Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From Darwin to Nietzsche to Hitler

This is the first of a 2-part series on Darwin’s impact on philosophy and politics.

In today's piece, I investigate how Darwin influenced the existentialist philosopher Frederic Nietzsche, and how Darwin and Nietzsche together influenced the German dictator Adolph Hitler, whose crimes against humanity include World War II and the Holocaust.

Some experts prefer to link Darwin and Hitler directly - and that connection can certainly be made. However, I also want to discuss the role of Nietzsche – because it was Nietzsche (not Darwin) who built evolutionary theory into a moral philosophy – a philosophy that not only shaped Hitler, but also crystallized the thinking of many Europeans in the early 20th century.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory had an uncomparable impact on European culture. After Darwin, the fact of evolution could no longer be denied, and the popular imagination, long prepared for such a theory, extended it to ever new fields.” – The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the German Ideology

One of those fields was philosophy. Frederic Nietzsche, arguably the most famous and controversial philosopher of the past 150 years, used Darwinism as the foundation of his moral system.

“'The total nature of the world,’ Nietzsche wrote in Die frohliche Wissenschaft, ‘is. . . to all eternity chaos,’ and this thought, basic to his philosophy, arose directly from his interpretation of Darwin.” - From Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy

“The scientist Charles Darwin had awakened the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche from his dogmatic slumber by the realization that, throughout organic history, no species is immutable (including humans). Pervasive change replaced eternal fixity.

"Going beyond Darwin, the great German thinker offered an interpretation of dynamic nature that considered both the philosophical implications and theological consequences of taking the factual theory of biological evolution seriously.

"Nietzsche was not previously oblivious to either geological time or the paleontological record. He accepted the most controversial ramification of Darwin’s theory: humankind had evolved from remote apelike ancestors, in a completely naturalistic way, through a process of chance and necessity (fortuitous random variations appearing in, and inevitable natural selection acting on, individuals within a changing environment).

"Even the mental faculties of human beings, including love and reason, were acquired during the course of evolutionary ascent from earlier primate forms.

"For Nietzsche, evolution is the correct explanation for organic history but it results in a disastrous picture of reality, since evolution (as he saw it) has far-reaching truths for both scientific cosmology and philosophical anthropology: God is no longer necessary to account for either the existence of this universe or the emergence of our human species from prehistoric animals. In fact, this philosopher held that Darwinian evolution led to a collapse of all traditional values, because both objective meaning and spiritual purpose had vanished from interpretations of reality (and consequently, there can be no fixed or certain morality).” -Darwin, Nietzche, and Evolution

Nietzsche believed that the “collapse of all values” caused by Darwinism was ominous for mankind…

In his book, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, Nietzsche anguished over the consequences he foresaw:

"If the doctrines of sovereign Becoming, of the liquidity of all...species, of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal -- doctrines which I consider true but deadly -- are foisted on people for another generation with the frenzied instruction which is now customary, then it should take no one by surprise if people destroy themselves in egotistical trifles and misery, ossifying themselves in their self-absorption, initially falling apart and ceasing to be a people.

Then, in place of this condition, perhaps systems of individual egotism, alliances for the systematic larcenous exploitation of those non-members of the alliance and similar creations of utilitarian nastiness will step forward onto the future scene."

Nietzsche tried to stave off this condition by creating a new philosophic system.

"Nietzsche knew that the previous philosophical systems from Plato and Aristotle to Kant and Hegel were inadequate to deal with the crisis of evolution. As a result, a totally new philosophy of the world was now required." -Darwin, Nietzche, and Evolution

“In the early 1880s, when he wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche arrived at a conception of human life and possibility – and with it, of value and meaning – that he believed could overcome the Schopenhauerian pessimism and nihilism that he saw as outcomes of the collapse of traditional modes of religious and philosophical interpretation. He prophesied a period of nihilism in the aftermath of their decline and fall; but this prospect deeply distressed him. He was convinced of the untenability of the 'God hypothesis,' and indeed of all the religious and metaphysical interpretations of the world and ourselves; and yet he was well aware that the very possibility of the affirmation of life was at stake, and required more than the mere abandonment of all such “lies” and “fictions”. He took the basic challenge of philosophy now to be to reinterpret life and the world along more tenable lines that would also overcome nihilism.” - Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy

Nietzche’s “basic challenge” is quite similar to Brian’s challenge in The Mustard Seed.

In Chapter 2 of The Mustard Seed, Brian describes his fear of having to choose between truth and happiness…he wishes to have both, but – given what he's been told about the world - it seems like a contradiction… thus, Brian would be sympathetic to Nietzsche’s dilemma…so would Heather Manning, for that matter…indeed, Heather – like Nietzche – wants to “reinterpret life” to “overcome nihilism.” Thus, she created of “Spiritual Rationalism.”

But Nietzche – unlike Heather Manning – was a prisoner of his Darwinian outlook.

"God is dead means that the idea of God can no longer provide values. With the sole source of values no longer capable of providing those values, there is a real danger of nihilism….

Nietzsche posited the Übermensch as a goal for humanity to set for itself in his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Zarathustra presents the Übermensch as the creator of new values. In this way, it appears as a solution to the problem of the death of God and nihilism. Because the Übermensch acts to create new values within the moral vacuum of nihilism, there is nothing that this creative act would not justify. Alternatively, in the absence of this creation, there are no grounds upon which to criticize or justify any action, including the particular values created and the means by which they are promulgated.

Whereas Nietzsche diagnosed the Christian value system as a reaction against life and hence destructive in a sense, the new values which the Übermensch will be responsible for will be life-affirming and creative…

Zarathustra first announces the Übermensch as a goal humanity can set for itself. All human life would be given meaning by how it advanced a new generation of human beings. The aspiration of a woman would be to give birth to an Übermensch, for example; her relationships with men would be judged by this standard.

Some commentators associate the Übermensch with a program of eugenics. This is most pronounced when considered in the aspect of a goal that humanity sets for itself. -Wikipedia

In many ways, the Ubermensch sounds innocuous enough – even admirable – but a closer reading of Nietzsche's text – reveals a more disturbing aspect to his creation.

“The essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy” argues Nietzsche, is that it “accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments.” The “fundamental faith” of the aristocracy, then, is that “society” exists for them, for their sake, so that all the lesser types who serve them in society exist “only as the foundation and scaffolding on which a choice type of being is able to raise itself to its higher task and to a higher state of being…”

A higher state of being, the übermensch, who cares nothing for those upon whom he steps to go up the evolutionary slope -- that is Nietzsche’s goal…

Nietzsche thought we were slipping back down the evolutionary slope to the “last man…and the only thing that could drive upwards, was a great conflict. Writing before World War I…he believed the “‘European problem’” could be solved by “the cultivation of a new caste that will rule Europe.”

To revive Europe, a great danger must present itself, thought Nietzsche, one that calls forth once again the desire to fight and conquer:

“I mean such an increase in the menace of Russia [for example] that Europe would have to resolve to become menacing, too, namely, to acquire one will by means of a new caste that would rule Europe, a long, terrible will of its own that would be able to cast its goals millennia hence -- so that the long-drawn-out comedy of its many splinter states as well as its dynastic and democratic splinter wills would come to an end. The time for petty politics is over: the very next century will bring the fight for the dominion of the earth -- the compulsion to large-scale politics.”

One cannot help but hear the marching boots of the Third Reich - Darwin, Nietzsche, and Hitler: Evolution of the Ubermensch

Even though Hitler was the most evil man in history, we shouldn’t dismiss his evil as something that was “innate” or “irrational” – and therefore, impervious to our understanding. The fact is: Hitler was a man who took ideas seriously. Throughout his life, Hitler was informed and motivated by several powerful ideas…thus, it is incumbent upon us to examine those ideas with a critical pair of eyes.

However, before we begin, let’s note a simple fact: Hitler was NOT a life-long racist…there is no record of Hitler revealing any kind of racism until he moved to Vienna - a place where he immersed himself in a swamp of “scientific” and “genocidal” anti-Semitism.

"Hitler said he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna, which had a large Jewish community, including Orthodox Jews who had fled the pogroms in RussiaVienna at that time was a hotbed of traditional religious prejudice and 19th century racism. Hitler may have been influenced by the writings of the ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such as Karl Lueger, founder of the Christian Social Party and Mayor of Vienna, the composer Richard Wagner, and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement." – Wikipedia

This “new” brand of anti-Semitism was vastly different from traditional Christian anti-Semitism which criticized Jews for not accepting Jesus, and at least gave Jews the possibility of acceptance through conversion…What made this new brand of anti-Semetism different? And what motivated it?

These pro-German and anti-Semitic works – which greatly influenced Hitler and the National Socialist movement – relied on 2 philosophers: Darwin and Nietzche…from Darwin came the ideas that 1) God doesn’t exist, and 2) relentless competition between species (known as “survival of the fittest”) is the means of progress…from Nietzche came 2 additional ideas which were consistent with Darwin’s…3) morality is a sham used by the weak to bring down the strong, and 4) the only true, legitimate, leaders in society are those with “the will to power” and are “beyond good and evil.”

For most scholars, the link between Hitler and Nietzsche is accepted (although mostly ignored). What is NOT accepted (and therefore, much more controversial) is the link between Hitler and Darwin. Not only is it controversial, it is also very relevant. After all, Darwin (unlike Nietzche) is universally taught in high schools, and Darwinism proclaims itself as the sole arbitrator of truth – not just biological truth, but all Truth. This makes the link between Hitler and Darwin especially powerful and uncomfortable.

The Darwin-Hitler connection is no recent discovery. In her classic 1951 work The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt wrote: “Underlying the Nazis’ belief in race laws as the expression of the law of nature in man, is Darwin’s idea of man as the product of a natural development which does not necessarily stop with the present species of human being.”

The standard biographies of Hitler almost all point to the influence of Darwinism on their subject. In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock writes: “The basis of Hitler’s political beliefs was a crude Darwinism.” What Hitler found objectionable about Christianity was its rejection of Darwin’s theory: “Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.”

John Toland’s Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography says this of Hitler’s Second Book published in 1928: “An essential of Hitler’s conclusions in this book was the conviction drawn from Darwin that might makes right.”

In his biography, Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris, Ian Kershaw explains that “crude social-Darwinism” gave Hitler “his entire political ‘world-view...’

The key elements in the ideology that produced Auschwitz are moral relativism aligned with a rejection of the sacredness of human life, a belief that violent competition in nature creates greater and lesser races, that the greater will inevitably exterminate the lesser, and finally that the lesser race most in need of extermination is the Jews. All but the last of these ideas may be found in Darwin’s writing…

Like Hitler, Charles Darwin saw natural processes as setting moral standards. It’s all in The Descent of Man...In [that] book, he compared the evolution of people to the breeding of animals and drew a chilling conclusion regarding what he saw as the undesirable consequences of allowing the unfit to breed:

“The weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed…”

Most disturbing of all, in The Descent of Man, Darwin prophesied: “At 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...”

You only have to read Mein Kampf to see the indebtedness…Hitler gives a Darwinian-style analysis of how the struggle for existence mandates a defense of the Aryan race.

[Hitler] invokes the “principles of Nature’s rule,” “her whole work of higher breeding,” in which “struggle is always a means for improving a species’ health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of its higher development.” He warns against racial decline from the mixing of blood — his own spin on Darwinism — arguing that the preservation of a “creative race” is “bound up with the rigid law of necessity and the right of victory of the best and stronger in this world.” He calls for “a more noble evolution.”

Other Nazi propaganda followed his lead. In a 1937 German propaganda film, Victims of the Past, the audience is shown a retarded person as the narrator intones, “In the last few decades, mankind has sinned terribly against the law of natural selection. We haven’t just maintained life unworthy of life, we have even allowed it to multiply.” - David Klinghoffer, Don't Doubt It

The key chapter in Mein Kampf is Chapter XI, “Nation and Race,” where Hitler discusses the imperative to defend the Aryan race from the Jewish menace.

His argument is couched from the start in transparently Darwinian terms. He writes:

"In the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb, while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right of opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest. And struggle is always a mean for improving a species’ health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of higher development."

He praises “the iron logic of Nature” with its “right to victory of the best and stronger in this world.”

But what if the strong (Aryans) choose not to dominate and exterminate the weak (Jews)? This would be against Nature, whose “whole work of higher breeding, over perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, might be ruined with one blow.” And so on and on.

As Discovery Institute fellow Dr. Richard Weikart explains in his outstanding book From Darwin to Hitler, Hitler absorbed his twisted Darwinian worldview from the poisonous popular Viennese press, which was full of the stuff. He calculated that an appeal to the Germans to make war on the Jews would be most likely to succeed if framed in scientific-sounding terms.

Hitler could have couched his argument here any way he wanted. He chose the language of Darwinism. Mein Kampf was hugely popular and influential, selling six million copies by 1940. In The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945, Lucy Dawidowicz seeks to explain what motivated the German people either to do their evil work in the racial struggle or to stand by and passively accept the results of the racial war. Her answer: 'They were mesmerized by [Hitler's] voice, and they responded to his message.'" - David Klinghoffer, Opening Up Mein Kampf

The bottom line: The road from Darwin to Nietzche to Hitler was a straight, logical line…Darwin’s ideas about the “truth” of nature led to Nietzsche’s idea about the “truth” of morality led to Hitler’s idea about the “truth” of Aryan superiority and the justice of genocide…was all of this inevitable?...of course not…but it was very likely to happen…there is a strange, perverse logic from Darwin to Nietzche to Hitler can’t be opossed on materialists ground…which makes the truth of materialism itself suspect…and the quest for an alternative to materialism urgent.

However, I need to add one point: Clearly, while Darwin is just as popular today as he was 100 years ago, Hitler and Nietzsche have become very UNpopular – and not just among the general population, but among the Darwinists themselves…how have the Darwinists managed to separate themselves so successfully from their dark past?...what are their new philosophic ideas that animate our culture?...and what are the long-term implications of those new ideas?...I’ll examine those questions in my next article, “From Rorty to Obama to Beyond.”

But in the meantime, take a look at how Darwinism inspired Communism – that other materialist scourge of the 20th Century…


On his desk Lenin had a statue displayed in a “prominent position for all to see...its vivid presence dominated the room.” What kind of statue?

It was a “bronze statue of an ape gazing at an oversized human skull.” This symbolized the evolutionary core of Lenin’s atheism.


Following Lenin, Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist for thirty years. From Landmarks in the Life of Stalin we read:

“At a very early age, while still a pupil in the ecclesiastical school, Comrade Stalin developed a critical mind and revolutionary sentiments. He began to read Darwin and became an atheist.”

G. Gludjidze, a boyhood friend of Stalin’s relates: “I began to speak of God. Joseph heard me out, and after a moment’s silence said: ‘You know, they are fooling us, there is no God....’”

Gludjidze reported: “I was astonished at these words. I had never heard anything like it before. How can you say such things, Soso?” he asked Stalin, who replied:

“I will lend you a book to read: it will show you that the world and all living things are quite different from what you imagine, and all this talk about God is sheer nonsense.”

“What book is that?” his friend inquired.

Darwin. You must read it,’ Joseph impressed on me.”


Being a Marxist and an atheist and a firm believer in evolutionism himself, Mao mandated that the reading material used in this early day “Great Leap Forward” in literacy would be the writings of Charles Darwin and other materials supportive of the evolution paradigm.

In a collection of his 1958 speeches published by the Red Guard entitled "Long Live Mao Zedong Thought", Mao praised 26 men he considered to have demonstrated a fearless intellectual spirit in advancing human knowledge. The only three westerners he saw fit to name were Marx, Lenin and Darwin.


Indeed, Karl Marx - the father of Communism - was a passionate Darwinist.

When Darwin’s book came out in 1859, Marx read it and exulted: "Darwin’s book is VERY important and serves me as a basis for the class struggle in history....Darwin suits my purpose."

Later, when Marx finished writing his three volume tome, Das Kapital, he dedicated his work to Darwin.

Despite what his supporters say, Marx was a hate-filled man who, from his college days throughout his life, was bent on inflicting as much grief and woe on the world as he possibly could. Check some of his own words and draw your own conclusion:

“I wish to avenge myself against the One who rules above.” (From a poem).

Another poem: “The hellish vapors rise and fill the brain till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed. See this sword? The Prince of Darkness [Satan] sold it to me.”

From a drama Marx wrote and called “Oulanem” (an inversion and anagram for Emmanuel, a Biblical name for Jesus), is loaded with devilish stuff, including these lines:

“You will sink down and I shall follow laughing, whispering in your ears, ‘Descend, come with me friend.”

The Drama ends:

“If there is something which devours, I’ll leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins - the world which bulks between me and the abyss, I will smash it to pieces with my enduring curses. I’ll throw my arms around its harsh reality. Embracing me, the world will dumbly pass away.”

Only eighteen years old when he penned those sweet uplifting thoughts, Marx found the destructive instrument he was looking for in Socialism and its most radical expression, Communism.

As the author of this compilation points out…

“[Not] all evolutionists are potential mass murderers, of course. However, it does strongly suggest that a passionate belief that man is just another evolved animal is a conviction that is fully capable of creating a mind-set which cheapens life and excuses whatever behavior and policies individuals may pursue, no matter how hurtful and even deadly that behavior and those policies may be to millions of other people.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, “From Rorty to Obama to Beyond.”


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