Social Darwinism Is Alive and Well and Living at the Discovery Institute

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I am as reluctant to review a book I have never read as to judge a book by its cover. Thus, this essay is not a review of a book but rather a review of its cover.

The book is From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany (Palgrave MacMillan, 2004), by Richard Weikart, a Fellow with the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute. The Institute issued a press release taking credit for the book, so we may assume that they had a hand in the work (“New Book by Discovery Institute Fellow Shows Influence of Darwinian Principles on Hitler’s Nazi Regime,” Discovery Institute News, August 13, 2004, http://www.discovery.org/scripts/vi[…]iscoMainPage).

According to the press release,

Weikart explains the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. He demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially those pertaining to the sacredness of human life. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary “fitness” (especially in terms of intelligence and health) as the highest arbiter of morality. Weikart concludes that Darwinism played a key role not only in the rise of eugenics, but also in euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination, all ultimately embraced by the Nazis.

In case you doubt that the Institute (if not Weikart) is blaming “Darwinism” for Hitler, Phillip Johnson, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, says on the book jacket,

The philosophy that fueled German militarism and Hitlerism is taught as fact in every American public school, with no disagreement allowed. Every parent ought to know this story, which Weikart persuasively explains.

Nancy Pearcey adds,

If you think moral issues like infanticide, assisted suicide, and tampering with human genes are new, read this book. It draws a clear and chilling picture of the way Darwinian naturalism led German thinkers to treat human life as raw materials to be manipulated in order to advance the course of evolution. The ethics of Hitler’s Germany were not reactionary; they were very much ‘cutting edge’ and in line with the scientific understanding of the day. Weikart’s implicit warning is that as long as the same assumption of Darwinian naturalism reigns in educated circles in our own day, it may well lead to similar practices.

and Francis Beckwith concludes,

Richard Weikart’s masterful work offers a compelling case that the eugenics movement, and all the political and social consequences that have flowed from it, would have been unlikely if not for the cultural elite’s enthusiastic embracing of the Darwinian account of life, morality, and social institutions. Professor Weikart reminds us, with careful scholarship and circumspect argument, that the truth uttered by Richard Weaver decades ago is indeed a fixed axiom of human institutions: “ideas have consequences.”

All three quotations are from the book jacket, according to the Web site, http://www.csustan.edu/History/Facu[…]toHitler.htm.

You don’t have to read very far between the lines to recognize that “Darwinism” is being blamed for an array of social ills, culminating in Nazism. The “logic” is straightforward:

“Darwinism” led to eugenics and whatnot

Eugenics and whatnot led to Hitler

Therefore “Darwinism” is wrong or evil or whatever

These are educated people (if a bit black and white in their thinking). Have they never heard of the genetic fallacy? They are - explicitly - rejecting “Darwinism” because they do not like its consequences. Similar reasoning, including the -ism epithet, could be applied to any scientific theory:

Einsteinism [the theory of relativity] led to the atomic bomb and then to the hydrogen bomb

The atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb are evil

Therefore Einsteinism is wrong or evil or at fault

You don’t have to limit your “logic” to scientific theories:

Jesusism led to the Crusades

The Crusades were evil

Therefore Jesusism is wrong or evil or at fault

When they talk of “the Darwinian account of life, morality, and social institutions,” Drs. Johnson, Pearcey, and Beckwith are referring to a theory known as social Darwinism (even though its early proponent, Herbert Spencer, proposed a similar theory before the publication of The Origin of Species). Social Darwinism is the philosophy that the individuals or classes in a society are subject to natural selection, much as organisms in nature are subject to natural selection. Thus, it is seen as fitting for the weak to grow weaker and the strong to grow stronger; the population is thus improved overall. Social Darwinism was popular in the early 20th century, and I have no doubt that it influenced Nazism and a lot of other aberrations. That fact has absolutely nothing to do with “Darwinism,” as the Discovery Institute people call the theory of evolution. Darwin never made the mistake of assuming that the theory of evolution could be extended to social systems, and theories regarding different races (a term that subsumes what today we call ethnic or religious groups) predate Darwin by centuries.

Social Darwinism is thus a misnomer; it has nothing to do with Darwin. It was, however, used to provide intellectual support for laissez-faire capitalism. Economic stratification was considered “natural.” Thus, the state was prohibited from intervening and supporting the lower economic classes. Survival of the fittest, a term coined by Spencer, not Darwin, was ensured as the “unfit” poor received no quarter. Social Darwinism was also used to justify imperialism and racism. It was a self-serving theory that could easily be adopted by rich individuals and imperialist nations. It “justified” the inequality of the social system and, indeed, the position of the rich in society.

Who are the social Darwinists of today? The far right, as represented by the Discovery Institute. They disguise laissez-faire capitalism under the rubrics of the free market and deregulation. They oppose, to varying degrees, welfare, Social Security, universal health care or insurance, a sustainable minimum wage, affordable housing, low-cost college education, and any other program that will help poor people get ahead, not to mention government regulation of almost anything. The pretext for all those positions is letting the free market operate, just as the pretext for giving tax cuts primarily to the rich, not to the lower or middle class, is trickle-down economics. Pretexts aside, however, the far right practices social Darwinism in all but name; the poor and the lower middle class are expected to live within their dwindling incomes, even as the gap between rich and poor widens.

It is obscene for the social Darwinists at the Discovery Institute to argue against “Darwinism” on the grounds that it leads to social Darwinism.

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Usman Ahmed (2005). "Richards addresses moral role of historians at Ryerson Lecture." Chicago Marroon, April 15, 2005. Read More

Usman Ahmed (2005). "Richards addresses moral role of historians at Ryerson Lecture." Chicago Marroon, April 15, 2005. Read More

50 Comments

“That fact has absolutely nothing to do with “Darwinism,””

This just isn’t true; empirically it has something to do with Darwinism (i.e., if Darwin hadn’t expounded his ideas, Social Darwinism would not have had the same force; a lot of people interested in Social Darwinism saw themselves as Darwinists).

You need to be careful you don’t protest too much here. Of course Darwinism doesn’t necessitate Social Darwinism; but it is also the case that pretty awful things were done at the beginning of the twentieth century in the name of Darwinism (however misguided people might have been about it all). And it’s possible to find plenty of evolutionary theorists - people who loathe creationism, ID, etc., with a vengeance - who will say so (e.g., Steve Jones).

Hmmmmm.….It appears the DI is getting more and more desperate by the day. Perhaps this ID thing will have a shorter lifespan than even I thought.

“Evolution leads to eugenics and social Darwinism”? Sheesh, what’s next from the DI? “Darwinism violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics”? Or perhaps that standard creationist mantra, “There are no transitional fossils”?

It gets harder and harder to differentiate between IDists and the old “creation scientists” all the time.

They oppose, to varying degrees, welfare, Social Security, universal health care or insurance, a sustainable minimum wage, affordable housing, low-cost college education, and any other program that will help poor people get ahead, not to mention government regulation of almost anything. The pretext for all those positions is letting the free market operate, just as the pretext for giving tax cuts primarily to the rich, not to the lower or middle class, is trickle-down economics. Pretexts aside, however, the far right practices social Darwinism in all but name; the poor and the lower middle class are expected to live within their dwindling incomes, even as the gap between rich and poor widens.

This is just as ridiculous an assertion as the assertion that evolutionary theory necessarily leads to the Holocaust. First of all, it is not just the ‘far right’ that opposes, to varying degrees, welfare, etc. Second, conservatives don’t oppose ‘any other program that will help poor people get ahead’, they tend to oppose federal programs that are ostensibly designed to provide such help. There are a variety of reasons for this, which we needn’t go into here, but it is a ridiculous caricature to say that if someone doesn’t support a particular version of a federal welfare program, they don’t support any form of help for poor people. As one trivial example, many conservatives are not against welfare per se, they are against welfare checks being handed out with no work or education requirements for the recipient.

The point is that these objections are not pretexts - they are the real thing. Many conservatives think that the items in your list are bad policy precisely because they harm those they are inteneded to help. On the minimum wage, for example, most of those who oppose it oppose it because they believe that raising it tends to reduce the number of jobs available (because employers can’t afford to hire as many workers at the higher rate), not because they want McDonalds to be able to make a bigger profit. Obviously, there are other places on the web where these debates about public policy take place, but the conceit that those who oppose one’s favored policy position only due to ignorance, greed, or malice is particularly narrow-minded and not conducive to healthy debate.

Clearly, social Darwinism has historically been used by various groups on the left and right to justify particular social or political positions. Maybe Weikert makes too-facile links between Darwin and Naziism, I don’t know. But I don’t see how the question can be addressed by impugning the publisher of the book, or by railing against right-wing political positions.

A final question - is it not true that Darwin drew some rather racist conclusions (or inferences) in his The Descent of Man? I’ve heard this in several places, though I’ve not read the book myself. I assume readers here have read it - I’m curious if there’s a consensus here on that question.

Darwin drew some rather racist conclusions (or inferences) in his The Descent of Man

A white guy made a racist statement in the 19th century and got away with it???? Oh, lordy, say it ain’t so!

Mike S.

This is just as ridiculous an assertion as the assertion that evolutionary theory necessarily leads to the Holocaust.

Wrong. It may be a bit of generalization but I’ve met quite a few libertarian or micro-government types who believe that survival of the fittest via Ayn Rand is the way to go. Otherwise, “those poor people will never be motivated to learn themselves out of the swamp.” These people exist.

Evolutionary theory does not necessarily lead to the holocaust as a matter of fact.

Hence, your analogy about is shite.

Jerry S.

Surely you have a better understanding of evolution than your post suggests. You say horrendous acts were committed “in the name of Darwinism,” but that is a ridiculous claim. Darwinism–or let’s drop the formality and just call it evolution–does not constitute any call to action. You could claim that Christianity had a hand in the crusades; Christianity extends certain commandments to live by. But it’s absurd to claim knowledge of evolution could be held responsible for social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the result of interpretation of scientific knowledge, not a “descendent” of that knowledge. It does not logically follow that evolution led to social Darwinism. Darwin and his successors made knowledge available. What others did with that knowledge and how they skewed it simply cannot reflect upon that knowledge, in a positive or a negative light.

Jerry S.

Surely you have a better understanding of evolution than your post suggests. You say horrendous acts were committed “in the name of Darwinism,” but that is a ridiculous claim. Darwinism–or let’s drop the formality and just call it evolution–does not constitute any call to action. You could claim that Christianity had a hand in the crusades; Christianity extends certain commandments to live by. But it’s absurd to claim knowledge of evolution could be held responsible for social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the result of interpretation of scientific knowledge, not a “descendent” of that knowledge. It does not logically follow that evolution led to social Darwinism. Darwin and his successors made knowledge available. What others did with that knowledge and how they skewed it simply cannot reflect upon that knowledge, in a positive or a negative light.

Mike S Wrote:

Second, conservatives don’t oppose ‘any other program that will help poor people get ahead’, they tend to oppose federal programs that are ostensibly designed to provide such help.

And they also tend to oppose similiar state programs. They might make arguments that the federal government should stay out of such programs, but they don’t in turn make arguments that states should do them. If there is one think the last four years of politics has taught me, its that conservatives are no more federalists than liberals.

On the minimum wage, for example, most of those who oppose it oppose it because they believe that raising it tends to reduce the number of jobs available (because employers can’t afford to hire as many workers at the higher rate), not because they want McDonalds to be able to make a bigger profit.

Sure many conservatives might believe that raising the minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs available, but the movers and shakers, i.e. corporate lobbyists, oppose it for reasons of profit. This is the same corporate America which is outsorcing as fast as it can, always seeking cheaper workers.

Clearly, social Darwinism has historically been used by various groups on the left and right to justify particular social or political positions.

I don’t know of any left group that has ever used social Darwinism. The left tended to oppose “Darwinism” because it was too capitalistic.

Wrong. It may be a bit of generalization but I’ve met quite a few libertarian or micro-government types who believe that survival of the fittest via Ayn Rand is the way to go. Otherwise, “those poor people will never be motivated to learn themselves out of the swamp.” These people exist.

contrasted with

Pretexts aside, however, the far right practices social Darwinism in all but name; the poor and the lower middle class are expected to live within their dwindling incomes, even as the gap between rich and poor widens.

How one “practices” social darwinism is unclear to me- unless you are thinking that the idea of those on the right is that “poverty will kill off the weak among us and make the species stronger” or something along those lines. I self-identify as a libertarian for a number of reasons, none of which include wanting to see poor people die or make their lives harder so that they will be motivated to bootstrap.

The argument you appear to be making is worse that your caricatures of the IDiots at the DI:

Social Darwinists oppose social programs. Small government types oppose social programs. .: Small government types are Social Darwinists

Sure many conservatives might believe that raising the minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs available,

This is the excuse the GOP gives. Everytime a min wage increase is proposed I hear it’s going to devastate the economy. But if you look at GDP graphs overlaid with min wage increases, you can’t see an effect. I seem to recall a min wage increase in the early nineties, maybe around 93-94, and conservatives going on record saying this would cause a recession.

GWW Wrote:

A white guy made a racist statement in the 19th century and got away with it????  Oh, lordy, say it ain’t so!

That’s the connection we’re discussing, right? Is it not relevant to any putative links between Darwin’s evolutionary theory and racism or eugenics if he drew racist conclusions from his theory? And did not Galton make this connection explicitly?

Wrong.  It may be a bit of generalization but I’ve met quite a few libertarian or micro-government types who believe that survival of the fittest via Ayn Rand is the way to go.

And how much do you think those people have in common with the religious right?

Reed A. Cartwright Wrote:

I don’t know of any left group that has ever used social Darwinism. 

My understanding is that Marx was excited by The Origin of Species, because he thought that it supported his notions of social struggle and progress. I also thought that Gould has commented on the connections between Communism and evolutionary theory. But perhaps my statement is incorrect with the ‘social’ in front of ‘Darwinism’.

If there is one think the last four years of politics has taught me, its that conservatives are no more federalists than liberals.

Just as there are many different views within those designated ‘liberal’, there are many different views within those designated ‘conservative’. Being a federalist doesn’t mean that you automatically want the state to fund things that the federal government currently does. Almost all conservatives are against federal welfare. Of that group, some think all forms of state welfare, including state and local, are intrinsically wrong, while others think that either state or local governments are better situated to provide for the needs of their residents than the federal government.

Sure many conservatives might believe that raising the minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs available, but the movers and shakers, i.e. corporate lobbyists, oppose it for reasons of profit.  This is the same corporate America which is outsorcing as fast as it can, always seeking cheaper workers.

Again, it helps to make distinctions. I never said that there weren’t some people who opposed raises in the minimum wage because of greed. I said ‘many’, or ‘most’. Obviously, the precise numbers that those terms denote are arguable, but the point is that all objections to raising the minimum wage are not based upon the principle of social Darwinism, which is what Matt’s post implied.

And how much do you think those people have in common with the religious right?

At the point where they overlap, quite a bit. They’re die-hard Republicans. Freepers. Clinton-haters. Etc. I suspect you know quite well who I’m talking about. Intimately well, one might say.

Is it not relevant to any putative links between Darwin’s evolutionary theory and racism or eugenics if he drew racist conclusions from his theory?

Sure. But Darwin, like boatloads of other white people in the 19th century, was probably racist before he came up with his theory. Is that not relevant to mention? And the fact that a lot of people justified eugenics based on the bible? Is that not relevant to any “putative links”? And that a lot of eugenicists were just nutjobs? Is that not relevant to any “putative links.” I suspect this approach is too nuanced for you, Mike, but what the hell.

As to the rest of yr shpeel, it looks as if you are holding Matt up to your usual high standards of “accuracy” when it comes to discussing conservatives or libertarians.

Guess what, Mike? I think most people here know that there are different degrees of conservatism and liberalism and federalism and socialism. Your lectures are boring.

If you want to defend a dumbass book that attempts to argue that evolutionary biology was somehow “responsible” for the Holocaust, be my guest. I’m sure there are one or two anti-science Jewish-insensitive Christians lurking about here that would love to have their views represented.

No leftists who supported social darwinism, sheesh, the whole eugenics movement, definitely an objectionable part of SD, was heavily supported and promoted by socialist groups. The nazi’s did not even exist when the Fabian’s, for example, were heavily sponsoring the idea of eugenic breeding. You can find plenty of examples if you google a bit.

Darwin’s theory did help promote such ideas, that was not his intention, but without someone (not necessarily Darwin) explicitly setting evolutionary theory, eugenics and related ideas would not have been so widely practiced.

The DI arguements are correctly, IMHO, derided as rubbish, but sadly, so are some of the arguements accusing the DI of being the new social darwinists.

Mike S Wrote:

My understanding is that Marx was excited by The Origin of Species, because he thought that it supported his notions of social struggle and progress. I also thought that Gould has commented on the connections between Communism and evolutionary theory. But perhaps my statement is incorrect with the ‘social’ in front of ‘Darwinism’.

The connection is not a positive one but a negative one. Marxists were/are “excited” by “Darwinism” because they felt that it was evidence of the class struggle that they opposed.

while others think that either state or local governments are better situated to provide for the needs of their residents than the federal government.

I am familiar with a hell of a lot of conservatives, and I know of not a single one who espouses such politics. Do you have some references for such social policy? I don’t dispute that some might convienently argue that welfare is best left to the states. But that is all it is, a convient argument to get it out of Washington. So they can then turn around and argue locally that welfare isn’t need or that it is too expensive, which is a much easier battle.

And for the record, I am not much a supporter of welfare myself, I just don’t buy the argument that people arguing for federalism really want federalism.

I never said that there weren’t some people who opposed raises in the minimum wage because of greed. I said ‘many’, or ‘most’.

But my point was that the powers behind such policies are clearly doing it for profit.

Obviously, the precise numbers that those terms denote are arguable, but the point is that all objections to raising the minimum wage are not based upon the principle of social Darwinism, which is what Matt’s post implied.

Whether they are based on Social Darwinism or not is immaterial to Matt Young’s point, which was the Discovery Institute’s conservative politics is very similar to the politics of Social Darwinism. Hence the irony of this latest output from them.

Hi fellas. It’s one of the Weikart endorsers. BTW, Weikart is more than just a DI Fellow. He is a tenured professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus. His Ph.D. is from the University of Iowa in the discipline of history in which his primary field is Modern European History with specializations in Modern Germany and European Intellectual History. So, this book is within his fields of expertise and specialization. He has published his research on the topic of Darwinism, Social Darwinism, and eugenics in peer-reviewed journals of some note: German Studies Review; Journal of the History of Ideas; and History of European Ideas. Now, he could be completely wrong in his thesis, but please don’t dismiss it without engaging the arguments, which are serious, thoughtful and well-documented.

It should be noted that Weikart is very careful in his scholarship. He begins chapter 1 by noting that many Darwinists rejected what appeared to many to be the moral implications of a Darwinian account of human beings and life in general. His argument is nuanced, circumspect, and rigorous. That’s why I endorsed the book. It is a piece of serious scholarship. Engage it, critique it, but do so with the respect and consideration such a work deserves.

Hi fellas. It’s one of the Weikart endorsers. BTW, Weikart is more than just a DI Fellow. He is a tenured professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus. His Ph.D. is from the University of Iowa in the discipline of history in which his primary filed is Modern European History with specializations in Modern Germany and European Intellectual History. He has published his research on the topic of Darwinism, Social Darwinism, and eugenics in peer-reviewed journal of some note: German Studies Review; Journal of the History of Ideas; The European Legacy; and History of European Ideas. Now, he could be completely wrong in his thesis, but please don’t dismiss it without engaging the arguments, which are serious, thoughtfuly, well-documented.

It should be noted that Weikart is very careful in his scholarship. He begins chapter 1 by noting that many Darwinists rejected what appeared to many to be the moral implications of a Darwinian account of human beings and life in general. His argument is nuanced, circumspect, and rigorous. That’s why I endorsed the book. It is a piece of serious scholarship. Engage it, critique it, but do so with the respect and consideration such a work deserves.

Whether they are based on Social Darwinism or not is immaterial to Matt Young’s point, which was the Discovery Institute’s conservative politics is very similar to the politics of Social Darwinism. Hence the irony of this latest output from them.

Precisely! You can look at it this way: If the far right in the US today were in fact social Darwinists, how would their proposals differ? Not one whit.

Beckwith Wrote:

It should be noted that Weikart is very careful in his scholarship. He begins chapter 1 by noting that many Darwinists rejected what appeared to many to be the moral implications of a Darwinian account of human beings and life in general.

That is interesting because the DI press release makes no mention of it.

Personally, I don’t suspect that Weikart will be wrong in stating that Fascists used Darwinian ideas to justify their politics. What I suspect will happen is that Weikart doesn’t mention all the other things that they also used. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three justification that Hitler used for German superiority, Christian theology, the occult, and biology.

However, I have heard that Weikart was excoriated at the Judiasm and Darwinsim conference last February when he gave his talk.

I have to admit that the arguments of the book cover (which I have not seen) sound extreme and unfair. If the teaching of Darwinism, or more accurately, of the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis in public schools is linked to Nazism, that is a low blow-in fact, about as low as you can go. It is hard for me to think of any major public figure who writes on human evolution who does not go to extreme lengths to emphasize the unscientific nature of racialist theories. Both Spenser Wells and Milford Wolpoff (to name two people on opposite sides of the RAO-MRE debate) deny race is a valid biological category. The rejection of racialistic categories by modern neo-Darwinians should at a minimum be acknowledged.

On the other hand, there is a valid intellectual discussion to be had about the history and relationship of Malthus, Darwinism and Social Darwinism and eugenics. Did these ideas influence the Nazis? Again, that is surely a valid area of inquiry. What do we make of it if those ideas did influence the Nazis?

Of course, other aspects need to be pointed out in any balanced work: Darwin certainly did not invent racism and Creationism was certainly consistent and has been consistent with many of the worst excesses of racism. Most Creationists I know are not racists (they may be social conservatives but they are not racists) just as most Darwinists are not racists.

There is also (as many know) a strong reaction in the Social Sciences against Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology. Unfortunately, some of this reaction is kneejerk and not well thought out. It doesn’t help that people occasionally publish racist tracts like The Bell Curve.

My own discipline, economics, is pretty firmly (not rigidly, but firmly) in the grasp of neo-liberalism. It would be almost impossible for me to teach economics without entertaining standard conservative (neo-liberal) arguments about poverty, government programs, unions and the effectiveness of government legislation. I happen to disagree with most of these arguments and point out to my students why these arguments often fail.

Is it fair to label these arguments “racist”? I would argue that mostly, it is unfair and actually, unproductive.

Is Thomas Sowell “racist”? I doubt it. I disagree with Sowell on many things, but I do not think he is a racist.

Is E.O. Wilson a racist? He has been accused of such, and I heard it so often, always assumed it was true. Some of his statements, taken out of context, or read in bad faith could be construed as racist, but again, I do not believe he is a racist.I may still disagree with him. I may still think he unfairly biases the discussion of social issues by giving too much play to biology. But that is a valid discussion to be had.

Too bad the DI has decided to go the route of playing the social constructionist card. A good, open, honest discussion about Darwinism, religion, race, science, creationism would be quite lively and I think productive.

Mike S. points out that conservatives oppose policies to help the poor for principled reasons, not pretexts. Though Mr. Cartwright answered him, I want to make one further point. When a fairly affluent friend of mine recommends a course of action designed to help ease some social problem, I ask myself, “Who benefits?” Or, more to the point, “Does my affluent friend benefit?” (If you think you recognize yourself, I offer the hope that it is really someone else.)

Consider, for example, school vouchers that may be used at private schools. Who benefits from these vouchers? In general, vouchers cover only a smallish fraction of the cost of going to a private school. Thus, while some poor people might indeed benefit from vouchers, most cannot afford the remainder of the cost or cannot arrange the transportation or whatever. Vouchers, while they may occasionally have the claimed effect, more probably benefit the affluent people who will send their children to private school anyway.

It is dangerous to discuss someone else’s motives, and I have no doubt that my affluent friend means what he says when he proposes vouchers as a solution to a problem. But soon I see a pattern: Every solution he proposes to every social problem has the side effect that it benefits him or the affluent or big business: school vouchers, lowered taxes on dividends, trickle-down economics, and so on.

I thus claim that my friend’s stated reasons for his proposals are in fact pretexts that hide his real motivation, which is self-serving. I do not mean that he is deliberately inventing pretexts, but rather that he consistently selects those “solutions” that benefit him or people in his income bracket more or less directly.

Liberals can also be self-serving, but that is not the point. We are here discussing right-wing policies toward the poor. These policies may be truly principled, but let us ask again, “Who benefits?” Welfare was lousy in many ways, but do the poor really benefit from “reform” that takes away their stipends or dumps them into dead-end jobs and limits their ability to get an education? Will an increase of the minimum wage really harm the poor in any substantial way, or will it force big-box chain stores to pay decent wages?

This is an evolution blog, so we are getting off-task, and I will stop. But, to get back, in a way, to evolution, I stand by my statement that the far right practices social Darwinism in all but name. They are the new social Darwinists.

Thanks to Professor Beckwith for his gracious letter! I promise not to prejudge Weikart’s book or any other. It was fair, however, to react to the press release and the book jacket. Like Mr. Cartwright, I am pleased to learn that the book is less incendiary than the jacket.

Thanks also to Professor Poirot for his essay. I have looked over my article and the comments, however, and I see little evidence that anyone was charged with racism, except perhaps Darwin. Social Darwinism was undoubtedly racist, but I do not argue that its de facto practitioners today are racists, and I apologize if anyone thought that I was so arguing.

Indeed, lets hope the book is less incendiary than the jacket implies. I hope the book also draws attention to the irrational, emotional and mythology laden nature of Nazism, which had absolutely nothing to do with science.

Reed Wrote:

Personally, I don’t suspect that Weikart will be wrong in stating that Fascists used Darwinian ideas to justify their politics. What I suspect will happen is that Weikart doesn’t mention all the other things that they also used. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three justification that Hitler used for German superiority, Christian theology, the occult, and biology.

Indeed. From my own reading I’m quite impressed with how often Hitler (and other Nazis “thinkers” like Rosenburg and Goebbles) refer to microbiology and consider it their duty much like a doctor to rid the body of Germany of the disease causing bacteria (i.e. the Jews) in its totality.

I don’t doubt they also used Darwin’s ideas to attempt to justify their own ends, just as those before them in the eugenics movement justified their own ideas (to themselves anyway) based on Darwin and Mendel.

But I’m content to wait and see what the actual argument is.

So it goes.

William Jennings Bryan became convinced that evolution was to blame for German militarism prior to WWI on exactly the same basis: That it was a ‘struggle for survival’ and was being justified in Darwinian terms.

He probably could have made the same case as Weikart in many respects, but it would have been just as erroneous then as it is now.

Mike P

“You say horrendous acts were committed “in the name of Darwinism,” but that is a ridiculous claim.”

Do you know what “in the name of” means?

You’re confused about the difference between logical entailment and causal connection.

Ideas have effects. It’s as simple as that. Darwin isn’t responsible for Social Darwinism, eugenics, etc. But he is certainly part of the story.

You guys remind me of all the Marxists I used to know in my students days. “Ooooh. But the Soviet Union isn’t communist. It isn’t in Das Kapital.” You don’t say. But that’s not what is at stake here. What’s at stake has to do with the history of ideas. And it just is the case that you can draw causal links between Darwinism and Social Darwinism. Not links of logical entailment. Causal links.

I hate ID as much as the next person. But really, you lot ought to get to grips with the fact that true ideas can effects which are bad. You just end up sounding daft with all your protestations otherwise. And that doesn’t do you any good in the battle against the bastards of the Discovery Institute.

Matt Young Wrote:

Who are the social Darwinists of today? The far right, as represented by the Discovery Institute. They disguise laissez-faire capitalism under the rubrics of the free market and deregulation. They oppose, to varying degrees, welfare, Social Security, universal health care or insurance, a sustainable minimum wage, affordable housing, low-cost college education, and any other program that will help poor people get ahead, not to mention government regulation of almost anything. The pretext for all those positions is letting the free market operate, just as the pretext for giving tax cuts primarily to the rich, not to the lower or middle class, is trickle-down economics. Pretexts aside, however, the far right practices social Darwinism in all but name; the poor and the lower middle class are expected to live within their dwindling incomes, even as the gap between rich and poor widens.

Nonsense. I suggest you look up the terms “classical liberal” and “social conservative,” as well as look at the respective platforms of the libertarian and Republican parties.

A visit to Stephen Downes’ logical fallacies site would be in order for Prof. Weikart and his admirers - The argument as presented appears to be a classic post hoc fallacy.

http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm

Mike S. makes the point that you can draw a causal link from Darwin to social Darwinism. I plead guilty to a minor rhetorical overstatement, “Social Darwinism … has nothing to do with Darwin.” Mr. S. is also correct that good or correct ideas can have bad consequences, and I do not think anyone has denied that. Indeed, I explicitly assumed it in my Einsteinism example.

The first point of my article was that the critics of Darwin impeach “Darwinism” because of its misuse by the social Darwinists, not that “Darwinism” was not in any way involved. I said in that part of the article that the critics were employing the genetic fallacy. There may or may not be an element of the post hoc fallacy as well, per Frank Schmidt, but history is hard, and sometimes historians have to draw the best inferences they can.

Well anyway: Darwin was part of the story. But it appears that Spencer had introduced a version of what later came to be called social Darwinism 8 years before Origin was published. It was based not on Darwinian evolution but Lamarckian. There is no telling whether it would have caught on as social Lamarckism, had not Darwin or Wallace published their theories. Social Lamarckism would have served racists, classists, and imperialists every bit as well as social Darwinism. In this sense, it is not proper to blame Darwin for social Darwinism.

Thus, there was a link between Darwin and social Darwinism, but there were many other chains connecting them, and Darwin was very possibly not a crucial link. Social Darwinism could have flourished with or without Darwin, and with or without materialism.

You know, Charles Manson cited, amongst others, the novel Crime and Punishment as one of the motivations for his crimes.

You know it occurs to me that this issue is a lot like blaming D&D for psychopathic killers. Then they blamed Rock & Roll. After that they blamed video games.

Social Darwinism would exsists no mater what. It would be just named something different. The name “Social Darwinism” has stuck for over a 100 years but all the principles where there before.

Nazi where about racial supremacy. Racial supremacy was around for thousands of years before Darwin. Hilter didn’t need Darwin to do what he did. It might have been labeled something different but it would have been the same.

As others point out to point the finger at Darwin being responsible then we should also look at all the genicide in the name of god and state that has been done MASS CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY AND GENOCIDES: A LIST OF ATROCITIES 1450 CE TO WORLD WAR II

Also lets look at this…How many cases have you heard of some mass murder going and killing in the name of Darwin. Compair this to how many cases where some mother, father, son, friend, or stranger has killed someone in the name of Jesus. Do I blame Christianity for this? No, none of us would. But here we are expected to blame Darwin for a Crazy leader that killed millions and the fact that he also did it in the name of religion is ignored.

Its stuff like this hypocritical perspective that makes me sick.

Mike S. Wrote:

Clearly, social Darwinism has historically been used by various groups on the left and right to justify particular social or political positions.

I’m not aware of anyone on the left who has used social darwinism to justify their viewpoints. It has, however, been frequently used by the right to justify theirs, including extreme cases like the Nazis. That’s not to say that abusing science is limited only to one side of the political spectrum – the left has dabbled in its own share of pseudoscientific nonsense, so there’s plenty of blame to go around. But when it comes to social darwinism, we’re talking about a scientific abuse characteristic of conservatism.

The irony, which was Matt’s point, is that the Discovery Institute isn’t criticizing social darwinism to decry the excesses of right-wing ideology. These people are about as far right-wing as you can get. Rather, they’re attacking “Darwinism” in the broad sense, as a purely scientific notion, for the purpose of religious apologetics (however misguided the approach may be). They do this not to attack fascism, but to attack its diametric opposite, which is liberalism. The DI people advocate an authoritarian government that enforces religious mores, in the belief (again misguided, IMO) that enforcing traditional morality is necessary to prevent social chaos. The personal freedom embraced by liberals is their true enemy. The DI’s view is therefore much closer to Nazi ideology than what they’re railing against.

So why try to link Dawin to the Nazis if their ultimate target is something much different? It’s a smear tactic, pure and simple. They will link “Darwinism” to anything generally perceived to be evil, whether or not there’s any actual connection, and whether or not they contradict themselves in the process. Amusingly, they’ve blamed Darwin for socialism, communism, laissez-faire capitalism, and plenty of other incompatible ideologies. There is no attempt at consistency or honesty here, it’s all about doing whatever it takes to win in the court of public opinion. The IDists thus display the mark of true extremism, and that’s the kind of ideology we need to be afraid of.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

Blah-blah-blah

Why let a little thing like not having read the book keep you from opining about it (although, perhaps you would be better served by having it read to you)?

Mr. Reuland’s comment was pertinent and not about the book, which is not under discussion here, but about social Darwinism. Mr. O’Brien’s comment is therefore out of order. You may be as hard-hitting as you like, but please remain civil.

Matt Young Wrote:

Mr. Reuland’s comment was pertinent and not about the book, which is not under discussion here, but about social Darwinism.

“So why try to link Dawin to the Nazis if their ultimate target is something much different?”

Nope, no references to the book here.

Um, I didn’t critique any of the book’s contents, just the motivation behind having published such a book in the first place.

I would hope this gives even ID supporters pause, since we’re talking about a movement that calls itself “scientific”, yet seems to rely mostly on extra-scientific argumentation.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

I would hope this gives even ID supporters pause, since we’re talking about a movement that calls itself “scientific”, yet seems to rely mostly on extra-scientific argumentation.

Yeah, seriously. Such political history as Weikart’s book doesn’t make much sense to be associated with the CRSC, if it’s goal is to challenge modern biology on scientific grounds. However, as we’ve observed for a long time anti-evolutionist are not motivated by science, but by religion and politics. Thus we can reasonably expect such output as this.

Let’s go back to the DI press release:

In this compelling and painstakingly researched work of intellectual history, Weikart convincingly makes the argument that Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles.

There are many problems with this thesis from a historical standpoint. The most obvious of which is that ethnic hatred predates Charles Darwin by a few years. What’s next; is the treatment of the Canaanites going to be blamed on Darwinian principles too? European supremacist, German or otherwise, easily predate the codification “Darwinian principles.” Specifically, hatred of Jews goes back to when the Catholic Church based such ethics on Christian principles. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, even remarked:

I brief, dear princes and lords, those of you who have Jews under your rule if my counsel does not please your, find better advice, so that you and we all can be rid of the unbearable, devilish burden of the Jews, lest we become guilty sharers before God in the lies, blasphemy, the defamation, and the curses which the mad Jews indulge in so freely and wantonly against the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, this dear mother, all Christians, all authority, and ourselves. Do not grant them protection, safe conduct, or communion with us. … With this faithful counsel and warning I wish to cleanse and exonerate my conscience.

The point of all this is that Hitler did not build his views on “Darwinian principles,” but rather on historical European anti-Semitism. He, like his predecessors, tried to justify his hatred with whatever he could find. At times he invoked survival of the fittest, other times he invoked the will of God, and I’m sure that he made other arguments too. The problem is that you cannot logically justify hatred. Hatred is an irrational and primitive emotion; and thus resists logical justification.

We might not be able to justify hatred, but we can explain it. Why do we often hate other groups? It’s because we are primates and are descended from primates. Primates are social animals; we form groups. Working together with a group for survival means that we must work against other groups. Competition between groups for survival (“us versus them”) can and does lead to escalation of aggression, or what we call “hated.” However, such aggression can backfire on groups if it causes them to expend more resources then they can afford. Cooperation can often be more fruitful than aggression, but it is harder to establish. This is only a tidbit of the strong evolutionary literature on the evolution of social behavior.

The full text of what Martin Luther wrote can be found at Medieval Sourcebook: Martin Luther (1483-1546): On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543 – Anti-spam: replace ‘username’ with ‘harlequin2’

Lets try that again:

Medieval Sourcebook: Martin Luther (1483-1546): On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543

I think that the regular expression that looks for {url}…{/url} structures need to be modified as not to be confused by new line characters.

– Anti-spam: replace “username” with “harlequin2”

I have a new version of Kwickcode, that I am trying on my blog. I’ll probably implement it soon on PT.

I agree with comment 6642, and would add that Richard Wagner whom it is said was Hitler’s favourite composer, (as well as mine, and I’m not a Nazi),- was extremely anti-semitic, as part of that European tradition. His family directly hobnobbed with Hitler,and referred to him affectionately as “Uncle Wolf”. It is concluded from this that Hitler was very much affected by Wagner’s anti-semism, as well as the writings of an Englishman, Chamberlain. So at least some of the blame can be removed from Darwin alone.

Good Morning Matt. In addition to your logical argument, there is the contrast between the eugenics movements of Germany, England and the USA. In each country there were strong eugenics movements with various degrees of official support. The USA even had an active sterilization program well before any such was implemented in Germany.

You might also point out that attempted theories about ‘race’ (which in the 18th and 19th centuries was often equated with nationality or religion) preceded Darwin by centuries, and nationalistic and religious prejudice and violence preceded Darwin by many centuries.

“Racial Hygene: Medicine Under the Nazis” by Robert N. Proctor, (1988, Boston:Harvard University Press), is a wonderful examination of the historical development of the Nazi holocaust. There one learns that in 1938 the Nazi “Office of Racial Policy” publication Inromationsdienst Martin Luther’s advice on the “proper” treatment of Jews was given prominent display:

“… to put their synagogues and schools to fire, and what will not burn, to cover with earth and rubble so that no-one will ever again see anything there but cinders … Second, one should tear down and destroy their houses, for they do also in there what they do in their schools and synagogues … And third, one should confiscate their prayer books and Talmud, in which idolatry and lies, slander and blasphemy is taught.” From Proctor 1988: 88.

The founder of Protestant Christianity was a greater inspiration to the Nazis than any scientist. Science, politicized by the same conditions that radicalized both Left, and Right, was used as justification for actions long advocated as Christian.

The Nazi Office of Racial Policy held thousands of public meetings a month promoting anti-semitism and attacking “muddle-headed humanitarianism” (Humanitätsduselei) or, what we call liberalism today. This liberal social policy includes such things as nutritional support and medical care for the poor, and is attacked by most conservatives who also (like the Nazis) have anxiety about immigration and a host of related social issues. The religious right has reified their criticism of liberal social welfare programs, or as they call it “secular humanism,” to equating it with Satanism.

Ironically, this is also laid at the feet of Darwin.

Pity poor Darwin because the far right creationists associated with DI bilge blame him for “communistic social welfare” and the Nazis, all in the same breath. Of course, they have not the least interest in the holocaust: their true goal is still the biblical theoratic state of their first patron. In pursuit of this they are trying to associate scientists, and particularly biology, with Nazis. Tomorrow they will attack scientists opposed to superstition as “elitists” or communists. They are without honor or shame.

Friends, It’s rather odd to be accused of making logical fallacies by people who have not read my book, when I specifically state in the introduction to my book that I am not making a philosophical arguement, but a historical claim. I specifically state in the introduction that Darwinism does not of logical necessity lead to Nazism nor the Holocaust. In fact, you might be interested to know that most of my book is not about Nazism, but rather shows the impact of Darwinism on debates about ethics and morality in Germany, especially what we call today biomedical ethics. I explain the moral conclusions that Darwinists themselves drew from the theory; I do not impose my own opinion. If you don’t like these Darwinists’ ideas, that is fine, and you are free to argue against them. However, they were influential and they affected history. I’m a historian, and my book helps us understand history.

You might also be interested to know that when I began my study, I was investigating evolutionary ethics in Germany (after finishing my dissertation on the reception of Darwinism by the German socialists in late nineteenth-century Germany). I wasn’t even thinking about connecting Darwinism to Hitler when I began my research. However, I found the parallels between evolutionary ethics and Nazi ideology too close to ignore. Read my book and find out why.

Concerning the comment above that: “However, I have heard that Weikart was excoriated at the Judiasm and Darwinsim [sic]conference last February when he gave his talk.” This is only partly true. It is true that one historian of science took me to task for one paragraph of my (approx. 20-page)paper, in which I explained Charles Darwin’s position on racial extermination (he also admitted that the rest of the paper made sense). Many other historians of Darwinism agree with my perspective on Darwin’s acceptance of racial extermination as an aspect of the human struggle for existence; here are a few:

Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (New York: Michael Joseph, 1991), xxi, 191, 266-68, 521, 653;

Robert M. Young, “Darwinism Is Social,” in The Darwinian Heritage, ed. David Kohn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 609-638;

John C. Greene, “Darwin as Social Evolutionist,” in Science, Ideology, and World View: Essays in the History of Evolutionary Ideas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981)

Peter Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea, revised ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 301;

Gregory Claeys, “The ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and the Origins of Social Darwinism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 61 (2000): 223-40

The other criticisms of my paper at the conference in question were rather minor, and the main expert on German Darwinism present at the conference, Paul Weindling, did not present any significant objections. To say that I was excoriated is rather dismissive, and doesn’t reflect all the realities here. I was invited to the conference on the basis of respect by peers for my scholarship. My book, _From Darwin to Hitler_ was published by one of the leading scholarly publishers in the world, Palgrave Macmillan, and it was peer reviewed. If you want to criticize it, fine, but why don’t you start by reading it?

Let me point out that the review was clearly NOT of the book but rather of its title and the claims made about the book on its cover.

I am as reluctant to review a book I have never read as to judge a book by its cover. Thus, this essay is not a review of a book but rather a review of its cover.

OK, your review was not of my book, but of the cover. But even this is not really accurate. Apparently you never even looked at the cover of the book. The three blurbs you critique do not even appear on the dustjacket. They do, however, appear on my website (and I checked to make sure I hadn’t goofed–I never stated on my website that those endorsements are all on the cover or dustjacket). So your critique is really a review of my website. However, if you want to do a really balanced review, you might mention that there are endorsements that really do appear on my dustjacket from historians from the University of Cambridge, Yale University (this one isn’t on my website, because I didn’t want to clutter it with scads of endorsements), the University of Prince Edward Island, and Hamilton College, all of whom are experts in German history and/or the history of Darwinism and/or eugenics. Maybe you should find out why they liked my book.

Richard, you have a valid point to a certain extent. But this review was not mean to be a balanced review of your book but rather a review of how ID/DI proponents interpret your book. Johnson, Pearcey and others (for a link of other endorsements see hre). In other words the focus was on the Discovery Institute announcement and the endorsements by some of its fellows.

From an anonymous Amazon reviewer we see what really is at stake here

This is a story that needs retelling especially in view of the fact that Darwinism is increasingly being questioned by scientists themselves (at my university I am seeing more and more controversy in this area by biologists).

Dear Dr. Weikart:

I am very sorry if you took my article as an attack on your book. As Pim van Meurs has noted, it was a comment on the Discovery Institute’s press release and the advance praise for the book. I have no idea what is in the book. A few of the comments discussed your work or your book, but I did not, and I am not responsible for the comments. Indeed, I noted explicitly that I would not comment on a book I had not read.

On your Web page, directly after the dustjacket blurb and your biography, you posted “Advance praise for From Darwin to Hitler:”. I not unreasonably assumed that the “advance praise” was blurbs from the dustjacket and therefore saw no need to view the dustjacket itself. I apologize for the error. But in hindsight I see nothing wrong with my article except that I described the advance praise as being on the dust jacket, whereas it was in fact on your Website.

I am pleased that some experts liked your book, and I will be interested to see how it is received critically.

Regards,

Matt Young

Dr. Weikart,

I have a couple of questions that I’d like you to answer in this thread.

1. Did you receive any funding from the Discovery Institute to write this book? Is that why you are considered a fellow of the CRSC?

2. What was the major reason for Hitler to desire and order ethnic cleansing to be done? You don’t have to go into all the historical details, just the major reason.

“Eugenocide” by Richard Weikart Touchstone July/Aug 2004

A 6 page ‘shortened’ version of a chapter of his “From Darwin to Hitler; Evolutionary Ethics, eugenics, and Racism in Germany”

In context it perhaps reflects the historical, however, it is easily subjected to misinterpretation as demonstrated by the fundamentalist christian who sent me a copy … “facts are all pointing to Darwinism being THE crucial & prominent evo theory responsible for atrocities.”

RW says

I specifically state in the introduction that Darwinism does not of logical necessity lead to Nazism nor the Holocaust.

Hilarious.

I’m working on my own book entitled “From Jesus to Jew Killing: Hitler, Creationism and History According to Richard Weikart.”

I’d LOVE for you to contribute an intro, Mr. Weikart!!!

Of course, I won’t be arguing that Christianity of logical necessity led to Nazism or the Holocaust, or that your book of logical necessity led to any Christians believing that Darwinism had anything to with the Holocaust. These titles are just meant to be provocative and move a few units off the shelves, get the plebes excited, etc. You know the deal.

RW says

I specifically state in the introduction that Darwinism does not of logical necessity lead to Nazism nor the Holocaust.

Mr. Weikart, I’m working on my own book entitled “From Jesus to Jew Killing : Hitler, Creationism and History According to Richard Weikart.”

I’d LOVE for you to contribute an introduction or dust jacket comment, Mr. Weikart!

Of course, I won’t be arguing that Christianity led of logical necessity to Nazism or the Holocaust, or that your book of logical necessity led to any Christians believing that Darwinism had anything to with the Holocaust. These book titles are just meant to be provocative and move a few units off the shelves, get the plebes excited, etc. You know the deal.

Please let me know a.s.a.p. if you are interested in contributing to my book, Mr. Weikart! As you can imagine, the list of willing participants is not short and time is of the essence.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on August 17, 2004 11:28 AM.

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