Schönerer was even more anti-Semitic than Lueger, apparently from deep conviction rather than political opportunism.  In Mein Kampf, Hitler compared Schönerer to Lueger:  “At the time, Schönerer seemed to me the better and more fundamental thinker in regard to the principal problems.”  As leader of the Pan German league, Schönerer sought a union of all German-speaking territories, a goal that Hitler embraced as a young man.  But, as he recalled, he finally determined that Lueger was the sounder theorist of the two.[125]  Hitler scholars Richard Evans and Ian Kershaw concur with Hitler’s own estimate that these two politicians were the most significant in forming his attitudes about Jews and the need for a racially homogeneous German land.[126]  So by Hitler’s own admission, these political figures, not Darwin, were pivotal in forming his anti-Semitic attitudes.  Thus neither was Hitler’s conception of race Darwinian nor was Darwinism the source of his anti-Semitism.  The motivation and origin of his views were political, not scientific, and certainly not Darwinian.[127]

Ethics and Social Darwinism

Though Hitler’s conception of race was non-Darwinian, yet perhaps, somehow, his ethical views derived from Darwin, as Weikart’s Hitler’s Ethic urges.  What was Darwin’s ethical theory?  That’s not hard to determine, since he set it out explicitly in the Descent of Man.  Darwin argued that human ethical behavior was rooted in social instincts of parental care, cooperation, and acting for the community welfare.  These, as he formulated them, were altruistic instincts.  Once proto-humans had developed sufficient intelligence and memory to appreciate unrequited social instincts and once they began to speak and thereby could codify rules of behavior, then a distinctively human conscience would have emerged in the group.  Those early proto-human clans that had more altruists, members who cooperated in providing for the general welfare and in food gathering and defense—those clans would have the advantage over those with no or few altruists and would come to supplant them.  Darwin further envisioned that while the concern of early humans would be their immediate communities, through the development of culture and science, humans would come to view all men as their brothers, recognizing that the distinctions of skin color, head shape, and other racial traits were only superficial markers of a common humanity.[128]  Darwin’s conception of the widening circle of moral concern has nothing in common with Hitler’s virulent hostility to races other than the Aryan.  Moreover, since Darwin’s theory is based on the emergence of human groups from lower animals, it could certainly have nothing in common with Hitler’s assumption of the permanency of races.

Any number of scholars who have written on the political and intellectual state of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s have described Hitler as advocating “social Darwinism.”[129]  The term is quite vague.  Indeed, it is often remarked that while Herbert Spencer might be a social Darwinist, Darwin himself was not.  I believe one can discriminate some six traits that scholars usually have in mind when referring to “social Darwinism”:

  1. the human races form a hierarchy from lower to higher, the criteria for ranking being  intelligence, morality, and cultural values;
  2. laws of nature apply equally to animals and men;
  3. there is a struggle among human groups;
  4. knowing the laws of nature, humans can control the struggle to the advantage of the superior races;
  5. the superior race is morally permitted to police its own group, eliminating the physically or intellectually inferior, and promoting those of sound hereditary features;
  6. the superior race may restrict the behavior of the lower races, even exterminating them.

The last two notes, of course, give the category of social Darwinism its decidedly negative bite.  I have not included the idea of transmutation of species, certainly a necessary feature of anyone who is also to be called a Darwinian simply.  These six traits usually characterize most eugenicists working in the first part of the twentieth century.  And they do seem to capture Hitler’s racism.  Were they embraced by Darwin?

Before answering that last question, we might reflect that, after a fashion, these traits could also be applied, for instance, to Aristotle, who did not have moral qualms about slavery and who assumed the natural superiority of some groups of people.  Likewise many American slave-holders in the South would likely sign on to these propositions.  Darwin did adopt propositions one to four, but rejected five and six.  When he was confronted with the idea that it would be of long-term benefit for a society to prevent the weak in mind and body from marrying and propagating their kind, he demurred:  “We must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind.”[130]  The attempt to check our sympathies for the poor and wretched of the earth would, Darwin averred, cause “deterioration in the noblest part of our natures.”[131]  Of course, Hitler certainly followed all of the precepts, including five and six.  So while convention might sanction calling Hitler a social Darwinian (even if he did not believe in species transmutation), that same convention could not be applied to Darwin himself.  Thus the name “social Darwinian” is quite misleading and itself should imply no connection with the ethical theory of Charles Darwin.

Hitler rejected the transmutation of species, rather holding to the older notion of fixity of type; he deployed notions of struggle between races, but derived the idea from non-Darwinian sources; and if he were to be called a social Darwinian, that same designation with its intended meaning could not also describe Darwin’s views.  Hitler’s anti-Semitism, as he himself avowed, stemmed from political not scientific sources.  There is consequently no reasonable evidence that would link Hitler’s racial dogmas to Darwin’s theory.  Despite this conclusion, one might still contend that while Hitler did not personally derive ideas from Darwin, he fostered a scientific regime that made Darwinism and Haeckelianism the chief arbiters in questions of race.

Was the Biological Community Darwinian under Hitler?

The answer to the question of whether the biological community during the Nazi period was Darwinian is complicated by this salient fact:  many extremely good scientists remained in Germany during the Nazi period and practiced science at a very high level.  One only has to mention the names of Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) and Werner von Braun (1912-1977) to recognize that, despite their politics, they were extraordinary scientists.  In biology likewise, some exceedingly good biologists of different theoretical orientations could be found in the universities and research institutes of Nazi Germany.  For instance, the Nobel Prize winner (1969) Max Delbrück (1906-1981) worked in bio-physics in Berlin during the early part of Hitler’s regime before getting a fellowship in the U.S. in 1937 and never returning to Nazi Germany; his great colleague Nikolai Vladimirovic Timoféeff-Ressovsky (1900-1981) continued as director of the genetics division of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research through the end of the war.[132]  Many topflight biologists, some of whom were Darwinians, remained in Germany while Hitler was in power.  Of course, many others connected with the regime were non-Darwinians and, by any standards, quite awful.  During the late 1930s and 1940s, the discipline of biology itself underwent a significant transition.  Initially, through the teens and twenties, Mendelian genetics and Darwinian natural selection theory were often regarded as opposed, the former considered to be real science and the latter romantic butterfly collecting.[133]  But during the next two decades biologists discovered their complementary features; as a result, Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolutionary theory became joined in the synthetic framework that now serves as the foundation of modern biological science.  Several German biologists of the period contributed to this development, though others retained the older attitude.  Without doubt, then, Darwinian evolutionary biologists worked in Germany during the Hitler period.  And some Darwinians, like the Tübingen botanist Ernst Lehmann (1880-1957), founder (1931) of the Association of German Biologists and its journal Der Biologe, argued for a distinctively German biology aligned with the goals of the Nazi party.[134]  The pertinent question, though, is whether the National Socialist Party gave special accord to Darwinian science.  In 1940, the year he took up a professorship at Königsberg, Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), 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.”[135]  Lorenz’s complaint strongly implies that Darwinism had no official mandate in the educational system.  Even more compelling evidence can be drawn from an examination of a leading scientific journal of the period that was also an official organ of the Nazi Party, Zeitschrift für die Gesamte Naturwissenschaft (Journal for all of natural science), which published from 1935 to 1944. From its third year, the journal carried the subtitle: “Organ of the Natural Science’s Professional Division of the Reich’s Student Leadership.”

The Zeitschrift published articles principally in the physical sciences and biology, along with essays on philosophical treatments of those sciences.  It sought to purge scientific activity of Jewish influences and establish Aryan science free from alien taint.[136]  On one marked occasion in the journal’s pages, Werner Heisenberg had to defend modern physics—particularly relativity theory and quantum theory—from charges that it was incompatible with National Socialism.[137]  The journal published in all the areas of biology, but with particular concern to show their relationship to the ideology of National Socialism.

The tone and attitude of the journal were established in the first article of the first volume (1935) by a philosopher from Kiel, Kurt Hildebrandt (1881-1966), who was also an editor.[138]  In “Positivismus und Natur,” Hildebrandt responded to an article published by the quantum physicist Pascual Jordan (1902-1980), who claimed that positivism was the method of all science.   Jordan argued that both the subjective world of consciousness and the objective world of nature could be derived from neutral experience without any appeal to metaphysics.[139]   Hildebrandt objected that this really reduced consciousness to mechanism and failed to recognize that natural phenomena depended on a creative spirit, of the sort suggested by both Goethe and Nietzsche.  “What is called positivism today, worse than any older philosophy that went under that name, denies actual spiritual experience.”[140]  This is shown, he thought, especially in the opposition of French rationalism and English empiricism to the notion of “creative spirit” (schöpferische Geist):

German nature-philosophy found in Leibniz, Herder, and Goethe showed the correct way to overcome this opposition by proposing a union of spirit and matter, which as a world view is most graphically expressed by the term “pantheism.”  In respect of creative nature as development, Leibniz already had a theory of species descent [Abstammungstheorie].[141]

Hildebrandt thus thought that English biology of the nineteenth century was inadequately grounded, but now “exact biology has dealt Darwin’s mechanization a deathblow [Todesstoß].”  He claimed that the new theory of inheritance, “which had long been suppressed by Darwinism, has had unexpected success.”  Darwinism, according to Hildebrandt, had to be rejected:

the creative unfolding of species, the origin of species from the amoeba to man, cannot be explained by this mechanistic theory.  Rather exact research on heritability has clearly destroyed the mechanistic framework of Darwinian theory.[142]

What exactly Hildebrandt meant by “creative spirit,” “creative force,” and the like—or the new research in genetics—is not at all clear in his essay.  In a footnote to the passage I’ve just quoted he added:  “This is not a reference to vitalism.  Goethe and Schelling were not vitalists, but monists, since they recognized the same creative power in the universe as in living individuals; they were the opponents of empiricism and materialism, which agree with conventional belief in God.”[143]  By the new theory of inheritance he likely meant that associated with Hugo de Vries’s (1848-1935) mutation theory, which supposed that macromutations, not Darwinian gradualism, led to the appearance of new species.[144] But Hildebrandt also suggested, despite disavowals, that there was a definite sort of élan vital behind such transitions.  Volume four of the Zeitschrift carried a long article by Hans Driesch (1867-1941), who also supposed that species change could not be explained by any Darwinian or Haeckelian mechanistic process but required the postulation of a vital entelechy of the sort conceived by Aristotle.[145]   All of this, of course, is quite antithetic to Darwinism.

When the Zeitschrift became an official organ of the National Socialist Party, it did not change its orientation, nor did Hildebrandt.  In volume three (1937/38), he proclaimed:

Our modern theory of inheritance has not supported this hypothesis [of descent], but endangers the foundational assumptions of Darwin and Haeckel.  Mendelian research rests on the assumption of an unchanging species and mutation-theory has, indeed, several disadvantages, but does not attempt to explain or demonstrate the origin of a higher species.[146]

He darkly hinted that “real transmutation theory cuts across, if ever so carefully, the border to metaphysics.”[147]

One of the new editors of the Zeitschrift after the political Gleichschaltung (takeover) by the Nazi party, the botanist Ernst Bergdolt (1902-1948), contended that the Darwinian selection principle was typical of the kind of passive environmentalist theory declaimed by Jewish liberals.[148]  In a dispute between a Darwinian and an anti-Darwinian anthropologist, Bergdolt lent his editorial support to the latter.[149]  The Darwinian, Christian von Krogh (1909-1992) of Munich, argued that Haeckel’s scheme of human descent from ape-like forbearers had evidence on its side,[150] while the anti-Darwinian, Max Westenhöfer (1871-1957) of Berlin, drew from comparative anatomy the opposite conclusion.  Westenhöfer, as a student of Rudolf Virchow, declared that “from numerous comparative-morphological investigations during the last 20 years, I came, almost against my will, to a critical rejection of the Darwin-Haeckel doctrine and was forced to construct a new theory of the heritage of mankind.”[151]  Westenhöfer adopted a version of de Vries’s mutation theory to explain human development through a lineage independent of the ape-man hypothesis.

Writing in the Zeitschrift after it became an Party organ in 1937, Günther Hecht (1902-1945), an official of the Party’s Department of Race Policy (Rassenpolitischen Amt der NSDAP) and member of the Zoological Institute in Berlin, completely rejected the idea (grundsätzlich abgelehnt) that the materialistic theories of Darwin and especially Haeckel had anything to do with the “völkisch-biological position of National Socialism.”[152]  The head of the Department of Race Policy, the physician Walter Groß (1904-1945), 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 ideas.”[153]

The rejection of Haeckelian ideas had been sealed already in 1935 when the Saxon ministries of libraries and bookstores banned all material inappropriate for “National-Socialist formation and education in the Third Reich.”  Among the works to be expunged were those by “traitors,” such as Albert Einstein; those by “liberal democrats,” such as Heinrich Mann; literature by “all Jewish authors no matter what their sphere”; and materials by individuals advocating “the superficial scientific enlightenment of a primitive Darwinism and monism,” such as “Ernst Haeckel.”[154] It is quite clear that Darwinian evolutionary theory held no special place within the community of biologists supportive of National Socialism.  Rather, biologists and philosophers most closely identified with the goals of the Nazi party and officials in that party utterly rejected Darwinian theory, especially as advanced by Darwin’s disciple, Ernst Haeckel.

Weikart and others have found the poison within the tempting apple of Darwinian theory to be its materialism, the feature that, according to Weikart, led to the pernicious morality of Hitler and his Nazi biologists.  But leading Nazi biological theorists, as has just been shown, not only rejected Darwinism but they did so precisely because of its supposed materialism.  Could there be anything left of the claim that Hitler derived his racial attitudes from Darwinian theory?


            Countless conservative religious and political tracts have attempted to undermine Darwinian evolutionary theory by arguing that it was endorsed by Hitler and led to the biological ideas responsible for the crimes of the Nazis.  These dogmatically driven accounts have been abetted by more reputable scholars who have written books with titles like From Darwin to Hitler.  Ernst Haeckel, Darwin’s great German disciple, is presumed to have virtually packed his sidecar with Darwinian theory and monistic philosophy and delivered their toxic message directly to Berchtesgaden—or at least, individuals like Daniel Gasman, Stephen Jay Gould, and Larry Arnhardt have so argued.  In this chapter I have maintained these assumptions simply cannot be sustained after a careful examination of the evidence.

To be considered a Darwinian at least three propositions would have to be endorsed: that the human races exhibit a hierarchy of more advanced and less advanced peoples; that over long periods of time, species have descended from other species, including the human species, which derived from ape-like ancestors; and that natural selection—as Darwin understood it—is the principle means by which transmutation occurs.  Hitler and the Nazi biologists I have considered certainly claimed a hierarchy of races, but that idea far antedated the publication of Darwin’s theory and was hardly unique to it.  There is no evidence linking Hitler’s presumption of such a hierarchy and Darwin’s conception.  Moreover, Hitler explicitly denied the descent of species, utterly rejecting the idea that Aryan man descended from ape-like predecessors.  And most of the Nazi scientists I have cited likewise rejected that aspect of Darwin’s theory.  Hitler did speak of the “struggle for existence,” but likely derived that language from his friend and supporter Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an avowed anti-Darwinian.  By Hitler’s own testimony, his anti-Semitism had political, not scientific or biological roots; there is no evidence that Hitler had any special feeling for these scientific questions or read anything Darwin wrote.  Among Nazi biologists, at least those publishing in an official organ of the Party, Mendelian genetics and de Vriesian mutation theory were favored, both vying at the beginning of the twentieth century to replace Darwinian theory. The perceived mechanistic character of Darwinism stood in opposition to the vitalistic conceptions of Nazi biologists and that of Hitler—or at least vitalism resonated more strongly with his thoughts about race.  Moreover, though his own religious views remain uncertain, Hitler often enough assumed a vague theism of a sort usually pitted against Darwinian theory.

If “Social Darwinian” refers to individuals who apply evolutionary theory to human beings in social settings, there is little difficulty in denominating Herbert Spencer or Ernst Haeckel a social Darwinian.  With that understanding, Darwin himself also would have to be so called.   But how could one possibly ascribe that term at the same time to Hitler, who rejected evolutionary theory?  Only in the very loosest sense, when the phrase has no relationship to the transmutational theory of Charles Darwin or Darwin’s particular ethical views, might it be used for Hitler.

But as I suggested at the beginning of this chapter, there is an obvious sense in which my claims must be moot.  Even if Hitler could recite the Origin of Species by heart and referred to Darwin as his scientific hero, that would not have the slightest bearing on the validity of Darwinian theory or the moral standing of its author.  The only reasonable answer to the question that gives this chapter its title is a very loud and unequivocal No!

Essay reprinted by kind permission of the author and The University of Chicago Press.

Articles in this series:

Truth and Reconciliation for Social Darwinism by David Sloan Wilson and Eric Michael Johnson

The Case for Rescuing Tainted Words by David Sloan Wilson

Social Darwinism: Myth and Reality by Paul Crook

Social Darwinism: A Case of Designed Ventriloquism by Adriana Novoa

When the Strong Outbreed the Weak: An Interview with William Muir by David Sloan Wilson

Was Hitler a Darwinian? No! No! No! by Robert J. Richards and David Sloan Wilson

Was Dewey a Darwinian? Yes! Yes! Yes! An interview with Trevor Pearce by David Sloan Wilson

Why Did Sociology Declare Independence from Biology (And Can They Be Reunited)? An Interview with Russell Schutt by David Sloan Wilson

Toward a New Social Darwinism by David Sloan Wilson and Eric Michael Johnson


[1] Richard Weikart, “Was It Immoral for “Expelled” to Connect Darwinism and Nazi Racism?” (

[2] Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 6.

[3] Richard Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 2-3.

[4] “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” (Rocky Mountain Pictures, 2008), a documentary film written by Kevin Miller and Ben Stein and directed by Nathan Frankowski. The line by Berlinski comes sixty-four minutes into the film.

[5] John Gray, “The Atheist Delusion,” The Guardian (15 March 2008): 4.

[6] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, [1948] 1994), p. 463.

[7] Peter Bowler, “What Darwin Disturbed: The Biology that Might Have Been,” Isis 99 (2008): 560-67; quotation on pp. 564-65.

[8] Here are just a few of the more recent scholars who have described Hitler as a “social Darwinist”: Joachim Fest, Hitler, trans. Richard and Clara Winston. (New York:  New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), pp. 54-56; Mike Hawkins, Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 277-78; David Welch, Hitler (London:  Taylor & Francis, 1998 ) pp. 13-15; Frank McDonough, Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party (London:  Pearson/Longman, 2003), p. 5; Richard Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (New York:  Penguin, 2003), pp. 34-37; and Stephen Lee, Hitler and Nazi Germany (London:  Rutledge, 2010), p. 94.

[9] Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League (New York: Science History Publications, 1971), p. 40.

[10] Daniel Gasman, Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology (New York: Peter Lang, 1998), p. 26.

[11] Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1977), pp. 77-78.

[12] See Peter Bowler, The Non-Darwinian Revolution (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), pp. 83-84; and Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Conservatism (Charlottesville, Va.:  Imprint Academic, 2005), p. 116.

[13] I have shown the essential identity of Darwin’s and Haeckel’s evolutionary theories at some length in Robert J. Richards, The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 135-62.  Gliboff also argues that though some scholars had contrasted Darwin and Haeckel’s views on morphological type, their theories were basically the same.  See Sander Gliboff, H.G. Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), pp. 161-66.

[14] Richard Weikart, “Darwinism and Death:  Devaluing Human Life in Germany 1859-1920,” Journal of the History of Ideas 63 (20020, pp. 323-344 (quotation from p. 343).

[15] Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882, ed. Nora Barlow (New York: Norton 1969), pp. 92-3. Only in the mid-1860s does Darwin’s theism slip away; he constructed his theory as a theist.  See the first essay in this volume.

[16] Ernst Haeckel, Der Monismus als Band zwischen Religion und Wissenschaft (Bonn: Emil Strauss, 1892), p. 29.

[17] I have discussed Haeckel’s ethical position in The Tragic Sense of Life:  Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 352-54,

[18] Richard Evans discusses this mix of religious and political anti-Semitism at the end of the nineteenth century in his The Coming of the Third Reich, pp. 22-34.

[19] See, for example, Adolf Stöcker, Das modern Judenthum in Deutschland besonders in Berlin (Berlin:  Verlag von Wiegandt und Grieben, 1880), p. 4: “the entire misery of Germany, I should have mentioned, comes from the Jews.”

[20] See Wilhelm Marr’s Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanenthum, vom nicht confessionellen Standpunkt aus betrachtet, 8th  ed. (Bern: Rudolph Costenoble, 1879).  He held that “the degradation of the German state to the advantage of Jewish interests is a goal pursued everywhere. The daily press is chiefly in Jewish hands and they have made a speculative and industrial matter out of journalism, a business forming public opinion—theater criticism, art criticism are three-quarters in Jewish hands. . . There is no ‘struggle for existence,’ except that Judaism gathers its advantage” (pp. 24 and 27).

[21] Heinrich von Treitschke, Ein Wort über unser Judenthum (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1880), p. 4:  “. . . ertönt es heute wie aus einem Munde: “die Juden sind unser Unglück!”

[22] Richard Wagner, Das Judenthum in der Musik (Leipzig: Weber, 1869).

[23] Ibid., pp. 10-11.

[24] Quoted by Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts (New York:  Crown Books, 2011), p. 130.

[25] Despite the caveats I’ve offered about the easy slide from causal influence to epistemic and moral indictment, I don’t want to deny that under certain well-defined circumstances one might justify, for instance, a morally negative assessment based on a relationship of conceptual influence.  I have analyzed those circumstances in Robert J. Richards, “The Moral Grammar of Narratives in History of Biology—the Case of Haeckel and Nazi Biology,” Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, ed. Michael Ruse and David Hull (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 429-52.

[26] Stephen Jay Gould, “Eternal Metaphors of Palaeontology,” Patterns of Evolution as Illustrated in the Fossil Record, ed. A. Hallan (New York:  Elsevier, 1977), pp. 1-26 (quotation from p. 13).  Gould subsequently tried to distinguish between what Darwin’s theory demanded and what his cultural dispositions might have led him to assert—as if Darwin’s theory were not embedded in the words of his books.  See Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life:  The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York:  Morton, 1989), pp. 257-58.  I have discussed Darwin’s progressivism vis-à-vis the assertions of Gould, Peter Bowler, and Michael Ruse.  See Robert J. Richards, “The Epistemology of Historical Interpretation,” in Biology and Epistemology, eds. Richard Creath and Jane Maienschein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 64-90.

[27] See, for example, Peter Bowler, Theories of Human Evolution (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 13.

[28] Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (London:  Murray, 1859), p. 489.

[29] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1871), 1: 34.

[30] Ibid., p. 239.

[31] In the second edition of the Descent, Darwin described the extinction of the Tasmanians and the decline of the other “primitive” races of the South Pacific.  See, Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, with an introduction by James Moore and Adrian Desmond (London: Penguin Group, [1879] 2004), pp. 211-22.

[32] Adrian Desmond and James Moore maintain that Darwin’s anti-slavery attitude led him to postulate species descent from a common ancestor, and thus establish the brotherhood of man.  I am not convinced by the thesis; but even if true, this does not contradict his notion of racial hierarchy.  Christian slave-holders in the American South likewise assumed common ancestry for human beings.  See Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), and Robert J. Richards, “The Descent of Man: Review of Darwin’s Sacred Cause,” American Scientist 97 (September-October, 2009): 415-17.

[33] Darwin, Descent of Man (1871), 1: 240.

[34] Ernst Haeckel, Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (Berlin:  Georg Reimer, 1868), p. 519.  In subsequent editions, Haeckel added more species and changed the location of the races in the hierarchy.  In the second edition, for instance, Jews are located just a bit below the level of the Germans, but still remain far ahead of most of the other races.

[35] Haeckel as quoted by Hermann Bahr, “Ernst Haeckel,” in Der Antisemitismus: Ein internationals Interview (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1894), pp. 62-69 (quotation from p. 69).

[36] I have explored the question of Haeckel’s supposed anti-Semitism in greater detail in “Ernst Haeckel’s Alleged Anti-Semitism and Contributions to Nazi Biology,” Biological Theory 2 (Winter, 2007): 97-103.

[37] See, for example, Carolus Linnaeus, Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. 3 vols. (Halle:  Curt, 1760-1770), 1:20-24; Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, De generis humani varietate nativa liber, 3rd ed. (Göttingen:  Vandenhoek et Ruprecht, 1795); and Georges Cuvier, Le Régne animal, 2nd ed., 5 vols. (Paris: Deterville Libraire, 1829-30), 1: 80.  I have discussed these and other hierarchical schemes in Robert J. Richards, “Race,” Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science, ed. John Heilbron (Oxford:  University of Oxford Press, 2001): pp. 697-98.  See also Uwe Hoßfeld, Biologie und Politik: Die Herkunft des Menschen (Erfurt: Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Thüringen, 2011), p. 16.

[38] Carolus Linnaeus, Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, orines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, 3 vols. (Halle: Curt, 1760-1770), 1: 20-24.

[39] Carus essentially reproduced the categories of Blumenbach’s De generis humani varietate nativa

[40] Carl Gustav Carus, System der Physiologie für Naturforscher und Aerzte, 2 vols. (Dresden:  Gerhard Fleischer, 1838), 1: 124.

[41] Ibid., 1: 112: : “Finally and chiefly it must not be thought that man has arisen from an animal (an ape, for instance, with which one sometimes classifies human beings) that has progressively developed and so has become man.”  Carus further refined his discussion in a work occasioned by the hundredth birthday of that great genius of the people of the day, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:  Denkschrift zum hundertjährigen Geburtsfeste Goethe’s. Ueber ungleiche Befähigung der verschiedenen Menschheitstämme für höhere geistige Entwickelung (Leipzig:  Brockhaus, 1849).  Carus used the American Samuel Morton’s measurement of skull sizes as one index of different intellectual capacities (p. 19).

[42] I have used the second German edition in this analysis:  Joseph Arthur Grafen Gobineau, Versuch über die Ungleichheit der Menschenracen, trans. Ludwig Schemann, 2nd ed., 4 vols. (Stuttgart: Fr. Frommanns Verlag,  1902-1904).

[43] Paul Weindling provides a trenchant account of the Gobineau Society, with its elitist and non-scientific membership.  See his richly nuanced Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 106-109.

[44] For Gobineau’s family background and political orientation, I have relied on Michael Biddiss’s Father of Racist Ideology:  the Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau (New York:  Weybright and Talley, 1970).

[45] Gobineau, Versuch über die Ungleicheit der Menschenracen,1: xxxi-xxxiii

[46] ibid., 1: xxviii-xxix.

[47] Ibid., 1: 157.

[48] Ibid., 1: 278-81.

[49] Ibid., 1: 287-90.

[50] Ibid., 1:38.

[51] Ibid., 2: 92-3.

[52] By contrast, his German translator and biographer Ludwig Schemann, in Von deutscher Zukunft (1920), turned Gobineau’s thesis of the dangers of racial decline against the Jews.  Schemann detected in the Jews “a lethal danger for our material life as well as for our spiritual and ethical life.”  The Jews, he contended, “should be regarded as an alien people in our civic life.”  Quotations taken from Hoßfeld,  Biologie und Politik, p. 38.

[53] Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race or the Racial Basis of European History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916).  Hitler’s library contained the translation Der Untergang der großen Rasse, trans. Rudolf Polland (Munich: Lebmanns Verlag, 1925).  See Timothy Ryback, Hitler’s Private Library (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), p. 97. Since Hitler’s copy does not contain any markings and he doesn’t mention Grant by name, it’s uncertain whether he actually read the book. Further, the first volume of Mein Kampf was finished in early 1925, and the translation of Grant came out in summer of 1925.

[54] Grant, Passing of the Great Race., p. 6.

[55] Ibid., p. 81.  The quite expressive phrase “cloaca gentium”—sewer of the races—appears to have come from Chamberlain, who used it to refer to Rome.  See Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. (Munich: Bruckmann, 1899), 1: 286.

[56] Ibid., p. 166.

[57] For the details of Chamberlain’s life, I have relied on the fine biography by Geoffrey Field, Evangelist of Race:  The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1981).

[58] Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Lebenswege meines Denkens (Munich:  Bruckmann, 1919), p. 93.

[59] Chamberlain to Harriett Chamberlain (31 July 1882), in Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Brief, 1882-1924, und Briefwechsel mit Kaiser Wilhelm II, ed. Paul Pretzsch, 2 vols. (Munich:  Bruckmann, 1928), 1: 1.

[60] Chamberlain’s books on Wagner are:  Das Drama Richard Wagner’s. Eine Anregung (Vienna: Breitkopf & Härtel,1892); Richard Wagner. Echte Briefe an Ferdinand Praeger (Bayreuth: Grau’sche Buchhandlung,1894); Richard Wagner (Munich: F. Bruckmann,1896); Parsifal-Märchen (Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1900). Each of these went through multiple editions and translations.

[61] Chamberlain, Lebenswege meines Denkens pp. 119-20.

[62] Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Recherches sur la Sève Ascendante (Neuchatel: Attinger Freres, 1897), pp. 6-8.

[63] Chamberlain, Die Grundlagen, 1: 266-67.

[64] Ibid., p. 277.

[65] Ibid., p. 122n.

[66] Ibid., p. 496.

[67] Chamberlain goes through some conceptual contortions to reach this conclusion.  See ibid., pp. 217-20.  Hitler adopted the same theory, namely that “Christ was certainly not a Jew, but a Galilean of Aryan descent.”  See Adolf Hitler, Monologe im Führer-Hauptquartier, 1941-1944, ed. Werner Jochmann (Albrecht Knaus, 1980), p. 96 (21 October 1941).  This latter volume recovers Hitler’s so-called “table-talk,” stenographic recordings ordered by Martin Bormann of the Leader’s conversations.

[68] Chamberlain, Die Grundlagen, 1: 372.

[69] Ibid., p. 415.

[70] Ibid., p. 374.

[71] Ibid., p. 325.

[72] Ibid., p. 531.

[73] Ibid., 2: 805.

[74] Ibid., 1: 25.

[75] Chamberlain to Cosima Wagner (9 March 1896), in Cosima Wagner und Houston Stewart Chamberlain im Briefwechsel 1888-1908, ed. Paul Pretzsch (Leipzig: Philipp Reclam, 1934), p. 478.

[76] Chamberlain to Karl Horst (31 October 1895), in Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Briefe, 1: 26-27.  The phrase “world puzzles” was obviously an oblique reference to Haeckel’s book Welträtsel.

[77] These are the conclusions Chamberlain drew in two manuscripts from the years 1896 and 1900.  They were published by his friend Jakob von Uexküll shortly after his death.  See Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Natur und Leben, ed. J. von Uexküll (Munich: Bruckmann, 1928), pp. 102-168.

[78] In matters of morphology, Chamberlain said his masters were Goethe and Kant.  See Chamberlain, Lebenswege meines Denkens, p. 122.

[79] Timothy Ryback, Hitler’s Private Library, p. 50

[80] Chamberlain to Adolf Hitler (7 October 1923), in Briefe, 1882-1924, 2: pp. 124-25.

[81] The letter was originally published in Deutsche Presse, nos. 65-66 (April 20-21, 1924), p. 1; reprinted in Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Auswahl aus seinen Werken, ed. Hardy Schmidt (Breslau: Ferdinand Hirt, 1935), p. 66.

[82] Hitler visited Chamberlain several more times in Bayreuth, in spring and summer, 1925 and again in November and May 1926, when the old man was in very poor health.  Chamberlain died on January 9, 1927.  Hitler attended the funeral services representing the Workers Party.

[83] Adolf Hitler, Monologe im Führer-Hauptquartier, p. 224.  It’s unclear which of the two letters Hitler is referring to, the personal letter or the open letter published while he was in Landsberg prison.

[84] Quoted by Ryback in Hitler’s Private Library, p. 67. The some twelve hundred volumes of Hitler’s libraries, recovered by American Forces after the war, now reside in the Library of Congress; eighty others are in Brown’s Library, souvenirs of a returning solidier.

[85] Alfred Rosenberg, Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Hoheneichen Verlag, 1930).  The remark by Goering is quoted in Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 138.

[86] I have used the 1943 edition of Mein Kampf, which prints both volumes of the book as one:  Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Munich:  Verlag Franz Eher Nachf., 1943).

[87] Ibid., p. 296.

[88] Ibid., p. 156.

[89] Hitler, Monologe im Führer-Hauptquartier,p. 232 (25-26 January 1942). Hitler’s German is an inelegant tangle, even granted the “Table Talk” records spontaneous conversations.  Here’s the original:  “Woher nehmen wir das Recht, zu glauben, der Mensch sei nicht von Uranfängen das gewesen, was er heut’ ist?  Der Blick in die Natur lehrt uns, daß im Bereich der Pflanzen und Tiere Veränderungen und Weiterbildungen vorkommen, aber nigrends zeigt sich innerhalb einer Gattung eine Entwicklung von der Weite des Sprunges, den der Mensch gemacht haben müßte, sollte er sich aus einem affenartigen Zustand zu dem, was er ist, fortgebildet haben!”

[90] Hanns Hörbiger and Phiilipp Fauth, Glazial-Kosmogonie (Leipzig:  R. Voigtländers Verlag, 1913).

[91] See Christopher Hale, Himmler’s Crusade:  The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race (New York:  Wiley, 2003), pp. 117-19.

[92] Karl Rode, “Welt=Anschauung!” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Wissenschaft 2 (1936-1937): 222-231.  See also Christina Wessely, “Welteis.  Die ‘Astronomie des Unsichtbaren’ um 1900,“  in Pseudowissenschaft. Konzepte von Nicht/Wissenschaftlichkeit in der Wissenschaftsgeschichte, eds. D. Rupnow, V. Lipphardt, J. Thiel, C. Wessely (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2008), pp. 155-85.  Wessely shows that though Höbiger had little success in convincing the leading astronomers and geologists of his theory after the First World War, yet several popular societies (die Welteis-Vereine) in Germany and Austria spread the word through evening lectures and an enormous number of books.  Newspapers and illustrated magazines also informed a curious public.  She observes that Heinrich Himmler in particular lent the theory support.

[93] Hitler, Monologe im Führer-Hauptquartier, (25-26 January 1942), p. 232.

[94] Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic, p. 47.

[95] Gobineau, Versuch über die Ungleichheit der Menschenracen, 1: 278.

[96] Hitler, Monologe im Führer-Hauptquartier, (24 October 1941), p. 103.

[97] Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 312.

[98] Ibid.

[99] See chapter 3 in this volume.

[100] Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic, p. 3.

[101] Ibid., p. 3l3.

[102] Ibid., p. 316.

[103] Ibid., p. 314.

[104] Ibid., p. 443.

[105] Heinrich Georg Bronn was the first translator of Darwin’s Origin:  Über die Entstehung der Arten im Thier- und Pflanzen-Reich durch natürliche Züchtung, oder Erhaltung der vervollkommneten Rassen im Kampfe um’s Daseyn, trans. H. Bronn (Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagshandlung und Druckerei, 1860).  The translation was slightly revised by Julius Victor Carus, who translated the fourth English and subsequent editions of the Origin:  Über die Entstehung der Arten durch natürlichen Zuchtwahl oder die Erhaltung der begünstigten Rassen im Kampfe um’s Dasein, trans. J. Victor Carus (Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagshandlung und Druckerei, 1867).  The Carus editions would have been standard in the early twentieth century.

[106] Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 145: “. . . tritt an Stelle des natürlichen Kampfes um das Dasein, der nur den Allerstärksten und Gesündesten am Leben läßt . . .”

[107] Ibid., p. 149.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Adolf Hitler, Hitlers Zweites Buch (Stuttgart:  Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1961), p. 46.  Hitler dictated this statement of foreign policy in summer of 1928; the publisher recommended against publishing since it would compete with the second volume of Mein Kampf, which at the time was not selling well.  The manuscript was later recovered in 1958 from a U.S. Army deposit of confiscated papers.

[110] Ibid., p. 47.

[111] Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, abridged ed. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), p. 215.

[112] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, vol. 12 of Werke, eds. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Michel, 4th ed. (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1995), p. 75:  “The principle of development [Das Prinzip der Entwicklung] contains this as well, that an inner purpose [Bestimmung], a fundamental, intrinsic condition, establishes its own existence.  This formal purpose is essentially the spirit that has world-history as its theater, its possession, and the field of its realization.”  It’s hard to know whether Hitler read the Vorlesungen (Lectures) directly or derived the gist of Hegel’s conception of history from some other source.  That Hegel was Hitler’s ultimate source, though, is unmistakable.

[113] Ibid., p. 76.

[114] Chamberlain, Grundlagen, 2:536.

[115] Ibid., 1:277-78.

[116] Ibid., 1:44.

[117] Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 149.  Also quoted above.

[118] Chamberlain, Grundlagen, 2:805.

[119] Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 431:

[120] Ibid., p. 434.

[121] Ibid., pp. 385 and 506.

[122] Ibid., p. 55.

[123] Richard Evens, The Coming of the Third Reich (New York: Penguin Group, 2004), p. 43

[124] Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 59.

[125] Ibid., p. 107.

[126] Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, pp. 164-65; Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 2 vols. (New York:  Norton, 2000), 1: 31-36.  It may be that Hitler did have some knowledge of Jews while in Linz, but his attitude seemed to concretize, bathed as it was in the acidic opinions of Lueger and Schönerer.

[127] Boyer is quite clear that Lueger’s anti-Semitism had nothing to do with race but with political advantage.  See John W. Boyer,  Karl Lueger (1844-1910), Christlichsoziale Politik als Beruf (Vienna:  Böhlau Verlag, 2010), p. 208.

[128] These ideas are worked out in the Descent of Man, 1: chaps. 3 and 5.  I have discussed Darwin’s ethical theory and its sources in Robert J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 185-242.

[129] I have mentioned those recent scholars who casually employ the term “social Darwinism” in note 7, above.


[130] Darwin, Descent of Man, 1: 169.

[131] Ibid., pp. 168-69.

[132] For an account of Timoféeff’s career, see Vadim Ratner, “Nikolay Vladimirovich Timoféeff-Ressovsky (1900-1981): Twin of the Century of Genetics,” Genetics 158 (2001): 933-39; and Yakov Rokityanskij, “N V Timofeeff-Ressovsky in Germany (July, 1925–September, 1945),” Journal of Biosciences 30 (2005): 573-80. See also Kristie MacRakis, Surviving the Swastika:  Scientific Research in Nazi Germany (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 120-22.

[133] The geneticist and formidable historian of biology of the first part of the twentieth century, Erik Nordenskiöld, declared in 1928 that Darwin’s theory “has long ago been rejected in its most vital points by subsequent research.”  It would be replaced, he thought, by real science, modern laboratory genetics.  See Erik Nordenskiöld, The History of Biology, trans. L. B. Eyre (New York:  Tudor Publishing Co., [1928] 1936), p. 477.

[134] See Ernst Lehmann, Biologie im Leben der Gegenwart (Munich:  J. F Lehmann Verlag, 1933), pp. 212-38.  Lehmann attempted to show that modern evolutionary biology, with the important addition of Mendelism, aligned perfectly with goals of Hitler and his party.  His main concern, in so far as biology was to serve the state, was to warn of the dangers of racial decline through hybridization with lower races (pp. 216-23). Though Lehmann tried several times to join the Nazi party, he was always rejected, ultimately because he fell afoul of more powerful party leaders.  See Ute Deichmann’s discussion of Lehmann’s plight in her Biologists under Hitler, trans. Thomas Dunlap (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 74-89.

[135] Konrad Lorenz, “Nochmals:  Systematik und Entwicklungsgedanken im Unterricht,” Der Biologe 9 (1940):  24-36; quotation from p. 24.

[136] When the journal became an official party organ in 1937, a new editorial indicated that the journal took as its task “the cultivation of scientific content in so far as it reflects an essential German nature.” See [editorial], Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 3 (1937-1938): 1.   Deichmann discusses the character of the journal in her Biologists under Hitler, p. 43.

[137] Werner Heisenberg, “Die Bewertung der modernen theoretischen Physik, Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 9 (1943): 201-12.  Heisenberg rejected the idea of the incompatibility of modern physics and National Socialism on pp. 210-11. He noted that his essay had been written in 1940, which was about the time of a fight to fill the chair held by the retiring physicist at Munich Arnold Sommerfeld.  Heisenberg and other students of Sommerfeld tried to prevent the group supporting Deutsche Physik—which was quite anti-Semitic and hostile to relativity and quantum mechanics—from advancing their candidate to the chair.  Heisenberg, the heir apparent—having won the Nobel Prize in 1932—yet lost the fight.  Nonetheless his stature grew as the possibility of a nuclear weapon was considered.  In 1943, when his paper was published, he had been appointed to the chair of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin and made a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

[138] Kurt Hildebrandt, “Positivismus und Natur,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 1 (1935/1936): 1-22. Martin Heidegger was one of the associate editors (Mitarbeiter) of the journal.

[139] See Pascual Jordan, “Über den positivistischen Begriff der Wirklichkeit,” Die Naturwissenschaften 22 (20 July 1934): 33-39.  Jordan contended that experience alone was the foundation for science and that it united the subjective world and the objective world.  Not only did Hildebrandt reject the analysis, but so did many members of the Vienna Circle, particularly Otto Neurath.  See the discussion of this dispute within the movement of logical positivism by Suzanne Gieser, in her The Innermost Kernel: Depth Psychology and Quantum PhysicsWolfgang Pauli’s Dialogue with C. G. Jung (New York:  Springer, 2005), especially pp. 50-102.

[140] Hildebrandt, “Positivismus und Natur,” p. 20.

[141] Ibid., p. 21.

[142] Ibid., p. 22.

[143] Ibid.

[144] That he had de Vries’s theory in mind seems fairly clear from a subsequent article of his in the journal:  Kurt Hildebrandt, “Die Bedeutung der Abstammungslehre für die Weltanschauung,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 3 (1937/1938): 15-34.

[145] Hans Driesch, “Der Weg der Theoretischen Biologie,” Zeitschrift für gesamte Naturwissenschaft 4 (1938/1939): 209-32.

[146] Kurt Hildebrandt, “Die Bedeutung der Amstammungslehre, p. 22.

[147] Ibid.

[148] Ernst Bergdolt, “Zur Frage der Rassenentstehung beim Menschen,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 3 (1937/1938): 109-113.

[149] Ernst Bergdolt, “Abschließende Bermerkungen zu dem Thema ‘Das Problem der Menschenwerdung,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 6 (1940): 185-88.

[150] Christian von Krogh, “Das ‘Problem’ Menschenwerdung,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 6 (1940): 105-12.  Uwe Hoßfeld provides a brief account of von Krogh’s position in his Geshichte der biologischen Anthropologie in Deutschland (Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005), pp. 272-74.

[151] Max Westenhöfer, “Kritische Bemerkung zu neueren Arbeiten über die Menschenwerdung und Artbildung,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 6 (1940): 41-62; quotation from p. 41.

[152] Günther Hecht, “Biologie und Nationalsozialismus,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Naturwissenschaft 3 (1937–1938): 280–90; quotation from p. 285.

[153] Walter Groß, as quoted by Deichmann, in Biologists under Hitler, p. 270.

[154] “Richtilinien für die Bestandsprüfung in den Volksbüchereien Sachsens,” Die Bücherei 2 (1935): 279–80.