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Was Darwinism Connected to National Socialism and Marxism? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In parts 1 and 2, we looked at philosopher David Stove’s claims that Darwinism was coopted by both the National Socialists and the Marxists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both of whom brought mass murder to a scale the world had never before seen. But what of these ties? Could they not be merely accidental? In his book Darwinian Fairytales, Stove answers those questions:

It will perhaps be said, in defense of Darwinism, that many and enormous crimes have been committed in the name of every large and influential body of ideas bearing on human life. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. But even if it is, there are great and obvious differences, among such bodies of ideas, in how easily and naturally they amount to incitement to the commission of crimes.

Confucianism, for example, or Buddhism does not appear to incite their adherents to crime easily or often. National Socialism, by contrast, and likewise Marxism, do easily and naturally hold out such incitements to their adherents, and indeed (as is obvious) owe a good deal of their attractiveness to this very fact. It is impossible to deny that, in this respect, Darwinism has a closer affinity with National Socialism or Marxism than with Confucianism or Buddhism.

But why does Darwinism have a connection at all with Marxism and National Socialism? Stove explains:

Darwin told the world that a “struggle for life,” a “struggle for existence,” a “battle for life”” is always going on among the members of every species. Although this proposition was at the time novel and surprising, an immense number of people accepted it. Now, will any rational person believe that accepting this proposition would have no effect, or only randomly varying effects, on people’s attitudes towards their own conspecifics? No.

Will any rational person believe that accepting this novel proposition would tend to improve people’s attitudes to their conspecifics – for example, would tend to make them less selfish, or less inclined to domineering behavior, than they had been before they accepted it? No.

Quite the contrary, it is perfectly obvious that accepting Darwin’s theory of a universal struggle for life must tend to strengthen whatever tendencies people had beforehand to selfishness and domineering behavior towards their fellow humans. Hence it must tend to make them worse than they were before, and more likely to commit crimes: especially crimes of rapacity, or of cruelty, or of dominance for the sake of dominance. These considerations are exceedingly obvious.

But Darwin defenders routinely express frustration at Darwinism being tied to these kinds of crimes. Do they have a leg to stand on?

There was therefore never any excuse for the indignation and surprise which Darwinians and neo-Darwinians have nearly always expressed, whenever their theory is accused of being a morally subversive one. For the same reason there is, and always was, every justification for the people, beginning with Darwin’s contemporaries, who made that accusation against the theory.

Darwin had done his best . . . to separate the theory of evolution from the matrix of murderous ideas in which previously it had always been set. But in fact, since the theory says what it does, there is a limit, and a limit easily reached, to how much can be done in the way of such a separation. The Darwinian theory of evolution is an incitement to crime: that is simply a fact.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “It is impossible to deny that, in this respect, Darwinism has a closer affinity with National Socialism or Marxism than with Confucianism or Buddhism.”

    As pointed out in Part 2, to make the case of this ‘affinity with Marxism’ Stove referenced a Marxist book that strongly criticised a society based on ‘Darwinism’. Further, Hitler denied speciation takes place, and rather than believing that all men were in constant battle with each other, Hitler believed that an entire country could come together for a common goal (which Stove believes is the antithesis of ‘Darwinism’).

    So, rather than being ‘impossible to deny’, it is in fact a case Stove has yet to make.

    And though he compares Darwinism – a scientific theory – to philosophies such as Buddhism, Stove doesn’t mentioned at all the large role that the works of Martin Luther had on Hitler’s ideas, or the huge number of references to God that Hitler made in public and private, his many claims that everything he did was for his Lord.

    “But Darwin defenders routinely express frustration at Darwinism being tied to these kinds of crimes”

    Again, as pointed out before Bill, you yourself made an argument over a SEVEN-part blog that one cannot draw any ‘oughts’ from the ‘is’ (or even alleged ‘is’) or Darwinism.

    “Quite the contrary, it is perfectly obvious that accepting Darwin’s theory of a universal struggle for life must tend to strengthen whatever tendencies people had beforehand to selfishness and domineering behavior towards their fellow humans”

    Forget what’s obvious to you or Stove – please offer EVIDENCE that people who accept evolution are more likely to be domineering, for example. It’s notable that the religiosity of a country actually POSITIVELY correlates with levels of crime, and within those countries, religiosity of individuals POSITIVELY correlates with the likelihood that that person will end up in prison. Given that religiosity also positively correlates with the likelihood that person will reject mainstream biological science, Stove’s position seems hard to defend.

    “The Darwinian theory of evolution is an incitement to crime”

    No, it’s a theory that explains change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. You can no more take that as an incitement to crime than you can say that theories of gravity are an incitement to drop things.

  • rericsawyer

    “The Darwinian theory of evolution is an incitement to crime: that is simply a fact.”

    Well, at least one potentially helpful idea we can glean is that facts matter, or else why would Stove claim that this incitement is simply a fact?

    But that cuts both ways. It sounds as if we might be encouraged to reject “Darwinism” because it is “an incitement of crime.” And that fact matters. But if facts matter, the issue surely cannot be one of the effect of Darwinism on the moral compass of society. If facts indeed matter, then the issue, the sole issue, is whether or not this theory is true. Is IT “simply a fact?” If it is, we may then wrestle with why this fact is so commonly used to excuse such dreadful behavior. If it is not a fact, then we need pay it no attention at all.

    But the issue is, and can never be, does this theory encourage social results that please me! To think thusly is to be well down the road to the social manipulation seen in both of the groups referenced. Indeed, it is to make my goals (even a good goal of a good society) a higher end than “truth,” and thus place one far down the road to a postmodernist view of “relative truth,” where there is no REAL truth, only useful truth.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Stove believes that Darwin’s ideas, as applied to humans, are false. He does say in the book that the fact that Darwin’s ideas are an incitement to crime does not prove the theory is false. He is, however, wanting Darwin’s defenders to come to terms with the fact that when you say the things about human beings that Darwin did, you are giving substantial ammunition to those who would see their ideals enacted through violence.

    With Stove, I agree that this is obviously true. Any historical survey of 20th century totalitarianism readily makes this connection. Darwin tells us that we are nothing more than animals in a vicious struggle, so why are so surprised when some of us act like vicious animals and justify our behavior by citing Darwin?

  • rericsawyer

    I’m sorry Bill, but if you are representing Stove accurately, and I suppose you are, he is attempting to have it both ways. He is here either being intellectually dishonest or very foolish.If the theory called “darwinism” is true, then we would have no business suppressing it, no matter how distasteful we may find its ramifications. If is false, then it should be defeated on its own failure. To make the social implications (and the gross misunderstanding of them) of this theory more important than the truth or untruth; to make ANYTHING more important than the truth is reprehensible, as well as being a pathway to deeper error. This is especially if I declare myself a follower of One who declares his very name to be I AM. Of course, Stove may have a very different frame of reference, I don’t know.

    The reading of “darwinism” which I am to understand Stove presents is decidedly ill considered. If there were any truth in that nonsense about being “engaged in a vicious struggle” then there would be far more carnivores than herbivores; indeed, prey animals would have not existed. All would be predators, feeding on weaker predators. The
    natural world is nothing like that. To the extent that “darwinism” says humans are animals engaged in this sort of vicious struggle, it is saying that humans
    are a different order of beast than has ever existed, and are operating on entirely different laws – in fact, humans must be a different order of creation
    altogether. I don’t think that is what “darwinism” says.

    I grant that evil men have used perverted
    understandings of science (Natural Selection being neither the first nor the last) to justify their own desires to themselves, or to manipulate a population. But to understand their behavior, you would do better to look, not to Darwin, but to Milton. Anything can be spun by a fallen humanity to justify
    sin. That is not the fault of the particular doctrine (of science or religion) being tortured into their service.

    I hear nothing in this work, as presented, that should save it from ridicule.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Eric,
    What strikes me about your comments is that you seem very unaware of the history of Darwin’s theory and how its defenders put it to use in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps this is my fault because Stove spends quite a bit of time in the book recounting this history, and I have only taken very partial quotes from his work.

    Darwin thought that all animals were in a vicious struggle, not just humans. Have you ever read the Origin of Species? He spells it out pretty clearly in there.

    Stove is an agnostic about God, so not a Christian. He is also agnostic about whether Darwin’s theory applies to some species of animals. What he is not agnostic about, and what his entire book is about is that Darwinism, the idea that natural selection is the primary and dominant driver of human evolution is patently absurd. I think this is obviously true and that is why I have been quoting him. It seems you disagree, and so we will just have to agree to disagree.

    In addition, the idea that humans are in a vicious struggle for survival and that this struggle is what has driven evolution forward – an idea that Darwin and his immediate followers constantly espoused – has provided broad justification for all sorts of human atrocities in the name of human progress and “evolution.”

    Does every person who accepts Darwinism at face value become a violent mass murderer? Obviously not. But that fact that it has been used as justification by the largest mass murderers in human history surely warrants a mention, lest we fail to understand how it may be used again in the future by other would-be mass murderers.

  • rericsawyer

    I confess that it has been some 40 years since I read “Origin” But I am very aware of some of the nonsense various social thinkers supposed themselves to have derived from in in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These applications of Natural Selection drew more (or so it seemed to me) from the culture of their source than from the actual science.

    As to the charge that Natural Selection has been used as a justification for murder, well, so has divine sovereignty and the “Divine right of kings”
    Its capacity for misuse is neither evidence for or against. Now, if as you hint it the last sentence, the issue is not Natural Selection, but combating the perverted and distorted use of the idea as a justification for sin, we are in agreement (although I suspect that it is a fight against a defeated enemy -I may well be wrong). What I object to very strenuously is the idea that I think I hear, that because of the potential abuse of an idea, that idea must not be true; or if it is true, it must be suppressed.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    You said, “What I object to very strenuously is the idea that I think I hear, that
    because of the potential abuse of an idea, that idea must not be true;
    or if it is true, it must be suppressed.”

    Stove did not say that the potential abuse of an idea makes it no true. He separated the truth and abuse of Darwinism in his book. I am sorry if I mixed them together in my post and comments.

    He likewise was not arguing that even if it is true, it must be suppressed. He does not think Darwinism, as applied to humans, is true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “What he is not agnostic about, and what his entire book is about is that Darwinism, the idea that natural selection is theprimary and dominant driver of human evolution is patently absurd.”

    As Eric points out, this assertion is an entirely separate issue from whether evolution is connected to Marxism or Nazism.

    “But that fact that it has been used as justification by the largest mass murderers in human history surely warrants a mention”

    You’ve yet to show that has been so used. You’ve simply told us that the connection is obvious.

    Hitler in Mein Kampf: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

    So, do you say “The fact that belief in God was used as justification for the holocaust surely warrants a mention”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    Again, if Hitler believed all men were constantly in vicious struggle with each other, why did he believe that a whole country could come together for a common goal? If he thought that a supposed ‘is’ of nature equaled an ‘ought’ for how we should behave, why did he defy the ‘constant struggle’ idea by forming a huge army of men not fighting each other? If he thought nature would take care of weeding out ‘inferior’ races, why did he spend so much money and energy attempting to do the job himself?

    Here are some more Hitler quotes for you:

    “The most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator”.

    Very Darwinian, no? Note he doesn’t even say OTHER animals.

    Another quote: “Where do we acquire the right to believe that man has not always been what he is now? The study of nature teaches us that, in the animal kingdom just as much as in the vegetable kingdom, variations have occurred. They’ve occurred within the species, but none of these variations has an importance comparable with that which separates man from the monkey — assuming that this transformation really took place”

    He doesn’t sound very sure there, does he?

    On speciation: “This urge for the maintenance of the unmixed breed, which is a phenomenon that prevails throughout the whole of the natural world, results not only in the sharply defined outward distinction between one species and another but also in the internal similarity of characteristic qualities which are peculiar to each breed or species. The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger.”

    From the Nazi’s list of banned books, 1933-1939:

    “6. Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).”

  • rericsawyer

    Yes, I did note your statement that Stove denied the idea that abuse of a theory would falsify that theory. I appreciate that.
    But absent any claim that Natural Selection is proven false by abuse, or that “abuse-able” facts may be rightly suppressed, I cannot see any point to this particular line of argument. This leads me to the charge that he, as presented, is duplicitous; and denying in plain words the point he is making on a more subtle level.

    I can see only three points:
    1) NS is false, on the evidence of its potential for abuse.
    2) Belief in NS may be harmful for a society, therefore it would be right to suppress it, regardless of its factual merit or lack thereof.
    3) Abuse and misunderstanding of NS is both destructive and pervasive. Therefore we should engage the issue in ways intended to combat such misunderstanding and abuse.
    You reflect Stove as specifically denying #1, and that (or so I understand) he makes no statement in support of conclusion #2. In the small selection you give, I don’t think he intends #3.
    If he is not false about his denial of #1 (and #1 seems most consistent with the plain reading of your selections), I am left with either #2 or some conclusion that I cannot yet see.
    Is there such a summary conclusion that is not in my list?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    I think his conclusions are the following:

    1) NS is false.
    2) NS has been used by criminals to justify their taking of power.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    To say that Hitler was, in any way, even remotely a believer in orthodox Christian teachings is laughable. No reputable historian makes this claim, so I hope that is not your implication.

    Now, if you are arguing the broader point that belief in certain kinds of gods has, in the past, been used to justify crimes, then I agree with you.

  • rericsawyer

    So… are you saying that he makes no connection between those two statements? That they are simply unrelated stream-of-consciousness ramblings?

    Perhaps I have been giving Stove too MUCH credit! I had assumed he had a rational conclusion in mind, that unified these themes; and was bewildered, in that the three I proposed were the only possibilities I could come up with. It seems that you are telling me that there is a forth way I had not considered -that he may have no coherent point to make at all.

    Perhaps it was because I was too much in awe of Stove’s credentials that I jumped to an accusation of duplicitous writing when an alternative was clearly available – he may have been simply rambling in a scholarly style, but with thoughts that were totally unrelated.
    Bill, perhaps I will regret the sarcasm, I already half do. But your own defense of Stoves possible conclusions, and I assume it is the best one possible, make his case even worse than I had.

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