For many years now, historians have wondered whether Hitler had any sort of consistent ideology. His writings are rambling and confusing. His speeches are...

For many years now, historians have wondered whether Hitler had any sort of consistent ideology. His writings are rambling and confusing. His speeches are full of plain lies. His “table talk” reflects a wandering, impulsive mind distinguished by a remarkable disconnection from reality. There are obvious themes: strident German nationalism, radical racialism, vicious anti-semitism, and militarism. Do these themes add up to an internally consistent “worldview”?

Richard Weikart argues that they do. In his excellent book Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), Weickart points out that Hitler, like so many of his generation, was powerfully influenced by a particular reading of Darwin’s theory of evolution. By this interpretation, human “races” were seen as species and, as such, deemed to be in eternal struggle for life itself. “Nature,” according to these theorists (usually called “Social Darwinists”), selected the most fit races and destroyed the less fit. Weikart shows that Hitler held very fast to this idea, as can be seen both in his pronouncements and actions. He also shows that Hitler–in contrast to many other Social Darwinists–had no trouble leaping over the distinction between “is” and “ought.” According to the Fuhrer, the “fact” that the “races” were subject to evolutionary process meant that they should struggle with all their might. Here, might was ethically right by what Hitler believed was irrefutable “natural law.” It was a recipe for madness and, of course, immense tragedy. Listen in.

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