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. Examples include:
-killing the disabled,
-killing off the old or weak,
-separation of the `unfit',
-sterilisation of the `unfit',
-equating physical health with moral superiority,
-ascribing physical abnormalities as throwbacks to `lower' animals,
-confidence in the ability of scientists to categorise and physically measure `might', and `value';
- Aryan race ideas, (Nietzsche's `Dionysian'),
-`providence' equating with the `holy law of evolution'; (used by Hitler),
-the `inferior' `parasitising' the `superior',
-`struggle for space'
-`progress' through destruction,
-`living space' and population expansion with racial struggle,
-blonde hair-blue eye superiority,
-`struggle of annihilation',
-`Teuton' superiority (Hitler preferred `Aryan' to `Teuton'),
-medical experimentation of the 'unfit',
-the glorification of war for race,
the list goes on and on. All of these ideas, before Hitler and the Nazis ever came to power. This book is an excellent, careful and detailed analysis of the development of these ideas in late 19th-early 20th century Germany.
The presence of so many widespread Nazi-type ideas, well before World War 1 and the interwar years, also helps to explain how many ordinary Germans allowed the Nazis to get into power and get away with so much; the `soil was prepared' by intellectuals in Germany for decades, and Hitler read many of the works of these intellectuals.
However, in his claim that Darwinism led to Hitler and Nazism, one major criticism is that Weikart doesn't spend much time in attempting to make a connection between the actual Darwinian `data', and Nazism/Hitler. Weikart does say that the path from Darwin to Hitler is tortuous and convoluted, but he is of the opinion, that the idea of `Darwinian natural selection' and its implications, even a perverted/distorted form of it, ultimately led, one way or another, to Hitler and Nazi ideology. To repeat, he doesn't spend much time actually investigating the data or its distortions, either psychologically or scientifically, rather, he mostly limits himself to overviews of the development and beliefs of the various eugenicists themselves.
The distortion of biological data into Social Darwinism, eugenics, and ultimately, Nazism in the 19th -early 20th century is an age-old IS/OUGHT issue. Just because something happens in nature, such as lightning, radioactivity, cancerous cells, or wasteful death by `blundering' natural selection (as Darwin himself put it), doesn't mean we humans, or nature itself for that matter, somehow `condones' these things. This issue is barely discussed, but it is the KEY issue. Just because something IS, doesn't mean it OUGHT to be, promoted by humans, or otherwise. This was the mistake of German intellectuals, Weikart barely discusses this process, only describing how intellectuals in late 19th -early 20th century routinely equated `is' with `ought' in their ideology. Perhaps the problem then, was a widespread and accepted, extreme type of socialist-determinism, within both science and culture, rather than a problem with `Darwinism' itself (?).
The German Social Eugenicists infused the scientific data with politics, occasionally overturning the data with politics (eg Haeckel's 12 races diagram p107, which `shows' that `lower' humans are closer to the apes than `higher' humans are to `lower' humans). The data doesn't give any support for many of the ideas eugenicists/social Darwinists advocated, which shows how science can become so infused with the prevailing culture and politics, that it blinds even the best and most influential scientists. Science, with its connections to high culture and politics, its human vanity, its power by default, its need for special funding, and its innate careerism, is VERY susceptible to subtle political distortion and preconceived ideas, especially in cases where it is difficult to disprove or falsify paradoxes and data ambiguities, and society at large invariably suffers from this.
What was perhaps going on in late 19th -early 20th century Europe/Germany, was the development of unrestrained bureaucratic ideologies masquerading as science-a science distorted by prevailing assumptions which supported the interests of the bureaucratic/aristocratic elite. Both Bolshevik-communism, and Intellectual-Social Darwinism/Eugenics were examples of this, and both produced expendable death, since truth, and the individual, were `expended' by intellectuals well before WW1 and 2, and well before the Bolsheviks and Nazis came to power. One could argue, from the writing of the intellectuals themselves, that Nazism (and Bolshevism-which is not discussed here) was born in 19th century bureaucratic/aristocratic `convenient', unexamined, `assumptions'.
If one reads some of the late 19th -early 20th century German views detailed in this book, one shouldn't be all that surprised at what the Nazis eventually did: many of the worst policies of the Nazis were already formulated by intellectuals in the name of `science', dripping with distortion, vanity and expediency.
Overall a very good, detailed and intriguing book, but also a tortuous read, which reflects the very difficult and tortuous subject matter- that is-the intellectual origins of Nazi ideology.