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From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany Hardcover – May 7, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

'One of the finest examples of intellectual history I have seen in a long while. It is insightful, thoughtful, informative, and highly readable.' - Ian Dowbiggin, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Author of A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America

Review of the Hardback Edition

'This is an impressive piece of intellectual and cultural history - a well-researched, clearly presented argument with good, balanced, fair judgements. Weikart has a thorough knowledge of the relevant historiography in both German and English.' - Alfred Kelly, Edgar B. Graves Professor of History, Hamilton College, USA

'Richard Weikart, the author of this captivating and well-documented book, makes it clear that he intends to provide the reader with a scrupulously historical study of the Darwinian influence on eugenics, euthanasia, racial theory, and militarism in Germany.' - Paola S. Timiras, The European Legacy

From the Inside Flap

"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. "
-- Ian Dowbiggin, Professor of History at the University of Prince Edward Island and author of "A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America"
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st edition (May 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403965021
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403965028
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter S. Bradley on November 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the quandaries in thinking about the Nazi era is trying to imagine how the most scientific nation in the world could become so entranced by what we know to be obvious pseudo-scientific "race science" nonsense. It's easy to chalk the infatuation in race science and eugenics up to putatively syphilitic, right-wing losers, but the problem is that this nonsense was accepted by the pillars of society, scientists and the average German without opposition.

Richard Weikart's "From Darwin to Hitler" adds context to solve this quandary; Germans accepted crackpot race science because it was science. The various presuppositions that added up to race science were the paradigms accepted by scholars, scientists and progressive social organizations.

I found Weikart's book to be exceptionally useful in demonstrating in detail the intellectual development and proliferation of ideas about the place of human beings in nature that Charles Darwin seemed to have established with scientific authority in his 1871 book "The Descent of Man." Darwin's "Origin of Species" and "The Descent of Man" were obviously seminal in shaping an understanding of humanity's place in the world. Weikart seems to suggest that the fight over evolution as such was less important for subsequent political and intellectual history than several underlying ideas that Darwin gave scientific credentials to. Three of those ideas were (a) humans are merely animals, (b) death was "progressive" in that species and populations "progressed" or "adapted" and "evolved" because of the death of less fit or adapted members and (c) human ethical and moral beliefs are based on sentiments, feelings or "impulses.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent overview of late 19th -early 20th century German `Social Darwinism', detailing the widespread politicisation of intellectualism and `science' in Germany, well before the Nazis and Hitler ever came to power. It reveals much of where Hitler and the Nazis actually got their views from; eg ideas on extreme militarism, race superiority and race determinism, human inequality and expendability, `might is right' policies and ideas, and various other extreme forms of eugenic/Social Darwinism, which were widespread amongst German intellectuals. Numerous German intellectuals and their ideas are detailed in his book (eg Forel, Ploetz, H.Chamberlain, Hellward, Schonerer, Haeckel, Dodel, Woltmann, Lenz, Fritsch, Ribbert, Kirchhoff, Peschel, Kaup, Jaeger, Buchner, Lehmann, Schallmayer, Luschan, Tille, and others), in the decades preceeding Nazism, many advocating Nazi-type ideas supposedly based on `science', before Hitler ever came to power, who followed a long trend of data distortion probably derived from the tenuous relationship between German political culture, and German science.

It is very surprising what various, highly respected German scientists/intellectuals of the time, well before the Nazis, actually believed or debated, as being `justified' by biology.
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Format: Hardcover
The subject of Nazi Germany still is a very popular topic for books, articles and public discussion. Having read many books and articles on this area of history, I can confidently conclude that this is one of the most important (and one of the best scholarly sources). In contrast to many authors who quote each other (and must rely on secondary sources printed in English), Weikart's work relies heavily on primary sources published in German during the time he is covering. Weikart is fluent in the language (I only studied it to pass my Ph.D. reading exams) and lived in Germany to do his research. As a result, Weikart includes much new material for scholars to mull over for the next century. He covers the basic question asked about this era, namely, why did Nazism start and grow in the most educated nation in the world and why did so many scientists (especially biologists of various types) and medical doctors firmly side with Nazism? Understanding why Nazism happened is critical to insure that it never happens again. This work focuses on the major influence of Darwinism, but also covers in a very balanced way other influences. Like a story, he develops a major point in each chapter, building onto the story and his conclusion. The 42 pages of notes fully document his conclusions. This book is a must for anyone interested in not only Nazi Germany but the whole question of the source of morality and ethics.
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The review by G. Sherwood is silly.

He criticizes Weikart's book for not showing how the eugenics movement in the United States provided a model for Hitler. But that's not the concern of Weikart's book, which is to provide an intellectual history of the orgins of Nazism in German social Darwinism.

I disagree with Weikart. I think the title of his book should be "From Haeckel to Darwin," because I think Daniel Gasman has shown conclusively that Ernst Haeckel was the primary ideological influence on Nazism and Hitler. Actually, if you look at the index to Weikart's book, you will see more references to Haeckel than to any other person.

But I agree with Weikart that Hitler and his Nazis exploited an ambiguity in Darwinian biology that could be used to promote racism and eugenics. Hitler was able to use the Darwinian language of "survival of the fittest" to promote his own schemes. This is the dark side of Darwinian science.

The problem is that there is little evidence that Darwin himself promoted Nazi eugenics. In fact, the social Darwinists that influenced the Nazi movement often disagreed with Darwin's account of the natural moral sense, as Weikart indicates.

And yet Weikart does show very clearly the intellectual history of Nazi racism as the product of a distorted Darwinian legacy. For that, we should be grateful.
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