As David Berlinski recently noted, “the thesis that there is a connection between Darwin and Hitler is widely considered a profanation.” But striking an indignant pose — feathers in full ruffle — is not an answer to such a serious charge, especially when the words of both Darwin and Hitler speak otherwise.
Those defending Darwin cannot have read his Descent of Man, wherein he applies the principles of natural selection to human beings — a thing he prudently avoided in his earlier Origin of Species. In the Descent, the eugenic and racial inferences are clearly and startlingly drawn by Darwin himself.
Darwin understood the eugenic implications of his own theory, and warned his readers against imminent evolutionary backsliding. “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.” Insert a few terms like “Aryan” or “Jew” and that could be in any Nazi screed.
“If … various checks … do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has occurred too often in the history of the world. We must remember that progress is no invariable rule.”
While Darwin tried to soften the hard implications (by suggesting that we not kill the rogues; rather, we should just keep them from breeding), the eugenic edifice was his.
And the racial thing? Evolution is driven by competition, and competition brings extinction. Darwin notes, matter-of-factly in the Descent, that one tribe extinguishing another is the very engine of human evolution. In his words, “extinction follows chiefly from the competition of tribe with tribe, race with race,” allowing the victorious tribe or race to pass on their superior endowments.
That is not a moral complaint; it is a detached scientific description uttered by Darwin entirely without angst. As the engine of evolution is never idle, it is also a prophecy. Again, his own words:
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. At the same time the anthropomorphous [i.e., most human-looking] apes … will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.
Get it? Ranking the human races, we find the Caucasian at top, and down at the bottom, dangling at the edge of humanity, “the negro or Australian” who is just an evolutionary hair’s-breadth away from the anthropomorphous gorilla. In pushing upwards to the über-Caucasian, evolution also exterminates all the “intermediate species,” so that natural selection will do away with the Negro, the aboriginal Australian, and the gorilla.
Like it or not, Darwin’s eugenic and racial ideas spread from him, and infected both Europe and America.
Now for Adolf. I suspect that, just as a lot of folks haven’t read Darwin’s execrable Descent of Man, so also they feel free to enter the debate without having read Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
It is inaccurate to blame the entire of Hitler’s evil on anti-Semitism precisely because his anti-Semitism was part of a larger biological vision. “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology,” said the deputy Party leader of the Nazis, Rudolf Hess.
As Hitler made clear in Mein Kampf, the fundamental political category is biological. Consequently, “the highest aim of human existence is not the maintenance of a State or Government but rather the conservation of the race.” This aim accords with Hitler’s larger Darwinian view of the cosmos, wherein the “fundamental law of necessity” reigning “throughout the realm of Nature” is that “existence is subject to the law of eternal struggle and strife….where the strong are always the masters of the weak and where those subject to such laws must obey them or be destroyed.” Survival of the fittest.
Hence Hitler’s creation of a kind of “folk” religion, that is, a religion of the racially defined Volk. Worship was directed to the Germanic race as the only one capable of eliminating the weak and bringing the übermensch – “superman”– into existence in accordance with the cruelties of Nature. Hitler’s words all too clearly portend the atrocities to come when the Nazis gained power:
[T]he völkisch concept of the world recognizes that the primordial racial elements are of the greatest significance for mankind. In principle, the State is looked upon only as a means to an end and this end is the conservation of the racial characteristics of mankind. Therefore on the völkisch principle we cannot admit that one race is equal to another. By recognizing that they are different, the völkisch concept separates mankind into races of superior and inferior quality. On the basis of this recognition it feels bound, in conformity with the eternal Will that dominates the universe, to postulate the victory of the better and stronger and the subordination of the inferior and weaker…. For in a world which would be composed of mongrels and negroids all ideals of human beauty and nobility and all hopes of an idealized future for our humanity would be lost for ever.
Hence the folk concept of the world is in profound accord with Nature’s will; because it restores the free play of the forces which will lead the race through stages of sustained reciprocal education towards a higher type, until finally the best portion of mankind will possess the earth and will be free to work in every domain all over the world and even reach spheres that lie outside the earth.
According to Hitler, the Jews threatened the superior race with degradation, but so did the “mongrels and negroids,” the Slavs, the Gypsies, the handicapped, the retarded, and all the other inferior biological misfits.
All this doesn’t mean that Darwinism was the sole cause of Hitler’s barbarism. But it does make clear that Darwinism must shoulder its share of the moral burden, because the connection is undeniable.
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