Benjamin Kidd

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Benjamin Kidd

Benjamin Kidd (1858–1916) was a British sociologist. He entered the British civil service and did not become generally known until the publication of an essay, Social Evolution, in 1894. This work passed through several editions and was translated into German (1895), Swedish (1895), French (1896), Russian (1897), Italian (1898), Chinese (1899), Czech (1900), Danish (1900), and Arabic (1913).[1]

Kidd's major theme, set out in Social Evolution and continued in his later works, is that religion makes sense when seen as what he calls a 'supra-rational sanction' for our behaviour, which acts in the interest of survival of the group, and the yet-to-be-born members of the group, and is necessarily in conflict with our basic human instincts which act in favour of the individual in his lifetime, and also with our reason, which we tend to apply short-sightedly. Thus, while he is an evolutionist and atheist, Kidd proposed that religion, a feature of so many past and present societies, is probably essential to the evolutionary survival of any society.

He finds flaws in the theories of both Herbert Spencer, and Karl Marx, neither of which give due recognition to the fact that continuing struggle is an essential condition for any organism to progress rather than degenerate under the influence of Darwinian natural selection. He sees Christianity as the major factor in the success of the Western world, and the Reformation in particular as the event that brought about a 'softening' of character in the population, with greater sensitivity to the suffering of others as exemplified by Jesus Christ. This change in character, with increased empathy, led, he claims, to greater equality of opportunity and the weakening of the will of the ruling classes to continue unfair practices like slavery. Those countries that continued the Roman Catholic tradition used it to sanction the divine right of kings and domination by the ruling class.

He also rejects socialism, predicting that in future western societies there will be greater opportunity for all which will maximise the scope for creativity and competition among the masses, thus shifting the struggle for survival somewhat from the group as a whole to the individual. Socialism, he claimed, sought to end the struggle for survival, which could only result in a stagnant society that would inevitably degenerate because of an increase in the 'underclass' or fall victim to competition with more vigorous societies.


Benjamin Kidd was born in County Clare, Ireland on 9 September 1858. His father, also Benjamin, was a constable with the Royal Irish Constabulary. Following a poor education, Benjamin Junior entered the Inland Revenue Department (located at Somerset House) of the Civil Service in a minor capacity in 1877. He worked in obscurity there for seventeen years. However, his spare time was devoted to study and in 1894 his first work was published. It was entitled "Social Evolution" and it brought him financial success and international fame. Following his success, he gained a number of friends interested in sociology and Darwinian theory, including Grant Allen, William Clarke (1852–1901),[2] William Thomas Stead, and John Saxon Mills.[3][4] The success of his work allowed Benjamin to retire from the Civil Service and in 1898 he travelled extensively throughout America and Canada and in 1902 he visited South Africa. These travels resulted in a series of articles commissioned by The Times and later published under the title "The Control of the Tropics".

He married Emma Isabel Perry, of Weston-Super-Mare in 1887.[5] They had three sons. He died of heart disease, at Croydon, England on 2 October 1916.


Benjamin Kidd was inspired by both Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer (mostly Spencer) but criticized both. He granted to the marxists that the members of the ruling class were not superior. He believed that the ruling families were degenerating so that new rulers had to be recruited from below. He was therefore against privileges. He denied the innate intellectual superiority of the white race, which he ascribed to social heritage, by which he meant accumulated knowledge. On the other hand he agreed with the racists that the English race was superior when it came to "social efficiency", by which he meant the ability to organize and to suppress egoistic instincts to the benefit of the community and the future.[6] Kidd attributed this altruism to the religious instinct.


A vehement critic of Benjamin Kidd's ideas about social evolution was the freethinker and music critic Ernest Newman. Under his pseudonym Hugh Mortimer Cecil he published in 1897 the book Pseudo-philosophy at the End of the Nineteenth Century. An irrationalist trio: Kidd-Drummond-Balfour.[7] In it he criticizes in particular B.Kidd's notion of progress and the teleological content of his model of social evolution as pseudoscience.

A recent work has resurrected an interest in Kidd, What is the true Meaning of Social Darwinism ? : Historical Perspective Based Upon the Books of the World-Famous Social Darwinist, Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution published in 1894 Compared with The Science of Power published in 1918, by Maria Bethany, 2013. She interprets Social Darwinism as a political agenda akin to the kind of covert machinations seeking to rule society that have often been attributed to the Jews, in the works of conspiracy theorists, only here the perpetrators are scientists, as in Darwinists, and atheists, while the hard done by target is the same, ever suffering Christian.


  • Social Evolution (1894) [2]
  • Control of the Tropics (1898)
  • Principles of Western Civilization (1902; Spanish translation, 1903)
  • Herbert Spencer and After (1908)
  • Two Principal Laws of Sociology (1909)
  • The Science of Power (1918)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, Frank Moore Colby, eds. The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol 13 (Dodd, Mead, 1906) s. v. “Benjamin Kidd,” 215. Online at
  2. ^ Burrows, Herbert; Hobson, John Atkinson, eds. (1908). William Clarke: his writings, with a biographical sketch. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. 
  3. ^ Crook, David Paul (1984). Benjamin Kidd: Portrait of a Social Darwinist. Cambridge University Press. p. 103. ISBN 0-521-25804-9. 
  4. ^ "MILLS, J. Saxon". Who's Who, 59: p. 1228. 1907. 
  5. ^ "KIDD, Benjamin". Who's Who, 59: p. 981. 1907. 
  6. ^ Knoll, Michael: From Kidd to Dewey: The Origin and Meaning of Social Efficiency. Journal of Curriculum Studies 41 (June 2009), No. 3, pp. 361-391.
  7. ^ Hugh Mortimer Cecil (Ernest Newman) "Pseudo-philosophy at the End of the Nineteenth Century. An irrationalist trio: Kidd-Drummond-Balfour." London, University Press, 1897 [1]

External links[edit]

☛This article incorporates text from a publication in the public domain: Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, Frank Moore Colby, eds. The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol 13 (Dodd, Mead, 1906) s. v. “Benjamin Kidd,” 215.[1]

  1. ^ Online at