EXCERPT: Darwin, Evolution, Haeckel, Hitler and Mein Kampf
|April 1, 2009||Posted by admin under Excerpts, Hitler|
Excerpt from Chapter 8
So much of National Socialism can be found in the Folkish movement that it is not surprising two major studies have located the origins of Hitler’s ideology there. Viereck’s Meta-politics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind focuses on the ideas of Wagner. Mosse’s The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich focuses on broader intellectual trends and currents of which Wagner was only a representative. Viereck spends more time elaborating on the Folkish roots in romanticism, especially in philosophy, while Mosse concentrates more on the spread of Folkish ideas through German society in the 19th and early 20th centuries-but in spite of their differences, both studies have a lot in common. Taken together, they provide a significant part of the explanation for Hitler.
Neither Mosse nor Viereck pay much attention to Darwin, and neither of their books lists Darwin in the index. Viereck makes only one passing reference to “social Darwinism,” the belief that the Darwinian law of survival-of-the-fittest applied to people as well as to animals. Mosse devotes a few pages to social Darwinism and recognizes its importance, but asserts the fundamental incompatibility between National Socialism and Darwinism proper. He claims that the Darwinian concept of the origins of man was not acceptable to Nazi race theorists.[i] Not only (in Mosse’s view) was such a humiliating ancestry unsuitable to a race of superior beings destined to rule; it also required a common origin of all races-another blow to the Aryan ego.
It might seem, then, that Darwinism as Darwin taught it is of little relevance to our study-and those who believe that Darwinism is true and beneficial will find no difficulty in detaching it from National Socialism, which was false and harmful. Apart from this basic presupposition, they have a number of other reasonable points to make against the idea of a Hitler-Darwin connection.
For one thing, there are many and great personal dissimilarities between Darwin and Hitler. For another, many people have believed in Darwin’s theories without becoming Nazis, and many countries have ingested Darwinism into their cultural mainstreams without becoming fascist dictatorships. Another argument has already been presented-that a Darwinian concept of the origins of man is incompatible with Naziism. Obviously, Darwinism does not inevitably or necessarily lead to Naziism.
Those on the other hand who do not believe that Darwinism is true have no difficulty seeing a very real connection-and they too have plausible arguments. For one thing, there is Hitler’s Darwinian rhetoric-rhetoric that was elaborated on at length in Mein Kampf and later supported by Hitler’s actions (not, like a very few random comments about Christianity, contradicted by his actions).
Hitler frequently appealed to Darwinian logic. Here are a few examples from one chapter of Mein Kampf:
. . . the most patent principles of Nature’s rule. . .
. . . it will later succumb in the struggle against the higher level . . .
. . . the will of Nature for a higher breeding of all life . . .
Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he after all is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development of organic living beings would be unthinkable.
In the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb, while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right or opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest. And struggle is always a means for improving a species’ health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of its higher development.
. . . since the inferior always predominates numerically over the best, if both had the same possibility of preserving life and propagating, the inferior would multiply so much more rapidly that in the end the best would inevitably be driven into the background, unless a correction of this state of affairs were undertaken. Nature does just this by subjecting the weaker part to such severe living conditions that by them alone the number is limited, and by not permitting the remainder to increase promiscuously, but making a new and ruthless choice according to strength and health.
. . . exact scientific truth . . . cold logic . . .
. . . the rigid law of necessity and the right to victory of the best and stronger in this world. [vol. I chapt. 11, "Nation and Race"]
Hitler is not angling for votes or trying to deflect opposition here. He is stating that the Darwinian struggle for survival-of-the-fittest is the fundamental law of life, and only weaklings don’t accept it.
This is not a question of a few cut-and-paste quotes. Hitler made many references, in speeches and in writing, to nature’s elimination of the unfit as essential to progress. Moreover, in a chapter from a work in progress (Hitler’s Ethic[T&SL1] ), historian and scholar Richard Weikart makes the useful observation that Hitler frequently used the word Entwicklung, and explains that the word can be translated as “development,” but was also used by German biologists to mean “evolution.”[ii] This same source also notes that Hitler never used the word “Darwinism.” I offer my own observation that this can be used to argue either that Darwin was not important to Hitler, or that Hitler saw the progress of animal species (including the human animal species) through struggle and the elimination of the unfit as a basic law of life, not as a theory presented by an English scientist.
[i] George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third
Reich (New York 1971), p. 103.
[ii] Richard Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (New York forthcoming 2009), chapt. 2 (“The Cult of Evolutionary Progress”).
[T&SL1]Unpublished work in progress