The Influence of Evolution on Nazi Race Programs
Evolution's influence on Nazism is a highly emotional topic which has been researched and discussed to only a limited extent. Contemporary documents conclusively demonstrate that Nazi governmental policy was highly influenced by evolutionist thought the zeitgeist of both science and educated society of the time.' Their treatment of Jews and other "inferior" groups was largely a result of strong belief in biological evolution as the means to improve humankind.
The Nazis first tried to achieve this goal by isolating the "inferior races" to prevent them from further contaminating the "Aryan" gene pool.2 It was widely believed that it was scientifically proven that the Jews and certain other races were genetically inferior. The government was simply trying to apply this science to produce a superior race of humans as part of their goal of a better society. Hitler's writings reveal that he viewed humankind as "animals," to whom principles learned from animal breeding can be applied. As Clark3 concluded:
Adolf Hitler's mind was captivated by evolutionary teaching - probably since the time he was a boy. Evolutionary ideas - quite undisguised - lie at the basis of all that is worst in Mein Kampf - and in his public speeches. Hitler reasoned that a higher race would always conquer a lower.
Gasman4 stated that:
In no other country. did the ideas of Darwinism develop as the total explanation of the world as in Germany . Insisting on the literal transfer of the laws of biology [as interpreted by evolution] to the social realm.
Hitler noted that one would not let a 2 million Mark thoroughbred horse breed with a nag. He likewise felt that to advance the human race we must "direct evolution" instead of letting natural forces and chance blindly produce-5 His view on race and evolution made the fatal combination which produced the holocaust. As Smith6 notes:
One of the central planks in Nazi theory and doctrine was . evolutionary theory [and] . . that all biology had evolved . . upward, and that . less evolved types . should be actively eradicated [and] that natural selection could and should be actively aided and therefore instituted political measures to eradicate . Jews, and blacks, whom they considered underdeveloped
And the belief that evolution can be directed to produce a "superior race," as Tenenbaum7 noted, was the central leitmotif of Nazism:
Each revolution has its own characteristic symbolism. The archsymbol of the Nazi creed was race. There were many other sources from which Nazism drew its ideological fire-water. But in that concatenation of ideas and nightmares which made up the Nazi race concept, most of the other leitmotifs of Hitlerism were merged in a deadly harmony. The. social policies of the Nazi state, and to a considerable extent its military and diplomatic policies as well, can be most clearly comprehended in the light of its vast racial program.
Hitler often used the terms "superior race, "race contamination," and "pollution of the race," and the philosophy that humans could direct evolution up to a higher level is repeatedly reflected in his writings and speeches. To accomplish this goal required "barbarian behavior." Rauschning8 quoted Hitler as stating that the Nazis "are barbarians We want to be barbarians. It is an honorable title. We shall rejuvenate the world.... Thus Keith9 concluded that Hitler:
is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.
Many of Hitler's top aides held similar beliefs. Hoess, while still a young man, joined the Freikorps, a pre-Nazi German "secret night court" which often took the law into their own hands. After taking part in a brutal execution of a 'traitor," Hoess was arrested and sentenced by the Republican German Court to l0 years hard labor. While in prison, Rudorff10 noted that the future Nazi was "particularly interested in books on 'racial' theories, heredity and ethnological works."
Hoess later used his knowledge about race to manage various concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He restructured this forced labor "camp" to a means of furthering evolution. In Auschwitz, the inmates were "No longer persons. . .[but] simply goods to be processed in the gigantic death-factory he had organized."11
The Nazi Party did not view itself as wrong or inhumane,12 It openly "prided itself on its scientific ideology and modern view of the world."13 Barzun14 notes that their "ideas of class and race. . and determinism, reinforced as they are by our faith in . . . evolution, may well [be]. . . inescapable."
Darwinism and Racism
The teachings of evolution influenced Hitler in many ways. The complete title of Darwin's famous Bible was The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin himself, as the title noted, clearly believed that some races (such as blacks) were inferior to others. As Haller15 noted: "The subject of race inferiority was beyond critical reach in the late nineteenth century." Although Darwin opposed slavery, he did feel that one of the strongest evidences for evolution was the existence of living "primitive races," which he believed were evolulionarily in between humans and monkeys. The missing link wasn't missing but, most evolutionists of the time concluded, lived in Australia and other far-off places.15 Some living races were viewed as clear evidence of a graduation of living creatures pointing to the truth of evolution. For this reason, almost all biology textbooks of the time discuss the hierarchy of races.
Although Darwin was far less racist than many of his disciples, especially Spencer, Haeckel, Hooton, Pearson, and Huxley, his theory provided the basis for the later extreme racism, and he never worked against this conclusion (see his Chapter 7, "On the Races of Man" in The Descent of Man). Ernst Haeckel is actually called "the great ancestor of theoreticians of Nazi biology."17
The widely used textbook, A Civic Biology which Scopes used in the class he taught in 1925 which became the basis for the famous Dayton, Tennessee Scopes Trial discussed "man's place in nature." Under the section of evolution, in a mild, but openly racist statement it concludes that
At the present time there exist upon the earth five races . each very different from the other in instincts, social customs and . . . structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type,. . the Mongoloid or yellow race, and finally, the highest type of all, Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.18
This American high school textbook which went through several editions, is mild compared to others of the time. The philosophical orientation that existed in the western world, especially Nazi Germany, is still clearly evident.
The man whom some regard as the actual modern "discoverer" of evolution by natural selection, Wallace, espoused essentially the same idea. In his words the "self-acting process [of the weak dying] would necessarily improve the race because in every generation the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would remain that is, the fittest would survive. "19 This is the essence of evolution, and racism is at its core.
Even Chambers in his classic Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation to which Darwin said, that without this book he might never have written The Origin of Species, concluded that "the Negro" was "at the foot of" the Mongol. the Yellow race in between, and Caucasians at the top.20 Chambers himself concluded the "various races of mankind, are simply . . . stages in the development of the highest or Caucasian type.... Chambers taught that the Black race is the least developed, advanced, or evolved, and the Caucasian race the highest, most advanced and most evolved race.21
Evolution in Nazi Germany and War
Extensive research into the existing documents has recently thrown much light on the influence of Darwin on Hitler and the Nazi ideology. The concept that "all men are created equal" and the egalitarian ideal which has dominated the American ideology for the past 20 years, and to a lesser degree since the founding of our country, is not universal among nations or cultures.22 The Germans specifically taught that they were a superior race, and thus it was best for all that they ruled.23 As Tenenbaum noted:
the political philosophy of the Prussian, then the German State, was built on the ideas of struggle, selection, and survival of the fittest, all notions and observations arrived at later on by Darwin. . but already in luxuriant bud in the German social philosophy of the nineteenth century, which culminated in Hegel's political philosophy of the State. Thus developed the doctrine of Germany's inherent right to rule the world on the basis of superior strength . . of a "hammer and anvil" relationship between the Reich and the weaker nations.24
The inequality doctrine was thus an integral part of German philosophy. As a race, they were superior to others, thus had a right based on evolution to subjugate others. Tenebaum concluded the Nazis incorporated the . theory of evolution in their political system, with nothing left out, neither bone nor hide. Their political dictionary was replete with words like space, struggle, selection, and extinction (Ausmerzen). The syllogism of their logic was clearly stated: The world is a jungle in which different nations struggle for space. The stronger win, the weaker die or are killed.25
In the 1933 Nuremberg party rally, Hitler proclaimed that "a higher race subjects to itself a lower race and thus establishes a relationship which now embraces races Of an unequal value. There thus results the subjection of a people under the will [of the higher race]. . a right which we see in nature and which can be regarded as the sole conceivable right because [it was] founded on reason [of evolution}"26
It is now well-known that Hitler openly intended to produce a superior race and relied heavily upon Darwin and Darwinian thought in both his social and extermination policies. Nazi Germany actually glorified war as it was a means of killing the less fit. War was actually necessary to "upgrade the race." Clark concludes, quoting extensively from Main Kampf that:
Hitler's attitude to the League of Nations and to peace and war were based upon the same principles. "A world court would be a joke. the whole world of Nature is a mighty struggle between strength and weakness an eternal victory of the strong over the weak. There would be nothing but decay in the whole of nature if this were not so. States which should offend against this elementary law would fall into decay." In those early days Hitler himself was alarmed to see signs of such decay in the German nation. . (Speech at Munich, 1923). "He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist." To think otherwise is to "insult" nature. "Distress, misery and disease are her rejoinders" (Main Kampf).27
Although for generations Germans were war oriented, Hitler and others added a new justification, namely, that war was a positive force because it eliminated both the weaker races and the weaker members of the superior race. Remember that Darwin believed that this was the process that caused development of a higher race. Hitler stressed that the Germans were a great people primarily because they are warlike and thereby continually eliminate the weaker among them. This view was expressed well by Wiggan who openly states that the process of eradication of the weaker races is a major source of evolution:
At one time man had scarcely more brains that his anthropoid cousins, the apes. But, by kicking, biting, fighting. . and outwitting his enemies and by the fact that the ones who had not sense and strength enough to do this were killed off, man's brain became enormous and he waxed both in wisdom and agility, if not in size .....
War is thus good, for only by..... kicking, fighting. biting, etc.," do humans evolve. They are positive. even to the extent of claiming the contradiction that human civilization would not exist if it were not for constant fighting. Hitler concluded that Europe as a whole evolved more than other civilizations primarily because of its constant fighting. (This commonly believed assumption is not true; many tribes in Africa were historically continually involved in wars, as were most countries in Asia and America. War was actually typical of all peoples. except those who lived in very cold climates near the poles, or on small islands that had abundant food.)29
Nazi policies therefore resulted not so much from a "hatred" toward Jewish and other peoples (a few statements in his writing could actually be interpreted as laudatory of Jews) but more from idealistic, evolutionary goals. 30 Hitler once said if it were not for certain Jews, the Nazis would not have gained power. His major policy concern seemed to be their "polluting the race." Hitler elaborated as follows:
many Jews are not aware of the destructive power they represent. Now he who destroys life is himself risking death. That is the secret of what's happening to the Jews. Whose fault is it when a cat devours a mouse...?
the Jews [are]. . . the ferment that causes people to decay. . In the long run nature eliminates the noxious elements. One may be repelled by this law of nature which demands that all living things should mutually devour one another. The fly is snapped up by a dragonfly, which itself is swallowed by the bird, which itself falls victim to a larger bird.
...it's useful to know the laws of nature for that enables us to obey them. To act otherwise would be to rise in revolt against. . [the natural order of things].31
Hitler here stressed that we must understand and apply the "laws of nature," one of which is the "survival of the fittest" law, for the human races benefit. We should, as a race, take part in the elimination, or at least the quarantine, of the less fit. He adds:
If I can accept a living Commandment, it is this one: "Thou shall preserve the species." The life of the individual must not be set at too high a price. If the individual were important in the eyes of nature, nature would take care to preserve him. Among the millions of eggs a fly Days, very few are hatched out and yet the race of flies thrives.32
Individuals, Hitler stressed, are not important. The important thing is the race.33 And certain races, as Whitehead notes, were not even persons,
The Jews, labeled subhumans, became nonbeings. It was both legal and right to exterminate them in the collectivist and evolutionist viewpoint. They were not considered part of the whole and thus were not persons in the sight of the German government.34
Hickman adds that:
It is perhaps no coincidence that Adolf Hitler was a firm believer in and preacher of evolutionism. Whatever the deeper, profound, complexities of his psychosis, it is certain that [the concept of struggle was important for]. . . his book, Mein Kampf clearly set forth a number of evolutionary ideas, particularly those emphasizing struggle, survival of the fittest and extermination of the weak to produce a better society.35
He was especially concerned with the effects of cross-breeding with Germans, whom he felt to be part of the Aryan race, the superior race, with supposedly non-Aryans (Semites and Blacks were only two among the many inferior races). His play to exterminate the Jews was based heavily upon Darwinian thought and philosophy. One of his main concerns in achieving the "final solution" was to reduce contamination of the Aryan gene pool, something for which he felt future generations (once the inferior races were exterminated) would thank him profusely. Thus Clark concludes:
The Germans were the higher race, destined for a glorious evolutionary future. For this reason it was essential that the Jews should be segregated, otherwise mixed marriages would take place. Were this to happen, all nature's efforts "to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being may thus be rendered futile" (Mein Kampf).36
The Media Today and Evolution's Influence in Germany
For several reasons, therefore, Darwinian evolution was championed in Germany more than most other parts of the world. At the 1863 National Conference of German Scientists, Ernest Haeckel of the University of Jena, one of its leading proponents, supporters and writers, forcefully presented his views and began four decades as "Darwin's chief apostle." He was especially active in writing about "social Darwinism," or the application of Darwinian theory to explain the historical and social development of civilization, and why some were advanced, others primitive.37 But, as Gould concluded:
Haeckel's greatest influence was, ultimately, in another, tragic direction national socialism [Nazism]. His evolutionary racism; his call to the German people for racial purity and unflinching devotion to. . his belief that harsh, inexorable laws of evolution ruled human civilization and nature alike, conferring upon favored races the right to dominate others. . . his brave words about objective science all contributed to the rise of Nazism. The Monist League that he had founded and led. made a comfortable transition to active support for Hitler.38
In spite of this evidence, the influence of Darwinian evolution on the holocaust has been greatly downplayed by the mass media. It was clearly present, and a review of the literature indicates that the racism of Germany would have had a difficult time existing in Europe if New Testament creationism void of curse theories had been widely accepted.
Nazism and Religion
Some persons, noting that Germany was a "very religious country, claim that Hitler was at one time an altar boy for a short while and "considered himself a good Roman Catholic."39 The strong feelings of Hitler and the Nazi party against religion as a whole, though, are very clear. Hitler stated bluntly:
The organized lie [religion] must be smashed. The State must remain the absolute master. When I was younger, I thought it was necessary to set about [destroying religion] with dynamite. I since then realized there's room for subtlety. The rotten branch falls of itself. The final state must be, in St. Peter's Chair a senile officiant; facing him a few sinister old women, as gags and as poor in spirit as anyone could wish. The young and healthy are on our side ...lt's impossible eternally to hold humanity in bondage and lies . . . [It] was only between the sixth and eighth centuries that Christianity was imposed upon our people . Our peoples had previously succeeded in living all right without this religion. I have six divisions of SS men absolutely indifferent in matters of religion. It doesn't prevent them from going to their death with serenity in their souls.40
Hitler's beliefs here are abundantly clear. The younger people, he stressed, were the hope of Germany because they were "absolutely indifferent in the matters of religion." As Keith noted, he also viewed evolution and Christianity as polar opposites:41
Christianity makes no distinction of race or of color; it seeks to break down all racial barriers. In this respect the hand of Christianity is against that of Nature, for are not the races of mankind the evolutionary harvest which Nature has toiled through long ages to produce? May we not say, then, that Christianity is anti-evolutionary in its aim?42
Borman was equally blunt, stressing that the churches' opposition to evolution and science forces it to be condemned; in his words:
National Socialist [Nazi] and Christian concepts are incompatible. The Christian Churches build upon the ignorance of men and strive to keep large portions of the people in ignorance because only in this way can the Christian Churches maintain their power. On the other hand, national Socialism is based on scientific foundations. Christianity's immutable principles, which were laid down almost two thousand years ago, have increasingly stiffened into life-alien dogmas. National Socialism, however, if it wants to fulfill its task further, must always guide itself according to the newest data of scientific researches. The Christian Churches have long been aware that exact scientific knowledge poses a threat to their existence. Therefore, by means of such pseudo-sciences as theology, they take great pains to suppress or falsify scientific research. Our National Socialist world view stands on a much higher level than the concepts of Christianity, which in their essentials were taken over from Judaism. For this reason, too, we can do without Christianity.43
The evidence is very clear that Darwinian ideas had a tremendous impact in German thought and practice. It was also a thoroughly secular movement relying on science and the positivistic movement, even though Germany as a nation had been the leader of the Protestant reformation. Darwinian ideas had a tremendous influence on causing World War II, the loss of 40 million lives and the waste of about 6 trillion 1945 dollars. Firmly convinced that evolution was true, Hitler saw himself as the modern saviour of mankind. He felt that the world would thank him someday for his "scientific socialism" programs. By breeding a superior race, the world would look upon him as the man who pulled humanity up to a higher level of evolution.