Gasman's The Scientific Origins of National Socialism
By William Walter Kay
Few scholars have influenced culture as much as Prussian-born Professor Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). In the 1860s he hatched the scientific discipline of “Ecology” and the philosophical doctrine of “Monism.” In 1906 Haeckel launched the Monist League, which within a few years recruited several thousand members including many prominent intellectuals.
By 1914, within German-speaking academia, Monists dominated the biological, zoological, and anthropological faculties. In addition to an impressive involvement in the life sciences, Monism shared other similarities with modern environmentalism.
Monists believed their superior knowledge of nature and evolutionary biology afforded them unique insights into social problems.
Monists disparaged “Western Civilization” for the inflated importance it extended to humanity and for invidiously separating Man from Nature.
Monists romanticised primitive cultures and disparaged urban-industrial society.
While Monists cannot be considered leftist, they did oppose capitalism and were particularly militant in their desire to rid the land-use system of the “scourge of capitalist speculation.”
Monists fixated on an elitist and racist population-control/eugenics agenda.
While posturing as hard-headed scientists, Monists described “Nature” in mystical, pantheistic terms. They attributed living qualities, even souls, to inanimate objects and to the world itself. Phrases like “Mother Earth” and “World Soul” appear ubiquitously in their writings.
Believing Christianity to be both an antiquated religion and an impediment to their political agenda, Monists sought to replace it with forms of neo-pagan Nature worship.
Professor Gasman is adamant that:
The modern theory of the totalitarian fascist state was adumbrated by the political and social ideology advanced by Haeckel and his followers. Its (Monism’s) major assumptions and proposals were in all important respects identical with the political and social program of later 20th century National Socialism.
The Scientific Origins of National Socialism came out in 1971 and was re-issued in 2004 with a lengthy new introduction. The original text was written without Gasman, having access to the Haeckel Archives. Two trips to these archives in 1991 to peruse hitherto unseen materials reinforced the connection between Haeckel and fascist ideology and provided grist for a separate text (Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology). Gasman recommends the two texts be studied together.
A condensation of the latter book has already been posted on this website (book review number 31). What follows is a condensation of the 2004 re-issue of the earlier book.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Life and Times of Ecology's Founding Father
Monism as a Political and Religious Ideology
Haeckel's Disciples and Legacy
The Life and Times of Ecology's Founding Father
Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was born February 16, 1834 in Potsdam where his father served as a Prussian state lawyer. As a student Haeckel showed marked racist tendencies. Norwegians were good. Italians were degenerates. He gleefully wrote home to recount how an “insolent Jew boy” had had his faced slashed severely in a ‘duel’ with Haeckel’s gentile classmates.
Haeckel studied Medicine from 1852 to 1858. After a brief practice he accepted a position teaching Zoology at the University of Jena where, in 1861, he received his doctorate in Zoology and was promoted to full professor. The University created a Chair for Haeckel and established a Zoological Institute. While he would reside in Jena for the rest of his life, Haeckel travelled widely, often to primitive locales, which he romanticised as lost paradises.
For the first decades of his life Haeckel, following his father, was a convinced Lutheran, albeit influenced by Friedrich Schleiermacher’s quasi-pantheistic theology. In his late 20s, after heavy moral conflict, Haeckel rejected Christianity as scientifically untenable. He remained a church-goer until age 80 when he cooperated in a Monist League-led ‘leave-the-church’ campaign. Long before his break with Lutheranism Haeckel flaunted a hatred for the “absolute mental despotism” of Catholicism.
By age 80 Haeckel had been accorded membership in almost 100 professional and scientific societies from around the world. In Germany he was the uncontested voice of science and he carried great weight in matters outside science as well. His greatest influence was in anthropology and eugenics, where nearly all leading figures in Germany were deeply and openly indebted to Haeckel for most of their ideas.
Haeckel’s biography interlaces the Second Reich (1871-1918) and its protagonist Otto von Bismarck. Haeckel’s pre-Second Reich comments sound almost “liberal” such as his denouncing “the thirty-six parasitic robber princes” for obstructing German unification. Haeckel undertook promulgating Darwinism in part to emancipate Germany from its medieval priestly tyranny. As German liberalism listed rightward, so did Haeckel.
Even his early liberalism would be unrecognizable today. During an 1860 visit to Paris he found Napoleon III’s dictatorship quite bearable. Less bearable was watching the “inferior French” reap the benefits of national unification while Germans remained hobbled under fragmentation.
In the 1880s, after Bismarck identified socialism as Germany’s main menace, Haeckel clicked his heels and set about demonstrating the aristocratic, non-egalitarian character of Nature’s laws.
(In 1892, when Prince Bismarck visited the University of Jena, students unbridled the horses from his carriage so they could have the honour of pulling it. During his keynote address at the subsequent dinner, Haeckel called for a one-party state.)
After On the Origin of the Species was translated into German (1860) Darwinism became the focus of Haeckel’s professional life. He dubbed his homespun evolutionary theory “Monism” to contrast it with traditional thought, which he disdainfully labelled “Dualism” for wrongly distinguishing Matter from Spirit and for invidiously separating Man from Nature. Monism debuted in the mid-1860s, garnering popularity with both progressives and mystics, its Darwinism attracting people of a scientific bent, its idealist-mystical content winning over theologians and novelists.
In 1863 Haeckel defended evolution before the 38th Congress of German Naturalists. Going beyond Darwin, who had not yet committed himself regarding human origins, Haeckel argued not only had humans evolved from animals but human societies were governed by evolutionary laws.
Evolutionary theory pre-dates the 1860s. Earlier in the century Nature-philosophers and Lamarckians advanced theories of organic evolution. In his two-volume General Morphology (1866) Haeckel sought to bring Nature-philosophy into harmony with modern science. He declared “all true science is Nature-philosophy.” (These volumes also introduced “ecology” as a novel branch of science.)
(Nature-philosophy was Romanticism’s scientific subsidiary. Romanticism, or the Counter-Enlightenment, contended that religion, mankind, and nationalism lay beyond the scope of reason. They substituted Nature for God. Nature-philosophers intuitively quested after all-encompassing cosmic laws. The laboratory successes of experimental-empirical science exposed Nature-philosophy as idle pondering and undermined core Romantic tenets regarding the mystical unity of Man and Nature. Neo-Romantics, bemoaning how science profaned the sacred, levelled the same criticisms at technology that their forebears levelled at the Enlightenment.)
While General Morphology was not a hit, two subsequent popularizations of evolution (1868 and 1874) made Haeckel Germany’s most famous scientist. In addition to popularizations, Haeckel published an extraordinary number of ecological/zoological papers related to classification and evolution. His passion for microscopic sea organisms bordered on adulation.
Haeckel promoted several spurious theories. He believed, without evidence, in the ongoing spontaneous generation of life from inorganic matter. As well, following Goethe (whom he followed at least as much as Darwin) Haeckel subscribed to “Pan-Psychism,” i.e. the belief in a World Soul. Haeckel’s Gastraea Theory contended all multicellular life descended from a specific, never to be discovered, multi-cellular organism. His Biogenetic Law asserted that the embryonic development of a fetus exactly replicates the evolutionary journey followed by that fetus’s species. He resorted to fraudulent anatomical drawings to prove the Biogenetic Law. Biology was led astray by Haeckel’s wonky theories for decades after his death.
His students carried on his pseudo-science tradition. Hans Driesch became an important theoretician of the now-rejected theory of Vitalism. Richard Semon became a leading advocate of the similarly debunked Neo-Lamarckian school.
Haeckel co-founded one of Germany’s most militant, nationalistic, and anti-Semitic organizations: the Pan-German League. While PGL membership consisted of a small corps of academics, it exerted enormous influence. From the 1880s onward PGL promoted German territorial expansion, not merely for markets and materials but with a view to global domination. Johannes Unold (later Monist League Vice President) wrote PGL tracts arguing for British and American influence to be supplanted across South America. Haeckel dreamed of a Germany with vast European and African possessions.
Haeckel’s opus, Riddle of the Universe (1899), sold 100,000 copies in its first year and went through 10 editions by 1919. Riddle was translated into 25 languages. By 1933 half a million copies were sold in Germany alone. Haeckel, an admirer of Luther, called for another religious Reformation leading to a “religion of evolution.” Riddle became Germany’s anti-Christian primer.
In 1900 the oligarch Alfred Krupp selected Haeckel to be the principal judge of an essay competition. Essayists answered the question:
“What can we learn from the principles of Darwinism for application to inner political development and the laws of the state?”
This contest led to the publication of ten volumes of Social-Darwinist tracts.
As Germany’s self-appointed Darwinist-in-Chief, Haeckel transformed German Darwinism beyond recognition. His mystical faith in Nature and his transferring of evolutionary biology into the social realm denied Germany a true Darwinian revolution. Nevertheless, Haeckel’s Darwinism became one of the most powerful forces in German intellectual history.
Haeckel contended that Germans had evolved the furthest from the primary ape-man. He considered the differences between southern African tribes and northern Europe’s Germanic races to be more significant than the differences between sheep and goats. “Woolly-haired Negroes” were capable of neither true culture nor high mental development. Here’s a typical Haeckel quote:
“Cultural and psychological differences that separate the highest developed European peoples from the lowest savages are greater than the differences that separate the savages from the anthropoid apes.”
Haeckel was not Germany’s original, or main, populariser of racism. A few decades after Alsatian Count Arthur de Gobineau published The Inequality of the Human Race (1853) his ideas appeared in Germany under new guises. The founder of the Gobineau Society, Ludwig Schemann, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain were more effective German racists than Haeckel. However, Haeckel lent scientific authority to the cause and forged links between academia and racism.
Haeckel’s Monist League (est. 1906) was not officially anti-Semitic and even had Jewish members. At the same time, there were many anti-Semitic activists in the League, not the least of whom was Haeckel himself, who dragged the “Jewish question” into the realm of biology. According to Haeckel, Jews developed nefarious racial traits that enabled them to survive as a rootless race. Anti-Semitism was a legitimate response to Jewish behaviour and Germany’s renaissance would justifiably generate more. To Haeckel the Jewish question was a racial, not a religious problem; nonetheless, his solution was compulsory assimilation (except for the incorrigibly “filthy and outlandish Russian Jews”).
Much of Haeckel’s writing dwelled at the intersection of science and religion as exemplified in his tome Religion and Science (1892). His disciples christened him “the greatest theologian the world has ever seen.” Haeckel posed as mechanistic materialist, but his writings betray a Romantic-religious bias. His Theo-physics (1914) expounded on his evolutionary religion. The deity Mother Nature appears prominently in his writings, as do calls for a pantheistic church led by biological elites. The fantastical idealism ingrained in his superficial naturalism is glaringly demonstrated in his Pan-Psychism. Haeckel insisted:
“The distinction that has been made between animate and inanimate bodies does not exist.”
“Desire and dislike, lust and antipathy and repulsion are common to all atoms.”
Every atom had a soul. The universe too was a living organism.
The following quotes from Haeckel further demonstrate his basic religiosity:
“All is Nature and Nature is All.”
“… the goddess of truth dwells in the temple of nature, in the green woods, on the blue sea, and the snowy summits of the hills.”
“The Monistic idea of God, which alone is compatible with our present knowledge of nature, recognises the divine spirit in all things.”
“God is everywhere.”
“God is almighty; He is the single Creator, the single Cause of all things … God is absolute perfection … God is the sum of all energy and matter.”
“Monism alone understands the true unity of nature and God.”
“Nature is all soul.”
Haeckel’s oft-repeated “soul quality of nature” phrase was a Theosophy trope. The German-speaking world’s premier Theosophist, Rudolf Steiner, believed:
“Haeckel’s phylogenetic thought is now the most significant achievement of German intellectual life in the second half of the 19th century.”
The two men corresponded and shared a common outlook, but Haeckel ultimately broke off the relationship, eschewing Theosophy’s superstitious stigma.
Most Haeckelians were active in the German Free-Thought Movement (est. 1881) with many evincing fanatical hatred of Christianity. In 1904, like Haeckel, they were aghast by the Second Reich’s rapprochement with the Catholic Centre Party. In this year Haeckel proposed a ‘Monist League’ to the International Free-Thought Congress in Rome. Two years later the League was formally launched under the presidency of Lutheran theologian Dr. Albert Kalthoff – a devout Haeckelian. In 1908 a dozen German Free-Thought organizations coalesced into the Weimar Cartel to organize a leave-the-church campaign. Monists populated the Cartel’s top tier.
By 1911 the Monist League had 6,000 members spread across chapters in 42 German and Austrian cities and towns. Their 1911 International Congress in Hamburg attracted delegates from around the world. By 1912 their monthly journal was a weekly and a separate journal targeted youth. These publications accompanied innumerable semi-official Monist journals, books, and pamphlets, each imparting a moody pessimism born of a dread of imminent social collapse.
Upon the outbreak of WWI (1914) Haeckel threw himself into patriotic activity; signing a notorious pro-war manifesto. While Haeckel blamed “treacherous England” for the war, he had earlier preferred a London-Berlin axis. Moreover, the crimes he accused “despotic Britain” of committing consisted of conduct he had defended as justifiable Social-Darwinian practices.
While some pacifist Monists refused to support the war, most, following Haeckel, welcomed war, both as an opportunity to rescue Germans from the conditions denying them an empire and to internally transform Germany. Immediately upon the commencement of hostilities, League President Ostwald (a renowned German expansionist) placed a vitriolic manifesto on the Monist journal’s front page. Monist slogans included: Deutschland uber Alles, Monists to the Front, and Defend the Fatherland. A published Monist poem called for slaughtering Germany’s enemies in the millions.
During the war, the English compounded their crimes with the unpardonable sin of bringing alien races from around their empire to the Western Front. Regarding Britain’s bastard child and ally, the USA, Haeckel could barely contain himself. In his book Eternity he refused to mention this hopelessly mongrelized country by name, calling it instead “Columbana.”
Nearing the war’s conclusion, Haeckel issued ever-more-emphatic proto-Nazi pronouncements. Despite having nine nephews and grandnephews killed or wounded, he remained committed to victory at any price. The British Navy had to be sunk, London occupied by the German Army, and a United States of Europe convened with Kaiser Wilhelm at the helm.
In 1917 Haeckel supported the new Fatherland Party of Wolfgang Kapp and Admiral Tirpitz, who shared Haeckel’s antipathy to peace. Many Fatherland men found their way into Nazi ranks. (Supporters of the 1920 Kapp Putsch quoted Haeckel in their propaganda.)
Germany’s capitulation in 1918 shocked and horrified Haeckel. The subsequent November Revolution left him hostile and cynical. He forecast a flood of “yellow Mongolians” inundating Germany. The proximate threat was home-grown German socialism. His final breaths (he died August 1919) denounced Jena’s workers’ committees whom he feared, among other things, would cut funding for his beloved University.
Under Haeckel’s guidance (1906-1919) the Monist League was proto-fascist. During the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) the League shifted toward liberalism and even sympathy for the Soviet Union. With the Nazi rise to power (1933) the League’s original character reasserted itself, with those Monists who had been closest to Haeckel expressing deep loyalty to Nazism.
Monism as a Political and Religious Ideology
Monism was a distinctively German ideology promising liberation from “French” democracy and “English” capitalism and from the excessive rationalism, cosmopolitanism and, above all, humanism of “Western Civilization.” Monists sought to scientifically discredit humanism, particularly its notion that Man could lay unique claim to a soul. As well, Monists denied the humanist tenet that Man could transcend his animal essence. The Monist’s alternative philosophy, based on evolutionary biology, would re-align Germans with nature and counter the West’s rebellion against biological destiny.
In rejecting democracy, Monists deployed hackneyed conservative stereotypes about irresponsible lazy masses too obsessed with mundane physical needs to care about higher affairs. The masses were incapable of sound political judgement and were easily swayed by promises and flattery. The Monist’s right-wing faction considered government by majority vote to be the scariest spectre haunting Europe. They advocated restricting the voting franchise so that those with the greatest intelligence could determine the outcome of elections.
Monists reiterated well-worn 19th century maxims in support of: a) a powerful centralized state; b) a hierarchically organized society; and c) a frozen class structure. A Monist state controlled by biological elites would bring, among other benefits, an end to the divisive party politics.
Monists shared an abiding faith in the efficacy of authoritarian organizations, and they aggressively refuted liberal assumptions regarding civil rights, constitutionalism, free speech, the rule of law, and the separation of individual and state. Individuals should sacrifice themselves to the state and should not oppose central authorities. Germans must learn to subordinate themselves to their nation and adapt to policy frameworks no matter how immoral they seem. Freedom meant submission to authority. Haeckel declared “free will” to be an illusion disproven by evolutionary law.
Monists rejected liberalism’s cardinal economic tenet of allowing people to pursue their self-perceived financial best interests. Individuals must suppress greedy impulses. Economic policy should centre on the good of the race, not the individual.
Regarding land issues Monists claimed to be combatting the aristocracy, but their main concern was ending urbanization and farmland shortages. Monists, like their Volkish allies, wanted a peasantry secure from eviction and slum-dwellers relocated into the countryside. They denounced the “Manchester School’s” conception of land as a commodity. They wanted to rid the land-use system of the scourge of capitalist speculation.
Most Volkish leaders were connected ideologically and/or personally to Haeckel. He brought the full weight of his scientific gravitas down on the side of Volkism’s irrational, mystical idealism. Monists waxed about the spiritual union of the Volk and the cosmic life force. Monists and Volkists both embraced conservative social theory, i.e. a people (Volk) were not an aggregate sand pile of loose granules but an organic unity. On the other hand, while Volkists sought an escape from industrial reality into idyllic medieval communities, Haeckel accepted industrialism. (Many Monists were Volkish-style rural utopians as evidenced by the Monist League’s 1912 Congress proposal to establish rural cooperatives. However, this led to a single aborted project.)
Although the similarities between Marxism and Monism have been exaggerated, there was some commonality between the two programs, namely: a) a vow to destroy religion; b) opposition to liberalism; c) a professed commitment to materialistic determinism; and d) a belief in struggle as history’s driving force.
Haeckel angrily denied any connection with Marxism. He considered Monism and Marxism as disparate as fire and water and railed against the “fathomless absurdity” of socialist leveling.
Marxists, unlike Monists, found it ludicrous to seek ethical guidelines from the laws of the jungle. For Marxists morality meant rising above animal instincts. Marxists found it amusing that Charles Darwin discovered British social-economic characteristics (cut-throat competition and forced innovation) in nature while German Darwinists projected an aristocratic Romantic philosophy onto the wilds. Darwinism was malleable. Moreover, Marxists, unlike Monists, celebrated industry’s conquest of nature.
Monists, unlike Marxists, believed culture to be determined not by economics but by the “germ plasm” of the citizenry. Monists as “conservative revolutionaries” rejected any talk of human equality. Monists as “national socialists” reached out not to the working class but to the peasantry and middle class. Germany needed a cultural, not a social, revolution. Germany needed a new religion, not a new class structure. Monists advanced a third way between capitalism and socialism.
Hence Monists had a love-hate relationship with the German Social Democratic Party (SDP). Some Monists were SDP members and the SPD cooperated in Monist-led anti-church campaigns. Monists preached to semi-educated proletarians at SDP Workers Institutes whose curricula were freighted with Monist content. However, SPD goals (revolution, cosmopolitanism, and nationalization of industry) were rejected by Monists.
Monists were among the first Germans to formulate a race-based imperialism, certainly the first to deploy biological jargon in support of such policies. Their internationalism was mere sloganeering. Internationalism was to be pursued through a powerful pan-German state. They extended a similar perfunctory support to pacifism. Haeckel clarified his declaration, “I am on principle a pacifist,” by stating that pacifism could succeed only in compliance with evolutionary laws whereby fit nations dominated unfit ones. Monists denied the international objectivity of science. Each nation discovered nature in its own way.
Lurking beneath Monists’ progressive-sounding education theories lay a program to undermine the humanistic tradition of liberal arts education. The study of humanities needed to be eclipsed by the study of nature. Knowledge of the natural world gave such superior insights into social problems, all political analysis had to be expressed in biological terms. Biology needed to be crowned monarch of the sciences.
Monists demanded evolutionary doctrine be applied practically. Politics was applied biology. They sought a biological guide to social reorganization unhampered by humanitarian illusions. In lectures, pamphlets, and books they argued humanitarianism led to biological deterioration. Monists foresaw a Germany overrun by feebleminded drunks who broke laws for fun.
Because the main goal of politics was ensuring the reproduction of the fittest citizens, sexual behaviour had to be strictly controlled. The poor were assumed to be biologically unfit and the economically successful were assumed to possess favourable hereditary characteristics. The “worry children” of the state, the “human weeds” (criminals, alcoholics, and the very poor), had to be prevented from passing on their hereditary qualities. The destruction of abnormal new-borns was not murder. The chronically ill should not be treated. Haeckel described diseases as though they were demons, and he mocked the idea that all diseases had cures.
In apparent contradiction, Monists vented full fury on Malthusian fears of general overpopulation. Malthusian ideas were “a spiritual epidemic” with the capacity to “murder a nation.” At the same time Monists wanted colonies to absorb Germany’s overpopulation, and they were convinced Asia was overpopulated.
Swiss eugenicist and Monist Dr. August Forel resolved this apparent contradiction when he claimed science knew “… which races can be of service in the further evolution of mankind and which are useless. And if the lower races are useless, how can they be gradually extinguished.”
This coincided with Haeckel’s teachings:
“… the theory of natural selection teaches that in human life, as in animal and plant life everywhere, and at all times, only a small and chosen minority can exist and flourish, while the enormous majority starve and perish miserably and more or less prematurely.”
Monists wanted the German population to increase; other people – not so much. The preservation of culturally capable races was a more worthwhile endeavour than elevating lesser races.
Monist’s wanted healthy German couples who remained childless to be forced to remarry and have kids. Birth control would be restricted to the unfit. For the fit, motherhood would be glorified. League member Helene Stocker (the first German woman to earn a PhD) founded the Bund for Mother Defence to clarify feminine rights and obligations. She contended women could not play the same roles as men due to biological differences between the sexes. This approach, and her emphasis on preventing the unfit from breeding, foreshadowed the Nazi’s women’s program.
Monists denied the existence of a personal God. They dismissed conventional religions as superstitions. The pathways for such thinking were cleared by ground-breaking tomes like Strauss’s The Life of Jesus (1835) and Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity (1841), which affirmed the mythological character of Christianity.
Considering Christianity to be the principal impediment to the victory of science, Monists demanded it be replaced or transformed. Supported by the Tubingen School of Theologians, Monists carried on a century-old tradition of promoting pagan and occult alternatives. While Catholicism was their main target, they also lamented the stodginess and shallowness of Lutheranism.
To Monists “Cosmos” and “Nature” became synonymous with “God.” They stressed the immanence of spirit in matter and affirmed an unshatterable attachment to Nature in incantations like:
“Nature unites us and holds us together with unbreakable bonds; it is the motherly womb from which we have sprung; it is the ocean in which our lives are absorbed.”
“The more fundamentally man contemplates nature, all the more deep and exalted is the feeling of interrelatedness with all of organic nature, the more he feels that nature is his homeland and that it can become the basis for his own life.”
Monists campaigned to replace Christian ceremonies with ritualistic excursions into the countryside. Faith was affirmed through the loving study of the holy German countryside. They expressed deep emotional bonds to German wilderness and soil. They were content only whilst submerged in the wonders of living Nature.
Art too needed to be immersed in mystical empathy with Nature. As ever, Haeckel led the way, producing 1,500 paintings, mostly spontaneously executed watercolours stylistically rooted in 19th century landscape Romanticism. Haeckel’s compendium of somewhat demonic animal drawings, Art Forms in Nature (1899), was ironically copied by the Art Nouveau milieu – a school he disparaged.
Monists enthusiastically embraced sun worship, with League President Ostwald opining, “The sun is the mother of all of us.” Haeckel concurred:
“Sun worship seems to be the best of all forms of theism and the one which may be most easily reconciled with modern Monism.”
Monists celebrated solstices in rituals where prayers to Mother Sun were as common as pledges to Wodan, Mother Earth, and national regeneration. The sun also symbolized Germany’s reawakening and appeared ubiquitously in Volkish posters, often with its rays enveloping athletic blondes.
Monists applied their theology to the war effort. Monist soldiers consigned their destinies to the blind chance ruling the Cosmos and accepted death with reasoned resignation. Monist soldiers leapt into battle, sacrificing themselves for the Aryan race.
Haeckel's Disciples and Legacy
Monism’s pseudo-scientific eugenics constituted a major theoretical basis for the Third Reich. State officials flaunted doctrines allegedly derived from evolutionary biology. The Third Reich billed itself as the “biological will of the people” and Nazi doctrine as “political biology.” Innumerable scholarly journals linked the German renaissance to biology, and Darwinism formed part of the educational curriculum. (However, officials downplayed humanity’s animal origin possibly because acknowledging Aryans had evolved from a common pool of anthropoid progenitors conflicted with claims that Aryans had been superior since the dawn of time.)
While Haeckel never figured in Nazi propaganda as a major prophet of National Socialism on par with Lagarde or Chamberlain, Nazi leaders did credit him with developing Nazi doctrine, especially regarding eugenics, and for being a model blond and blue Aryan. A survey of the careers of Haeckel’s disciples establishes his contribution to Nazism beyond doubt.
Top Haeckel disciple Wilhelm Shallmayer was awarded first prize (by Haeckel) in the above-mentioned Krupp-financed Social-Darwinist essay competition in 1900. Shallmayer went on to co-found the Monist League and become Germany’s most renowned eugenicist.
Another disciple, Ludwig Woltman, won fourth prize in the essay competition but so hotly contested the judges’ decision he permanently alienated his mentor. Woltman would go on to found the Political Anthropology Review and write several books wherein he appropriated class struggle rhetoric for use in the race struggle. He contended Germans’ unsurpassed capacity for spirituality made them humanity’s highest race.
Prominent anthropologist Otto Ammon was among the few authors Haeckel recommended in Riddle of the Universe. Ammon’s views closely paralleled Haeckel’s, with both men stressing that natural laws governed social laws. In obvious imitation of Haeckel, Ammon argued a Darwinist religion must be incorporated into every facet of life and wedded to a revived Germanic tribalism.
Alexander Tille, who freely borrowed Haeckelian concepts regarding the aristocratic character of Nature and the biological roots of social inequality, became the public relations manager for business societies in Berlin and Saarbrucken. Tille fully acknowledged his debt to Haeckel.
Leading “racial hygienist” and Monist Alfred Ploetz advocated sending biologically unfit men to the frontlines as cannon fodder. Ploetz also called for establishing medical boards to police procreation. In 1904 he founded the Archive of Racial Biology under the editorial command of future Nazi scientists Eugen Fischer and Fritz Lenz. Another Archive editor, Ludwig Plate, was a close colleague of Haeckel who assumed Haeckel’s Chair in Zoology at Jena. The Archive’s first issue was dedicated to Haeckel – the prophet of political biology. The Archive (published until 1944) was a chief vehicle for Nazi eugenics.
Ernst Krause, Haeckel’s co-editor of the popular pro-Darwinist journal Kosmos, penned a biography of Darwin and several books on evolutionary theory. Writings on Aryanism made Krause an imposing figure in the Volkish movement. He claimed Plato was a German.
The persuasive Friedrichshagen Circle literary clique (named after a Berlin suburb) contained two founding Monist League members, Bruno Wille and Wilhelm Boelsche, whose pantheistic novels, essays, and criticism circulated widely. Both were close to Haeckel, both wrote glowing biographies of him. The Circle also encompassed: Fidus (illustrator), Gerhardt Hauptmann (novelist), and Moeller van den Bruck – author of the prophetic The Third Reich, whose wife was a pivotal Monist League activist.
Best-selling novelist and youth movement leader Willibald Hentschel studied under Haeckel in pursuit of his Zoology degree. Hentschel mentored a right-wing youth group named after the Aryan god Artam. The Artamamen, Weimar Germany’s most significant racist-utopian youth group, dreamed of a racially pure peasantry fashioned after the nobility of blood. Artamamen professed a religious intimacy with German soil and often took up residence in rural areas to work as farm-hands. Many Artamamen ended up in the SS, notably: SS Commander Heinrich Himmler, Auschwitz Commander Rudolf Hoess, and Nazi Agriculture Minister Walter Darre. Hentschel’s friend and collaborator, Theodor Fritz, published the notorious anti-Semitic Hammer Verlag. Hentschel advocated setting up breeding colonies for Aryans.
Eugen Diederichs located his first publishing venture in Jena from where he disseminated Monism via books and brochures but most effectively through his quasi-Monist journal Die Tat (est. 1912). Diederichs also organized a group to promote sun worship and Germanic mythology. His entourage enthusiastically joined the Nazi Party.
Vienna’s Dr. Georg Lanz von Liebenfels frequently contributed to a semi-official Monist journal and published another magazine advancing his pet theory that only blondes were truly human. He obsessed over blonde women being ravished by dark races in books with titles like Theo-Zoology.
Hermann Rohleder, a leader in the Monist League’s Leipzig branch, published a volume on racial anthropology in 1918 dedicated to Haeckel “with deepest honour.” Rohleder advocated experimental cross-breeding between humans and apes.
Another Haeckel disciple and Monist League co-founder, the notoriously reactionary educator Ludwig Gurlitt, conjured the Wandervogel youth movement into existence in the early years of the 20th century. Gurlitt chaired the Wandervogel’s inaugural advisory council. (In 1906 a separate Monist youth group was launched and integrated into the larger youth movement.)
Another Monist League co-founder, Georg Hirth, used his position as editor of the youth magazine Jugend to bombard German youth with Haeckelian ideas. In 1904, to celebrate Haeckel’s 70th birthday, an entire issue of Jugend was devoted to their prophet of Nature worship.
In 1903 Monist League co-founder Wilhelm Schwaner, a key figure in anti-Christian/pagan organizations, published a popular compilation of patriotic writings and led an almost successful effort to unite the entire youth movement at the Wandervogel’s famous Hole Meissner convention. After 1920 his crusade was carried on by Mathilde Ludendorff, who in turn directly swayed Nazi religious policy.
In 1933 Heinrich Schmidt, editor of Haeckel’s collected works, launched a Nature-philosophy journal, Nature and Spirit, dedicated to National Socialist ideals. The journal expressed a fawning admiration of Hitler, rejoiced in the unity of Monism and Nazism, and delved deeply into eugenics. According to Schmidt:
“(Haeckel’s) biological thought which is bound to nature is enjoying a startling, energetic resurrection in the new Reich. The religious revolution of the present moves very much along the same lines as his simple but equally sublime religion of nature.”
At the 1934 celebrations in Jena commemorating the centennial of Haeckel’s birth, Zoology Professor Victor Franz proclaimed Darwinism to be the intellectual treasure of the Nazi state. He linked Darwinism to a poem from the pamphlet Was Will Adolf Hitler? At the same celebration Professor Gerhard Heberer, an SS man, dubbed Haeckel “the prophet of National Socialism.”
An article in a 1934 issue of Der Biologe praised Haeckel as a pioneer of Nazism. In the same year, distinguished Nazi Biology Professor Ernst Lehmann lauded Haeckel as a spiritual revolutionaryand credited him for the growth and diffusion of Nazism.
In 1942 scholars centred at Haeckel Haus founded the Ernst Haeckel Society under the protection of the Nazi Governor of Thuringia (a man later condemned to death at Nuremburg). Society members were a who’s who of Nazi academics including the above-mention Professor Heberer and University of Jena Rector Dr. Karl Astel. (Hans Gunther, the leading Nazi anthropologist, also hailed from Jena U.)
Supreme Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg acknowledged his debt to Haeckel. Rosenberg’s mentor, a school principal and self-described Naturalist, sent his only son to Jena to study under Haeckel. Monism provided the foundation of Rosenberg’s anti-Christian views, his quirky scientific philosophy, and his adulation of hereditary biology.
Hereditary biological analogies pervaded Heinrich Himmler’s mind. He deployed his training in agricultural genetics when selecting SS officers. Himmler considered himself as operating entirely within the realm of science while espousing the signature mystical reverence of Nature.
Despite the obvious overlap between Hitler’s and Haeckel’s worldviews the Fuhrer rarely mentioned the professor. Hitler was well acquainted with Monist guru Wilhelm Boelsche’s writings, and he had been profoundly influenced by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen – another avowed Haeckelian who glorified Nature and pre-Christian Europe.
Like nearly all Germans, Hitler saw Darwinism through Haeckel’s distorted lens. When Hitler invoked “Darwin” he was actually quoting Haeckel. Hitler embraced “Darwinism” in the second decade of the 20th century when Haeckel’s views enjoyed their widest circulation. Being a voracious reader, Hitler must have read classics like Riddle, etc.
Hitler and Haeckel both elevated evolution to a religion, and both bemoaned Man’s violation of natural law. Both men understood science to mean a literal reading of Nature, an unwrapping of the irrevocable laws of the awe-inspiring universe. Hitler’s Darwinism was a sacralisation of Nature. Like Haeckel, he acknowledged no gap between organic and inorganic realms. Like Haeckel, he thought of himself as firmly rooted in the modern scientific tradition. His views not only coincided with Haeckel’s, they were often expressed in nearly identical language. Here are a few juxtaposed quotes:
Haeckel: “One must start by accepting the principle that nature herself gives all the necessary indications and that therefore one must follow the rules that she has laid down.”
Hitler: “As in everything, nature is the best instructor,” and, “Nothing that is made of flesh and blood can escape the laws which determine its coming into being. As soon as the human mind believes itself superior to them, it destroys the real substance which is the bearer of the mind.”
Haeckel: “Among the Spartans all newly born children were subject to a careful examination and selection. All those that were weak, sickly, or affected with any bodily infirmity were killed. Only the perfectly healthy and strong among the children were allowed to live and they alone afterwards propagated the race.”
Hitler: “Sparta must be regarded as the first Volkish state. The exposure of the sick, weak, deformed children, in short their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day that preserves the most pathological subject.”
Haeckel: “Mental differences between the lower men and the animals are less than those between the lowest and the highest man.”
Hitler: “Differences which exist between the lowest so-called men and the highest races is greater than that between the lowest men and highest apes.”
For both men Christianity was a principal culprit. In the early 1940s Hitler opined:
“We shan’t be able to go on evading this religion problem much longer. If anyone thinks it’s really essential to build the life of human society on a foundation of lies, well, in my estimation such a society is not worth preserving. If, on the other hand, one believes that truth is the indispensable foundation, then conscience bids one intervene in the name of truth and exterminate the lie.”
In Table Talk Hitler dwelt on the evils of Christianity. The Church’s preaching against natural law had destroyed Imperial Rome and imperilled Germany. The Church’s imposition of inconsistent dogmas constituted the worst repression mankind had undergone. Christianity was “the invention of sick brains.” Christianity made a mockery of the noble idea of the God-head.
For both men the worst period of European history coincided with the ascendency of the papacy. Both contended Christ was the illegitimate child of a Roman soldier. Both railed about the affront to science which Christianity represented and about how Darwinism was Christianity’s nemesis. Hitler condemned Christians for opposing the teaching of evolution, which he considered to be the hallmark of modern science and which he defended as tenaciously as had Haeckel. According to the Fuhrer, Christianity’s replacement could only be pantheism:
“Man has discovered in nature the wonderful notion of that all-mighty being whose law he worships. Fundamentally in everyone there is the feeling for this all-mighty, which we call god (that is to say, the dominion of natural laws throughout the whole universe).”
The Monist-Nazi connection has been covered up. After WWII Jena, and with it the Haeckel archives, became the property of the East German Marxist officials who reinvented Haeckel as a progressive materialistic philosopher. More recently, Western academics launched a concerted effort to scrub from Haeckel any stain of Nazism. The latter effort began in 1978 when the (West) German Association of Historians of Medicine re-cast Haeckel as a non-racist liberal. Shortly thereafter, revisionists emerged in the English-speaking world to defend Haeckel.
Critics of the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming hypothesis must by necessity cling to the persisting redoubts within the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge which still acknowledge the potential for erroneous, politically-motivated orthodoxies to overtake complete branches of science. Once severed from the tree of knowledge, such branches are whittled into bludgeons for battering “deniers.” Arguments from in-house dogmatists begin and end with clobberings about how theirs is the dominant position within their specialized field. Climatology is not unique – Cosmology, Theoretical Physics, and Conservation Biology clunk about in the same sack of cudgels. While, generally speaking, Evolutionary Biology cannot be numbered among the deceitful doctrines de jour, it is sobering to remember that openly racist forms of Darwinism and Anthropology, now censored as hate speech, were but a few short generations ago unassailable academic conventions.
Gasman’s contention that Nazi ideologists downplayed Homo sapiens’ animal origins because they thought this assertion conflicted with Aryanism is inadequate. Revisiting Tennessee’s famous Scopes “monkey trial” will remind the reader that Darwinism, at the time, remained hotly contested by mainstream churches. An alternative explanation of the Nazi propaganda strategy regarding evolution is simply that Nazi leaders did not want to further alienate powerful clerics. This in turn retrieves an important but suppressed memory, i.e. mainline churches were bulwarks of fascism despite the fact that vanguards within the fascist parties had moved beyond Christianity to pantheism. This religious schism persists as a principal contradiction within eco-fascism.
Scholarly scruple requires relaying one aberrant passage from Gasman’s text:
“Pre-Nazi Social-Darwinism was not a phenomenon of the conservative right, nor was it the outcome of conventional right-wing conservative political thought.”
This quote in no way jibes with dozens of other passages from the same book where Gasman accurately stresses how Haeckelianism, Monism, “pre-Nazi Social Darwinism,” etc. were contiguous extensions of traditional conservatism. Fascism must be understood as a 1920s rebranding of what was hitherto known as “reaction” and/or “conservatism.” Of course, the waters have since been occluded by meandering definitions of “liberalism” and “conservatism.”
Another failing of Gasman is his inability to connect Monism to Germany’s landed interest. On innumerable occasions he defines German Social Darwinism as an aristocratic creed, but he remains oblivious to the towering role a flesh-and-blood aristocracy played in German culture. This brings us to the principal and most frustrating blind spot blighting contemporary environmental movement analysis:
Capitalism and democracy did not emerge from a centuries-old struggle against socialism as millennial libertarians seem to believe. No, the modern world emerged bloodied and bruised from an inconclusive brawl with landlordism. A desperate drive by the landed interest to prevent their principal assets from being commoditised is environmentalism’s motor. Should we ever be blessed with open land markets, landlordism would all but disappear; and while the masses appear innocently unaware of this possibility, the land barons (public sector pension fund managers among them) are vigilantly mindful of it.
Except for the conclusion, all pertinent facts and clever turns of phrase in this posting are from:
Gasman, Daniel. The Scientific Origins of National Socialism, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 2004.