Here are four very important books that you all should be aware of:
Richard Weikart is an American professor of history and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle. He has penned a number of important works that are worth being aware of. Four of them in particular I wish to draw your attention to.
These four volumes – penned by him over the past two decades – are must reads. They all have to do with some important and related themes: Darwinism, Nazism, eugenics, and the culture of death. Any one of these books alone makes a compelling case, but taken together they offer a wealth of documentation and evidence to show the very real connections between Darwinism, eugenics, the Nazis, and the killing fields.
Let me here briefly discuss each one. I will say a bit about each volume and then offer a few representative quotes from it. It is hoped that this will spur you on to get some of these books and carefully digest them. Here then are the four works:
From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany. Palgrave, 2004.
Darwinism was not just an arcane theory which remained cloistered in the classroom. It was a revolutionary worldview which had a very real impact on those who embraced it and championed it. Here Weikart carefully traces some core ideas of Darwin and how they played themselves out in the ideology and practice of the Nazis.
“Many scholars have, in fact, argued for the importance of Darwinism – or at least social Darwinism – in preparing the ground for Nazi ideology and the Holocaust. . . . Just because Darwinism does not lead inevitably to Nazism does not mean that we can strike Darwinism off the list of influences that helped produce Hitler’s worldview and thus paved the way to the Holocaust.” (pp. 3-4)
“Darwinian terminology and rhetoric pervaded Hitler’s writings and speeches, and no one to my knowledge has ever even questioned the common assertion by scholars that Hitler was a social Darwinist. It is too obvious to deny.” (pp. 7-8)
“In philosophical terms, Darwinism was a necessary, but not a sufficient, cause for Nazi ideology. But however logical or illogical the connections are between Darwinism and Nazism, historically the connections are there and they cannot be wished away.” (p. 9)
“Not only did many leading Darwinists embrace eugenics, but also most eugenicists – certainly all the early leaders – considered eugenics a straightforward application of Darwinian principles to ethics and society. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, the founder of modern eugenics, developed his ideas upon reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species.” (p. 15)
“Hitler’s morality was not based on traditional Judeo-Christian ethics nor Kant’s categorical imperative, but was rather a complete repudiation of them. Instead, Hitler embraced an evolutionary ethic that made Darwinian fitness and health the only criteria for moral standards.” (p. 210)
“Nazi barbarism was motivated by an ethic that prided itself on being scientific. The evolutionary process became the arbiter of all morality. Whatever promoted the evolutionary progress of humanity was deemed good, and whatever hindered biological improvement was considered morally bad. Multitudes must perish in this Malthusian struggle anyway, they reasoned, so why not improve humanity by speeding up the destruction of the disabled and the inferior races? According to this logic, the extermination of individuals and races deemed inferior and ‘unfit’ was not only morally justified, but indeed, morally praiseworthy. Thus Hitler – and many other Germans – perpetrated one of the most evil programs the world has ever witnessed under the delusion that Darwinism could help us discover how to make the world better.” (p. 227)
“It would be foolish to blame Darwinism for the Holocaust, as though Darwinism leads logically to the Holocaust. . . . . To deny the influence of Darwinism on Hitler would also be foolish, however, especially since almost all scholars of Nazism acknowledge it.” (p. 232)
“Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism… neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world’s greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy.” (p. 233)
Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress. Palgrave, 2009.
In this volume Weikart continues his exploration of how Hitler and the Nazis drew so heavily from both Darwinism and social Darwinism. The documentation provided here makes it clear that the views of Darwin and his followers contributed substantially to the thoughts and actions of Hitler and the Nazis.
“I will demonstrate in this book the surprising conclusion that Hitler’s immorality was not the product of ignoring or rejecting ethics, but rather came from embracing a coherent—albeit pernicious—ethic. Hitler was inspired by evolutionary ethics to pursue the utopian project of improving the human race.” (p. 2)
“Hitler’s ethic was essentially an evolutionary ethic that exalted biological progress above all other moral considerations. He believed that humans were subject to immutable evolutionary laws, and nature dictated what was morally proper. Humans must adapt to and even model themselves after the laws of nature. Most important among these biological laws was the struggle for existence, as Hitler repeatedly emphasized throughout his career. Whether in public or in private, Hitler repeatedly stressed the importance of conforming to the laws of nature, especially the Darwinian law of the struggle for existence.” (p. 3)
“Hitler embraced the social Darwinist idea of the struggle for existence as a positive force, bringing progress and improvement to biological organisms, including the human species. He promoted this idea in dozens of his public and private speeches, as well as in Mein Kampf and in his Second Book. Though he never used the term ‘Darwinism,’ he often used the term “evolution” (Entwicklung) and even “higher evolution” (Höherentwicklung) in his discussions of biological change.” (p. 36)
“Social Darwinists, both before and during the Nazi period, also integrated many preexisting ideas into their ideology. Racism obviously preexisted Darwinism, so it was not derived from evolutionary ethics. However, Darwin and other Darwinists — especially Haeckel, Woltmann, Tenz, and Fischer — integrated racism into evolutionary theory. They explained that the ‘inferior’ races had not evolved as far from their simian ancestors as the more highly evolved Europeans. So, while evolutionary ethics does not even come close to explaining the origin of all Nazi ideology, it was nonetheless a central element influencing many facets of Nazi ideology, especially pro-natalism, eugenics, offensive warfare to gain living space, killing the disabled, and racial extermination.” (p. 199)
“Evolutionary ethics, scientific racism, eugenics, and many related ideas were considered mainstream scientific ideas before and during the Nazi regime, even though they were contested. Many leading scientists and physicians — and not just in Germany — believed that morality is the result of evolution, that behavior was determined by one’s hereditary characteristics, and that some races had higher ethical tendencies than others. Most leading anthropologists in Germany by the early twentieth century believed that Europeans were mentally and morally superior to ‘inferior’ races, such as black Africans, American Indians, or Australian aborigines. Some included Jews in the category of hereditarily inferior races. Eugenics was accepted by large segments of the medical community, too, spanning the political spectrum from left to right.” (p. 202)
Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. Regnery, 2016.
We hear repeatedly from atheists and secularists that Hitler was a devout Christian and that his views arose from his Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Weikart looks at a number of religious options for Hitler, ranging from Christianity to the occult to pantheism to atheism. His careful assessment of the evidence shows that Hitler is best described as a pantheist, and as one who wanted to eliminate Christianity altogether.
“In sum, Hitler was a savvy politician who recognized the negative repercussions of offending the German people’s religious feelings. He tried to curry favor by portraying himself as a coreligionist both to Christian audiences in public speeches and to anti-Christian Nazi Party leaders. . . . Even though he rather frequently attacked Christianity, he rarely if ever explained clearly what he believed about religion. He was a religious chameleon, a quintessential religious hypocrite” (pp. 12-13)
“Throughout his career, Hitler exalted science above religion and criticized any religion that collided with science. He insisted many times that his own worldview was in complete accord with the latest findings of modern science.” (p. 47)
“The preponderance of evidence [is] that Hitler was a pantheist. Pantheists and many social Darwinists in the early twentieth century (plenty of whom were atheists or agnostics) embraced the view that the individual was not so important, because its life was short, but the species or race were far more significant, because it endured much longer.” (p. 52)
“In the end, the evidence is preponderant against Hitler embracing any form of Christianity for most of his adult life. Even though he tried to palm himself off as a Christian when it served his political purposes, none of his friends and comrades considered him one. . . . Despite Hitler’s disingenuous public statements, and despite his esteem for (his anti-Semitic version of) Jesus, it is abundantly clear that Hitler did not consider himself a Christian. And neither should we.” (p. 105)
“Of course, no one knows exactly what course Hitler would have followed if he had won the war. However, the evidence suggests Hitler would have imposed as many restrictions on the churches as he possibly could and that his ultimate goal was their complete destruction.” (p. 145)
“Michael Rissmann is on target when he explains, ‘Occult tendencies were foreign to Hitler, if one follows the reliable sources, already in his years in Vienna…. According to his own opinion, Hitler did not think in mystical-esoteric, but in rational categories.’ Hitler was certainly diabolically evil, but he did not base his evil philosophy on occultism or neo-paganism” (pp. 193-194)
“In the end, while recognizing that Hitler’s position was somewhat muddled, it seems evident his religion was closest to pantheism. He often deified nature, calling it eternal and all-powerful at various times throughout his career. He frequently used the word ‘nature’ interchangeably with God, Providence, or the Almighty.” (p. 279)
The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life. Regnery, 2016.
This is a somewhat wider-ranging work, not just focused on Hitler and the Nazis. It is a bigger picture examination – but with plenty of detail – of how some worldviews invariably lead to the culture of death. We see this clearly in the last century where worldviews that rejected human worth and dignity – that primarily rejected the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life ethic – resulted in the deaths of millions of people.
“This book … demonstrates the poverty of many secular alternatives to the Christian vision of humanity, such as materialism, positivism, utilitarianism, Marxism, Darwinism, eugenics, behaviourist psychology, existentialism, sociobiology, postmodernism, and others.” (xiii)
“While the Nazis committed barbaric atrocities in the name of biological determinism, communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere went on a rampage against humanity in the name of environmental determinism, the view that human behaviour is determined by one’s upbringing, education, and environment. . . . Nazism and communism are two of the most obvious symptoms of the decline of respect for human life in the modern world. However, the erosion of the Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic in Western culture runs much deeper.” (pp. 12-13)
“Many Darwinian biologists and anthropologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries embraced scientific racism, which they saw both as evidence for Darwinism (it showed variation within the human species) and as a logical corollary of Darwinism (because Darwinism required variation).” (p. 61)
“Even if scientists can show—through studying twins, for instance—that some behaviors are more frequent among those with genetic similarities, they are still far from demonstrating that hereditary influence is so powerful that someone simply has no choice but to become an alcoholic or rapist or adulterer (or a kindly saint).” (p. 121)
“The fundamental problem with Marx’s philosophy, the core idea that contributed to these atrocities and oppression, was not its desire to socialize property or promote greater socio-economic equality. Rather, it was his flawed and impoverished vision of humanity.” (p. 137)
“This is not just a theoretical issue of interest only to philosophers, for real people are being put to death as a result of these dehumanizing philosophies. We have already witnessed many grotesque horrors, such as the Stalinist and Maoist communist atrocities against class enemies, or the Nazi Holocaust against racial groups. In most Western societies, we have opted for more democratic forms of killing, such as abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.” (p. 282)
It is hoped that these brief book descriptions and handful of quotes will encourage you to take all this further. This is one author you really do need to know about. He is very good indeed to help us see that certain ideas and worldviews are interconnected. Moreover, he makes it clear that ideas have consequences.
And in this case, bad ideas have bad consequences – real bad consequences.