From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart was released in 2004 (paperback edition in 2006) with Palgrave Macmillan in New York, a major publisher of historical scholarship. In this compelling and painstakingly researched work of intellectual history, Richard Weikart explains the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. He demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially those pertaining to the sacredness of human life. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary “fitness” (especially in terms of intelligence and health) as the highest arbiter of morality. Weikart concludes that Darwinism played a key role not only in the rise of eugenics, but also in euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination, all ultimately embraced by the Nazis. He convincingly makes the disturbing argument that Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles rather than nihilistic ones. From Darwin to Hitler is a provocative yet balanced work that should encourage a rethinking of the historical impact that Darwinism had on the course of events in the twentieth century.
Richard Weikart is professor of modern European history at California State University, Stanislaus. He has lived in Germany over five years, including one year on a Fulbright Fellowship. 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, Journal of the History of Ideas, Isis, European Legacy, and History of European Ideas. For more information, see his professional vita. For information about speaking engagements, please contact him via e-mail.
Praise for From Darwin to Hitler:
“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.”
“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.”
“This is an impressive piece of intellectual and cultural history–a well-researched, clearly presented argument with good, balanced, fair judgments. Weikart has a thorough knowledge of the relevant historiography in both German and English.”
“This is truly a well-crafted work of intellectual history, and one directly relevant to some of the most consequential ethical discussions of our present time. Christians and all people of good will would do well to ponder these arguments, recognizing how easily the best and brightest can commit the worst and darkest under the progressive banner of biological ‘health and fitness.’ The book should provoke much debate and discussion, not only among historians but among ethicists and scientists too.”
“The philosophy that fueled German militarism and Hitlerism is taught as fact in every American public school, with no disagreement allowed. Every parent ought to know this story, which Weikart persuasively explains.”
“If you think moral issues like infanticide, assisted suicide, and tampering with human genes are new, read this book. It draws a clear and chilling picture of the way Darwinian naturalism led German thinkers to treat human life as raw materials to be manipulated in order to advance the course of evolution. The ethics of Hitler’s Germany were not reactionary; they were very much ‘cutting edge’ and in line with the scientific understanding of the day. Weikart’s implicit warning is that as long as the same assumption of Darwinian naturalism reigns in educated circles in our own day, it may well lead to similar practices.”
“Richard Weikart’s masterful work offers a compelling case that the eugenics movement, and all the political and social consequences that have flowed from it, would have been unlikely if not for the cultural elite’s enthusiastic embracing of the Darwinian account of life, morality, and social institutions. Professor Weikart reminds us, with careful scholarship and circumspect argument, that the truth uttered by Richard Weaver decades ago is indeed a fixed axiom of human institutions: ‘ideas have consequences.'”
“Richard Weikart has provided bioethicists with an excellent resource in From Darwin to Hitler.”
“Weikart has written a significant study because it raises key ethical questions in broad terms that have contemporary relevance. His historicization of the moral framework of evolutionary theory poses key issues for those in sociobiology and evolutionary pscyhology, not to mention bioethicists, who have recycled many of the suppositions that Weikart has traced.”
“. . . Richard Weikart’s excellent new book. In precise and careful detail Weikart narrates an indispensable chapter of cultural and intellectual history . . .”
“This important work of intellectual history will act as a catalyst for rethinking the scientific and social forces that shaped the racial policies of the Third Reich.”
“This book will prove to be an invaluable source for anyone wondering how closely linked Social Darwinism and Nazi ideologies, especially as uttered by Hitler, really were.”