Via W. E. B. Du Bois. David Klinghoffer, thinking about the recent review of Richard Weikart’s Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism at National Review (his own old stomping grounds), reminds us of a curious coincidence on which reviewer M.S. Aeschliman remarks:
“In 1909, on the 50th anniversary of the execution for treason of the radical-Christian abolitionist John Brown, the black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois published a tribute to him, who in his own time and after his death, during the subsequent American Civil War, had become an inspirational martyr for anti-slavery, anti-racist whites and blacks. But Du Bois was confronted with a logical and rhetorical problem that he struggled to overcome in his tribute. After the Civil War and the death of Lincoln, “those that stepped into the pathway marked by men like John Brown faltered and large numbers turned back,” Du Bois wrote. “They said: He was a good man — even great, but he has no message for us today — he was a ‘belated [Protestant] Covenanter,’ an anachronism in the age of Darwin, one who gave his life to lift not only the unlifted but the unliftable.”
What had intervened between 1859 and 1909 was the emergence and intellectual domination, in the United States and elsewhere, of Darwinian racism, often called “scientific racism,” whose first key document was published in the very year of Brown’s execution, Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Brown was captured (by Colonel Robert E. Lee) in his failed insurrection against slavery in Harpers Ferry, Va., in October; Darwin’s momentous book was published on November 24; and Brown was executed on December 2, 1859. The ascendancy of the “scientific racist” conceptualization of Darwin and his many American, British, German, other European, and Japanese disciples was to prove stronger than the Judeo-Christian idealism of Brown and Abraham Lincoln — and of Frederick Douglass and many other noble souls — in the period after the Civil War, especially when married to the melodramatic, hammer-and-dynamite moral nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche.”David Klinghoffer, “Aeschliman: The Charles Darwin/John Brown Connection” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 30, 2022)
Darwinism did not, of course, create racism. But it did enable racism to speak in the voice of science, as Weikart methodically demonstrates. And that was a very significant development in an increasingly scientistic age.
You may also wish to read: Richard Weikart gets noticed at National Review. Aeschliman: “But Weikart has doggedly and rightly concentrated on the Darwinian intellectual bacillus as it inspired, affected, and accelerated the modern German tragedy of 1870–1945.”
New edition of Aeschliman’s Restoration of Man challenges scientism again