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Darwinist Racism

The Darwinian core,and fundamentally anti-Christian character, of Nazism

A review of Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview byJerry Bergman
Joshua Press, Ontario, 2012

Reviewed by John Woodmorappe

 hitler-nazi

This work is a tour de force. It is the definitive book on the relationship of Darwinismand Nazism. It finds painstaking support from hundreds of references to studiesin Nazism, the Third Reich, Darwin, eugenics, and related subjects. Theauthorities on Nazism cited in this work include Richard Breitman, ChristopherR. Browning, John S. Conway, Joachim C. Fest, Ian Kershaw, Leon Poliakov, BryanMark Rigg, Paul Roland, William L. Shirer, Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, RichardWeikart, and many others.

Some unbelievers, obviously interested inattacking Christianity, have insinuated that Hitler and the top Nazis weredevout Christians. This is very far from the case, as shown decisively byBergman.

One common misconceptionabout ‘social Darwinism’ is that it was some kind of intellectual fad. Perhapsthis was so elsewhere, but not in Germany! There it was taken very seriously,as made so obvious by this book, and made intothe central factor animating German political philosophy and action.

The history ofPan-Germanism, or Deutschtum, followed the same path. While it long predated Darwin, it alsoonly became genocidally virulent when connected to, and synthesized with,Darwinism. The same was true of German racism and German anti-Semitism.

 

While it is correctthat racism long predated Darwin, racism never expanded and flourished as muchas it did in the 19th and 20th centuries—now elevated and legitimized by theimprimatur of scientific authority.

Many victims of Nazism

In contrast to the usual works on Nazism thatfocus primarily or entirely on Jews, Bergman considers other victims. The firstvictims of the gas chambers were not Jews: they were the ‘Darwinian unfit’Germans, such as the mentally retarded (p. 258).

The Nazis also hadgenocidal plans for the Slavs. The Poles, and other Slavs, were Untermenschen (subhumans) who would live only as needed ashelots for the Third Reich (pp. 44–45). The siege of Leningrad was planned tocause the starvation of the population (pp. 33, 215), whose surrender was notto be accepted even if offered. Martin Bormann (p. 166) pictured the Germaninvasion of the USSR as a genocidal war against Slavs, and not just themilitary defeat of the Soviet Union and the elimination of Communism (p. 166).Himmler envisioned the initial phase of Operation Barbarossa, causing the deathof 30 million Slavs (p. 188). Some 250,000 ‘racially desirable’ Slavic childrenwere kidnapped and raised as Germans according to theLebensborn program, and only a small fraction of these werereunited with their parents after Germany’s defeat. The Nazis ended up starving3.6 million Soviet POWs to death (p. 167). Long-term Nazi plans had called forthe replacement of the Slavic population in the conquered East, by Germansettlers, over a twenty-year period (p. 215).

Racism in perspective

While it is true that the Bible was sometimesinterpreted to justify racism and slavery, Christianity, historically and inthe main, has recognized the equality of races, at least in the spiritual andmoral realm. For instance, the almost-universal practice of sending missionariesto non-white peoples was telling. It has implied an active belief thatnonwhites, no less than whites, are loved by God, have a soul, are capable ofunderstanding and living religious and moral truths, etc. [Even in the headydays of colonialism, the benevolent interpretation of the ‘white man’s burden’implied that whites were obligated to use their advantages to help non-whites.Such attitudes also necessarily implied recognition of the fact that thedisadvantages held by non-whites were neither innate nor immutable.]

It is incorrect to suppose that Darwin merelyemulated the racist culture around him. As Professor David Hull has pointedout, Darwin was an independent thinker, not one who merely absorbed and echoedthe attitudes of his society (p. 97). [Ironically, were Darwin merely anabsorber and echoer of Victorian culture, he would not have promoted a viewthat denied creation.]

While it is correct thatracism long predated Darwin, racism never expanded and flourished as much as itdid in the 19th and 20th centuries—now elevatedand legitimized by the imprimatur of scientific authority. Bergman quotesleading Harvard University evolutionist Stephan Jay Gould, who wrote thatbiological arguments for racism increased “by orders of magnitude” after theacceptance of evolutionary theory by most scientists (pp. 82–83) (figure 1).Considering the ultimate esteem that science and scientific progress heldduring the 19th and early 20th centuries, this takes onfurther significance.

Darwin-chart

Figure1. With the oft-repeatedprogression shown here, it was not difficult to think in terms of ‘moreevolutionarily advanced’ and ‘less evolutionary advanced’ human races. Thiskind of Darwinian thinking was honed to perfection by Hitler and the otherNazis.

Ernst Haeckel was thechief promoter of Darwinism in Germany. Soon after The Origin ofSpecies had come out, hepromptly translated it into German. Raised a Christian, he turned against hischildhood faith, and especially scorned the Genesis account specifically forits teaching that all humans are descended from one set of parents (Adam andEve, p. 112), as this implied equality of all peoples.

Some atheists have advanced the silly argumentthat Darwin was banned in Nazi Germany. The exact opposite is the case. Afterthe Nazis came to power, they promoted the teaching of Darwinism in theclassroom as never before in Germany (see Bergman’s Chapter 16, pp. 265 on).

Historian Daniel Gasman points out that in noother nation did the ideas of Darwin develop as seriously (p. 79). Theproliferation of scientific literature devoted to this subject is telling.Before 1933, German scientists published 13 scientific journals devoted toracial hygiene and related topics. In the Nazi era, this exploded to nearly 150scientific journals, many of which are still highly regarded today (p. 81).Moreover, Darwinian-based racism permeated all aspects of German life. This wasso much so, that Professor Robert Lifton called the Nazi state a biocracy—thatis, rule by biology (p. 106).

Luther, Darwin, and Nazi eliminationistanti-Semitism

As with racism, anti-Semitism has a longhistory. However, only the Nazis put it, alongside racism, in the framework ofDarwinism, and elevated it to the point of an eliminationist philosophy backedby an active policy. Although the Nazis certainly used the teachings of MartinLuther when it served their purposes, it is manifestly incorrect to portrayLuther as some kind of forerunner of Hitler.

Luther’s quarrels withthe Jews were entirely religious in nature, and never even hinted at Darwinianor eliminationist anti-Semitism. Luther’s ugly religious polemics were aresponse to equally ugly Jewish attacks on Jesus Christ. Placed in historicalcontext, the abusive tone of religious polemics was universal at the time. Forinstance, Luther called the pope the anti-Christ, and then-faithful CatholicKing Henry VIII returned the favour by calling Luther ‘the worst wolf of hell’.Luther also exchanged scatological vitriol with King Henry’s Catholic adviser, ThomasMore (author of Utopia).

A misunderstanding of Darwinism?

Nowadays, racism is generally scorned inacademia (except when used for identity politics by groups esteemed byleftists). Yet Darwinism is held as firmly as ever, especially when used as aweapon against religion. Nevertheless, we are told that it is ignorant to thinkthat Darwinism justifies, or even implies, racism.

So who got Darwin‘right’? Is it the modern thinkers, or was it the earlier thinkers? In eithercase, why should we blindly trust intellectuals—as when they incessantly saythat molecules-to-man evolution is factual beyond dispute?

Taken to its logicalconclusion, this attitude means that all those German scientists hadfundamentally misunderstood Darwinism. This is difficult to accept. To beginwith, Germany had the highest level of education in the world at the time (p.205). Bergman points out that in the early 20th century the Germansstood at the very pinnacle of science. Up to WWII, German scientists won thelion’s share of Nobel Prizes, and scientists, the world over, had to learnGerman in order to read the scientific literature (pp. 103–104).

Far from seeing Nazism as a misreading—much lessmisuse—of Darwin, German scientists enthusiastically supported the Nazis (p.103), and there were only a handful of German intellectuals who dissented (pp.128, 130). Nor was support for the Nazis a surrender to the inevitable. Noscientist was forced to join the Nazi Party, yet more than 50% of biologistsemployed by the imperial institute did so (p. 125). Back in 1938, Austrianethologist Konrad Lorenz joined the Nazi Party and dedicated his entirescientific effort to the furtherance of National Socialism (p. 125), which hepublically supported wholeheartedly (p. 270). Decades later, in 1973, hiswillful Nazi past evidently overlooked, he (jointly) received the Nobel Prizefor ‘discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual andsocial behaviour patterns’.

So who got Darwin ‘right’? Is it the modernthinkers, or was it the earlier thinkers? In either case, why should we blindlytrust intellectuals—as when they incessantly say that molecules-to-manevolution is factual beyond dispute?

Thinking far beyond ‘might makes right’

Continuing the theme ofthe previous section, ‘Social Darwinism’ is commonly dismissed as a 19th centuryoversimplification—if not caricature—of Darwinism as ‘might makes right’thinking, whether applied to racial politics, geopolitics, the battlefield, orthe business world. After all, there are many different forms of Darwinianfitness in the natural world. There are numerous ways that an organism can besuccessful in passing its genes down to its offspring at the tacit expense ofother organisms. For example, one organism may indeed possess Darwinian fitnessthrough the ‘might makes right’ of being exceptionally skillful in fighting offattacks by predators. Another one, however, may acquire Darwinian fitness by anatypical ability of siring more offspring, thereby compensating for losses ofconspecifics (and their genes) to predators’ appetites, and ensuring that itsgenes that encode prolific reproduction eventually become the norm in thepopulation.

While ‘might makes right’ was most certainly apart of Darwinism as understood and applied by the Nazi Germans, and asconsistently manifested, for instance, with contempt for the Christian teachingof compassion for the weak (e.g. p. 59), it was hardly limited to that.Clearly, the Nazis already understood Darwinian fitness in much broader, andmodern, terms. For instance, Haeckel understood evolutionary fitness in humanevolution not only in terms of physical and mental prowess, but also in termsof “symmetry of all parts and equal development” (p. 79). The biology textbooksin Nazi Germany anticipated what now is called ‘kin selection’. The sacrificeof one’s own life can enable the passing on of one’s genes through one’s kin(p. 278). This is often used by evolutionists to explain the existence ofaltruism in nature.

Ironically, far fromhaving too narrow a concept of Darwinism as ‘might makes right’, the Nazisactually understood Darwinian fitness in terms that, by today’s standards, were too broad. For instance, German scientists believed thatsuch human behaviours as criminality, divorce, hernias, ‘loving to sail onwater’, etc., were all heritable traits subject to natural selection (p. 82)!The same held for the homeless (‘asocials’, p. 135). The Nazi belief that Jews,despite their intelligence, were inevitably afflicted with craftiness andimmorality, meant that such traits were both heritable (pp. 69, 87).

Furthermore, thesophisticated Nazi understanding of Darwinian fitness was converted intopractical action. For example, eugenics in Germany was extended to thesterilization of people with schizophrenia, feeblemindedness, epilepsy,blindness, physical deformities, severe addiction to alcohol or drugs, etc. (p.84). This implied that these traits were heritable, and subject to naturalselection—the latter which could (and should) be accelerated by systematicallyremoving the trait-bearers from the human gene pool. On the other side of thecoin, the infamousLebensborn program (figure 2) included the supposition that such charactertraits as courage, loyalty, determination, sense of honor, etc., were heritable.Thus humans could (and should) deliberately be bred in order to make thesetraits more common among humans (p. 254).

Finally, the Germansvery much practised what they preached. They not only used Darwinism as aground for persecuting and destroying other peoples, they also used Darwinismto persecute their own people, as noted above—all in the name of evolutionaryadvancement. This was no rarity. Bergman (p. 100) cites an estimate of at least275,000 people, mostly Germans, euthanized for ‘racial weaknesses’ in thismanner.

Many doctors like Mengele

Joseph Mengele is by far the best known of theNazi doctors. He was responsible for many of the ‘selections’ at theAuschwitz-Birkenau death camp, and is known for his gruesome experiments ondefenseless humans, including children. Bergman devotes a chapter to this manand his actions.

The well-earnednotoriety of Mengele should not obscure the fact that he was merely the tip ofthe iceberg. There were very many ‘Mengeles’. At least 400 German doctors areknown to have conducted heinous acts against human beings, but only 20 of thesewere ever tried for these crimes (p. 142). No German doctor was ‘followingorders’. Pointedly, no doctor was forced to participate in euthanasia. In fact,Hitler’s original 1939 memo, in this regard, was an empowerment (Vollmacht), not an order (Befehl) (p. 139). The physicians’ participation in theNazi Darwinian program was hardly accidental. Already in 1933, according toProfessor Michael Kater, German physicians had been overrepresented in the NaziParty and its adjunct organizations (p. 133). Were these physicians, in spiteof all their training in biology and related fields, all ‘misunderstanding’Darwin?

Darwin animated the Nazi leadership

Hitler’s personal interests found clearillustration by his personal library, which was captured by the Allies at theend of the war. Bergman comments,

“We know that Hitlerread many books on eugenics, racism, and related topics because he tended tomark up the books he read, even adding his penciled notes to some.” (p. 38).

One striking feature ofBergman’s work is how frequently Darwin became the faith-killer among leading Nazis, who hadearlier been raised as devout Christians. This was notably true of JosephMengele (pp. 149–150), Heinrich Himmler (p. 178), and Joseph Goebbels (pp.191–192). Thus, in their young adulthood, these ‘Darwinized’ college studentsbecame easy prey for Nazi ideology and the personality cult of Hitler.

Hitler’s ‘pro-Christian’ statements

Detractors of Christianity commonly point tocertain of Hitler’s pronouncements that were favourable to Christianity asproof that Hitler was friendly towards Christianity, if not an active Christianhimself. What are we to make of this?

Lebensbornheim

Figure2. The Lebensborn program in action.

Politicians are prone to tell people what theywant to hear, and what they say is commonly an act of posturing. Hitler was agood dissembler, and it is not surprising that some church leaders believedthat Hitler was, at worst, benign towards Christianity (p. 67). Owing to thefact that the German church was strongly compromised by worldliness (forinstance, generally accepting Darwinism), and most of German Christianity wasbased on culture rather than conviction, it is not surprising that much of thechurch believed Hitler in what they wanted to be true.

It is also hardly surprising that Hitler invokedChristian themes as he tried to paint himself as a saviour of the German peoplefrom their real or imagined misfortunes, and, later, also an anti-Bolshevikcrusader. [In doing the latter, he conveniently forgot his earlier allianceswith the Communists, notably with the Soviet Union in 1939–1941, as againstPoland].

As the Third Reich was breathing its last in1945, Hitler made many irrational statements. This included his insistence thathe would still emerge victorious. His ‘pro-Christian’ statements at that timemust be seen in this light (p. 303).

Hitler’s virulent anti-Christianity

Scholars, including George Constable, IanKershaw, and Allan Bullock, agree that Hitler largely hid his anti-Christianityfor tactical reasons (pp. 13–14, 64). He could not afford to make war againstthe church while fighting other enemies. In addition, the ill-conceived actionsof Joseph Goebbels and Julius Streicher must have served as a warning.Goebbels’ and Streicher’s frequent scurrilous attacks against Christianity hadonly provoked an angry backlash, even among nominal German Christians (pp. 198,250).

Despite Hitler’s public posturing as neutral tofriendly towards Christianity, he even then sometimes showed his true coloursin his actions. He reportedly enjoyed anti-Christian literature, and madehostile public statements against the church and the clergy (e.g. p. 64, pp.13–14). In one of his diaries, Goebbels characterized Hitler as “deeplyreligious but deeply anti-Christian” (p. 199).

Except for a brief period in early childhood,Hitler never was even outwardly religious. He increasingly identified with hisagnostic father. And during later childhood, persistently refused his devoutmother’s entreaties to attend church with her, even though he dearly loved her(p. 57). Even in his late childhood, as remembered by a childhood friend,Hitler enjoyed books on the Inquisition and other topics that seemed todiscredit the church (p. 57).

To understand fully whatHitler really thought about Christianity, one has to examine what he said inprivate to trusted staff. Alan Bullock quotes Hitler as calling Christians“filthy reptiles” taking advantage of Germany’s weaknesses, and repeatingJewish-invented fairy tales (p. 303). Historian George Constable points outthat Hitler said privately that he wanted eventually to stamp out Christianityin Germany, “root and branch” (pp. 13–14). Hitler himself once said, “I myselfam a heathen to the core.” (p. 57). So much for the myth that Hitler was aChristian in any way, shape, or form.

What would have happened had Germany won WWII?Interestingly, Bergman calls attention to a lengthy item, dating from theNuremberg Trials, documented by prosecutor William Donovan, found in theCornell University archives. Called the Nazi Master Plan, it planned theeventual elimination of churches in Germany (p. 9).

Miscellaneous Interesting Information

This work includes anassortment of little-known facts. For instance, Hitler’s alleged Jewishancestry has long been a subject of speculation. A genetic study has verifiedthe fact of Hitler’s partial Jewish ancestry—as discussed in an article in the Jewish World (p. 53).

Soon after imposing the Nuremberg Laws, theNazis confiscated the Jews’ firearms (p. 23).

Nowadays, at least reflecting the anti-Christianspirit of much of the West’s academia and media, we hear statements assertingthat the church was essentially complicit, if only by its silence, in theunfolding Holocaust. Ironic to this, none other than Albert Einstein hadpraised the church, in 1940, for having stood up to the Nazis longer than anyother institution in Germany, a fact that won Einstein’s newfound praise forthe church (p. 70).

Conclusion

There is a wealth of evidence showing thatDarwinism played a major, if not central, role in Nazi attitudes and actions.The same holds for evidence that, far from being Christians, Hitler and theother Nazis were very anti-Christian.

The Nazi German understanding of Darwin andDarwinism is very much at variance with modern conceptions of the same. Did theNazis and all the intellectual heavyweights supporting them ‘misunderstand’Darwinism, or did they—unlike modern academics—correctly face up to the fullimplications of the Darwinian position?

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