Arts & Culture

Think About The Connection Between Hitler And Darwin

[Ed note: The documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, starring Ben Stein, premiers today. The film purports to show that views on the origins of life and species that dissent from orthodox evolutionary theory have been systematically, well, expelled from the … Read More

By / April 18, 2008

[Ed note: The documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, starring Ben Stein, premiers today. The film purports to show that views on the origins of life and species that dissent from orthodox evolutionary theory have been systematically, well, expelled from the academy. Previous Jewcy coverage of Expelled is here. David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, presents one view of the lessons to be drawn from the film below. Sahotra Sarkar, Professor of Philosophy and Integrative Biology at the University of Texas, presents a counterargument through the link to the right.]

Hitler understood something about Judaism that even many Jews today don’t grasp.

I mention this because you’re soon going to be hearing a lot about a new movie, Expelled, which understands something about Hitler that, in turn, many Jews and non-Jews don’t or don’t want to understand.

Starring comic actor Ben Stein, Expelled is a snarky theatrical documentary about the suppression of American scientists who dissent from Darwinist evolutionary orthodoxy. Controversial stuff. What’s really turning critics apoplectic, though, is the case made in the film that Darwinism inspired the Nazis.

Which, in fact, it did. In Mein Kampf, Hitler used Darwinian language to make his case for racial war against the Jews. He rallied the millions of Germans who bought his bestselling book with an appeal to biology, which, as he argued, revealed certain iron laws of Nature – principally the struggle for supremacy pitting the superior races against the inferior.

Defy Nature, he wrote, and then “whole work of higher breeding, over perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, might be ruined with one blow.” The major Hitler biographers – Toland, Fest, Kershaw, Bullock — all agree on Hitler’s debt to Darwinism.

A gentle soul, Darwin himself never advocated genocide. But in The Descent of Man, he predicted that the logic of natural selection made inevitable something like what Hitler attempted against the Jews:

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.”

What you would not readily foresee from reading Darwin’s writings is that the race requiring extermination would turn out to be us Jews. But Hitler perceived an inner logic in Darwinism that even Charles Darwin didn’t.

In the same chapter of Mein Kampf where the Darwinist flavor is most pronounced – Chapter XI, “Nation and Race” – Hitler comments that while his philosophical outlook is based on respecting Nature’s laws, the Jews with their “effrontery” say the opposite: that “Man’s role is to overcome Nature!”

Hitler notes with disgust that, “Millions thoughtlessly parrot this Jewish nonsense and end up by really imagining that they themselves represent a kind of conqueror of Nature.”

There is, in other words, a Darwinian case for seeing the Jews as the ultimate Enemy. Darwin’s portrait of reality in his books is one where Nature determines all. In The Descent of Man, he explains that even our morality is a product of natural selection just like everything else about us.

The Jews, Hitler wrote, defy nature and call others to do so. This is the characteristic “Jewish nonsense.”

Which bring us to Hitler’s insight into Judaism. He had put his finger on a profound theme in rabbinic literature. The greatest sages of the Jewish past – from the the Maharal of Prague to Moshe Chaim Luzzatto to Samson Raphael Hirsch – taught that overcoming Nature is indeed the Jewish mission.

Practically, this means overcoming our own nature, bending it God’s will. As the Maharal (1525-1609) and others explained, the symbol of this unique Jewish mission is circumcision, a most unnatural thing to do.

We perform the bris specifically on the eighth day of an infant’s life. That’s because in the system of Jewish number symbolism, seven signifies the natural order of the world, which in the Bible’s narrative was created in seven days. The transcendence of this natural order is represented by seven plus one, or eight.

The bris on the male organ became, then, a most logical symbol of Jews and Judaism. A remarkable rabbinic image in the ancient midrashic work Tanchuma tells how the archetypal enemy of the Jews in Scripture, the wickedly nihilistic tribe of Amalek, abused the bodies of slain Jewish males. They would “cut off the circumcised organs and fling them upward,” a sign of contempt for Heaven. (See Rashi’s note on Deuteronomy 25:18.)

Comparing the Nazis with Amalek is common in modern Jewish thought, but some Nazis too saw themselves that way. When Julius Streicher was hung, his last words were to cry out bitterly, “Purim Festival 1946!” It was a reference to the Jewish holiday commemorating the events recounted in the book of Esther.

In the story, a minister in the Persian royal court, Haman, descendant of the Amalekite king Agag, seeks to exterminate the Jews but is executed himself in the end, by hanging. As historian Robert Conot writes in Justice at Nuremberg, this demonstrates Streicher’s “fascination with and knowledge of Judaism.”

Indeed. We could say the same of Hitler.

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