April 18, 2008


Don’t Doubt It: An important historic sidebar. (David Klinghoffer, 4/18/08, National Review)

The Darwin-Hitler connection is no recent discovery. In her classic 1951 work The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt wrote: “Underlying the Nazis’ belief in race laws as the expression of the law of nature in man, is Darwin’s idea of man as the product of a natural development which does not necessarily stop with the present species of human being.”

The standard biographies of Hitler almost all point to the influence of Darwinism on their subject. In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock writes: “The basis of Hitler’s political beliefs was a crude Darwinism.” What Hitler found objectionable about Christianity was its rejection of Darwin’s theory: “Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.”

John Toland’s Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography says this of Hitler’s Second Book published in 1928: “An essential of Hitler’s conclusions in this book was the conviction drawn from Darwin that might makes right.”

In his biography, Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris, Ian Kershaw explains that “crude social-Darwinism” gave Hitler “his entire political ‘world-view.’ ” Hitler, like lots of other Europeans and Americans of his day, saw Darwinism as offering a total picture of social reality. This view called “social Darwinism” is a logical extension of Darwinian evolutionary theory and was articulated by Darwin himself.

The key elements in the ideology that produced Auschwitz are moral relativism aligned with a rejection of the sacredness of human life, a belief that violent competition in nature creates greater and lesser races, that the greater will inevitably exterminate the lesser, and finally that the lesser race most in need of extermination is the Jews. All but the last of these ideas may be found in Darwin’s writing.

Like Hitler, Charles Darwin saw natural processes as setting moral standards. It’s all in The Descent of Man, where he explains that, had we evolved differently, we would have different moral ideas. On a particularly delicate moral topic, for example, he wrote: “We may, therefore, reject the belief, lately insisted on by some writers, that the abhorrence of incest is due to our possessing a special God-implanted conscience.”

In the same book, he compared the evolution of people to the breeding of animals and drew a chilling conclusion regarding what he saw as the undesirable consequences of allowing the unfit to breed:

“Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.” In this desacralized picture of existence, to speak of life as possessing any kind of holiness is to introduce an alien note.

Most disturbing of all, in The Descent of Man, Darwin prophesied: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.”

It can certainly be argued that Darwin did not personally favor applying his ideas to exterminate other races, but it's undeniable that one key aspect of his ideas is that if they were true such extermination would be a good thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2008 8:09 PM

Couldn't we also say: "It's undeniable that one key aspect of Mohammed's ideas is that if they were true, the extermination of non-believers would be a good thing."

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 18, 2008 11:32 PM

No. We could accurately say that Mohammed's ideas are true but merely require the conversion of non-believers, not the extermination, which is why Islam isn't exterminationist, unlike the various Rationalisms.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2008 6:25 AM

The basic premise, that Nazism is an offshoot of "Darwinism" is simply incorrect as a mater of history.

One must delve onto 19th Century thought and trace the aberrations culminating in Hitler's grest aberration to understand this.

We agree that the militant secularism of the French revolution was the start of this slide into the gates of Hell. Once the balancing, moderating effects of tradition and religion are cast aside, then mankind is set up for a collapse back into pre-civilized "law-of-the-jungle" existence.

Start with d'Gobineau, follow up with Houston Stewart Chamberlain and all the other Germans of the period to see how this way of thinking developed.

These pagan fanatics misunderstood change, progress and history because they fell into heathen naturalism, confusing gross biological competition and selection with the process by which ideas and institutiobns are tested and proved.

This heresy led to World Wars One and Two, and all the ills which grew out of them.

The great irony, of course, is that the idea of so-called "Darwinism" failed as an idea. They lost--each and every one of them. The "Darwinist" idea turned out to be a crackpot idea, out of balance with reality, and "progressing" from failutre to failure.

We need consider only the confusion and disfunction of the Nazis to understand this. For example, take their practice of taking unrealistic gambles on long chances, and their continuoous underestimation of their opponents. Look also at their organizational confusion, with secrecy and duplication born of internal distrust.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 19, 2008 6:36 AM

No, that's quite wrong. Darwinism and the egalitarianism of the French model are both just fruits of the tree of Reason. That Hitler combined both made his stew especially lethal.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2008 8:14 AM

Lou is closer to the truth here, though he still puts too much weight on "Darwinism" as a terrible idea. The truth of a scientific idea is not connected to its misuse. You might as well blame Robert Boyle for the gas chambers.

But I think it's fascinating that OJ sees the tenuous intellectual connection from Darwin to Social Darwinism to the Nazis to Auschwitz as so strong, despite the fact that only an infinitesimal fraction of "Darwinists" ever believed in death camps. Yet the line from the Koran to the Taliban is much shorter and stronger, and supported by a large fraction of the world's Muslims to this day, and yet he seems perfectly happy to have literal Koranic law shoved down everyone's throats, even if it means the Islamic equivalent of the SA murdering people for watching TV soccer, or being gay, or for some dress code violation. How is it that none of that is the fault of the founder and the founding document?

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 19, 2008 12:46 PM

The Koran is true. Darwin is false.

People should be punished for the things they control--thoughts and deeds--not those out of their control--being lesser species.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2008 2:09 PM

If you really believed the Koran was true, you'd be a Muslim. Are you? And don't give me your "Abrahamic tradition" silliness here: the Bible and the Koran are too contradictory to both be true.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 19, 2008 4:50 PM

The Koran gets Jesus wrong, so do the Jews. They'll both accept Him when push comes to shove.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2008 7:26 PM