Ernst Haeckel and Darwin's influence on Nazism
An online article titled "Charles Darwin's Reception in Germany and What Followed" by Axel Meyer said,
Haeckel, who was the most influential don of German zoology for several decades, probably read Darwin's Origin in German during his PhD work in Jena, since his command of English was not particularly good. The main reason why all of this is of greater, even political, interest beyond issues in the history of science, is that Ernst Haeckel is widely seen—although this is disputed among historians of science—to be in an unholy intellectual line from Darwin to social Darwinism and eugenics in the early twentieth century, eventually leading to fascism in Nazi Germany. Creationist and intelligent-design advocates worldwide tirelessly perpetuate this purported but largely unsubstantiated connection between Darwin, Haeckel, and Hitler. Such efforts are particularly and unnecessarily divisive in this “Darwin year,” when we celebrate not only the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin, but also Darwin's 200th birthday. Furthermore, they do not do justice to Haeckel's understanding of Darwinian evolution by natural selection with all its unpredictability, but, more importantly, seem to aim to further undermine the acceptance of evolution by an often still surprisingly skeptical lay audience.
"Surprisingly skeptical lay audience"? Darwinism has more holes than Swiss cheese -- why should it be "surprising" that the lay audience is skeptical?
The article continues,
Haeckel was, by far, the most successful popularizer of science for more than a generation in Germany. His books were printed in large numbers, translated into several languages, and strongly influenced scientists and layman alike. Haeckel idealized Darwin. . . . . . Haeckel misunderstood many aspects of Darwin's ideas, and perhaps his typical German quest for laws of nature was ill-founded. Nonetheless, he was instrumental in propagating the principle of evolution by natural selection to the then very influential community of German biologists that had long adhered to lamarckian ideas.
Let's see now . . . ."Haeckel was, by far, the most successful popularizer of science for more than a generation in Germany" and "[h]is books . . . strongly influenced scientists and layman alike." Furthermore, "Haeckel idealized Darwin" and Haeckel "was instrumental in propagating the principle of evolution by natural selection to the then very influential community of German biologists that had long adhered to lamarckian ideas." So should it be any surprise that "Ernst Haeckel is widely seen . . . to be in an unholy intellectual line from Darwin to social Darwinism and eugenics in the early twentieth century, eventually leading to fascism in Nazi Germany"? Yet the article speaks of this "unholy intellectual line" as being a "purported but largely unsubstantiated connection between Darwin, Haeckel, and Hitler." Actually, the article's statements alone provide strong evidence of such a connection, and there is certainly enough evidence to justify further investigation of any connection. But the article urges us to bury our heads in the sand by avoiding an "unnecessarily divisive" investigation of this connection during this "Darwin year." But what better opportunity is there to investigate this connection than in this Darwin year, when interest in things related to Darwin is greatly heightened?
BTW, Haeckel was not the only link between Darwin and Hitler. The Nazis were also strongly influenced by American eugenics programs, which were in turn strongly influenced by Darwinism -- in fact, the Eugenics Record Office merged with the Station for Experimental Evolution in 1920 to form the Department of Genetics at the Carnegie Institution. The links between Darwin and Hitler are discussed in two post-label groups on this blog -- Darwin-to-Hitler and Darwin-to-Hitler (new #1) (the reason for the two groups is that I am limited to a maximum of 20 articles per group). Also, post labels are listed in the sidebar of the homepage.
Also, contrary to what appears to be a widespread assumption, Nazi anti-Semitism was not a true eugenics program, because the Nazis targeted Jews who were especially fit -- physically and/or mentally -- as well as unfit Jews. In fact, one of the first things that the Nazis did after coming to power was to fire the highly mentally-fit Jews who were professionals and managers in the civil service. The main contribution of eugenics to Nazi anti-Semitism was to create the idea that it was morally OK to get rid of undesirables.
Labels: Darwin-to-HItler (new #1)