January 31, 2004


Washing their Hands: a review of HITLER'S SCIENTISTS: Science, War, and the Devil's Pact By John Cornwell (Gregg Herken, January 28, 2004, Washington Post)

The question that Cornwell poses early in the book, and that becomes a leitmotif, is whether those technical experts who participated in Nazi depravities were Germans behaving as Germans, or Germans behaving as scientists. Those who think they know Cornwell's answer may be in for a shock. The author argues persuasively that the elements of pseudoscience that we have come to associate with the Nazis -- eugenics, phrenology, notions of "racial hygiene" -- had their roots in post-World War I Europe and were often promoted, or even invented, by German scientists with the aid of sympathetic industrialists. But Cornwell does not find the fault to be in the mystical German Seele (soul). As he points out, social Darwinism and euthanasia of the "unfit" were ideas likewise in vogue among intellectuals in the United States and Britain during this time. Nor were bizarre and inhumane experiments unique to the Nazis. A famous British scientist once recalled how, as a boy, he was lowered into a freezing lake in a leaking diving suit by his father, who wished to test a new breathing apparatus. American physicians injected charity patients with plutonium during the Second World War, just to discover where the substance went in the body.

Although the atrocities of Hitler's Germany are by now perhaps too familiar to shock, that does not make Cornwell's meticulous cataloguing of them any less disturbing or depressing. Even so, the author feels compelled to give the devil his due. Drawing on previous work by historian Robert Proctor, Cornwell points out that the Nazis, who already had drawn the connection between tobacco and cancer, actively campaigned against smoking, banning it in public buildings. In 1943 -- when they surely had more pressing concerns -- the Nazis decreed that German workers suffering from asbestos exposure had the right to receive compensation. For decades to come, Anglo-American companies would claim that the mineral was harmless, even suppressing evidence to the contrary.

This is not to say that Cornwell sees Allied and German science as morally equivalent. Yet it is not the well-known monsters such as Josef Mengele whom he finds most distressing, but rather the nearly wholesale "acquiescence of the German great and good in science": those scientists who became "morally anaesthetized" to the evil they served.

Diabolical science was not a function of Nazism--rather Nazism was a function of science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 31, 2004 5:35 PM

Oh no, it wasn't science. It was a monarchical distortion similar in name and kind to religion. Religion was really to blame. Science wouldn't do that. Science couldn't do that. Science is beyond good and evil. Science is truth. Science is pure. Science is self-correcting. You can't blame evil on science. You can't even blame bad science on science. You blame them on religion.

As Heisenberg the good German said: "The world out there is really ugly, but the work is beautiful".

Posted by: Peter B at January 31, 2004 6:56 PM

Well, then, let's do away with Science. All we really need is the Bible. Surely it will tell us how to cure disease and build advanced computers.

Posted by: Robert D at January 31, 2004 8:27 PM

I'd not put the choice that starkly--a Science duly restrained by Religion seems practicable--but since you do: are computers worth the hundreds of millions we've murdered over the past century from the application of science and reason?

Posted by: oj at January 31, 2004 8:35 PM


Why do you see it in such all-or-nothing terms? You wrote eloquently below about the limits of the place of religion in the public life of a democracy. Are their not similar limits we should apply to science and/or secularism in a healthy society?

Posted by: Peter B at January 31, 2004 9:10 PM

If "Nazism was a function of science," why did the Nazis reject "Jewish science"?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 1, 2004 3:32 AM


The point is hardly that science is an evil force. The point is that scientific thinking as the sole or primary basis for political organization and action leads to oppression and is inherently anti-democratic.

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 6:08 AM

Undoubtedly. But my point (I think) was that science, nor absolute belief in science (which ought to be a discredited notion--the absoluteness, that is), is not to blame for Nazi Germany.

People use all kinds of human endeavours for their own (too often dastardly) purposes: science, technology, religion, humanity, tolerance.

This is well known to be sure; yet it is precisely this which should not be lost sight of.

The "excuse/reason" for many is that humans are flawed, sinning creatures. The ancient Greeks used the concept of tragic flaw (though this may have been restricted to heroes, I suppose).

Whatever the reason, it ought to make us more humble. Though if we're too humble, we might not accomplish much, on the other hand.

It gets all very theoretical, but I am kind of (chauvinistically?) partial to the traditional Jewish view that holds that every individual possesses both an inclination to do good and an inclination to do evil. And both are necessary.

The "trick" is to temper the evil inclination for good ends....

Or in other words, how does one educate the conscience? Not quite an issue in Nazi Germany, science-driven or not.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 1, 2004 6:24 AM


Well, ok, but religion, for all its sins and excesses, does recognize the good and evil in human nature (NOT that some people are good and some are evil)and seeks to preach and order life on that basis, however clumsily or even disastrously at times. Science doesn't and can't. So if you discount religion as being in the realm of the charming or dangerous and construct a worldview informed entirely by scientific truths, you will act as if good and evil are mere social constructs and the scientific "truths" you are partial to at any given time must prevail. That is what Dawkins is doing now. That is what the Nazis did. All that mystical stuff about past Teutonic glories payed well at the rallies, but that wasn't what attracted the widespread support of German jurists, academics and scientists.

Blaming science is not the same thing as blaming scientists. That's a game secularists like to play vis-a-vis religion. But an absolute belief in science as the only reliable source of truth will indeed lead to oppression. If you prefer the proposition that it isn't science per se, but the fact that the scientific basis of marxism and nazism excluded objective morality and freed their proponents to commit evil, that's fine with me. I agree, of course, science itself is not evil.

However, I must part company if you are suggesting religion and science are both benign forces floating up there in some ethereal mist and ready to be grabbed by humans to do either good or evil. Both play a formative role in educating humans before those choices are even addressed.

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 7:42 AM

The game this secularist plays is against absolute belief in anything. Religion, and fervent religious belief, are not the same thing.

Mein Kampf was based on a fanatical belief in racialism, and "science," where it figured at all, was used as justification for the pre-existing belief. Nazism, with argument from authority, a divinely inspired text, and a deity, qualifies as a religion. The problems came from the uncritical nature of the followers' belief in Nazism.

Science is too diffuse to qualify as a religion, but lets say it does. The problem's arising from science aren't from Science the Religion, but rather from fanatical, exclusive, belief thereof.

Antibiotics alone have saved far more lives than all the wars of the 20th century combined.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 1, 2004 8:49 AM

The fascists and Nazis and Lenin-era Communists were believers in a "scientific socialism," but it was hardly scientific as we know science. Mainly it stood for what Hayek called the Fatal Conceit, the idea that the reason of a small number of humans can direct society to society's advantage. This had its analogs in other fields, for instance the "Scientific Management" movement of Frederick Taylor, in which a few scientific managers would direct the operations of a large corporation.

However, real science doesn't work that way. There aren't a few genius scientists who tell everybody else what to think and do. (If there are, like Freud once was in psychology, then the field isn't a science.) Real science is built around the testing of ideas against experience. Real social science, therefore, rejects authoritarianism and embraces freedom, which has a superior record.

Posted by: pj at February 1, 2004 8:58 AM


"The problems came from the uncritical nature of the followers' belief in Nazism."

So THAT was the problem with Nazism. Gee, I wonder how things would have turned out if there had been more critically inclined Nazis.

"Mein Kampf was based on a fanatical belief in racialism, and "science," where it figured at all, was used as justification for the pre-existing belief."

And your point is...

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 9:03 AM


So what? Natuiral deaths aren't as destructive to the human soul as murders--which we're hip deep in.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2004 9:06 AM


Because they believed in race.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2004 9:28 AM

Even for you, Orrin, this one goes too far. Since you've so enthusiatically reviewed it, I suggest you go back and re-read Nicholas Mosley's Hopeful Monsters, which makes clear just how antithetical Nazism was to the true spirit of science.

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh at February 1, 2004 10:00 AM


Mosley's point though--to the extent I understand it--is that we must honestly observe ourselves, almost as if we were an experiment, in order to shape our future--the future of the experiment. What pre-Nazi Germany and now bio-engineering and the like suggest is that whatever we may wish the true spirit of science to be it instead encourages us to treat one another as if we were merely experimental lab animals, to be tested and tortured for some "greater good". Science didn't create Hitler, but it laid the groundwork for him, so that the murder of the genetically "inferior" was a commonly accepted feature of German life. All that was then necessary was to distinguish Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, etc. from Germans and then apply Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2004 10:19 AM

I was being sarcastic of course, but it seemed to me that OJ and you were putting it in stark, all or nothing terms. You take offense when secularists blame Religion for the moral failures of religious people, yet you seem to want to blame Science for the moral failures of people who use it as an excuse for their own sick fantasies.

Science is an intellectual tool, it has no moral content. Only people make moral decisions, and only people are responsible for them. Scientists are not priests, they are not qualified to make moral decisions for society. Science does not determine when a human life gains personhood. So I agree with you on the limits of Science. What limits would you put on secularism?

Posted by: Robert D at February 1, 2004 11:27 AM

Of course it has moral content. If Science says is true then there can be no meaningful morality.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2004 11:36 AM


My point is that Nazism would have existed, anyway.

If people had been more critical, then Mein Kampf would have been the only relic of some muttering nutter who was found frozen to death in a cardboard box sometime in the early '60s.

The moment one applies Darwinism, one is no longer in the realm of science.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 1, 2004 11:50 AM

The moment one asserts that a scientific theory has no applications one has implicitly acknowledged it's not science.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2004 11:55 AM


I don't always take offence when people blame religion for the moral failures of religion. I would hardly support pluralist deomocracy if I did. What I do find offensive is the argument, seen here often, that anything immoral done by a religious person is, ipso facto, a logical consequence of his faith (or directed by his religious leaders for hypocritical motives), with the unstated insinuation that it wouldn't have happened but for his faith. That isn't the same as being blind to the threats posed by an uncontrolled religious animus. How can one live in 2004 and not see those?

What is also offensive (although great fun to tackle) is the prevailing view of most rationalists (I said most) that science is outside the realm of morality but can still provide all the answers as to why we are here, or why not, and the principles of truth we should look to in deciding how to behave. This allows them to oppose or disdain religion and to use a scientific approach to deal with moral issues, but then to hide under their theoretical "value-free" covers when the killing starts.

Want an example? We've seen recently Dawkins' fulminations against religion as evil, his statement that it should be a crime to teach religion to a child and his call for the active rooting out of faith as a matter of public policy. The most damning thing I have read from any secularists here or elsewhere is that he is a little over the top, but should still be hnoured and respected as a brilliant scientist. Boys will be boys, after all. Take five minutes to think what could happen if his ideas were to catch on and then tell me why I shouldn't see him in the same light as a Muslim cleric who calls for all infidels to be put to the sword.

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 12:11 PM

I, for one, do not hold Religion responsible for the failures of religious people. But if you don't hold it responsible, you also cannot treat it as a super-personal force which will bring order and morality to society. To me, religion is what religious people do. For the same reason that we don't hold guns resposible for murder, but murderers (at least the right-thinking among us), ideas, whether religous or scientific, are not dangerous until someone puts them to use for an immoral purpose.

Dawkins is a dangerous bigot, his anti-religious ranting threatens a fundamental human freedom, the freedom of religious expression. While I am in favor of scientific inquiry, I regard scientists who take up political crusades about as seriously as I regard celebrities who do the same. We don't need a secular priesthood.

Posted by: Robert D at February 1, 2004 12:34 PM


"To me, religion is what religious people do."

What does that mean? As far as I am concerned, if the truth of the faith vs.rationalism debate is to be determined on the basis of the nobility of the characters of their respective adherents, they are both clearly wrong.

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 12:49 PM


religion states that even the religious will not behave morally. That has no effect on the importance of the morality to begin with. We're only human after all.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2004 12:49 PM


Yes, I appreciate you are much too decent to have time for Dawkins, but that isn't what I meant exactly with my analogy to the Muslim cleric. What I meant was, tell me why these noxious views of Dawkins don't call into question the scientific findings he claims to be relying upon in making them. That is how we would judge the Muslim cleric, isn't it?

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 12:56 PM

What scientific findings is he basing his anti-religious views on? As far as I can tell, he is using his popularity as a scientist as an opportunity to vent his prejudices to the press.

What I meant by "religion is what religious people do" is that religion is not some independent force that can be judged to be beneficial or detrimental outside of what people actually do in its name. You can't use the terroristic acts of Osama Bin Laden to indict the religiosity of people who do good things in its name. As to deciding the truth of the faith vs rationalism debate, I'm not sure that it is such a stark debate. The religious viewpoint does not totally discount rational inquiry, and as OJ is fond of pointing out, secularism does not relieve a person of the need to incorporate articles of faith into his worldview.

Posted by: Robert D at February 1, 2004 2:02 PM

Peter, you haven't heard me call Dawkinds a brillient scientist who deserves respect. Read the posts, please.

Orrin, as usual, accepts anyone's claims to be a scientist at face value, lumping cranks and actual performing scientists.

If Naziism had any single social origin (it didn't), it would have to be Lutheranism, not Darwinism. In his table talk, Hitler often invoked god, never Darwin.

That German scientists embraced Naziism is not surprising. All Germans embraced Naziism, the clergy as much as anyone.

The idea that science can propose a morality seems hopeless to me. It can, however, provide a critique of morality that arose from other sources. Certainly science disposed of witchcraft readily enough, while Christianity was helpless to critique it.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 1, 2004 2:20 PM

Except that more Americans believe in magic than in Darwin--so it is magic which has won that round.

Meanwhile, Hitler even gave his book a Darwinist title: My Struggle.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2004 4:13 PM

Or in contemporary terms, "Mein Jihad."

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 1, 2004 5:14 PM

Yes, Harry, that is fair. I may have spoken hastily about you and our other resident posters. Although, as Robert complained below about the Pope, it can be a real challenge to figure out when you guys are speaking ex cathedra and when you are just shooting from the hip.

Look, one of the problems with analysing Nazism is the modern distorted belief that it was a completely irrational, loony theory that swept up the despairing masses and robbed even the brighest of their critical judgment. It wasn't, and neither was communism, obviously. Mazism went through several elections and a long period of democracy before it took hold. It grew over many years on the basis of much intellectual debate and attracted some of the brighest minds. Harry, do you honestly believe Heidegger was beholden to latent Lutheranism? Better take that up with Bonhoeffer's ghost. Do you really think all those German intellectuals and scientists who signed on dropped all their rationalist principles in a sudden, uncontrollable attraction to forest myths from the Dark Ages and medieval antisemitism.

Both of the theories were widely justified with reference to a scientific analysis of history. That it was balderdash and bad science is obvious now, but it wasn't then. The point is their secular, rationalist worldview freed them from the constraints that would have prohibited them from doing what they did.

In other words, it was their rationalism and rejection of religion that enabled them to say: "The Commandments don't apply to us any more." The rest is detail.

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 5:31 PM

"Meanwhile, Hitler even gave his book a Darwinist title: My Struggle."

What would Sisyphus have called his lot? "My Struggle" would fit perfectly. Must have been a Darwinian three millenia ahead of time.

Or maybe the assertion is on less firm ground than suggested.

Marxism's tenets stretch back to Christian teachings. Marxims and Nazism rejected one religion for another, and, in their grotesque excesses, used religious authorization to violate all moral norms.

It is a time-honored tradition. No more excusable whether Zyklon-B or bonfire is the agent of death.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 1, 2004 5:51 PM


Yes, it is indeed a time-honoured tradition. I just can't figure out why you secular rationalists are so adamant you are the only ones who stand outside it.

Posted by: Peter B at February 1, 2004 6:13 PM


I think you are aiming at the wrong target. I know at least a couple secular rationalists here who insist Religion, under whatever guise it comes, be tarred with the brush it deserves.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 1, 2004 7:40 PM

The idea that Naziism was scientific or rational is hard to defend since its author specifically stated, over and over again, that will would triumph over technique.

As Richard Pipes, in trying to explain the relationship of fascism, naziism and communism, said, naziism was not socialist, despite saying so in its name. (Jeff can claim Pipes as backing for his view that communism was, in fact, a religion. Pipes is explicit about it.)

Hitler never read "The Myth of the 20th Century," and even to describe naziism as a coherent system of belief is absurd.

But if it was consistently anything, it was nationalist, militarist, antisemitic and anti little guy -- pure Lutheranism.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 2, 2004 1:00 AM


All these years I have been spelling Naziism wrong. Thanks for putting me straight, even if you didn't intend to.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 2, 2004 6:27 AM


"Marxism's tenets stretch back to Christian teachings. Marxims and Nazism rejected one religion for another, and, in their grotesque excesses, used religious authorization to violate all moral norms."

Poor old Christianity. It certainly has a lot to account for, doesn't it. It has managed to be responsible for the sins of both those who adhere to it and those who reject and despise it. I guess that means you see a straight line between Christianity and the slaughters of Mao and Pol Pot.

I'm standing by to see which of you and Harry draws the causal link between Christianity and Islamist terror.

Posted by: Peter B at February 2, 2004 6:55 AM


To the contrary, Naziism is rather simple, entirely rationalist and derived almost entirely from modern biological theory:

He Meant What He Said: a review of Hitler's Second Book: The Secret Sequel to Mein Kampf
by Gerhard L. Weinberg (Omer Bartov, New Republic)

Hitler never had a particularly complicated ideology. He painted a clear picture of the world, distinguishing between the bad and the good, the sinful and the righteous, the guilty and the innocent, the dirty and the clean, the inferior and the superior. He articulated clear goals, as follows. The Aryan race needs domestic unity and freedom from polluting racial elements, and so it must expand into an undefined and likely limitless "living space" in the East. Germany's most important short-term enemy is France, for historical reasons and because it has become "negroized." Germany's most likely allies are Italy and Britain, with whom the Reich should have no quarrel since they also seek to expand in different directions. The greatest long-term enemy is the United States, not least because it is made up of healthy Aryan stock that has turned its back on the fatherland. The Slav states and the nations to Germany's east are to be taken over. The Slavs, and especially the Poles and Russians, are not worthy of ruling themselves, for whatever is great and worthy in the East was created by German colonizers and rulers. The greatest danger to the world are the Jews, who have taken control of the Soviet Union and are behind all the Marxist parties in Europe, and at the same time are the bosses and the manipulators of international capitalism. The Jews rule the world through a global conspiracy, and it is Germany's duty to destroy them before they subjugate humanity forever.

Hitler made no bones about the direct link between his "analysis" of world history and his plans for Germany's policies. For him, as he wrote,

politics is not just the struggle of a people for its survival as such; rather, for us humans it is the art of the implementation of this struggle.... Politics is always the leader of the struggle for survival its organizer and regardless of how it is formally designated, its effectiveness will determine the life or death of a people.... The two concepts of a peace policy or a war policy thus immediately become meaningless. Because the stake that is struggled for through politics is always life....

Promoting economic autarky and opposing the ills of a global capitalistic economy, Hitler was similarly swift in identifying the agents of globalization whose goal it was to "kill the others through peaceful industry," by way of depriving people of the necessary Lebensraum that would ensure their healthy development. The urban centers created by the global industrial economy were "hotbeds of blood-mixing and bastardization, usually ensuring the degeneration of the race and resulting in that purulent herd in which the maggots of the international Jewish community flourish and cause the ultimate decay of the people." For Hitler, the "Jew" was directly identified with anything international, and internationalism was directly associated with the degeneration of the race, with immorality and corruption. Once a people loses its "genetically conditioned cultural expression of the life of its own soul," he wrote, it will "descend into the confusion of international perceptions and the cultural chaos that springs from them. Then the Jew can move in, and not rest until he has completely uprooted and thereby corrupted such a people."

While he strenuously opposed "internationalism" as a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world and to corrupt the nobler races, Hitler saw no limits to his own aspirations for expansion. As he noted, "Wherever our success ends, that will always be the starting point of a new battle." And as Hitler never tired of emphasizing, he was opposed to a policy of returning to the borders of 1914 that is, of revising the Versailles agreement in which the Reich had been "robbed" of its territories. That restitution would hardly suffice. Hitler argues that

the foreign policy of the bourgeois world is in truth always only focused on borders, whereas the National Socialist movement, in contrast, will pursue a policy focused on space. The German bourgeoisie will, with its boldest plans, perhaps attain unification of the German nation, but in reality it usually ends in bungling border adjustments. The National Socialist movement ... knows no Germanization ... but only the expansion of our own people.... The national conception will not be determined by previous patriotic notions of state, but rather by ethnic and racial conceptions....

The German borders of 1914 ... represented something just as unfinished as peoples' borders always are. The division of territory on the earth is always the momentary result of a struggle and an evolution that is in no way finished, but that naturally continues to progress.

So much for the idea of appeasement, of letting Hitler have what he had already declared would never suffice. The racial state that Hitler outlined had certain duties. It could "under absolutely no circumstances annex Poles." It would "have to decide either to isolate these alien racial elements in order to prevent the repeated contamination of one's own people, or it would have to immediately remove them entirely, transferring the land and territory that thus became free to members of one's own ethnic community." Here again we hear Hitler saying quite clearly that he would undertake the kind of demographic re-structuring of Eastern Europe that was indeed managed by Heinrich Himmler after 1939. And whatever might have been the contributions of various German technocrats in the 1930s to molding this policy, as suggested by some historians, Hitler unequivocally and ruthlessly expressed it five years before he became chancellor.

Moreover, Hitler made it clear that in the distant future "the only state that would be able to stand up to North America will be the state that has understood how ... to raise the racial value of its people.... It is, again, the duty of the National Socialist movement to strengthen and prepare our own fatherland to the greatest degree possible for this task." If Hitler did not end up trying to conquer the United States, we now know that he made plans for producing the kinds of aircraft and ships that would have facilitated such aggressive action.

Ultimately, as Hitler saw it, there could have been only one worthwhile goal in World War I, and the same goal would eventually have to guide the conduct of any future war: the conquest of "living space." The "only area in Europe that could be considered for such a territorial policy was Russia." This was also the only kind of war aim that would motivate Germans and justify the sacrifices entailed in accomplishing it:

The only war aim that would have been worthy of these enormous casualties [in World War I] would have been to promise the German troops that so many hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land would be allotted to the frontline soldiers as property or made available for colonization by Germans.

This is precisely what Hitler did upon the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

The instrument of such a war would be a new German army, and in his second book Hitler outlines how he would use the Weimar Republic's one hundred thousand-man Reichswehr as the framework for the creation of a massive new military machine based on universal conscription. By 1935 Hitler was already well on his way to accomplishing this task, having both purged the SA, which hoped to become an alternative military organization, and declared universal conscription in total defiance of the Versailles Treaty.

But Germany's most pernicious enemies were the Jews and those who had collaborated with them in stabbing the army in the back and bringing about the collapse of the German Empire in November 1918. "No enemy," declared Hitler, "had reviled the German army like the representatives of the November knavery defiled it." Hence, he warned,

Anyone who today wants to act in the name of German honor must first announce the most relentless fight against the intolerable defilers of German honor ... the representatives of the November crime. That collection [of] Marxist, democratic-pacifist, and Centrist traitors that pushed our people into its current state of powerlessness.... I admit most frankly that I could reconcile myself with every one of those old enemies, but that my hate for the traitors in our own ranks is unforgiving and will remain.

These traitors not only brought the old Reich crashing down, they were now plotting to establish a "global economy" and a pan-European movement whose consequences would be "a Jewish-instigated systematic bastardization with lower-quality human material." The reason was obvious:

The Jew particularly welcomes such a concept; in its consistent observance it leads to racial chaos and confusion, to a bastardization and niggerization of civilized humanity, and finally to such a deterioration in its racial value that the Hebrew who keeps himself free from it can gradually rise to be masters [sic] of the world.

Most dangerously, the Jews had taken over Russia. Hitler opposed any "German-Russian understanding ... as long as a government that is preoccupied with the sole effort to transmit the Bolshevist poison to Germany rules in Russia." For "it goes without saying that if such an alliance were to materialize today, its results would be the complete dominance of Judaism in Germany, just as in Russia." Interestingly, while the Jews dominated Russia, they were in Hitler's view not true communists but greedy capitalists. Hence "it is precisely the Jewish press organs of the most noted stock market interests that advocate a German-Russian alliance in Germany. Do people really believe that" these Jewish papers "speak more or less openly for Bolshevist Russia because it is an anticapitalist state?" No, Hitler insisted, this was in fact nothing but a "Jewish-capitalist Bolshevik Russia" Jewish-controlled capitalism posing as Russian communism.

Hitler did not share the hope that he attributed to nationalist German circles that, if Russia were to be liberated from the Jews and reverted to "nationalist, anticapitalist communism," it might be a good coalition partner for Germany. For Hitler, Germans and Russians constituted "two ethnic souls that have very little in common." The Russian people could never rule themselves, but were rather first under the control of superior "Nordic-German elements" and, following the Revolution, under the Jews who successfully "exterminated the previous foreign upper class ... with the help of the Slavic racial instinct." But as Hitler saw it, this Jewish takeover would eventually serve Germany's objectives, since "the overall tendency of Judaism, which is ultimately only destructive," would in time lead to "the destruction of Jewry." This in turn would facilitate the realization of "the goal of German foreign policy in the one and only place possible: space in the East."

After explaining why the question of the German minority in South Tyrol, which came under Italian rule after World War I, was a minor issue compared with the need to "gain further space and feeding of our people" in the East, Hitler ended his second book with the same pronouncements that concluded the political testament that he dictated before his suicide seventeen years later. For Hitler's entire political career was guided by a single central obsession with "the Jew." Blaming those who criticized his policies toward Italy for ignoring the domestic "syphilitization by Jews and Negroes" of the Fatherland, and for persecuting those Germans who "resist the de-Germanization, niggerization, and Judaization of our people," Hitler finally explained what had always been at the root of all evil and misfortune in the world.

Repeating much of the anti-Semitic verbiage of the previous decades, but giving it a much more threatening tone thanks to his position as a political leader on the verge of becoming a major figure on the world scene, Hitler summarized his views on the Jews in the following manner. First, this was "a people with certain essential particularities that distinguish it from all other peoples living on earth." Second, while Judaism was not a religion but "a real state ... the essence of the Jewish people lacks the productive forces to build and sustain a territorial state." Third, because of this inability, "the existence of the Jew himself ... becomes a parasitic existence within the life of other peoples." Fourth, the "ultimate goal of the Jewish struggle for survival is the enslavement of productively active peoples."

This goal is sought by fighting "for equality and then for superiority" in domestic policies, whereas in foreign policy the Jews will "hurl [other peoples] into wars with one another, and thus gradually with the help of the power of money and propaganda become their masters." Ultimately, the Jew seeks "the denationalization and chaotic bastardization of the other peoples, the lowering of the racial level of the highest, and domination over this racial mush through the eradication of these peoples' intelligentsias and their replacement with the members of his own race." Tragically, "Jewish domination always ends with the decline of all culture and ultimately the insanity of the Jew himself. Because he is a parasite on the peoples, and his victory means his own end just as much as the death of his victim." The allies of the Jew are "Freemasonry ... the press ... [and] Marxism." Having accomplished the "economic conquest of Europe," the Jew "begins with securing it politically ... in the form of revolutions" and by "systematically agitating for world war." The victims of Jewish "inhuman torture and barbarity" in Russia "totaled twenty-eight million dead," and meanwhile the Jew "tore away all the ties of orderliness, morality, custom ... and proclaimed ... universal licentiousness." But finally, declares Hitler, an end will be put to all this, for "the National Socialist movement ... has taken up the fight against this execrable crime against humanity."

It is truly astonishing to see how every sin that Hitler ascribed to "the Jew" became part of his own policies as he himself outlined them in his second book and later implemented them: the destruction of entire nations by the elimination of their elites, their mass deportation, and in the case of the Jews, their outright genocide. And it is just as mind-boggling to note that the endless depravity attributed by Hitler to the Jews became the reality of German conduct under his rule, which deprived the Reich of every remnant of moral constraint and finally drove it into an insane storm of self-destruction. What Hitler said would be done to Germany, he did unto others; and he and his people became victims of the nemesis that he prophesied for his enemies. When Hitler wrote his second book, he was staring into a mirror.

Posted by: oj at February 2, 2004 10:00 AM

You have hollowed out rationalism so it means no more when you apply it to Hitler than when Tom C. applies it to Thomism.

If you start with mystical fantasies of blood and will and then spin out what you conceive to be the inherent implications, that a rational analysis applied to nonsense.

Most people -- or at any rate I -- consider rationalism to be all of a piece.

If all you mean is that the young Hitler was not psychotic, then rationalism doesn't count for much, does it?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 2, 2004 9:28 PM

Rationalism starts from an idea and starts spinning--Hitler started with biology.

Posted by: oj at February 2, 2004 9:44 PM

Hitler didn't start with biology, he started with race, a concept that far predates biology.

As anyone who has tried to establish a biological definition of race will attest.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 2, 2004 10:06 PM


Can you point to any pre-enlightenment theory that sought to ascribe immutable characteristics based upon race? This is is umpteenth time you have rather blithely asserted that Hitler took his racist ideas from a traditional past, but I can't find them anywhere much before the 19th century.

Posted by: Peter B at February 3, 2004 4:36 AM


Was chattel slavery morally justified because their identifiable characteristics labeled them not-quite-human?

That started well before the 19th Century, and used that alleged sub-humanity to justify actions that would have been morally unacceptable, otherwise. While the horror of it lasted longer than the Thousand Year Reich, I'll bet the human cost, if accurately tallied, was greater.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 3, 2004 1:50 PM


"Marxism's tenets stretch back to Christian teachings."

Now don't make come back there and start quoting at you ;).

Actually, they do. If you really want me to, I can go find the quote from some bishop around 1000 that would happily have nestled right up against "from each according to ability, to each according to need." And others as well. Much Christian teaching would be right at home with the less offensive parts of Marxism.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 3, 2004 2:14 PM


You actually have that exactly backwards--chattel slavery rose with the Enlightenment. Prior to that slavery had served more of a social function than an economic one and slaves had been those captured in war rather than a sub-human race taken out of Africa. If blacks weren't human their enslavement was of course just as well justified as the "enslavement" of draft animals. The error was scientific, not moral.

Posted by: oj at February 3, 2004 2:28 PM

In today's society, scientists making fools of themselves will usually say they're acting as human beings and not as scientists. I suspect the same was true in Nazi Germany.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at February 3, 2004 5:57 PM

Orrin, for a well-read man, you sometimes amaze me.

I don't know where you put the start of the Englightenment, but the asiento dates back to the early 16th century, earlier than anyone would date the Enlightenment.

And two centuries before that, the Portuguese engaged in a chattel slave trade along the coast of northwest Africa.

Before that, Mansa Musa sold chattels in Cairo to finance his hajj.

I think you need to read David Brion Davis's "Problem of Slavery in Western Society." At least volume one.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 3, 2004 6:22 PM

It's convenient to date the start of the Enlightenment in the 1450s, when Constantinople fell and the libraries headed West.

America wasn't even found for fifty years after that.

Large scale chattel slavery in the West thus dates from the 1500s.

Posted by: oj at February 3, 2004 7:30 PM


You are avoiding the question, which was where in pre-enlightenment times do you find a theory of racial superiority. As usual, your answer is "Gee, bad things happened." I know they did. But where was the pre-enlightenment, pre-scientific precursor to Hitler's racial theories?

Posted by: Peter B at February 3, 2004 8:42 PM


My knowledge isn't nearly so encyclopediac as to be able to come up with a book kind of reference.

But the Japanese were certain they were the only true humans since time immemorial. As for the Chinese. And the Aztecs. And just about any other distinct group of humans you can think of.

You are confusing correlation with causation. Other things happened besides the Enlightenment. One of them was the first European journeys down the African coast. One can't very well enslave what one doesn't know exists. The second was the establishment of plantation type operations in the Caribbean and the South that relied on cheap, expendable, labor. While impossible to prove, I would be that even if the Enlightenment never happened, the rest would have been sufficient for slavery to exist.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 3, 2004 10:18 PM

Europeans didn't know Africa existed? Where'd they think Carthage and Egypt were?

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2004 12:00 AM

I would be amazed if you could find anyone to date the start of the Englightenment as early as that.

By the most generous estimate, I wouldn't put it earlier than 1600, with the publications of Harvey, Galileo and Gilbert. But a more likely date would be around 1690.

You seem to have confused the Renaissance with something else.

Even so, there was plenty of chattel slavery before 1450. In fact, if you will consult "Courtesans and Fishcakes," you will find it in Periclean Athens.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 4, 2004 2:06 AM


When you argued that the Nazis derived their racial theories from religion, I didn't realize you were talking about the ancient Japanese and Aztec religions. Fascinatingly worldly, those Nazis!

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2004 6:02 AM


The West Coast of Africa was Terra Icognita prior to Prince Henry the Navigator. Europeans knew about the Mediterranean coast of Africa, but that isn't where the chattel slaves came from.


From http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i22/22b01001.htm

"All agreed that culture -- that is, traditional Japanese culture -- was spiritual and profound, whereas modern Western civilization was shallow, rootless, and destructive of creative power...

Precisely the same terms had been used by others, in other places, at other times. Blood, soil, and the spirit of the Volk were what German romantics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries invoked against the universalist claims of the French Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and Napoleon's invading armies."

Emphasis mine. So is the Enlightenment to blame for giving Nazism a lever, or a fulcrum?

BTW--I apologize if I gave the impression Nazis derived their arguments from religion; I certainly didn't mean to. Rather, I argue they derived from racialism, which is far from rare throughout history, and completely independent of the Enlightenment.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 4, 2004 1:43 PM