RE: New book on Hitler and evolution

From: Richard Weikart <>
Date: Tue May 04 2004 - 19:00:30 EDT

Dear Bob Schneider,
Precedence: bulk

Thanks for your comments. First of all, my argument is more nuanced than
the title of my book suggests. I'm making an historical argument, not a
philosophical argument. I don't argue, for instance, that racism,
militarism, infanticide, euthanasia, etc., are logically necessary
deductions from Darwinism. However, I show that many leading Darwinists
vigorously promoted these connections.

Concerning your more specific point, I don't have time to go into a lot of
detail, but the Darwinian biologists and social thinkers I discuss were
heavily influenced by Darwin's writings, but most had minimal acquaintance
with Spencer, who was not as influential in Germany as in the Anglo-American
world. Secondly, Darwin once stated that he considered Spencer the greatest
living philosopher, and he borrowed Spencer's terminology, "the survival of
the fittest." So, their ideas were not as far apart as you suggest.
Finally, many historians of science have noted that Darwin was a social
Darwinist. Mike Hawkins in his recent book, _Social Darwinism in European
and American Thought_ (Cambridge UP, 1997) argues forcefully that Darwin was
a social Darwinist.

Also, here is a paragraph from an essay I'm working on dealing with social
Darwinist racism:

Darwin himself believed that human races were unequal and were locked in a
human struggle for existence. Even though he opposed slavery and at times
expressed sympathy for those of other races in his Beagle journal, he also
expressed the view that the "varieties of man act on each other, in the same
way as different species of animals-the stronger always extirpate the
weaker." Later in life he wrote to a colleague that the "more civilised
so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for
existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless
number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised
races throughout the world." He articulated this same principle in Descent
of Man, claiming, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by
centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and
replace throughout the world the savage races." Darwin was not a
militarist, and he often expressed sympathy for those of "lower" races, so
he would undoubtedly have been horrified by those coming after him who
espoused racial extermination, but nonetheless, he did consider racial
extermination an inescapable natural process that contributed to
evolutionary progress.

Here is one of the footnotes to the above paragraph:

Most scholars agree with me that racial struggle is an integral part of
Darwin's account of human evolution, and some even explicitly discuss the
role of racial extermination in his theory-see Adrian Desmond and James
Moore, Darwin (New York, 1991), xxi, 191, 266-68, 521, 653; Robert M. Young,
"Darwinism Is Social," in The Darwinian Heritage, ed. David Kohn (Princeton,
1985), 609-638; John C. Greene, "Darwin as Social Evolutionist," in
Science, Ideology, and World View: Essays in the History of Evolutionary
Ideas (Berkeley, 1981); Peter Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea,
revised ed. (Berkeley, 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; a few scholars, however, emphasize Darwin's
abolitionist sentiments and sympathy for other races, e.g., Greta Jones,
Social Darwinism and English Thought: The Interaction between Biological and
Social Theory (Sussex, 1980), 140; Paul Crook, Darwinism, War and History:
The Debate over the Biology of War from the 'Origin of Species' to the First
World War (Cambridge, 1994), 25-28.

Most of my research is on the German scene, where Darwinian biologists were
on the forefront in promoting social Darwinism. Significant aspects of the
racial ideologies Hitler and the Nazis were promoting were mainstream
science in Germany (and elsewhere). Much recent work on Nazi science
corroborates this.

I hope you have a chance to read my work, where I present the full argument
for this.

Richard Weikart
Department of History
California State Univ., Stanislaus
Turlock, CA 95382

Author, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in
Germany (2004)

office phone: 209-667-3522

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Robert Schneider []
> Sent: Tuesday, May 04, 2004 9:34 AM
> To: Alexanian, Moorad; Richard Weikart; George Murphy; Ted Davis;
> Subject: Re: New book on Hitler and evolution
> I am writing this from memory, and Ted Davis is in the better position to
> correct, but it should be clear what kind of "Darwinism" one is talking
> about during the latter part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th
> century. I think that one should consider "Social Darwinism" as a more
> likely culprit in the forming of racial philosophies among the German
> military class and Hitler. Two often no distinction is made between
> Darwin's science and Spencer's philosophy.
> Bob Schneider
Received on Thu May 27 22:14:16 2004

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