The Corner

Hitler & Darwin

I’ve also been asked by a bunch of readers to comment on this Harlin-Ditler stuff since it overlaps with big chunks of my book. I think I’m generally with Derb. A few observations in no particular order:

1. If we’re going to play this game, I think the real villain is Malthus, not Darwin. As I’ve mentioned here before, both Marx and Darwin believed they were merely standing on Malthus’ shoulders, at least when it comes to “bad” parts of either. 

2.  But even here I don’t think we can blame Malthus — or Darwin — for the evil actions rationalized by their ideas. Herbert Spencer was a dedicated Darwinist too, but he saw in Darwinism proof of the libertarian paradigm (of course, according to liberals, the libertarian is responsible for the Holocaust as opposed to the progressives and socialists who saw Darwin as an excuse to round people up and kill or  sterilize them).

3. As Derb rightly notes, we wouldn’t blame Einstein for an evil use of nuclear weapons several generations after his death.  Indeed, Einstein is in many ways as “blameworthy” as Darwin.  Einstein’s theory of relativity was greeted by the Western world as scientific corroboration that everything was relative. Paul Dirac, a  Cambridge mathematical physicist complained that “relativity came along as a wonderful idea leading to a new domain of thought. It was an escape from the war…Relativity was a topic that everybody felt himself competent to write about in a general philosophical way.”  Jose Ortega y Gasset declared that relativity was served as “marvelous proof of the harmonious multiplicity of all possible views.”  

Of course, as Bertrand Russell and Julien Benda anticipated the “multiplicity of views” didn’t turn out to be all that harmonious. Rather, the idea that there is no capital T truth, only personal or identity-politics tribal truth, led to the bloodiest century. Michael Novak had a great post on this point a long time ago.

4. I do think Darwinism led to Nazism, in a sense. But that’s because I see Nazism as one of many responses to modernism. And Darwin, for good and ill, represents the rise of modern science — along with Einstein and others. Nazism and Communism and Progressivism were all impossible without the industrial revolution, Darwinism, relativism, mechanized warfare, mass production, etc. They were reactionary responses to these things. Those responses amounted to an express rejection of the conservative and libertarian vision of society, which is why they were leftwing. 

Nazism  was reactionary in that it sought to repackage tribal values under the guise of modern concepts. So was Communism. So are all the statist and collectivism isms. The only truly new and radical political revolution is the Lockean one. But, hey, I’ve got a book on all this stuff. 

I could go on — and probably will. But it’s Friday and cocktail hour.


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