University rescinds honorary degree awarded to Konrad Lorenz

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday that the University of Salzburg has posthumously rescinded an honorary doctorate it had awarded to the ethologist Konrad Lorenz because of what Haaretz called “his fervent embrace of Nazism.” Some people consider Lorenz, the man who famously got a gaggle of geese to imprint on him, to be the father of ethology. Haaretz says,

Lorenz describes himself as “always a National Socialist.” He says his work “stands to serve National Socialist thought.”

The university says Lorenz spread “basic elements of the racist ideology of National Socialism” in his work.

The Wikipedia article on Lorenz says,

Lorenz joined the Nazi Party in 1938 and accepted a university chair under the Nazi regime. In his application for membership of the Nazi Party he wrote in 1938: “I’m able to say that my whole scientific work is devoted to the ideas of the National Socialists.” His publications during that time led in later years to allegations that his scientific work had been contaminated by Nazi sympathies. His published writing during the Nazi period included support for Nazi ideas of “racial hygiene” couched in pseudoscientific metaphors. After the war Lorenz long denied having been a party member until his membership request turned up, and he also denied having known about the extent of the genocide in spite of having held a post as a psychologist in the Office of Racial Policy. He also denied having ever held antisemitic views, but was later shown to have used frequent antisemitic language in a series of letters to his mentor Heinroth.

In his biography he wrote:

“I was frightened–as I still am–by the thought that analogous genetical processes of deterioration may be at work with civilized humanity. Moved by this fear, I did a very ill-advised thing soon after the Germans had invaded Austria: I wrote about the dangers of domestication and, in order to be understood, I couched my writing in the worst of nazi terminology. I do not want to extenuate this action. I did, indeed, believe that some good might come of the new rulers. The precedent narrow-minded catholic regime in Austria induced better and more intelligent men than I was to cherish this naive hope. Practically all my friends and teachers did so, including my own father who certainly was a kindly and humane man. None of us as much as suspected that the word “selection”, when used by these rulers, meant murder. I regret those writings not so much for the undeniable discredit they reflect on my person as for their effect of hampering the future recognition of the dangers of domestication.”

Lorenz, who has been dead for 26 years, shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.