From Darwin To Hitler

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Overview

From Darwin to Hitler elucidates the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. Weikart demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturbaned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially the view that human life is sacred. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary "fitness" (especially intelligence and health) as the highest arbiter of morality. Darwinism played a ...

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Overview

From Darwin to Hitler elucidates the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. Weikart demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturbaned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially the view that human life is sacred. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary "fitness" (especially intelligence and health) as the highest arbiter of morality. Darwinism played a key role in the rise not only of eugenics, but also euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination. This thinking had its biggest impact on Germany, since Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles, not on nihilism as popularly believed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is one of the finest examples of intellectual history I have seen in a long while. It is insightful, thoughtful, informative, and highly readable. Rather than simply connecting the dots, so to speak, the author provides a sophisticated and nuanced examination of numerous German thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who were influenced to one degree or another by Darwinist naturalism and their ideas, subtly drawing both distinctions and similarities and in the process telling a rich and colorful story."— Ian Dowbiggin, Professor of History at the University of Prince Edward Island and author of A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America
"Richard Weikart's outstanding book shows in sober and convincing detail how Darwinist thinkers in Germany had developed an amoral attitude to human society by the time of the First World War, in which the supposed good of the race was applied as the sole criterion of public policy and 'racial hygiene'. Without over-simplifying the lines that connected this body of thought to Hitler, he demonstrates with chilling clarity how policies such as infanticide, assisted suicide, marriage prohibitions and much else were being proposed for those considered racially or eugenically inferior by a variety of Darwinist writers and scientists, providing Hitler and the Nazis with a scientific justification for the policies they pursued once they came to power."—Dr. Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge, and author of The Coming of the Third Reich
"This is an impressive piece of intellectual and cultural history—a well-researched, clearly presented argument with good, balanced, fair judgements. Weikart has a thorough knowledge of the relevant historiography in both German and English."—Alfred Kelly, Edgar B. Graves Professor of History, Hamilton College
"Taking a middle ground between scholars on both sides, Richard Weikart has traveled far and wide to bring together a broad range of important programs, institutions, and thinkers who shaped the social and political ramification of Darwinian thought in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany. Many of the voices Weikart conveys appear here in English for the first time."— Kevin Repp, Yale University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403965028
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 5/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Weikart is an associate professor of modern European history at California State University, Stanislaus. He has published two previous books, including Socialist Darwinism: Evolution in German Socialist Thought from Marx to Bernstein (1999), as well as articles in German Studies Review, Jourbanal of the History of Ideas, Isis, European Legacy, and History of European Ideas.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
• Part I: Laying New Foundations for Ethics* The Origins of Morality and the Rise of Relativism
• Evolutionary Progress as the Highest Good
• Organizing Evolutionary Ethics
Part II: Devaluing Human Life
The Value of Death
• The Specter of Inferiority: Devaluing the Disabled
• The Science of Racial Inequality
Part III: Eliminating the "Inferior Ones"
Controlling Reproduction: Redefining Sexual Morality
• Killing the Unfit
• War and Peace
• Racial Struggle and Extermination
Part IV: Impacts * Hitler's Ethics
• Conclusion

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Recipe

"This is one of the finest examples of intellectual history I have seen in a long while. It is insightful, thoughtful, informative, and highly readable. Rather than simply connecting the dots, so to speak, the author provides a sophisticated and nuanced examination of numerous German thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who were influenced to one degree or another by Darwinist naturalism and their ideas, subtly drawing both distinctions and similarities and in the process telling a rich and colorful story. "
-- Ian Dowbiggin, Professor of History at the University of Prince Edward Island and author of A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2004

    Darwinism's new moral horizon described

    This study is a worthy addition to the literature on Social Darwinism, eugenics, and the origin of Nazi `social hygiene¿. Weikart¿s starting point is recognition that the interpretation of human nature as animal¿the core premise of evolutionary anthropology¿denies the sense of life¿s sacredness. This is a truism. But truisms of great moment can be obscured by the confusion of culture wars. It may be argued, for example, as some animal liberationists do, that the demolition of belief that humankind is made in the image of God opens a new moral horizon in which care and sympathy are extended to all creatures. But one may equally argue, as the Nineteenth Century Nihilists did, that the death of God means that everything is permitted, including celebration of chaos and violence. When evolution theory asserts that change is driven by natural selection, or survival of the fittest, yet another horizon emerges: Social Darwinism. Here universal compassion for all our animal kin is replaced by the opposite belief that our kind, like all creatures, are natural born killers and must persevere in our vocation if we are to survive and prosper (a revival of homo lupus). Weikart¿s book is thorough, dispassionate examination of the career of Social Darwinism in Germany 1860-1920. The authors and literature examined are little known in the Anglophone culture, partly because of the language barrier, but also because (as I know from my own experience), much of the literature may be accessed only from specialized libraries. For that reason I strongly commend this study to anyone interested in the historical or philosophical themes pursued here. That said, a few critical remarks. 1. The author¿s attention to the literature critical of Social Darwinism, which must be brief, is a little too abbreviated. For example, he notes only in passing the clash between arch-Darwinist Ernst Haeckel and the eminent cellular biologist/physical anthropologist Rudolf Virchow. This deserves a page or two, since Virchow challenged the dogmatism of the Darwinian world view as an attempt to pass off an error-infested philosophy as science. In this he was seconded by the equally eminent biologist Emil duBois-Raymond, author of the `ignoramibus¿ statement of the seven issues critical to a scientific biological philosophy where ignorance of the facts defeats the closure that dogmatics claimed. 2. Weikart¿s trace of the influence of Social Darwinist writers on Hitler¿s world view in conducted, as it should be, with careful attention to the principal alternative interpretations. His sifting of the evidence, and evaluation of probabilities, leads to the conclusion intimated by his title that Hitler indeed assimilated the true sense of Germany¿s leading scientific exponents. In particular he shows convincingly that Hitler, and Nazi propaganda, made a clean break with Christian morality. This is a conclusion of fundamental importance in an age when the appropriation of the science imprimatur for social policy figures prominently in political contests. It is not a novel outcome, but Weikart assembles the evidence with a new force and clarity. My criticism? The author relegates to footnotes evidence assembled by German scholars showing in detail how Darwinist opinion favoring abortion, euthanasia, and sterilization of the unfit infiltrated Germany¿s state-of-the-art public health service, and indeed even church-supported health service (Caritas), during the Twenties. Since this outlook infiltrated our own health services and law courts from the early Seventies, it deserves prominent notice. Another similarity is that the advocates of these progressive positions contrast them aggressively with the irrationality of religious belief that affirms life¿s sanctity. 3. The thread from Darwin to Hitler is evolution by natural selection, or survival of the fittest. Darwin¿s apologists would cut the thread at the root, affirming that the only thing

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  • Posted February 26, 2010

    One of the best books I have read in years

    Richard Weikart masterfully charts the path from Darwin's ground breaking ideas right to the seat of power of Nazi Germany. His inclusion of the numberous permutation and minuta is impressive. If anyone wants to understand the Nazi mindset, this should be on the top of your reading list.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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