Scholar Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler asked me to publish this essay to Uncommon Descent. You can read more from Weikart here and my review of his highly recommended book is here. (Note: If you care about this subject, don’t listen to glib excuses and misdirection; read the book.)
I am glad to say that the Expelled flapette on this subject has spiked demand for Weikart’s meticulously researched work, especially because it features the work of Darwinist Nazis who had never before even been translated into English:
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #9,259 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)
Popular in these categories: (What’s this?)
#3 in Books > Professional & Technical > Medical > Medicine > Medical Ethics
#6 in Books > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Discrimination & Racism
#11 in Books > History > United States > African Americans
(at 9:41 am EST)
For a while, Weikart was the target of unscholarly attacks by people determined to obscure the role of Darwinism as an underlying belief very well suited to Hitler’s Third Reich.
Anyway, here is his essay:
Was It Shameful for “Expelled” to Connect Darwinism and Nazi Atrocities?
Many critics of Ben Stein’s new film, “Expelled,” have expressed distaste—and some have gone absolutely apoplectic—over his linking of Darwinism with Nazism. In an MSNBC article bioethicist Arthur Caplan called the film immoral and even ridiculously calls Stein a Holocaust denier, because of his audacity to link Darwinism with Nazi atrocities. Scientific American calls this aspect of the film shameful.
We need to clarify first that neither Stein nor anyone else in “Expelled” ever claimed that Darwinism was the sole culprit for the Nazi program for killing the disabled or exterminating the Jews. The argument was more circumspect: Darwinism was an important—but by no means exclusive—ingredient in the Nazi worldview that motivated them to pursue death for the “inferior” as a means to foster evolutionary progress. This is irrefutable, if anyone will simply examine the evidence (just read the chapter “Nation and Race” in Mein Kampf).
If we focus on the Nazi program to kill the disabled, we find that just about all historians who have examined the evidence have concluded that Darwinism did have something to do with it. The museum in Hadamar (which Stein visited in the film) and the accompanying book for sale there both explain the influence of Darwinism on the Nazi euthanasia program.
For the Nazis killing the disabled was a radical form of eugenics, i.e., the program to improve humans hereditarily. The father of the modern eugenics movement, Francis Galton, conceived the idea while reading Darwin’s _Origin of Species_. The organizer of the German eugenics movement, Alfred Ploetz, claimed that his main ideas about eugenics were drawn from Darwinism. Ploetz also recruited the two leading Darwinists in Germany—Ernst Haeckel and August Weismann—to became honorary members of the Society for Race Hygiene when he founded it in 1905. Ploetz was on the Nazi government’s committee that framed eugenics legislation, and Hitler personally honored him in 1936 for his contributions to the German eugenics movement.
Nazis enthusiastically adopted eugenics policies, which according to the 1921 International Eugenics Congress was the “self-direction of human evolution.” Among scholars who have investigated the origins of Nazi eugenics and euthanasia ideology, the claim that Darwinism (in some form or other) influenced Nazi ideology is not particularly controversial. In their highly regarded book on the history of eugenics in Germany, Peter Weingart, Juergen Kroll, and Kurt Bayertz state, “Considered from the viewpoint of the history of ideas the fascist state was a logical consequence of that branch of eugenics which remained bound up with social Darwinist ideas of selection.” In the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s publication, Deadly Medicine, three separate essays mention the Darwinian underpinnings of eugenics.
Nazi eugenics films clearly showed the influence of Darwinism. “Expelled” showed a brief clip from “Opfer der Vergangenheit” (“Victims of the Past”), in which the narrator states: “All that is non-viable in nature inevitably perishes. We humans have transgressed the law of natural selection in the last decades. Not only have we supported inferior life-forms, we have encouraged their propagation.” Michael Burleigh in his book on Nazi euthanasia explains that other Nazi eugenics films, such as “All Life is Struggle,” regularly depicted Darwinian themes, especially the struggle for existence.
If we look specifically at the history of the euthanasia movement, just about all historians who have examined it admit that Darwinism and eugenics played a key role in undermining the Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic. The first person in Germany to promote killing the disabled was the biologist Ernst Haeckel, the leading nineteenth-century German Darwinist. Almost all early proponents of euthanasia—not only in Germany, but also in Britain and the United States—were avid Darwinists who claimed that Darwinism supported their ideology, as Ian Dowbiggin, Nick Kemp, Udo Benzenhöfer, and many other historians have clearly demonstrated. Hans-Walter Schmuhl, a German historian who is an expert on the Nazi euthanasia program, states, “The race hygiene [i.e., eugenics] paradigm constituted an ethic of a new type, which was ostensibly grounded scientifically in Darwinist biology.” In his book he explains in detail the Darwinian and eugenics background to the Nazi euthanasia program.
Caplan claims that it was Hitler’s hatred of the disabled, not Darwinism, that led to these atrocities against the disabled. But this ignores the fact that Hitler made clear that his contempt for the disabled was based on Darwinian-inspired ideology. In Mein Kampf Hitler stated, “For as soon as procreation as such is limited and the number of births diminished, the natural struggle for existence which leaves only the strongest and healthiest alive is obviously replaced by the obvious desire to save even the weakest and most sickly at any price, and this plants the seed of a future generation which must inevitably grow more and more deplorable the longer this mockery of Nature and her will continues.” He continued, “A stronger race will drive out the weak, for the vital urge in its ultimate form will, time and again, burst all the absurd fetters of the so-called humanity of individuals, in order to replace it by the humanity of Nature which destroys the weak to give his place to the strong.”
No one is claiming that Darwinism leads inevitably toward the Holocaust, and no one is denying the importance of other factors, including anti-Semitism, in shaping Nazi ideology. However, only those unwilling to examine the evidence could claim that Nazism was not influenced by Darwinism.
Richard Weikart is history professor at California State Univ., Stanislaus, and author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany