and selling their inhabitants into slavery. Large cities eat small cities, cities eat towns, towns eat suburbs (all of the above are gigantic and mechanized). Everyone picks on "static" settlements, which form the Anti-Traction League and fight back with hordes of airships and suicide bombers. This is not a sustainable "ecology" since there isn't much in the way of outside resources coming into the system. The real ecosystem takes energy from the sun via plants, the cities don't do much of that.
The Mesan Alignment in the Honor Harrington stories believe that their superior genetics mean that they should be running the galaxy.
In Destiny's Star by Elizabeth Vaughan, the protagonists are sent to the land of The Plains, where the inhabitants are a Proud Warrior Race. They do not have doctors or healers, as anyone who gets sick or injured are immediately killed unless magical healing is available. The heroine gets a broken leg, but survives by persuading them to wait until she completes a sacred duty first. Her leg is eventually magically healed.
Though one can't expect bunnies to have heard of Charles Darwin, officers of Efrafa's Owsla in Watership Down are given full mating privileges, suggesting that Woundwort wants only his strongest bucks to father the kittens in his warren. Subverted by Nature itself, as many of the badly-overcrowded does fail to sustain the pregnancies that result.
Ebenezer Scrooge: "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and thereby decrease the surplus population." And you'd better believe this comes back to bite him later on.
The Artilleryman in H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds: "I mean that men like me are going on living — for the sake of the breed. I tell you, I'm grim set on living. And if I'm not mistaken, you'll show what insides you've got, too, before long. ... All these — the sort of people that lived in these houses, and all those damn little clerks that used to live down that way — they'd be no good."
Visser One of Animorphs subscribes to this philosophy, believing that morality is merely a 'shield for the weak' and that it is all about 'the hunger for power'. She kills several people just out of assuming they're as ruthless as she is.
Tigerstar and other villains in Warrior Cats say that weak cats should either look after themselves or die.
Shoteka from Seeker Bears, Toklo's rival, tells him that weak bears should be killed or else the healthier bears would die as well.
Almost all Nietzscheans in Andromeda — even the non-villainous ones, who are generally "good guys" only in that they exist in a state of permanent Enemy Mine.
The Shadows, known as the Lords of Chaos, espouse a Social Darwinist attitude and manipulate the younger races into interstellar wars to promote chaos and disorder where the strongest rise to the top (it's their way of "helping"). Their Armour Piercing Question, "What do you want?" embodies this by defining the answerer entirely by their own drives and ambitions.
The faction of PsiCorps led by Bester also believes this. One has to wonder how they would react if they learned that the development of telepathy was not the result of evolution, but genetic tampering by the Vorlons...
The title character in the episode "Deathwalker" was yet another case of this.
Another episode had Ivanova trying to negotiate with the Lumati, an alien Planet of Hats species who strongly believe in Social Darwinism; when they discover Downbelow, the "slum" of the station, they approve the "segregation" of "unwanted" elements and agree to grant the desired treaty as well as implement the same system on the Lumati homeworld. When Ivanova tries to correct their misinterpretation, they gently chastise her for her unnecessary modesty.
The Doctor Who serial Survival deconstructs this trope / worldview in several ways, most notably by turning the Master into an essentially Social Darwinist villain — all the other characters are exploited for his own survival. He manipulates The Dragon, Midge, by playing on Social Darwinist beliefs — a specific comment on Thatcherism in Eighties Britain. There's also a bullet-headed Territorial Army type who's a determined believer in this type of philosophy, only to completely fall apart when he finds himself actually thrown into an environment where he has to actually practice it. It doesn't end well for him. Ultimately, the 'weaker' characters who work together and are able to overcome their purely individualistic / survivalist instincts do okay, the 'stronger' ones who can't and fall into this trope die.
Denise: And now the time has come to choose [the children which are to be given over to the 456] and if we can't identify the lowest-achieving 10 per cent of this country's children, then what are the league tables for?
Sylar of Heroes. Even he himself defines his actions in terms of evolution. Interestingly enough, he'll generally leave normal people alone as long as they don't stand in his way.
Khan is the epitome of a Social Darwinist. He is himself is the product of genetic engineering designed to create stronger, faster, more perfect humans, and feels it's his right to dominate the whole galaxy due to his genetically engineered awesomeness. He fails due to his genetically engineered ego.
The Q being from Star Trek: The Next Generation accuses humanity of being a "grievously savage" 'child' race, and says they must be removed to make room for more "worthy" species.
In the backstory of the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Conscience of the King", a dictator of a space colony, when faced with starvation, ordered half the population executed so the rest of the population wouldn't starve to death before the relief ships arrive. This could have been a Shoot the Dog scenario in an I Did What I Had to Do situation, but he chose people based on some sort of genetic superiority basis determined by him instead of more random means. What's particularly sad was that the relief ships arrived months ahead of schedule.
Though justified in-universe, the Prime Directive seems to apply this to non-warp-capable civilizations in dictating (in effect) that they should be allowed to go extinct rather than having their "natural evolution" interrupted.
Ryubee Sonozaki from Kamen Rider Double, as seen with the Gaia Impact in the end of the series. His plan is to unleash a wave of energy that will kill everyone on Earth that isn't compatible with the Gaia Memories, leaving only the "chosen" to rule whatever remains, with himself as leader thanks to his daughter Wakana being the "Earth's Priestess", that is, the one who initiated the impact in the first place. Then Jun Kazu steps in after Ryubee's death and tries to launch the Gaia Impact himself.
Lionel Luthor expressed sentiments of this sort in Smallville, but it's his Alternate Universe counterpart, Earth-2 Lionel who truly embodies this. Having risen to become the most powerful man in the world, Earth-2 Lionel maintains that "it's got to be survival of the fittest," a principle he ruthlessly applies to himself and his children, encouraging them to plot against one another and himself to see who deserves to be the true heir to the Luthor name. In a Bad Future in the regular timeline, President EvilLex Luthor is one as well, plotting to nuke the world so that he can rule over the strongest of humanity's survivors.
The Bad FutureOverlord version of Wyatt Halliwell in Charmed often invokes this trope. His morality was twisted by having to constantly fend off Elder Gideon's attempts to kill him whilst holding him in captivity, presumably until he finally killed Gideon himself. He rules both the mortal plane and the Underworld with an iron fist. His brother Chris has never been able to sway him to good or escape his target list, because of his philosophy that power rests Above Good and Evil.
Universe At War the Hierarchy have decimated millions of worlds before coming to Earth, they believe that they are killing off the weak and they are superior to all.
When you take the lyrics and music video of Pearl Jam's "Do the Evolution" together, it seems to be a satire of this attitude.
The drow in Dungeons & Dragons are a Planet of Hats of Always Chaotic Evil Social Darwinists, due to a spectacularly poor choice in patron deity (a demonic spider-goddess) and living in underworld caves whose native fauna make them nearly a Death World. This does ensure that drow who survive are more dangerous, particularly to each other. Realistic natural selection might well have either wiped them out altogether or forced them to cooperate in a more rational manner. Lolth, their patron deity, tells them to knock it off whenever they fall below a certain point in population. And yes, this makes the drow a race that officially survives on Deus Ex Machina.
Also in Dungeons & Dragons, the now-dead god Iyachtu Xvim used to be a Social Darwinist, and didn't like helping the weak like some of the more goody-two-shoes gods, believing that they were directly responsible for their situations and didn't deserve help.
The Clans of BattleTech have been bred for war for centuries using intensely competitive rituals to determine whose genes get passed on and whose don't, and believe this makes them worthy of ruling the Inner Sphere. Naturally, they get whipped by the "inferiors", who recognize that you can still be of use in combat over the age of 30. The story of the Clan invasion could be a deconstruction of the whole thing. While their rituals and codes of honor helped perfect the Clans' fighting technique, they forgot many of the pragmatic realities of war. Meanwhile, the Inner Sphere realms were all too familiar with them, thanks to their constantly bickering, possessive, petty leaders.
Yawgmoth, from Magic: The Gathering. An unusual example is his nemesis Urza, a protagonist eugenicist; calling him "heroic" would admittedly be a stretch. Urza is such a darwinist that he actually sides with Phyrexia after spending millenia trying to defeat it when he actually visits the place, since Phyrexia is everything he ever wanted as an artificer and as a Social Darwinist. Vorinclex from New Phyrexia is a social darwinist as well, to the point of objecting to society at all. The only thing that matters is that ability to kill those weaker. Green and Black, despite being enemy colours, love social darwinism.
The green-blue Simic Combine from Ravnica had shades of this. They engineered plagues to kill off the weak and sold cures to the highest bidder.
The RPGSufficiently Advanced features a Social Darwinist faction that isn't averse to giving natural selection a helping hand.
Lunars have been known to apply this to the societies, both human and beastman, that they set up. Generally, if a nation they've been shepherding is going well, they'll stop giving it covert (or, in some cases, overt) assistance and watch to see what happens. Oh, and for the setting in question, they're good guys, who made colossal sacrifices to stop The Fair Folk from wiping out reality 800 years ago.
Cecelyne, one of the Yozis, was responsible for the principle of law in Creation, but it's suggested her ideas, even as a Primordial, were a bit... off. Now that she's been made into a Yozi, her idea of "law" has twisted to "whatever benefits the strong so that they rule over or drive out the weak." Oh, and her chosen are the Dark Messiah caste. Be quite afraid.
The eponymous creatures from Werewolf The Apocalypse have definite shades of this, in that their leadership is decided by challenges. These can be non-violent challenges but rarely are. The cake is taken by the Get of Fenris tribe, who think being tougher than everyone else is the only worthwhile goal in life.
Andrew Ryan from BioShock has been (inaccurately) accused of being this, what with his version of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. He even builds an underwater utopia so that the weak do not keep the strong down. Someone still has to scrub the toilets in Rapture; even if Ryan brought down only the best and the brightest people that fit in with his ideology, people who were once captains of industry back on land were no better than average there, and were disgruntled when they had to work menial jobs that someone's gotta do. On the other hand, Andrew Ryan had a pretty broad view of "strong." For example, he met one of his best friends, Bill McDonough, when the man was installing the plumbing in Ryan's apartment. Ryan had only paid for tin pipes, but McDonough was using copper ones (paying the difference out of his own pocket), because "no one bails water out of privies made by Bill McDonough." The next day, Ryan hired him as his general contractor, and made sure to bring him down to Rapture when the city was built.
The City of Heroes' main bad guy, Lord Recluse, has founded his entire evil organization on Social Darwinism... to the point where he actively encourages every faction to fight against every other faction and backstab each other freely. It's a wonder his plans for world conquest go anywhere when all the bad guys are busy killing each other off instead of fighting the heroes.*
This may have been inspired by the Nazis, who recommended Klingon Promotions and frequently assigned the same task to two or more officials to see who got it done first, promoting infighting. This did not help in making The Trains Run On Time.
This does explain why the majority of your enemies in City of Villains are not, in fact, heroes. While Recluse adheres to Survival of the Fittest, he doesn't let it consume his organization. Anarchy and insubordination are stamped out pretty quickly if they interfere with his plans — one of the few things Villains in his city can't do without restraint is attack civilians. Who else is going to pay Recluse his taxes?
Kane from Command & Conquer infuses humans with Tiberium to make them evolve. This is actually more evolutionarily-literate than most examples, as he's trying to make it so they can adapt to Tiberium to allow them to survive on Tiberium-covered worlds instead of just making them tougher or smarter. The tougher part happens but it's more a side effect.
Mortimer McMire, The Hero's rival in Commander Keen games, believes that he is the most intelligent being in the universe and that gives him the right to wipe out all the lesser beings. His IQ is315; Keen has an IQ of 314. Mr. McMire believes Keen can die with the rest, simply because his IQ is one point too short.
The Omar from Deus Ex Invisible War. They're a Hive Mind of transhuman cyborgs that consider themselves the future of the human race and plan to replace humanity the old-fashioned way: Wait and let their evolutionary superiority speak for itself. In three of the endings, the Omar see themselves either replaced by the Helios system or exterminated by the Templars or Illuminati — they're vindicated in the fourth ending if all three conspiracies are defeated, as humanity drives itself to extinction and leaves them to inherit the Earth.
At the end of Deus Ex Human Revolution, Sarif talks about "survival of the fittest" and how "some people will be left behind." However, he's a Honest Corporate Executive and the closest thing to a Big Good the game has, and he's referring to the few people who are completely incompatible with augmentations, which he honestly wants to make available for everyone.
The Altmer/High elves of The Elder Scrolls believe that they descend from the gods, and that the diversity of all other Elven races are the result of "degeneration". They actively try to breed themselves back into their ideal, including killing undesired progeny.
Molag Bal is the Daedric Prince of Corruption and Domination. He's pretty keen on the idea of the strong dominating the weak. In Skyrim he goads you into killing the Vigilant of Stendarr who accompanied you into his House of Horrors because "Weak. He's weak. You're strong. Kill!"
Ashnard from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance combines this with being a Blood Knight. Ashera tops him in believing all sentient life is too flawed and must be destroyed to start again. This is the same person that split herself into the goddesses of Order and Chaos because Chaos was her weaker half.
Ashnard: You? Cut me down? Heee... Good. If you possess the strength to do so, then so be it.
Wesker is nudged to one of these in Resident Evil 5. He'll give long speeches about his beliefs during boss fights, but — hilariously — your character will start getting annoyed with how he drones on.
Both Serpent and Master Albert from Mega Man ZX display traits of this, especially Serpent. Other examples include Aeolus, who believes only the intelligent deserve to live, and Atlas, who believes mankind can only grow and evolve through suffering.
Chiaki, a rich-brat-turned-demon-queen of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne leads a faction of Darwinists under the reason of Yosuga. The main character even has the option of joining them and creating a true Social Darwinist world (as soon as you help her kill all the human-like slave race for being too weak). Unique among all the faction leaders, she is the only one to fight you even if you choose her Reason, as there can be only one ruler in the new world.
The world Chiaki is trying to create is logically impossible. Even if she succeeds and the world of Yosuga is created, there would still be some individuals who aren't as strong as others. By Chiaki's logic, these individuals would be unnecessary. Thus, her vision of a world without unnecessary things cannot be made into a reality.
This is also the Chaos philosophy in Shin Megami Tensei I, where in supporting Lucifer, you fight to eliminate God and create a world where the strong can freely prey upon the weak, and where demonkind are no longer bound by the restraints of God's creation. In Devil Survivor, this is not a belief system you can actively subscribe to. Setting demonkind loose on the world is the result of failure, not success.
Asura in Strange Journey believes that civilization itself is a failed concept that takes man away from his "natural" state, and that only in barbarism can humans live properly. His method for creating the "proper" world is the Delphinus Parasite, which erases civilized impulses and reduces victims to snarling violence.
Luca Blight from Suikoden II is a particularly extreme and sadistic example.
Knights of the Old Republic demonstrates how Sith work like this when you enter the academy on Korriban. One does wonder how their system of backstabbery and "every man for himself" philosophy manages to outnumber and overwhelm the Jedi, who co-operate towards a common cause and don't kill half of their own people. It is mentioned that the Sith will always fail sooner or later because of this, but it's never actually shown in the game. The sequel revisits the academy and shows what happens when you have a bunch of Drunk on the Dark Side villains without any strong leadership to guide them: a very empty academy.
If you go out of your way to help people you meet in sidequests, she criticizes you, saying that you're robbing them of the chance to overcome obstacles by themselves. Although she also criticizes you for being too harsh...
BioWare seems like this trope. This is also the nominal philosophy of the Closed Fist in Jade Empire.
Khamal Rex from Universe At War feels that if any species couldn't keep themselves from getting wiped out by the Hierarchy, then they didn't deserve to live in the first place.
The Lugovalian Empire from Infinite Space more or less works in this way, as seen with the throne succession. Apparently, this mindset even works on its citizens, given how strong they are.
Charadon, leader of the Doviello, leads a pack of wolves to ravage his own family's village in order to find the strongest and fiercest members of his tribe (the survivors who fight off the wolves). He and the Doviello as a whole are Social Darwinists, though Mahala downplays this.
Depending on the route and your affiliation in Armored Core, Jack-O may be the Protagonist or Antagonist. Regardless of which one, you will learn that Ravens who fail to live up to his expectations die a lot sooner than Alliance Ravens.
Legate Lanius, The Dragon of Caesar, is this to a much more brutal extent. If he rules the Legion and wins the Battle of Hoover Dam, he makes Vegas into a twisted Warrior Heaven where he puts the world to the sword. In his mind, violence will set the world free, breaking the weak and letting the strong truly thrive. He even uses you as proof, stating that being shot and left for dead forced you to become strong.
Bass from Mega Man believes he alone is the most powerful robot in the world.
This is the prevailing philosophy of the city of Magnagora in Lusternia. As the bastion of The Taint (essentially a combo platter of nuclear power and creepily visceral body horror), they believe themselves to be genetically superior to all other civilizations. Their most prosperous race (the Viscanti) inbreeds extensively to maintain its "purity", and they have no moral qualms about attacking, enslaving and eating so-called lesser beings. They also encourage backstabbing, assassination and double-dealing in their aristocracy, reasoning that the survivors of any civil war will be stronger and cleverer than those that failed to defend against them.
The Tevinter Imperium runs on this principle according to Fenris from Dragon Age II. Only mages can become nobility there, and only the strongest mages become the movers and shakers in the Imperium. In practice this means that every magister is a Blood Mage since blood magic is too powerful an advantage to pass up. Any mage that didn't use blood magic would quickly be enslaved by another mage with fewer qualms.
Apparently, BioWare is fond of this trope. According to Javik from Mass Effect 3, the Prothean civilization worked on this principle, calling it "The Cosmic Imperative", and it combines the natural and social forms. That is, they believed weaker species' societies would only get in the way of the strong and should be crushed. They were willing to uplift lesser races, but only as long as they had something to offer as slaves to the Prothean Empire; the "worthless" races were destroyed. For the Prothean client races, it's suggested that much of their cultural identity was wiped out as far as the official record since said person notes that Prothean wasn't just the name of his species or empire but applied to any citizen, Prothean or non, within that empire. Thus if your species joined the Empire, you would stop being say... an earthling and instead be a Prothean.
It's even claimed that if another civilization was powerful enough to have defeated the Prothean Empire, they would have willingly subjugated themselves, because obviously that civilization would have been superior. How true this is is very much open for debate, as it never happened until the Reapers came and wiped them out.
The Reapers are also this to an extent in that they like strong races because strong races make strong Reapers. Lesser races are still useful... until they're not.
Warlord Okeer from Mass Effect 2 also has elements of this. He's a krogan scientist, a member of a species that's been subjected to a genetic weapon that makes only one in every thousand births viable. He thinks this is still too many, as every krogan baby is then "coddled" and viewed as precious when they should be testing their mettle as warriors.
This is the Riddler's MO in Batman Arkham Asylum. Who cares if people die in his traps? If they're not smart enough to figure them out, they don't deserve to live. Really, he's doing a public service.
Halo: The Precursors are sort of like this, they created the Flood, to test out humanity(who were a long time ago and advance interstellar empire), and the Forerunners. The ones who could defeat the Flood are the ones who are worthy to inherit The Mantle of the Precursors.
Prototype 2: Alex Mercer has decided that humanity is corrupt beyond saving and thinning out the weak while turning the rest into Hive Mind "Evolved" is the way to go. Interestingly, they're completely not a hypocrite about this: when Heller has him thoroughly defeated and seconds away from being consumed, Mercer's only comment is a calm "Huh. Welcome to the top of the food chain."
The Mantid in World of Warcraft are born from massive clutches laid by the Empress. The resulting Swarm then attacks the lands to the east, and are inevitably driven back by the Pandarens. Those who return alive are fully accepted into the Mantid Empire as adults. To the Mantid, the Pandarens' main reason for existing is to kill the weak swarm-born.
Garrosh Hellscream has displayed tendencies toward this, praising strength and one's ability to contribute to the Horde. When he attempted to empower his soldiers with Sha, he continually told them that only the strongest would be able to conquer the darker emotions and gain control of its strength.
The Zerg are revealed to be this in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, however they're a bit more complex version. Rather than the weak should be crushed, it's "we should be strong so we won't be crushed".
Gilgamesh in Fate/stay night's "Unlimited Blade Works" scenario. The modern world is way more populated than the one he used to rule and thus the worth of the individual human has fallen drastically. Thus he plans to spill the contents of the incomplete Grail onto the world; by his logic, those who survive the ensuing apocalypse will be strong and "worthy" enough of his rulership. This may be justified in the terms of the Nasuverse's backstory: the human race has gone waaaaay downhill since the days of Uruk. It's an established fact in Fate Zero that ancient Babylonians were something of a precursor race with nuclear missiles and spaceships and all kinds of crazy stuff. Gil's reasoning is that mankind's decline is due to the population explosion decreasing the "worth" of a single human life, and given all the crazy supernatural laws that the Nasuverse runs on, he might actually be right about this.
In the visual novel Monster Girl Quest, there's a monster by the name of Cassandra who operates like this. She repeatedly kills people, then justifies doing so by saying only the strong deserve to survive anyway. Then, Luka's companion Alice turns one of Cassandra's own attacks back on her...and Cassandra then starts begging for help as she is about to be devoured alive by her own attack. Alice refuses; after all, by Cassandra's own logic, if Cassandra is killed now, then it's because she was too weak.
The Ninja Professor from Irritability not only teaches a course on Survival of the Fittest but strives to make it as dangerous and difficult as possible to weed out the weak students.
"If you swim with sharks, you may not get bitten, but don't act like it was an unforeseen tragedy when you do."
Troll society in Homestuck is a Proud Warrior Race which encourages all younger members of the species to play deadly games and take justice into their own hands. The theory behind all this is that any troll who gets culled by this wouldn't be fit to be a soldier anyways, and those who do survive will be all the tougher for it.
The RP Survival of the Fittest derives its name from this. In the games, only one student is allowed to survive, making the use of the term literal. Characters such as Danya, Steve Wilson, and V3 participant Adam Reeves exhibit Social Darwinist tendencies. Considering that the first two organised and put into execution the program, that's a given.
The three chairmen in Strange Little Band fit this trope. This influences the way they run Triptych.
Metapedia, a pro-Aryan Wiki which denies the Holocaust ever happened and consistently uses derogatory terms to refer to black people (going so far as to depicting an orangutan's brain as that of a black man). Cracked provides us a summary.
In Adventure Time, Goliad picks up this philosophy after spending one day at a daycare and seeing force work where diplomacy fails to keep the children from running amok. Princess Bubblegum realizes how dangerous this train of thought is and tries to impress upon Goliad how a leader should care for its subjects by comparing leadership to the relationship between a bee and a flower. Goliad rejects this lesson and offers her own interpretation of the bee-flower relationship:
"You're wrong, Princess. Bee cares not for flower. If getting pollen hurts or kills flower, Bee would not care. ::crushes bee:: Bee is stronger than flower. ::reanimates bee:: Goliad is stronger than Bee. Goliad is stronger than all...
Fire Lord Ozai in Avatar The Last Airbender shows signs of this. He even says to Aang in the finale that the Air Nomads deserved to die because they were weak. Likewise, apparently the reason he hated his son so much was because he was weaker than his sister. In a deliciously ironic twist, Ozai is rendered utterly powerless in the finale, with Aang stripping him of his ability to Firebend. To Ozai, this must be a Fate Worse Than Death.
Daffy: Survival of the fittest, like they say...and besides, it's fun.
The Decepticons from Transformers all appear to be Social Darwinists. Megatron in particular is a stout Social Darwinist both in his views on "flesh creatures" and with other transformers — "Lesser creatures are the playthings of my will."
"Fifty thousand years of life, and nothing ever troubled me as much as the founding of the Justice League. Dedicating to maintaining society's calcified status quo, the League would protect mankind from disaster, crime, tragedy of any kind. Had you never heard of the survival of the fittest? In essence, you heroes sought to protect humanity from its own glorious evolution."
Superjail!: The Warden, in a flash back as a little boy, is forced by his Jerk Ass father to decapitate a puppy because it is "weak".
Star Wars: The Clone Wars has the villain Pre Vizsla, who has incredible murderous disdain for any being he perceives as weak. When Darth Maul kills him, he accepts his death, as Maul proved himself the stronger warrior.
Nazi Germany famously used social Darwinism to justify various atrocities and as part of their propaganda. A quote attributed to Hitler was: "Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong." Which, of course, rather came back to bite his entire philosophy when he lost. He did however carry it to its logical conclusion. Because Germany's enemies won he thought that they were obviously superior racially, so he tried to destroy Germany itself in the last months of the war. Thankfully, saner heads prevailed and his orders weren't carried out.
Sparta. Eugenics was already practiced (before the advent of biological science) by leaving defective and sick babies to die. Think of your childhood consisting of pain (no changing clothes, fighting against your best friends, usually to death, you are encouraged to steal, but if you get caught you were punished... not for stealing, but for getting caught, and finally being dumped in the wilderness, etc). Adulthood was extremely military, and the extreme views of Spartan society have given them an almost mythical reputation in history.
Ultimately it undid them, they were limited in number to at most a few thousand of them and the loss of even a few hundred warriors was a major blow to them. They quickly reached their maximum extent.
And said Social Darwinism was of no avail against corruption. The image which we have today of Sparta is the idealized version of Plato, not the realistic version of Thucydides, who described Sparta to be a thoroughly corrupt military dictatorship. The Persians described the Spartans as the most easily corruptible of all Greeks and their loyalty was easy to buy. Athenians were the most difficult to buy.
The communities of any form of professional games (as well as anything online.) are this. They all try to form an elite social class and try to separate themselves from the common rabble. When they can't and are forced to interact with the common rabble, they either delight in beating them, or try to outright kick them to keep an "inferior being" called a "noob" from tainting their games. If they can't, they try to encourage that newbie to Rage Quit by constantly belittling and insulting them. This is worse in some genres. Sometimes the noobs do win, but end up becoming the same elite.
This happens very frequently with games that have a free weekend event or a sale. The skilled players will usually be the first ones to complain about the incoming swarm of noobs that will ruin their games and sometimes said players will also try to completely troll the new players.
The Vitality Curve strategy in corporation HR, or "rank and yank", where 10% of work force is every year sacked, to get rid of the worst performing employees. In reality, after a couple of years when the worst employees have been terminated, continuing this policy leads into unnecessary corporation politicking instead of improving workplace morale and performance.
There are a few old medical and sociological textbooks (debunked, naturally) that held that whites were superior because they were the most successful at spreading (e.g. Colonialization).
One of the reasons behind the Jerk Jock and Alpha Bitch trope when it appears in real life. If you're a boy who isn't into sports or fighting, whether or not you're actually physically capable of playing them, you will be remorselessly bullied by those who are, for no reason other than not fighting back. If you're a girl who doesn't follow the major trends, you'll be targeted for being a 'freak' or 'ugly', even if you're not even remotely unattractive. If you're a Nice Guy who just doesn't follow the crowd, you'll find High School a tough time.
Funny you should mention school, actually: according to retired schoolteacher John Taylor Gatto's multiple published works on the history of schooling, social Darwinism was actually the point. School, according to him, is based on a "mudsill theory" of man in which almost everyone but a small section of humanity is considered to be worthless. So, Darwinian competitions in school to flush out the trash. It's how life in a centralized command economy works; we can complain all we want, but according to Gatto, if school didn't operate this way, the whole economic and social structure in which we now live would collapse. Ah, but there's a twist to this story: because school was based on a mish-mash of several different theories at once (Holland industrialists, aristocratic culture which is where "jock" culture comes from, various Asian "ranking" systems, etc.), it's basically escaped the purpose of its original handlers. It was supposed to keep the "underclass" down economically and intellectually, but now it's out of control so it just flushes down anyone who refuses to adapt to the school environment, which could be anybody (this, ironically, is closer to actual Darwinism).