hitler-model
Hitler in model car
From a model shop in London.
Photo, "Who buys Hitler toys? by Liton Ali at Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Share
Facebook
Twitter
Print
arroba Email

Whether Hitler was a Darwinian

Richard Weikart Responds to Robert J. Richards Published at Evolution News

Apparently my two books, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress, caused Robert J. Richards of the University of Chicago to pop a fuse. His fifty-page essay, “Was Hitler a Darwinian?” in his new book of the same name, published by the University of Chicago Press, aims primarily at refuting my works. He also snipes at David Berlinski, Stephen Jay Gould, Larry Arnhart, even Peter Bowler, along with unspecified “members of the Intelligent Design crowd.”

Unfortunately his analysis is marred by the following problems:

  1. Richards misquotes and/or ignores the context of quotations, sometimes making them say the opposite of what is intended.
  2. Richards ignores mountains of evidence, much of which is already contained in my books and articles.
  3. Richards caricatures the positions of those he disagrees with (especially me, since I’m the main target of his essay).
  4. Richards conflates certain key concepts.
  5. In addition to ignoring specific lines of evidence, Richards totally ignores many of the most salient points I set forth in my books about what connects Darwinism and Hitler.
  6. At one point Richards even creates a new historical “fact.”

I intend to provide sufficient examples to substantiate these points, but it would be impossible for me to discuss all the examples under each of these categories, because I could easily write a book-length refutation of Richards’s essay. In reality, I already have done this in Hitler’s Ethic and elsewhere, but Richards simply ignores much of my evidence, as I will show in this and two subsequent articles.

(I will not be citing my sources in this essay, because I have given most of them in other books and essays. I will provide page numbers for quotations from Robert Richards’ book, Was Hitler a Darwinian? (2013). However, if anyone wants more details on a source I use, please e-mail me and I will provide further information.)

Let’s take each point in turn.

1) Richards misquotes and/or ignores the context of quotations, sometimes making them say the opposite of what is intended.

This is one of the most serious problems in his analysis, and it is especially pernicious, because those who are not conversant in the primary sources will have no idea that Richards is misinterpreting the quotations he proffers. The context that Richards leaves out often contradicts his interpretation.

One of the more egregious examples of this is his misquotation of Konrad Lorenz, followed by a complete misrepresentation of Lorenz’s point. According to Richards, in a 1940 essay Lorenz, “good Darwinian that he was, complained that there were many ‘in the schools of National-Socialistic greater Germany who in fact still reject evolutionary thought and descent theory [Entwicklungsgedanken und Abstammungslehre] as such.’ Lorenz’s complaint strongly implies that Darwinism had no official mandate in the educational system.” (p. 236) The material that Richards places within the quotation marks is accurate enough, but I still consider this a misquote, because the word “many” that immediately precedes the quotation is not only not present in Lorenz’s statement, but it runs contrary to the point that Lorenz is making. Lorenz was responding to an earlier article in Der Biologe where Ferdinand Rossner discussed a few — not many — figures who were opposing Darwin and Haeckel (and the two he mentions by name were not even biologists!). The reason Lorenz was astonished was because in his view evolution was not up for discussion. It is obvious from the context that Lorenz was not reacting to “many,” but to “few” (though he doesn’t use either word), and this completely changes the spin that Richards puts on this quotation.

Worse yet (for Richards), later in his essay, Lorenz completely contradicts Richards’s claim that Darwinism “had no official mandate” in Nazi Germany. Lorenz claimed it did have official mandate, so he urged teachers to follow the Nazi curriculum. (Lorenz also argued in this essay that the best way to win people to Nazism is to teach them evolutionary biology, a point that undermines Richards’s analysis yet more). Rossner, in the essay Lorenz had read, explained in even greater detail that the Nazi educational curriculum required the teaching of evolution, including human evolution. Richards should have known this, because I discussed both Rossner and Lorenz in an essay that I sent Richards in early 2010 and that we discussed in his seminar at the University of Chicago. I also discussed in that essay the Nazi Education Ministry’s 1938 curriculum handbook and the National Socialist Teachers’ League’s biology curriculum of 1936-37. Both contained large doses of evolution, including the evolution of humans and human races. Why did Richards ignore this information that I provided him over three years before his book came out that completely contradicts his point?

If Richards’s mistaken interpretation of Lorenz were an isolated example in his essay, I wouldn’t have bothered to bring it up. Everyone can make a mistake (and I have certainly made many). One mistake like this wouldn’t torpedo his entire analysis. However, unfortunately this is not an isolated example, but is emblematic of his essay, as I will demonstrate.

For example, Richards claims that the head of the Nazi Party’s Racial Policy Office, Walter Gross, “thought the party ought to remain clear of any commitment to the doctrines of human evolution, ‘which is frequently still pervaded with Haeckelian ways of thinking in its basic ideological ideas . . . and is thus publicly considered a part of materialistic, monist idea.’” (p. 240) This cleverly makes it sound like Gross was an opponent of human evolution altogether, or at least did not want the Nazi Party to embrace it. However, if one examines the context of the quotation that Richards took from Ute Deichmann, Gross was not questioning human evolution at all, nor was he denying that Nazism should be committed to the idea that humans evolved. He was simply saying that the Nazi Party should not take sides in debates about how humans evolved. Richards must have known that Gross believed in human evolution, because on the same page in Deichmann, she mentions that Gross thought the most competent racial anthropologist was the Darwinian anthropologist Hans Weinert, whose work Gross supported. Perhaps Richards forgot that Gross wrote an article in 1943 in which he did take sides in the debate about how human evolution occurred (I say “forgot” here, because in March 2010 I quoted from this article on a PowerPoint slide I showed to Richards and his seminar). In that 1943 article Gross called evolutionary theory (Deszendenzlehre) “one of the best-founded theories of science,” and he defended the theory that humans evolved through mutations and natural selection. Thus, whether Gross rejected Haeckel’s monism or not, he certainly was a Darwinian through and through.

Indeed, Richards does some pretty fancy acrobatics with Hitler’s words, too. He claims (incorrectly) that there are only two times that Hitler discussed evolution explicitly, both in Hitler’s Table Talks. In one of these in January 1942 Hitler questioned human evolution, as I have explained in detail in Hitler’s Ethic (pp. 46ff.). However, Richards ignores the fact that in the same passage that Hitler questioned human evolution he indicated that he accepted evolution for other organisms. Nonetheless, I fully admit that this passage is problematic for my interpretation, and if it were not for an abundance of countervailing evidence, my interpretation would be sunk. But there is much countervailing evidence, as I have already shown in my books and will also show in greater detail below.

Richards claims the only other time that Hitler mentioned evolution explicitly was in a passage in the Table Talks from October 1941. However, according to Richards’s interpretation of this monologue, all it proves is that Hitler “was aware of evolutionary theory.” Really? This is an odd interpretation, because in this monologue Hitler claimed that evolutionary theory was contradictory to the church, and he then specifically criticized the church for not accepting science. Hitler also clearly indicated his belief in human evolution in this monologue by stating: “There have been humans at the rank at least of a baboon in any case for 300,000 years at least. The ape is distinguished from the lowest human less than such a human is from a thinker like, for example, Schopenhauer.” (quote from Hitler, Monologe im Hauptquartier, ed. Jochmann, p. 105) Interestingly, this last sentence also completely contradicts what Hitler stated in January 1942 about the huge gap between humans and apes that caused him to doubt human evolution. This reinforces my claim that his January 1942 doubt was not a long-standing belief, but a fleeting idea (as I back up with abundant evidence in Hitler’s Ethic and will discuss further below).

Richards’s interpretation of Hitler’s writings is also way off the mark. For instance, in Hitler’s posthumously published Second Book, Richards claims that a quotation on the second page of that book is Hegelian, not Darwinian. In his essay Richards actually quotes this passage that is laced with Darwinian evolution (though he avoids using the standard English translation, probably because the English translator actually uses the word “evolution”). In this quotation Hitler states that humans did not exist in early geological history, that as geological history proceeded organic forms appeared and disappeared, and that very late in world history humans appeared. According to Hitler this whole process is driven by “an eternal struggle for survival.” Sounds like biological evolution to me, and it sounds like Darwinian evolution, since it is driven by the struggle for existence. However, in a bizarre twist, Richards claims this is not Darwinian at all, but Hegelian. Really? Where did Hitler say that Geist or Reason was driving this historical development?

On the contrary, if one examines the preceding paragraphs, it is patently obvious that Hitler is discussing human evolution. This first chapter of his book is primarily about the “struggle for life” (Lebenskampf), or as the English translator renders it, the “struggle for survival.” (Incidentally, Darwin also used the term “struggle for life” as a synonym for the “struggle for existence.”) The context is this: Hitler opens this first chapter by arguing that the struggle for life is the driving force in human history and in politics. What is driving this struggle? Not Hegelian Geist, but the “self-preservation instinct” that manifests itself in two motivations: “hunger and love.” By love he simply meant reproduction, as he clearly explained. Hitler then stated, “In truth, these two impulses [hunger and love] are the rulers of life.” Thus biological instincts, not Hegelian Geist or rationality, drives history forward, in Hitler’s view. In fact, Hitler then stated, “Whatever is made of flesh and blood can never escape the laws that condition its development. As soon as the human intellect believes itself to be above that, that real substance that is the bearer of the spirit is destroyed.” This is a direct rejection of Hegelianism. Hitler is founding his view of development on biology, not Geist.

Further, in the paragraph immediately preceding the one Richards quotes, Hitler wrote:

The types of creatures on the earth are countless, and on an individual level their self-preservation instinct as well as the longing for procreation is always unlimited; however, the space in which this entire life process plays itself out is limited. It is the surface area of a precisely measured sphere on which billions and billions of individual beings struggle for life and succession. In the limitation of this living space lies the compulsion for the struggle for survival, and the struggle for survival, in turn, contains that precondition for evolution.

(Lest I be accused of playing a sly translation trick, as Richards blames me elsewhere [see further on in this series], all these quotations are from the standard English translation by Krista Smith that is edited by Gerhard Weinberg.)

I don’t know why Richards thinks the passage he quotes is Hegelian, but I do know why he didn’t quote this paragraph preceding it. Here Hitler argued — just as Darwin did — that reproduction outstrips the available resources, leading to a “struggle for survival” among organisms, including humans.

Richards’s misunderstanding of Hitler’s concept of Lebensraum, which Hitler explained briefly in this passage in the Second Book, also vitiates his discussion of a passage in Mein Kampf. Richards claims that in one of only two (wrong again, there are at least four) passages where Hitler used the term “struggle for existence” in Mein Kampf, his use of the term “makes little sense from a Darwinian perspective.” The reason that Hitler’s thinking here is un-Darwinian, according to Richards, is because a Darwinian should supposedly want population expansion to lead to competition within restricted borders, which would allow the fit to triumph over the unfit. According to Richards, expanding into new territory would lessen the struggle, allowing the fit and less fit “to have fairly equal chances.” Richards miscalculates here because he leaves out of the equation one of the most important factors in Hitler’s reasoning: the living space (Lebensraum) is to be taken from allegedly inferior races. Thus expanding is part of the Darwinian racial struggle that allows the allegedly fitter Nordic race to outcompete allegedly inferior races. Contra Richards, Hitler’s discussion makes perfect sense in a Darwinian world of races waging a struggle for existence. In fact, the whole idea of Lebensraum (living space) was first formulated by Friedrich Ratzel, a Darwinian biologist who later became a geographer (I discuss this in detail in From Darwin to Hitler).

If one examines the context of this passage in Mein Kampf, it is clear that Hitler was indeed discussing the Darwinian struggle for existence. He claims in this passage that restricting reproduction is a deleterious policy, because nature selects the strong and eliminates the weak. The struggle between biological organisms that Hitler described — here and elsewhere — was a factor causing natural selection (Hitler only occasionally used the term “natural selection,” though frequently he simply used the term “selection” — just as many Darwinian biologists in the 1930s used “selection” as shorthand for “natural selection”). In some passages Hitler stressed the role of struggle in preserving the species from degeneration (which was a prominent theme in the discourse of many German eugenicists, such as Alfred Ploetz, Wilhelm Schallmayer, Ludwig Woltmann, Fritz Lenz, and Eugen Fischer, all of whom claimed their eugenics was applied Darwinism). However, in some passages, such as the chapter on “Nation and Race” that Richards also misinterprets, Hitler did allude to the role of struggle in improving biological species, including humans and human races.

I could go on and on here, but I hope you get the point: Richards often misrepresents quotations, often by ignoring the context.

Now let’s examine the second major problem with Richards’s analysis:

2) Richards ignores mountains of evidence, much of which is already contained in my books and articles.

Not only does Richards ignore much of the evidence I presented in my two books, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress, but after discussing Hitler’s 1942 remark questioning human evolution, he notes that I counter this piece of evidence by arguing that it is not characteristic. I show that Hitler at other times, including once in a speech at Nuremberg, argued that there was not a large gulf between apes and humans. (In his January monologue Hitler contradicted this point, claiming that the large gulf between apes and humans was precisely why he doubted human evolution.) As Richards suggests, this point is not very decisive, because you wouldn’t have to be a Darwinist to make this claim (though Hitler’s comment is extremely close to a statement Haeckel made repeatedly about the closeness of apes and humans). In any case, thus far Richards’s points are reasonable and make sense.

However, in the midst of this discussion comes this bombshell: “Weikart suggests that this lonely remark from Nuremberg, with its supposed eradication of the distinction between man and beast, indicates the German leaders’ acceptance of evolution.” (p. 223) No, No, and a thousand times, NO!!!! Did Richards forget to read the rest of my book? The section that he cites is the beginning of a seven-page section of my book entitled, “Hitler’s Belief in Human Evolution.” I open that section by discussing the January 1942 statement where Hitler doubted human evolution. Then I mentioned the 1933 Nuremberg speech (and a 1927 speech and an entry from Goebbels’s Diaries) to show that Hitler did not always believe the point he made in January 1942. Then, at the bottom of p. 47 (the same page discussing the Nuremberg speech), I state: “An even stronger piece of evidence that Hitler believed in human evolution was a statement he made in a 1927 speech.” I then go on to discuss many lines of evidence to prove that Hitler believed in human evolution. I cite a 1927 speech, Hitler’s Table Talk of October 24, 1941, Hitler’s secretary’s testimony that he believed in human evolution, Hitler’s Second Book, a June 1944 speech, and a couple of passages in Mein Kampf. I also mention that just a few weeks after his January 1942 remark, Hitler stated (in a monologue of February 27, 1942) that men shaving off their beards is “nothing but the continuation of an evolution that has been proceeding for millions of years: Gradually humans lost their hair.”

In addition to the evidence in that seven-page section, I produce many pieces of evidence scattered throughout my book that prove conclusively that Hitler believed in human evolution. These are too many to enumerate (even though they eluded Richards), but let me give just one more example, because it is especially interesting, showing not only Hitler’s belief in human evolution, but also a connection between his and Haeckel’s ideas. On p. 79 I show that Hitler believed in Haeckel’s recapitulation theory (that embryonic development repeats evolutionary history). When dedicating the House of German Art in Munich in July 1937, Hitler claimed that modern art was atavistic, stating, “When we know today that the evolution of millions of years, compressed into a few decades, repeats itself in every individual, then this art, we realize, is not ‘modern.’ It is on the contrary to the highest degree ‘archaic,’ far older probably than the Stone Age.” Hitler thought modern artists had not recapitulated enough evolutionary history in their embryological development. This statement clearly shows that he believed in human evolution.

But Richards continues to maintain that I am relying on a “lonely remark from Nuremberg” to prove that Hitler believed in human evolution. I say “continues” because Richards made this same claim in his earlier permutation of this essay (from 2011), which I critiqued. Over two years before this newly revised essay appeared, I told him the claim about the “lonely remark” was completely false. Why does he ignore all this?

Let’s look at just one more instance (among many) where Richards simply ignores vast amounts of evidence inconvenient for his interpretation. He discusses the anti-Darwinian stance of a few scholars writing in the Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft. One of these was clearly a Darwinist, as Richards admits. However, of the five that actually opposed Darwinism, interestingly not one of these actually rejected human evolution; they simply disagreed with the Darwinian mechanism. However, the bigger problem is that Richards pretends that these five anti-Darwinists (one of whom was a philosopher, not a biologist) are representative of “Nazi biology.” Richards should have known better, because in 2010 I sent him a draft of an essay that showed that articles in many Nazi periodicals — including Nationalsozialistische MonatshefteDer Biologe (which was run by the SS after 1939), Volk und RasseArchiv für Rassen- und Gesellschafts-BiologieRasse, and others, not only defended human evolution, but even attacked creationism (a revised version of my essay was published in German Studies Review). That article also showed that some of the leading evolutionary anthropologists in Germany were SS officers. Yet Richards goes his merry way, insisting that Nazi biology was anti-Darwinian, just because he can find a single journal with a few articles by five scholars who believed in human evolution, but embraced a non-Darwinian version of evolutionary theory.

These are only a few examples among many where Richards conveniently ignores evidence that contradict his interpretation.

Let’s look now at the third major problem with Richards’ interpretation.

3) Richards caricatures the position of those he disagrees with (especially me, since I’m the main target of this essay).

Richards not only misinterprets Lorenz, Gross, Hitler, and other historical figures, but he also misinterprets contemporary historians, especially me. I will not dwell long on this point, especially since I’ve already dealt with the red herring of his “lonely remark” comment above.

Early in his essay Richards wrenches out of context a comment I made about German Darwinian materialists to make the claim: “It is true, however, that Darwin and Haeckel were perceived as materialists by many later critics — and by historians like Weikart.” (p. 197) Since every historian of science worth his salt knows that Darwin was not a materialist, this makes me look like an ignoramus, because I don’t even understand this most basic fact. Fortunately, however, I have never argued that Darwin was a materialist, and the passage from my work that Richards quotes was about German Darwinists who were materialists, not about Darwin. Richards gets things seriously mixed up. If he wants to find out what I really think about Darwin’s religious views, he can read this brief article. I have never argued that Darwin was a materialist.

Richards then goes on further to “refute” me by claiming that Hitler was not a materialist, either. Apparently Richards didn’t know that I was working on a book manuscript on Hitler’s Religion, where (among other things) I intend to demonstrate that Hitler was not an atheist (or materialist). Richards is attacking a straw man, not me, in many of his arguments against me.

Richards also claims that I (and other of his opponents) ignore many influences on Hitler in search of some “unique key to Nazi evil.” This is balderdash. In the introductions to both my major books on this topic, I state very plainly that I recognize there are many factors influencing Hitler — and I list quite a few, even more than Richards does. I argue that Darwinism was an important influence, but Hitler was influenced by many non-Darwinian thinkers, too, including Gobineau and Chamberlain, whom Richards discusses. By showing that Hitler was heavily influenced by non-Darwinian sources, Richards apparently thinks he is refuting me — but he is not.

One final example: Richards states, “Quite a few conservative critics, whom I’ve cited at the beginning of this chapter [and I’m the one mentioned the most], have contended that Hitler’s Mein Kampf expresses a racial theory that virtually comes straight from the pages of Darwin’s Origin of Species — or at least from those pages as reauthored by Ernst Haeckel.” This is a gross caricature, because in my book, From Darwin to Hitler, I only discuss Darwin briefly. I do discuss Haeckel extensively, to be sure. However, one would never guess from Richards’s essay that instead of a simplistic thesis that Darwin (or maybe Haeckel) produced Hitler, I discuss dozens of Darwinian thinkers — who often disagree among themselves on important issues. Rather than getting his ideas directly from Darwin or Haeckel, I argue that Hitler’s ideas hailed from a large number of influential scientists and social thinkers, either directly or — more likely — indirectly. I discuss the following Darwinian thinkers: August Weismann, Ludwig Büchner, Bartholomäus von Carneri, August Forel, Ludwig Woltmann, Theodor Fritsch, Wilhelm Schallmayer, Alfred Ploetz, Eugen Fischer, Friedrich Ratzel, Julius Friedrich Lehmann, Max von Gruber, Willibald Hentschel, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, Ludwig Schemann, Fritz Lenz, and many more besides.

I turn now to the final three problems with Richards’s essay:

4) Richards conflates certain key concepts.

Two conflations vitiate his analysis: 1) Darwin with Darwinism; and 2) racism with anti-Semitism. Indeed Darwin and Darwinism overlap (as do racism and anti-Semitism). However, they are not the same, and here’s the problem: Richards thinks that if he can show that Hitler believed x and Darwin denied x, then Hitler’s belief is non-Darwinian or even anti-Darwinian. For instance, Richards claims that Darwin’s own “widening circle of moral concern has nothing in common with Hitler’s virulent hostility to races other than the Aryan.” (p. 233) OK, so Darwin’s ideas are not the same as Hitler’s. This is hardly news. I have said the same thing in my own books. Does this mean that all Darwinists or all subscribers to evolutionary ethics shared Darwin’s “widening circle of moral concern”? Not at all. My analysis does not assume that Darwinists have to believe every single thing Darwin did. If that is the way Richards wants to define Darwinism or Darwinist — as including only those who believe everything Darwin believed — then only Darwin would qualify (and even this would be “iffy,” because he altered his views on some matters over time).

This same conflation of Darwin and Darwinism leads Richards to misquote me in the third sentence of the essay, where he claims, “In a subsequent book, Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress, Weikart argues that Darwin’s ‘evolutionary ethics drove him [Hitler] to engage in behavior that the rest of us consider abominable.’” (p. 192) This is a misquote, because adding the word “Darwin’s” immediately before the sentence (and “evolutionary” should be capitalized, because it was the beginning of my sentence) alters the meaning I intended. In that passage I was not talking about Charles Darwin’s specific brand of evolutionary ethics at all, as Richards claims, but rather about evolutionary ethics in general. “Evolutionary ethics” and “Darwin’s evolutionary ethics” are not one and the same. This conflation of Darwin and Darwinism spoils many parts of this essay, because once Richards shows that Darwin did not believe something that Hitler believed, he then concludes that Hitler was not influenced by Darwinism.

As for the conflation of racism and anti-Semitism, Richards spends a great deal of his essay belaboring the point that Hitler’s anti-Semitism did not come from Darwinism. It would have been helpful if Richards had indicated why he thought this needed proving, because I have clearly stated in my own books that anti-Semitism did not come from Darwinism. It is no surprise to me that Hitler’s anti-Semitism came from sources that Richards discusses, including the anti-Darwinian Houston Stewart Chamberlain (though here Richards ignores the more Darwinian-inclined anti-Semites of the early twentieth century, such as Willibald Hentschel or Theodor Fritsch). Perhaps Richards’ discussion of anti-Semitism is targeting the historian Daniel Gasman, but if so, it would have been helpful to say so.

In my view, Richards chose an easy target by proving that Hitler’s anti-Semitism did not come from Darwinism. But then a problem emerges. Once Richards has shown that Hitler’s anti-Semitism is non-Darwinian, he then shouts in triumph that Hitler’s racism is thus non-Darwinian. However, Hitler’s racism included more than anti-Semitism alone. Some parts of Hitler’s racism could still have come from Darwinian sources, even if the anti-Semitism didn’t — a point that doesn’t seem to occur to Richards. One of the most obvious parts of Hitler’s racism that did owe its impetus to Darwinism was the notion that unequal human races are locked in a struggle to the death.

Of course, Richards might counter that non-Darwinians, such as Chamberlain, also believed in a racial struggle. Indeed, it is of course possible for non-Darwinists to believe in a racial struggle. However, three historical problems emerge for Richards here: 1) Most of those pushing the idea of a racial struggle in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were committed to Darwinism and saw racial struggle as a part of the evolutionary process (i.e., even though he was influential, Chamberlain was not characteristic of most racial theorists in this regard). 2) Chamberlain’s anti-Darwinism was not widely known. Ludwig Schemann, founder of the Gobineau Society and one of the leading racists in early twentieth-century Germany, wrote a massive three-volume book on the history of racism. In it he claims (wrongly) that Chamberlain was a passionate supporter of Darwin. 3) Though Chamberlain rejected Darwinism, as a young man he had embraced it, and later he argued explicitly in his most important and popular book that evolution had advanced the important idea of racial struggle. Even though Chamberlain jettisoned the transmutation of species, he kept the Darwinian notion of a racial struggle for existence.

5) In addition to ignoring specific lines of evidence, Richards totally ignores many of the most salient points I set forth in my books about what connects Darwinism and Hitler.

Richards’s essay focuses so much on Hitler’s racism, especially his anti-Semitism, that he ignores the other important elements of Hitler’s ideology and policy that I discuss at length in all my books. These include his pro-natalism, eugenics, euthanasia, and expansionist militarism, which were all justified by resort to the struggle for existence going on between humans, especially between human races.

Haeckel was the first German scholar to recommend infanticide for the disabled (and later he advocated involuntary euthanasia for adults, too). Hitler’s program of killing the disabled, which resulted in the murder of about 200,000 in Germany (and more in German-occupied territory) in less than five years, was based on the reasoning proffered by leading Darwinian biologists and physicians. Richards might reply that Darwin did not approve of infanticide or euthanasia. Good point. Darwinism does not necessarily imply killing the disabled, and I have never said it did (I stated quite clearly in From Darwin to Hitler that I was not arguing that Darwinism logically led to Nazism or Nazi atrocities). Nonetheless, when we examine what actually happened historically, we find that not only Hitler, but also the German physicians actually running the Nazi program to kill the disabled, used evolutionary ethics as a justification for their atrocities.

Now for one of the most interesting problems in Richards’s essay:

6) At one point Richards even creates a new historical “fact.”

Richards claims that I played a “sly trick” by translating “Entwicklung” as “evolution” in some passages in Mein Kampf. The standard translation by Ralph Manheim consistently translates it as “development,” which is a correct translation in most contexts.

In arguing that my translation is incorrect, Richards does not examine even a single example of my translation to show that I mistranslated it. Rather, he invents a new historical “fact”: he claims that the term “Entwicklung” had declined in usage since the nineteenth century. I don’t know where Richards got this tidbit of misinformation, but I have examined many biology journals and biology textbooks of the 1930s and 1940s, and they were still regularly using the term Entwicklung for evolution.

I could give hundreds of examples to prove this, but hopefully this interesting example will suffice — the manual discussing the official Nazi biology curriculum, Erziehung und Unterricht in der H�heren Schule: Amtliche Ausgabe des Reichs- und Preussische Ministeriums f�r Wissenschaft, Erziehung und Volksbildung (Berlin: Weidmannsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1938). It used the term Entwicklung repeatedly to refer to evolution. On p. 160 it stipulated, for example, that in the eighth class teachers should cover: “Overview of the Entwicklung of life in the course of geological history.” Here Entwicklung quite obviously means biological evolution, and if anyone doubts this, they should go look at the context. Immediately after this comment the manual discussed evidence for biological evolution and told teachers they should cover “Darwinismus.” The very next point it instructed them to teach was the “Origin and Entwicklung [obviously meaning evolution] of humans and human races.”

Hopefully it will not be necessary, but I can produce hundreds of more examples from biology journals and textbooks proving that Entwicklung was indeed one of the preferred terms used by biologists and biology teachers for evolution in the first half of the twentieth century.

In addition, as I have shown here in greater detail, I have examined several different translations of Mein Kampf, and all except Manheim translate “Entwicklung” as “evolution” in some of the same passages that I do. Three of these translations were done in the 1930s, so it would seem that they would know if Germans were still using the term “Entwicklung” to mean “evolution.” Not only that, but a prominent German scholar at the University of Birmingham translated an excerpt of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and he prefaced his pamphlet by stating, “The racial thought of Herr Hitler begins with a popularized conception of Darwin’s evolutionary hypotheses, which are turned to surprising uses.” He then translates “Entwicklung” as “evolution” in an excerpt from the chapter “Nation and Race,” just as I do. (Adolf Hitler, The Racial Conception of the World, ed. Charles Grant Robertson [London: Friends of Europe, 1938], 7-8.)

Apparently there are a lot of sly tricksters around.


This article combines a series published at Evolution News, “Is Robert Richards Right to Deny that Hitler Was a Darwinian?“.

Richard Weikart

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Richard Weikart is Emeritus Professor of History, California State University, Stanislaus, and author of seven books, including From Darwin to Hitler, Hitler’s Ethic, The Death of Humanity, and Hitler’s Religion. His most recent book is Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism (2022). His PhD dissertation, Socialist Darwinism, earned the biennial prize of the Forum for History of Human Sciences as best dissertation in that field. He has lectured at many universities and other venues in the US and Europe. He also has been interviewed on dozens of radio shows, podcasts, and TV, and appeared in seven documentaries, including Expelled. Some of his lectures and interviews are available on YouTube.