by Denyse O'Leary
Richard Weikart, history prof at California State University, Stanislaus and author of From Darwin to Hitler, has contributed a good deal of useful information to the Post-Darwinist blog on Darwin's influence on the Nazis.
But one thing I had not known until he mentioned it recently is that, after Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote a second book ("Zweites Buch") , in which he went into considerable detail about his affection for Darwinian evolution concepts:
Most of the ideas in the Second Book are similar to Mein Kampf. The Second Book opens with a chapter on "War and Peace in the Struggle for Survival [literally Struggle for Life]"
The opening paragraph states: "Politics is history in the making. History itself represents the progression of a peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s struggle for survival [life]. I use the phrase 'struggle for survival' [life] intentionally here, because in reality every struggle for daily bread, whether in war or peace, is a never-ending battle against thousands and thousands of obstacles, just as life itself is a never-ending battle against death. Human beings know no more than any other creature in the world why they live, but life is filled with the longing to preserve it. The most primitive creature knows only the instinct of self-preservation; for higher beings this carries over to wife and child, and for those higher still to the entire species. But when manÃ¢â‚¬â€not infrequently, it seemsÃ¢â‚¬â€renounces his own self-preservation instinct for the benefit of the species, he is still doing it the highest service. Because not infrequently it is this renunciation of the individual that grants life to the collective whole, and thus yet again to the individual." The great size of the drive for self-preservation corresponds to the two mightiest drives in life: hunger and love. "In truth, these two impulses are the rulers of life." "Whatever is made of flesh and blood can never escape the laws that condition its development."
On the second page, both of the German and English versions, Hitler stated: "In the limitation of this living space lies the compulsion for the struggle for survival, and the struggle for survival, in turn, contains the precondition for evolution." A page later Hitler stated: "This development (Entwicklung) is characterized by the never-ending battle (Kampf) of humans against animals and also against humans themselves." A better translation of this would be: "Ã¢â‚¬Å“This evolution is characterized by an eternal struggle of humans against animals and against humans themselves."
The opening discussion of this book, then, is all about evolution. Contra the claim that Ã¢â‚¬Å“In general, Hitler did not say very much about Darwin and evolution,Ã¢â‚¬Â he often referred to evolution in Mein Kampf, the Second Book, and in speeches laying out his worldview, especially in secret speeches he delivered during World War II to army officers. His ideas about racial struggle, population expansion, eugenics, euthanasia, and Lebensraum were based in large part on Darwinian ideology of his day.
The second chapter of the Second Book is entitled, "Fighting, Not Industry, Secures Life." However, the German word translated "Fighting" is Kampf and would be more literally translated "Struggle." The second chapter continues the discussion of the human struggle for existence that Hitler claims is a product of expanding populations (Malthus's idea that Darwin appropriated). At the close of the chapter he stated (my translation): "Politics is the art of the execution of the struggle for life of a people [Volk] for its earthly existence. Foreign policy is the art to secure a people [Volk] its necessary living space in extent and quality."
Actually, it sounds like some popular expositions of Darwin's theory that I have heard, barring the turgid prose.
Weikart is currently completing a book on Hitler's Ethic that, he says, will demonstrate that evolutionary ethics was a central feature of HitlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ideology.
So why didn't Hitler mention Darwin?
While we are here, Weikart also addressed the question of why Hitler did not quote Darwin directly or mention him by name:
It's true that Hitler hardly ever mentioned Darwin by name (the only direct mention of Darwin I have been able to find is an account by a colleague Wagener).
First, Hitler hardly ever named thinkers from whom he derived ideas. I think this was because he wanted to appear like an original thinker (which he wasn't). Secondly, we have no evidence that Hitler ever read Darwin, so he probably imbibed evolutionary ideas via school, contemporary books, and especially journals and newspapers. I discuss this in my book, From Darwin to Hitler, and will discuss it further in my forthcoming book.
Concerning whether Hitler's ideas were Darwinian: Hitler believed that population pressure causes a struggle for existence between organisms that leads to evolutionary progress. He also believed that this struggle occurred between human races. This is completely Darwinian (yes, Darwin did use the rhetoric of progress), and Hitler often described evolution in Darwinian terms. Also, like Darwin, Galton, and many Darwinists of his day, Hitler believed that intellectual and moral traits are heritable.
Hitler's anti-Semitism did not derive from Darwinism, but many of his ideas did have Darwinian roots: racial struggle, eugenics, euthanasia, population expansion, need for living space. If one reads writings by German Darwinists during the early 1920s (Fritz Lenz, Erwin Baur, Eugen Fischer and many others), one finds many of the same ideas that Hitler was promoting.
Just this morning I was reading an SS booklet entitled _Rassenpolitik_ (Racial Policy), which is overtly Darwinian. It overtly discusses the struggle for existence, natural selection, and it even discusses mutations as the source of variation. It also uses the term Hoeherentwicklung (higher evolution) constantly.
Does that mean that typical modern-day Darwinists have anything in common with Hitler? No, of course not. But it does mean that we cannot understand Hitler without understanding the role that Darwin, especially as Darwin was understood in Germany, played in his thinking.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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