The Strange Case of Little Green Footballs II - Evolution News & Views

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The Strange Case of Little Green Footballs II

About the Darwin-Hitler connection, I've written many times before (see here, here, and here, for example), quoting Hitler himself, his standard biographers, and Hannah Arendt. What emerges is that Nazism is indeed a kind of applied Darwinism, unintended by Charles Darwin himself, of course. Ideas have consequences, and some of them are unintended. Obvious, right?

Not to blogger Charles Johnson in Little Green Footballs, who jumped on me in a recent post for writing two sentences in a Jerusalem Post op-ed to the effect that "Hitler himself clearly dismissed as ineffective any fancied strategy to try to whip up Germans with appeals to punish the Christ-killers. In Mein Kampf, an influential best-seller, he relied on the language of Darwinian biology to declare a race war against the Jews." And that remains true, despite the fact that Hitler doesn't cite Darwin as an intellectual influence. Citing influence wasn't Hitler's style, but it seems he absorbed his Darwinian worldview from the poisonous popular Viennese press. Richard Weikart goes into detail about this in his important book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, which I've drawn much from.

Hitler certainly doesn't cite Christian teaching as an influence either--but that hasn't stopped critics of Christianity from tying that faith to Nazi anti-Semitism.

Yes, someone will object at this point, but what about the famous line at the end of Chapter 2 of Mein Kampf, "In defending myself against the Jews, I am acting for the Lord"? When Hitler invoked "the Lord," this was not the God of Christianity, as the immediate context makes crystal clear. "Eternal Nature," he writes in the preceding paragraph in the same chapter, "inexorably avenges the infringement of her commands." He means those iron laws of Nature, Darwin's laws. Those are Hitler's "Almighty Creator," as he goes on to say, the "Lord" whose work he proposes to do by making war on the Jews.

The chapter to read in Mein Kampf is Chapter 9, "Nation and Race," where he discusses the obligation to defend the Aryan race from the Jewish menace. His argument is transparently phrased in Darwinian terms.

But you don't have to be an advocate of intelligent design--or that hooded, phantom menace, a "creationist"--to see this. In Modern Times, the historian Paul Johnson writes that "Darwin's notion of the survival of the fittest was a key element both in the Marxist concept of class warfare and of the racial philosophies which shaped Hitlerism" (p. 5).

If you want the assurance of a liberal and a critic of Catholic Christianity, turn to James Carroll in Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews. Carroll notes that the ideal of Nazi-style "blood purity" was articulated by thinkers in the Catholic Church as far back as 1449, specifically by Spanish "Old Christians" who feared that Jewish-born converts to Catholicism would spoil the Spanish Christian limpieza de sangre. Carroll calls Hitler a "product" of this line of racially based anti-Jewish thinking. But for all that the historian wants to emphasize the Church's guilt, such as it may be, he acknowledges that "the scientific Enlightenment, pursuing its decidedly nonreligious agenda, added its own twist..., especially in the figure of Charles Darwin."

Carroll quotes Darwin's fell prophecy in The Descent of Man that "[a]t some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races." He acknowledges the influence exercised by the "'Germanizing' of Darwin, especially in Nietzsche, at least as he was caricatured by the Nazis. Hitler's all-encompassing ideology of race was a 'vulgarized version,' in one scholar's phrase, of the social Darwinism that held sway in the imperial age among both intellectuals and the crowd."

"Social Darwinism" is a phrase used to insulate Darwin himself from the consequences of his ideas and his words. Carroll concludes, "So however much Hitler twisted what preceded him, it is also the case that he emerged from it" (p. 477).

I have argued just that, adding only that the influence of Darwinism is the more concrete, since he used biological language in couching his call for race war, whereas he did not use the ancient Christian vocabulary that assailed Jews as "Christ killers."

We know from other sources of his contempt for Christian belief. In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock writes that what Hitler found objectionable about Christianity was precisely its rejection of the conclusions that followed from Darwin's theory: "Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest."

That is point number one I would make to Charles Johnson and other conservatives who share his perspective. There is nothing in defending Darwinian science, if you choose to defend it, that should make you feel obliged to deny the influence that Darwin had on the rise of Nazi race theory.

No, and let me emphasize this because it otherwise always gets lost when people get upset, this doesn't make Darwin a proto-Hitler and it doesn't mean Darwin somehow caused the Holocaust. But it does remind us of an obvious truth: The way you picture how the world works must inevitably influence, somehow, the way you think it should work. Not determine it, but influence it. It's a reason to take a second, critical look at Darwinian theory, not necessarily to reject it. Just that.

The second point is less obvious but possibly more interesting. More tomorrow.