From Darwin to Hitler, or Not? Part 3

Here at PT, we have recently had several posts on banned books and Nazis.

Last week, the American Library Association recognized Banned Books Week, and we had the spectacle of the ID movement trying to claim that Of Pandas and People was banned from the Dover school library. Subsequent discussion revealed that (a) the Court explicitly debunked that idea in March 2005, (b) the book is still in the Dover school library as far as anyone knows, and (c} the ALA does not have Pandas on its banned books list, although they have a record of a challenge in 1993.

Regarding Nazis, a month or two ago we had another resurgence of discussion of DI fellow Richard Weikart’s book, From Darwin to Hitler, and the crass propaganda based on the book that the ID/creationist movement has pumped out. In short, two historians (one of eugenics, and one of Germany) have said that Weikart’s attempt to link Darwin and Hitler is tenditious at best.

Well, last night I was at the book store looking for Seed magazine (the new issue is not up on the website yet, but have a look at the November issue if you get a chance). I poked around in the science section, and discovered Richard Dawkins’ new anti-religion book, The God Delusion. Whatever you think of its merits on the whole (I have not read it yet and am instinctively pessimistic when Dawkins gets outside of biology), it has at least one very good point: it prominently cites Bottaro et al. in the Behe-debunking section. The main ID people have yet to even acknowledge the article, but it’s nice to know that someone is paying attention. So that was pretty cool.

Then, I happened to walk by the history section (much bigger than the science section), about half of which seems to be about WWII and Nazis. Somewhere in there I saw something about the famous Nazi book burnings of 1933, and probably because of the above-described PT posts, I thought, “Hmm, I wonder what books were burned by the Nazis?” This question I promptly forgot about (welcome to my brain). But something jogged my memory today and I did a bit of googling.

The best resource on the matter seems to be “When books burn”, an online exhibit sponsored by the University of Arizona Library. It was created by Lisa Bunker and Bonnie Travers. Of course the exhibit begins with the famously prophetic and sobering line from an 1821 play by German playwright Heinrich Heine: “Where one burns books, one will soon burn people.” (Not to be confused with the lines from one of the Indiana Jones movies: “Goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.” And: “Nazis. I hate these guys.”)

Anyway, the exhibit contains a page called “Lists of Banned Books, 1932-1939.” The page begins by noting that it is hard to tell exactly what books the Nazis burned at their various book burnings (which I believe were largely orchestrated by radicalized university students, another sobering point):

Lists of Banned Books, 1932-1939

What was forbidden? What was burned? It is difficult to say for sure, in part because there were so many agencies which got involved. According to Leonidas Hill, author of “The Nazi Attack on Un-German Literature, 1933-1945,” by 1934, over forty agencies had lists ennumerating 4,100 publications to be banned. The following list is necessarily partial, but should represent the most influential literature blacklists from 1933 to 1935.

The page then presents eight lists of books that the Nazis banned, including images of the documents, the text in German, and the translation in English. The seventh is some “guidelines” published in Die Bucherei, “the official Nazi journal for lending libraries.”

[Guidelines] 1935 Die Bucherei, the official Nazi journal for lending libraries, published these collection evaluation “guidelines” during the second round of “purifications” (saüberung).

Well, what’s in the list? Naturally, communists, jews, democrats, pacifists, and…guess who…

Guidelines from Die Bücherei 2:6 (1935), p. 279

1. The works of traitors, emigrants and authors from foreign countries who believe they can attack and denigrate the new German (H.G. Wells, Rolland).

2. The literature of Marxism, Communism and Bolshevism.

3. Pacifist literature.

4. Literature with liberal, democratic tendencies and attitudes, and writing supporting the Weimar Republic (Rathenau, Heinrich Mann).

5. All historical writings whose purpose is to denigrate the origin, the spirit and the culture of the German Volk, or to dissolve the racial and structural order of the Volk, or that denies the force and importance of leading historical figures in favor of egalitarianism and the masses, and which seeks to drag them through the mud (Emil Ludwig).

6. Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).

7. Books that advocate “art” which is decadent, bloodless, or purely constructivist (Grosz, Dix, Bauhaus, Mendelsohn).

8. Writings on sexuality and sexual education which serve the egocentric pleasure of the individual and thus, completely destroy the principles of race and Volk (Hirschfeld).

9. The decadent, destructive and Volk-damaging writings of “Asphalt and Civilization” literati! (Graf, H. Mann, Stefan Zweig, Wassermann, Franz Blei). [transl. note: a derogatory term for writers dealing with upper middle class urban society].

10. Literature by Jewish authors, regardless of the field.

11. Popular entertainment literature that depicts life and life’s goals in a superficial, unrealistic and sickly sweet manner, based on a bourgeois or upper class view of life.

12. Nationalistic and patriotic kitsch in literature (P.O. Höcker!).

[Source for German text: pp. 143-144 of Strothmann, Dietrich. Nationalsozialistische Literaturpolitik: ein Beitrag zur Publizistik im Dritten Reich. Bonn: H. Bouvier, 1968. Translation by Dr. Roland Richter. Bold added.]

Another list, the “Blacklist for Public Libraries and Commercial Lending Libraries,” includes this as an item:

According to the principles governing the compilation of this list, the following publications must be removed from public and commercial lending libraries:

a) All writings that ridicule and belittle the state and its institutions, or that attack or question its moral foundation.

b) All writings that attack or attempt to dissolve the order of the community of the Volk and its moral foundation, specifically those against the race and biological requirements of a healthy Volk (marriage, family, etc.).

c) All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the Volk.

Considering that the Discovery Institute’s Richard Weikart has said (e.g. here, and in his book) that Darwin undermined traditional Christianity and therefore respect for life, and thereby made possible the Nazis and their atrocities, isn’t it odd that he didn’t mention the above points in his book?

Obligatory cautions

Since Nazis are to internet discussions what gasoline nitroglycerin is to fires, I will make some obvious points to head off misinterpretation:

1. The fact that Darwin and Haeckel (or at least “primitive Darwinism”, whatever that means – additional insight here is welcome) were banned does not automatically make Darwin/Haeckel/evolution good. There is (or should be) no reverse Godwin’s Law wherein anything oppressed by the Nazis automatically wins. An obvious example here is communist writings.

2. Just because anti-Christian writings were banned does not mean that Christianity is bad or supported Nazism. Hitler was a vegetarian; it does not follow that vegetarians are evil. Although some ID supporters have difficulty getting this sort of subtlety through their thick skulls, the point of raising Christianity when Darwin/Hitler is being discussed is not to besmirch Christianity, but to show that the Nazis were blustering, inconsistent thugs primarily interested in hate and power, and would happily appropriate/coopt/twist/distort any concept, consistent or not, that they thought would help their selfish causes. Raising the case of Christianity also usually exposes the hypocrisy of ID/creationists who push the Darwin-to-Hitler propaganda as part of their apologetics agenda, because they typically respond in injured tones about how the Nazis weren’t actually employing true Christianity. Exactly our point.

3. The above lists do not prove that books by Darwin or Haeckel were actually physically burned, only banned; such details may or may not exist somewhere in the historical record. It is also possible that Darwin/Haeckel were promoted at some times/places and banned in others, because after all, as noted above, the Nazis were inconsistent goose-stepping morons.

4. Darwin and evolutionary biology do not get a free pass. Even though it is ludicrous to say that Darwin led to Hitler (which is highly dubious even for Haeckel, as Weikart acknowledges repeatedly, not realizing how this sinks his Darwin argument), despite the fact that he was a liberal and opposed to slavery, Darwin still had some of the racism of his day, as can be seen in Descent of Man. Furthermore, although Darwin cannot really be blamed for this either, eugenics was bad enough on its own terms (although if you want to get technical it actually came to prominence in the early 1900s, when natural selection (“Darwinism”) was in scientific eclipse), and there are a number of biologists who should have known better. (Apparently T.H. Morgan in 1925 was the first major scientific critic, and still quite late and too mild. Clarence Darrow evidently did better in 1926.) You won’t learn this from the ID movement, but suitably scathing reviews on the subject can be found in places like the Encyclopedia of Evolution and Melvin Konner’s book The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit.

5. [Added in edit on a commenter’s suggestion] Since we are being thorough here, it is also worth pointing out that many Christians resisted the Nazis, from opposing them via the churches to hiding jews. A notable example is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted the Nazi attempts to take over the church and, despite his earlier commitment to pacifism, eventually participated in a plot to kill Hitler. He was arrested, put in jail, then concentration camps, and finally executed by hanging in April 1945 just weeks before the camps were liberated by the Allies.