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Book Review

From Darwin to Hitler : evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany

Weikart, Richard, 1958-

It would be hard to overstate the influence of evolution in my own discipline, biology. But how has Darwinism left its impact on society as a whole? Some modern thinkers might be tempted to dismiss this question as irrelevant under the mistaken belief that Darwin simply helped us better understand our world. But clearly, Darwinism is not just biology.

In his book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, Richard Weikart shows how Darwinism, as it was understood in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was applied to and fundamentally changed German society. How could German society, which was so advanced, cultured, sophisticated, and indeed so civilized, give the world global war and the horrors of Auschwitz?"

For myself, Weikart has provided a satisfying explanation for the years of rule by Hitler that few others have emphasized. Hitler was driven by a Darwinian view, and from within that perspective, he was not a "madman." Facilitated by a rejection of Judeo-Christian ethics, Hitler was merely working out what an applied branch of Darwinism, eugenics, told him in regard to race improvement. While governments brought an end to Hitler at a terrible cost, academics repudiated eugenics much more quietly. Given this history, perhaps other disciplines need to have a role in reevaluating Darwinism.

By Arthur Schwarz
Submitted: October 7, 2011