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Historian Richard Weikart on the controversial associations between Darwin and Hitler – and why he risks writing about them


Sometimes people wonder why I am so concerned about the connections between Darwinism and Nazism. What difference does it make, anyway?

To start off, I am a historian specializing in German intellectual history. I am paid to try to understand historical connections between ideologies and political movements. I teach classes on Nazism, European intellectual history, and the history of science. Trying to understand the connections between Darwinism and Nazism is a normal pursuit for a historian, just as it would be to investigate the influence of Schopenhauer or Wagner on Hitler.

Perhaps it would be helpful to explain how I became interested in this topic. I have been interested in the history of Darwinism since high school, when I read many books about Darwinism–both pro and con. When I went to study for a doctorate in modern European intellectual history at the University of Iowa in 1989, I had no clue that I was going to be doing research relating to the history of Darwinism. However, the professor I wanted to study under, Allan Megill, who has written on existentialism and postmodernism, was considering taking a position at the University of Virginia, which he did a year later. He suggested I continue my studies under the historian of science, Mitchell Ash, who specialized in German science (especially psychology). In casting about for a dissertation topic, I became aware that the history of Darwinism in Germany was under-studied, and I found Alfred Kelly’s book on the popularization of Darwinism in late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century Germany   fascinating. I ultimately decided to do my dissertation on the reception of Darwinism by German socialists.

While doing dissertation research on the history of Darwinism in late nineteenth-century Germany, I noticed that quite a few German Darwinists (both biologists and non-biologists) were trying to replace Judeo-Christian ethics with evolutionary ethics. I became interested in this topic, and after finishing my dissertation, I began doing research on evolutionary ethics in Germany before 1914. As I studied evolutionary ethics, I discovered two things that directed my research in lines that I hadn’t even considered when I started.

First, I found out that many eugenicists were writing about evolutionary ethics in the period 1890-1914. Second, I read the American philosopher James Rachels’ book, _Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism_, which argued that Darwinism undermines the Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic, thus making abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia permissible. This caught my attention, because I already had seen similar ideas in nineteenth-century German writers, and because Ernst Haeckel, the leading German Darwinist, was the first German to publicly advocate infanticide for the disabled.

The more I investigated evolutionary ethics in Germany, the more obvious it became to me that these ideas were similar to Hitler’s own ideology, which I had already studied extensively in graduate school. I began investigating Hitler’s writings and speeches in greater depth, and the influence of evolutionary ethics on Hitler’s ideology could not be denied.

Thus, I wrote my book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (2004). Because the Hitler connection caused some controversy, I followed that up with a book examining the role of evolutionary ethics on Hitler’s ideology: Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (2009).

Why is this topic relevant today? Many evolutionists today believe that morality is a trait produced by mindless evolutionary processes. Many also are devaluing human life on the basis of evolutionary theory, recycling the same arguments that were used by Darwinists in the late nineteenth century and that influenced Nazism. Hitler and the Nazis were heavily influenced by the eugenics and euthanasia movements, and the mentality behind these movements is reemerging today. Oxford University held a conference this past summer on “The Evolution of
Morality and the Morality of Evolution.” I presented a paper to that conference showing that many Darwinists, including Darwin himself, have argued that Darwinism undermines objective morality. Michael Ruse, one of the keynote speakers at that conference, has famously stated that
“morality is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.”

Richard Weikart is a professor in the Department of History at California State, Stanislaus.

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I was told that comments were censored on this blog. If censorship is rudimentary arithmetic, then perhaps so? Must be yet another lie perpetrated by Darwinists to defame the YEC and ID community. Sorry OEC, you belong in the group as well to an extent. The connections between Hitler and Darwin are so obvious, as the move Expelled illustrated and you, Richard, made your case well in that context. The movies, the very words of Hitler and his propagandists reveal that he was painting the Jews, the handicapped and maimed with the same Darwinist brush. It may have simply been an excuse but it was used all the same. To the shame of all Americans, Eugenics existed in this country in the early 20th Century and a change in name to "Planned Parenthood" does not hide the fact that the majority of clinics are located near poor and minority neighborhoods. They gladly murder all babies but "colored" babies are their first target. What an ironic society we have become, when we mourn the killing of whales and blithely murder baby humans! We promote the attack on the institution of marriage and label those who defend the institution as a wedding of male and female as bigots, while being funded by groups like NAMBLA who want to bring about sex with children and use "gay marriage" as the wedge to bring in every possible perversity. Darwinism's success as a pseudo-science having been given exalted status has brought our society to the edge of collapse as the Judeo-Christian moral code that underlies the very nation is under direct attack. No, I do not wish to confine Darwinists to Idaho (why hate Idaho?) but rather I want them exposed for the liars and propagandists that they actually are...so thank you for doing your part! radaractive
No not pro. A criticism and complaint that it is a segregated North America .This from the left, the ethnics etc and a growing acceptance in the America that used to demand assimulation and Americanization. Robert Byers
Yes, please segregate the evos from the rest of the population. They can have Idaho. Joseph
Wow, is this a pro-segregation argument? NickMatzke_UD
I am YEC. It amuses me and I welcome the recent great discrediting of evolution by associating it with Nazism. What can the establishment say? They have to respect a seemly likely connection. Surely evolution and Hitler were dancing together. Yet i am sure evolution was not the origin for the big killing agendas. It justified to the public and upper middle classes there the attempt to exalt German identity. The upper middle classes needed,as in our day, educated ideas to justify German being the bestism. Lower classes easily accept those things. It made sense from a evolutionary view that selection makes desirable fixed traits. In fact all the time today people uses phrases like ITS IN THE GENES for something positive or negative. Not free will. yet the killing of people was in fact just to get rid of them. not purifying the race. thats just excuse. They could of deported the gypsies. The Jews were claimed to be killed to solve the Jewish problem . The problem being seen as a small foreign identity controling and striving to destroy germany and European civilization in order to replace it with a Jewish one. It was believed they could do it. That was the claim as I have heard. in fact the real object was simply to destroy a people who had prevailed over a native population and become the master. It was envy(which is hatred) and hatred against a dominating foreign people/race. They were furious at Jewish superiority because, I say, they ,Hitler, believed they had proven to be superior men. A superior race. So they grasped to prove they were the superior race but in their own hearts believed they were beat by the Jew. They misintrepretated Jewish achievement. One could say better that it was evolutionary presumptions that made Hitler and company believe the Jews were a superior race( and coupled with sincerely seeing them as a threat to their civilization, nation, people) and led to a murderous determination to get rid of them from earh. Modern North America mirrors these things somewhat. Segregated identities within a boundary, segregated results in achievement , and determination to interfere or not interfere for the desirable results relative to identity. The modern liberal establishment, Obama world, and some conservative/republican are all living evolutionary construct of right and wrong answers in organizing mankind. Robert Byers
OT: Frank Turek Interviews William Lane Craig at Southern Evangelical Seminary (October 29, 2011) http://www.youtube.com/user/drcraigvideos#p/a/u/0/eK-JwFBCSAU bornagain77

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