Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's funny that Ben Stein and company link Darwinism to the Nazis....

Because not only did the Nazis believe in a bastardization of Darwin, albeit one believed in by quite a few people at the time, but they were content to break it's own rules when it suited their purposes. Strange, but true. George Mosse, in his masterful book "The Crisis of German Ideology", outlines just why and how that happened in a way that's both simple and ingenious.

The thing about Darwinism, and implicitly about Social Darwinism, is that in it's conception of the world all species are subject to continual flux and change. Higher organisms can either continue to adapt well to their surroundings or eventually fail do so, and thereby move to a lower on the 'scale of existence'. Species regarded as being lower can improve over time. Nothing is set in stone. Not only that, but in the theory of evolution higher organisms evolve from lower organisms. There is no inherent superiority of species from the beginning of time on. If you apply this to human beings, it means that race is not an absolute guarantee of superiority. Within the Social Darwinist framework, pure Germans can go down on the scale over time, and other peoples can ascend. Moreover, there's no guarantee that every individual in a species is necessarily superior.

All of this conflicted with Nazi ideology in that according to them Germans had always been superior, had always been the producers of culture and social organization. Race didn't change, and races were never at some point equal. Germans were always superior and Jews were always inferior. No room for flux or change was included.

Racism, in this case, trumped considerations of 'survival of the fittest'. Many of the 'fit' people in Germany, scientists, engineers, artists, writers, intellectuals, were Jewish, and they were killed because they didn't fit the racial criteria for superiority. Their accomplishments were either dismissed or picked apart because of their background. On the other hand, even though potential SS members had to submit pictures of themselves for evaluation, plus detailed genealogical information, they never had to pass any test set out to measure intelligence, leading to a situation where killers who looked right but were intellectually dim were sent out to kill people who were accomplished both intellectually and otherwise but who did not fit the same aesthetic criteria.

The Nazis did believe in Social Darwinism of a kind, but they believed in the doctrine only when it suited their purposes. When the master race itself was threatened by said doctrine, race and racism trumped all other considerations. Germans were always superior to both Jews and everybody else in their minds, and no considerations regarding basic intellectual consistency were going to stop that.

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