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Saturday, April 14, 2007
I recently finished Richard Weikert's outstanding book From Darwin to Hitler (2004). Weikert has written a tour de force in which he argues compellingly that the Nazi holocaust was not an isolated historical aberration but was rather a logical consequence of the conflation of two streams of thought that had been flowing through Germany for seventy years.
The first stream was an increasing secularism that reduced Christianity and Christian morality to an irrelevance. The Christian emphasis on compassion for the weak, poor, and oppressed was supplanted by an emphasis, deriving in large part from Neitszche, on strength and will. The Christian belief that morality was grounded in the will of a benevolent, omniscient God was replaced with the belief that morality was a product of the struggle for advantage among groups competing for their very survival. Once German intellectuals lost faith in a transcendent moral authority it was but a short step to an egoistic, pragmatic version of might makes right.
This meshed neatly with the conlusions of a Darwinian world-view which stressed the survival of the fittest, the inferiority of some kinds of people vis a vis others, and the possibility of improving the fitness of the human species through genetic selection and the removal of competitors.
These ideas manifested themselves in the 19th century in the German eugenics movement which sought to improve mankind through selective breeding and the abortion and euthanization of the sick, infirm, and deformed. As the twentieth century approached more German scholars and opinion makers extended these principles to the competition between races so that "inferior" peoples were seen as subject to the Darwinian laws of extinction. It was no distance at all from there to the conclusion that war against the inferior kinds of humans was morally justified in Darwinian and Neitszchean terms.
In a secular world might makes right and the interest of the stronger is the only defensible ethic. Survival in the competition for resources and living space was ipso facto proof of one's fitness and the ends of survival and dominance justified any means for many prominent Germans prior to the 1920s.
Weikert doesn't simply assert these historical and philosophical trends, he documents them from the writings of numerous infuential German thinkers from the 1860s through the 1920s. In fact, if the book has a shortcoming it is that after awhile the mountain of evidence Weikert amasses begins to get in the way of reading the history.
The author is at pains to insist that Darwinist materialism doesn't necessarily lead to Hitler. It might not have, of course, but what he shows beyond cavil is that the path that history followed was indeed widened, paved, and lit by the ideas of Darwinists and atheists following their assumptions to what they saw as their logical conclusions. It was an historical march made much easier by the demise of a robust Church in Germany and by the notion that any morality worthy of the name had to be grounded in the improvement of the human species.
Whether Weikert is right or wrong I leave to historians to decide but that he is persuasive cannot be gainsaid.
His book is scholarly, and the reader looking for something casual or light will probably find it difficult to finish. Reading it to the end, however, will surely repay anyone who perseveres.RLC
Vincent Carroll of The Rocky Mountain News offers his opinion of what he sees as the most astonishing feature of the Duke rape case:
...the most astonishing fact, hands down, was and remains the squalid behavior of the community of scholars at Duke itself. For months nearly the entire faculty fell into one of two camps: those who demanded the verdict first and the trial later, and those whose silence enabled their vigilante colleagues to set the tone. K.C. Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College, has followed every twist in the Duke scandal on his Durham-in- Wonderland Web site. He chronicles the faculty's performance as the hysteria mounted.
"In late March (2006)," Johnson writes, "Houston Baker, a professor of English and Afro-American Studies, issued a public letter denouncing the 'abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us' and demanding the 'immediate dismissals' of 'the team itself and its players.' A week later, on April 6, 88 members of Duke's arts and sciences faculty signed a public statement saying 'thank you' to campus demonstrators who had distributed a 'wanted' poster of the lacrosse players and publicly branded the players 'rapists.' By contrast, no Duke professor publicly criticized Nifong's conduct."
David Evans, one of the accused, told 60 Minutes that he moved out of the house where the rapes of a black stripper allegedly occurred because of menacing mobs. The Duke president, no profile in courage, canceled the lacrosse season and fired the coach. As recently as a few months ago President Richard Brodhead was still defending the 88 professors who trampled on the presumption of innocence, going so far as to describe some of them as victims, too.
A few Duke professors did acquit themselves well or eventually locate some semblance of a spine. Law professor James Coleman denounced Nifong's handling of police lineups. Seventeen members of the Duke economics department signed a letter in January criticizing Nifong and assuring student athletes they were welcome in their classrooms.
But for the most part the faculty either supported the branding of three athletes as racists and rapists, didn't care enough about their plight to speak out, or were cowed into suppressing any call of conscience.
Would those athletes, facing a similarly dubious claim of rape, have fared any better at America's other elite universities? The idealist yearns to answer yes. The realist, sad to say, knows better.
As we said the other day, the faculties of elite American universities are predominately leftists for whom the most important thing in life is their ideology. They have committed themselves to certain core assumptions about gender, race, and class that led them to conclude prior to the production of any evidence, and solely on the basis of a black woman's allegation, that those young white men were guilty as charged.
Everything else followed as night follows the day. The university president fired the lacrosse coach, holding him responsible for the putative sins of his players. The young students were made the object of invective and slander by such stalwart defenders of the rights of the accused as the New York Times. The leftist community across the nation, quick to march on behalf of convicted cop-killers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, had no time for the Duke white kids.
Some of them are still convinced that the young men are guilty. A lawyer on television last night said that she's convinced that "something happened in that house." Well, yes, I'm sure something did happen. I'm sure that some of the people in the house, perhaps the three that were charged, wanted her to do more than she was willing. They probably insulted her when she refused and maybe even called her nasty names, inspiring her, out of anger, to concoct the rape story as a means of revenge. If so, their behavior was shameful and degrading, but it wasn't illegal. Nor was it much different, unfortunately, than what happens on campuses all across the nation every weekend.
District Attorney Mike Nifong, and the Duke faculty and administration, would have happily put these students in prison for a dozen years or more, simply on the assumption that if a black woman claims that rich white boys raped her then it must be true. It's true because leftists have inculcated into each other for decades that women don't lie about rape. It's true because it captures what the left believes has been the narrative of race, class, and gender in this country throughout our history (For a modest example, see the second part of this essay). It's true because all truth must be interpreted through the lens of that historical experience - there are no "objective" facts of the matter which we need be concerned about.
The sacrifice of these students on the altar of ideology served a higher purpose. Belief in the guilt of these privileged, white males has "purchase," it "resonates" with and validates the left's entire worldview, and, like their unwavering belief in the innocence of Alger Hiss, the tale of what happened in that house will live on in the mythology of the left for generations to come.RLC