Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Review of Richard Weikart's FROM DARWIN TO HITLER

In Darwinian Conservatism, I have a long section criticizing Richard Weikart's book From Darwin to Hitler, which argues that Darwin's ideas prepared the way for Hitler and Nazism. I have also summarized some of my criticisms on this blog.

The Journal of Modern History(March 2006) has just published a review of Weikart's book by Ann Taylor Allen, a professor of history at the University of Louisville. Unfortunately, the review is not available online except to subscribers. (I am grateful to Ed Babinski of Furman University for bringing this review to my attention.)

Weikart's book was financed by the Discovery Institute as part of their "wedge strategy" for attacking Darwinian science as morally corrupting in its atheism. The book is now commonly cited by proponents of creationism and intelligent design as scholarly proof that there is a direct line of influence "from Darwin to Hitler." But as I have shown, Weikart doesn't actually show any direct connection between Darwin and Hitler. In fact, Weikart has responded to my criticisms by admitting that the title of his book is misleading, since he cannot show any direct link between Darwin's ideas and Hitler's Nazism.

Professor Allen confirms my criticisms. She agrees with me that Weikart's talk about "Darwinism" is not based on any careful reading of Darwin himself but on vague ideas by a variety of people who presented themselves as "Darwinian," although their thinking was not directly shaped by Darwin's ideas. She also agrees that some of the fundamental elements of Nazism--such as anti-Semitism--clearly cannot be attributed to Darwinism.

Weikart insists that the traditional "Judeo-Christian ethic" was opposed to Hitler and Nazism, but he ignores the importance of Christian anti-Semitism in Germany (beginning with Martin Luther) in shaping the cultural roots of Nazism.

Allen concludes her review:
"This picture of the Holocaust as the outcome of a 'culture war' between religion and science leads to serious distortions on both sides. The 'Judeo-Christian' worldview is unproblematically associated here with many beliefs--such as opposition to birth control, legalized abortion, and assisted suicide--that many believing Christians and Jews would reject. And 'Darwinism' is equated with a hodgepodge of ideas about race, politics, and social issues. If all these ideas were to fall into well-deserved obsolescence, this would in no way detract from the validity of Darwin's contributions to modern biological science. Neither religion nor science is well served by this oversimplified view of their complex history."

Recognizing Hitler's tyranny for what it is requires a natural moral sense. Darwinian science supports that moral sense by explaining how it expresses the evolved desires of the human animal. Such a moral sense as rooted in human biological nature is a crucial part of Darwinian conservatism.

Posts on related themes can be found here and here.


airth10 said...

What is a Darwin conservative? Is it one who thinks like Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest"? I understand that view is a conservative view point. Is it the natural lawness of that idea that makes one who embraces it a conservative?

Larry Arnhart said...


Well, explaining the meaning of "Darwinian conservatism" is the point of my book. My general thought is that a Darwinian science of human nature supports conservatives in their realist view of human imperfectibility and their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in nature, custom, and prudence.

Conservatives believe that human beings have a natural moral sense that supports ordered liberty as secured by the social order of family life, the economic order of private property, and the political order of limited government. A Darwinian science of human nature shows how these conditions for ordered liberty conform to the natural desires of the human species as shaped by evolutionary history.

Sam Foley said...

Mr Arnhart,
I am currently writing an essay on attempts to link Darwin and Hitler and the main focus of this essay is naturally Weikart's work on the subject.
I was particularly surprised by your comment that Weikart responded to your criticisms by admitting that he had actually failed to prove a direct link.
While i have no doubts that this is the case it would be most useful to me if you could provide me with evidence to support that he did indeed say that.

I would be eternally grateful for any support you could render in this.
Thankyou very much, Sam Foley

Larry Arnhart said...

In some of my other posts on Weikart, I have linked to his response to my comments, in which he says that attributing to him any argument for a direct link "from Darwin to Hitler" is a straw-man argument.

Anonymous said...

Of course, we can't blame everything on Darwin. On his death bed he did reject evolution as too out there. One should watch the new Darwin documentary, The Voyage that Shook the World.

Larry Arnhart said...

No, Darwin did not on his death bed reject evolution "as too out there."