Anti-Semitism has been around in the West for many centuries, but assumed a new and particularly sinister form in the nineteenth, which made it impossible for Jews to avoid discrimination by shedding their religion – indeed, in trying to assimilate, Jews was charged with attempting to infiltrate and ‘poison’ Aryan society. The argument was developed by Konrad Lorenz (an eminent animal-behaviour scientist of the time) that unless these racially unsound elements are eliminated from a healthy population, then – just as when the cells of a malignant tumour proliferate through the human body – they will destroy the host nation as well as themselves. Clearly, this new racism sunk its roots not in theology but biology – and allowed anti-Semitic advocates to create an all-new, all-encompassing picture of the ‘German’ and ‘Jew’ as members of opposed and irreconcilable cultures. The conclusion was then drawn that if the two protagonists could not co-exist, then one of them was bound to wipe out the other – as Himmler stated in a wartime speech at Posen: “We had the moral right to wipe out this people bent on wiping us out” (cited in Myth: 72). Scientists such as Lorenz, Moeller von de Bruck and, most significantly, Ernst Heinrich Haeckel built on the Darwinian concept of ‘the survival of the fittest’, maintaining that the same inexorable law applied to mankind. These theorists believed that there existed two types of nations – those still vibrant and destined to survive, and those that were old, stagnant and condemned to decline. Germany – from which many of these scientists came – was placed in the former category, Britain and France in the latter. This was to have tremendous bearing on Nazi policy – Rudolf Hess, deputy Fuhrer of the Nazi Party, was a particularly ardent admirer of the geopolitical writer Karl Haushofter, who vigorously advocated this brand of Social Darwinism. Indeed, “the Nazis’ 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” (cited in Bergman 1999). Like Haushofter, Haeckel and others, Hitler regarded man’s lot on earth as “characterized by an eternal struggle…against beasts and against men themselves” (cited in Gasman 1971: 163). History was not a class struggle, as Marx asserted, it was “an eternal struggle for existence” between races, and politics had to be based upon the direct application of the laws of nature and struggle. “The earth continues to go round, whether it’s the man who kills the tiger or the tiger which eats the man. The strongest asserts its will, it’s the law of nature” (cited in Gasman 1971: 163). These ideas gave the Nazis, and preceding organizations such as the Pan-German League, scientific justification for their emotive rhetoric

of Lebensraum (living space) for die Deutschen Volk. Such justification came in numerous forms, such as ‘The Foundations of the Ninteenth Century’ by H. S. Chamberlain, in which he states “The Germanic peoples belong to that group of most gifted people which we are accustomed to designate as Aryans” (cited in Myth: 69). Chamberlain envisaged Germany as having a mission to save Europe from degenerating into a ‘chaos of peoples’, where Aryans mingled with the less gifted Slavs and decadent French. Haeckel espoused this idea, emphasizing the need to preserve the racial purity of the Germans. He warned repeatedly against the mixing of races and campaigned all his life for the most radical use of racial eugenics. “The fact is that nearly all other leading figures in the field of eugenics and racial science in Germany were deeply and consciously indebted to Haeckel for many, if not for most, of their ideas” (Gasman 1971: 147). This included Ammon, who repeated the well-worn racial arguments of his colleagues. He suggested that racial struggle was “a necessity for mankind” (Gasman 1971: 149), and that the lower races had to succumb to the higher in the struggle for existence. The termination of weak individuals and races is a necessary and welcome part of the general advancement of humanity. Ammon believed, of course, that it was the Germans who possessed the finest racial characteristics and he advocated a return to the values and attitudes of the ancient Germanic tribes, who had led lives of natural bravery unspoilt by erroneous Judeo-Christian teachings. All these notions were to be rehashed under Hitler’s regime, as well as the notion of a eugenically planned society which went hand-inhand with the Social Darwinist perspective of man as biological material. Hitler was convinced that faulty breeding, resulting from liberal promiscuity and premeditated Jewish ‘poisoning’, was causing the degeneration of the Aryan race. This led to the implementation of a number of curative measures – racial hygiene, eugenic choice of marriage partners, and the ‘natural selection’ of human beings by State approval or elimination. “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 [the Nazis] instituted political measures to eradicate… Jews, and…blacks, whom they considered as ‘underdeveloped’.” (Wilder-Smith 1982: 27). The premise of German Social Darwinism, put simply, was that man was merely a part of nature and essentially no different from the animals. At

the same time, the Germans were members of a community biologically superior to the others. Hence under Hitler, politics became merely the straightforward application of the laws of biology – as Rudolf Hess stated in 1934, “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology” (cited in Hall 1995). A year earlier, at the Nuremberg party rally, Hitler proclaimed that “the higher race subjects to itself a lower race …a right which we see in nature and which can be regarded as the sole conceivable right” (cited in Bergman 1999) because it was founded on science. Professor Haeckel, the chief German spokesman and most eminent scientist of Social Darwinism, gave the Nazis and other racist groups what seemed like an irrefutable validation of their racist beliefs. The support of Social Darwinism by the scientific establishment resulted in racist, particularly anti-Semitic thought having much greater influence than would have otherwise been the case, as well as an enormous reassurance that “one’s prejudices were actually expressions of scientific truth” (cited in Bergman 1999). This is even supported by a statement of Charles Darwin himself, in his work ‘The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex’, that “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” Such statements justified the killing of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other Untermenschen as a scientific and objective way of serving a greater good. “Darwin’s notion of struggle for survival…legitimized by the latest scientific views, justified the racists’ conception of superior and inferior peoples and nations and validated the conflict between them” (Schluenes cited in Bergman 1999). However, although his ethic of racial struggle was extremely important in stimulating the rise of National Socialism, there were other very important reasons why Haeckel’s Social Darwinism became one of the key formative causes for the rise of the movement. At the basis of National Socialist ideology lay not only the idea of racial conflict between the higher and lower races of men (for example, Hitler’s conception of racial differences was taken directly from Haeckel) but also the equally important cult of nature which implied, among other things, a disregard for rationalism and history. Haeckel’s ideas served to unite into a full-bodied ideology the trends of racism, imperialism, romanticism, anti-Semitism and nationalism that were rife around Germany at that time. In a nutshell, “The form which Social Darwinism took in Germany was a pseudo-scientific religion of nature-worship and nature-mysticism combined with notions of racism” (Bergman 1999: XXII-XXIII). Considering the evidence, it can be safely if reluctantly concluded that “Darwin’s theory, as modified by Haeckel, Chamberlain and others,

clearly contributed to the death of over nine million people in concentration camps, and about 40 million other humans in a war that cost about six trillion dollars” (Bergman 1999). It is important to keep in mind however that it was Haeckel, more than Darwin, who formed the basis of Hitler’s Social Darwinism – indeed, since the publication of Haeckel’s Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte in 1866, the vast bulk of Germans understood Darwin and Darwinism through the distorted eyes of Haeckel. There can be no doubt that “…the content of the writings of Haeckel and the ideas of his followers – their general political, philosophical, scientific and social orientation – were proto-Nazi in character, and the Darwinist movement which he created, one of the most powerful forces in nineteenth- and twentieth-century German intellectual history, may be fully understood as a prelude to the doctrine of National Socialism” (Gasman 1971: XIV).

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful