Monday, 17 June 2013

Hitler's Struggle for Eugenics: Part II

In this post we continue our consideration of the eugenic nature of Adolf Hitler’s notorious political manifesto ‘Mein Kampf’. Part I can be read here.

Adolf Hitler
The first post in our long-running series on eugenics began with a consideration of the work of Thomas Robert Malthus because even though Malthus was not himself an advocate of eugenics his writings on over-population form one of the fundamental foundations of the movement. We have already seen that when Margaret Sanger was seeking a new ideology following her disillusionment with Marxism she turned to neo-Malthusianism. A similar sequence of events can be seen in the life of Adolf Hitler. After his failure to gain entry to Vienna’s prestigious School of Art he went through a succession of menial jobs and, according to his eugenic manifesto Mein Kampf, spent almost all his spare time reading, particularly on social and political questions. He became disillusioned with much of contempory discourse because it did not address the question of human population growth and the ‘racial quality’ of that population. “Germany” he wrote “has an annual increase in population of nearly nine hundred thousand souls. The difficulty of feeding this army of new citizens must grow greater from year to year and ultimately end in catastrophe, unless ways and means are found to forestall the danger of starvation and misery in time.”

Margaret Sanger
There is a remarkable unanimity between Hitler’s and Sanger’s views about the inevitability and consequences of overpopulation. The solutions they proposed however were somewhat different. Sanger sought to limit population growth through the rigorous control of human reproduction, particularly of those groups deemed ‘unfit.’ Hitler however was a more consistent follower of Darwin. In Mein Kampf he rejects the view that ‘the increase of births could be artificially restricted’ because he thought it preferable to allow ‘natural selection’ to take its course; the weak would fall before the strong and the evolution of the Aryan race would continue on its course. ‘Therefore’ he wrote ‘anyone who wants to secure the existence of the German people by a self-limitation of its reproduction is robbing it of its future.’ Hitler in fact wished to see the German population grow as much possible and hoped that the ‘problem’ of over-population would be solved by conquering new territories. For Hitler’s ‘Aryan race’ over-population was not a problem; it was weaker subject races who would have to perish to make way for them. Many of us were taught at school that Hitler’s desire for lebensraum (living space) in the east was a central plank of his political programme and was one of the most important motivations behind his conquest of Poland and invasion of the Soviet Union. It is far less likely that we were informed that the basis of this Nazi policy was the Malthusian myth of overpopulation that has, for more than two centuries, had such a malign influence over all aspects of academic, political and popular culture.[1]

To be continued…

[1] In a discourse delivered before the Catholic University of Ireland John Henry Newman noted that ‘the Malthusian teaching’ had become ‘a sine qua non in a seat of learning’ and that his contemporaries thought it ‘simply ignorance not to be a Malthusian’, ‘Discourse VIII: Knowledge Viewed in Relation to Religion’, published in John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, (London, 1852).

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