Haeckel's ideas on race, eugenics and euthanasia.

Scientific Pantheism condemns Haeckel's political views.

The World Pantheist Movement wish to make it clear that we find Haeckel's views on race, nationalism, aristocracy, eugenics, euthanasia, and the powers of the state utterly abhorrent. These views are a travesty of true pantheism, which places all human beings of all races, genders, social classes and abilities on an equal footing as participants in, and reverent observers of, the Universe and nature.

Haeckel's views on these topics are not valid deductions from evolution theory, and they contradict Haeckel's own acceptance of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would wish they should do unto you," and his criticism of Christianity for cruelty to animals. We condemn these views outright, and we condemn Haeckel for endorsing them.

We present them here for the record.

Haeckel had serious ideological failings, which vitiated and eventually destroyed his attempts to make Monist pantheism into a religion. Most of these failings arose from a misguided extension of Darwinism to the human race and human society. The logic was simple but flawed: we are part of nature, so we should follow nature's apparent rules. Nature has species - humans have different races, which are quite distinct, some superior to others.

Haeckel placed natural selection on a high pedestal, and saw some human ethical codes as interfering with the process. Nature selects by killing the unfit- so, Haeckel argued, humans should not only not interfere with this process by keeping the unfit alive - but help it along by eliminating them.

Of course many of his contemporaries were also racist and in favours of eugenics, but as the most eminent German biologist and theoretician of evolution of his day, Haeckel bears a grave responsibility in giving racism and eugenics a facade of scientific legitimacy.

The "lowest savages" such as Australian aborigines were closer to apes or even dogs in their reasoning faculties than to humans like Goethe or Darwin, Haeckel said. Jesus' noble personality was not semitic, but "more characteristic of the higher Aryan race" (according to Jewish tradition Jesus' father was a Roman soldier.) (Riddle page 328) Haeckel believed that the Germans were racially superior and "deviated furthest from the common primary form of ape-like men" (History of Creation ii 332, cited in Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism, MacDonald, London and New York, 1971).

The most repulsive of Haeckel's ideas relate to eugenics and euthanasia - although again he was far from alone in these. Haeckel admired the Spartans because they practiced infanticide of abnormal infants, to improve the biological quality of their race - "a practice of advantage both to the infants destroyed and to the community." [The Wonders of Life, cited in Gasman p91] He recommended that sickly adults should also be eliminated to stop them spreading their genes, and a commission should be set up to decide the fate of individuals. The unlucky ones would be put to death by painless and rapid poison (Wonders of Life pp118-119, cited Gasman p 95).

Haeckel also recommended the execution of all incorrigible criminals: "Not only would the struggle for life among the better portions of mankind be made easier, but an advantageous artificial process of selection would be set in practice, since the possibility of transmitting their injurious qualities would be taken from those degenerate outcasts." (History of Creation, 1, 172-3 cited Gasman p96.)

Haeckel was an opponent of equality, civil liberties and of trade unionism, and a supporter of a strong state whose interests took precedence over those of individuals.

All in all, as Gasman has shown persuasively, Haeckel's "programme" was close to the worst elements of the Nazi programme and probably influenced it. There is no direct evidence that Hitler read Haeckel - yet Haeckel's books were massive best-sellers at precisely the time that Hitler was growing up and maturing, and it would have been difficult not to be acquainted with them.

© Paul Harrison 1997.