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From Polity, Vol. XXII, No. 3, Spring 1990, 545-556.  Review-essay on Robert Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1988; Benno Müller-Hill, Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others, Germany: 1933-1945. Translated by George R. Fraser. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988; and Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1986.

Nazi Science

Hugh Murray 
 

During World War I, Germans proudly wore on their belt buckles the slogan, Gott mit uns; after World War II liberals proudly proclaim, “science is in our side.” The first was clearly wishful thinking; what about the second? Everyone recognizes that after a major religious or ideological war, history is written by the victors. We fail to recognize that science, too, may be written, and rewritten, by the victors. These three books raise important questions about the relationship of politics, science, and ethics both in Nazi Germany then and in liberal America today.

Who has not heard of the Dreyfus case, that turn-of-the-century example of French anti-Semitism? The Jewish officer was sentenced for treason to Devil’s Island, but to his defense came Emile Zola, whose I, Accuse, along with protests by others, eventually resulted in the acquittal of Capt. Dreyfus and the exposure of some of his Christian colleagues. Zola has ever been praised amid the Pantheon of the Left.  Yet, Zola, in his desire to be scientific and in his success in establishing the “naturalistic” novel, stressed the importance of heredity.  Zola declared, “I am a positivist, an evolutionist, a materialist; my system is heredity.”1  He constructed a family tree for his 20-volume series, Les Rougon Macquart. About the same time in the United States there were numerous scientific studies, some published by the Eugenic Society, concerning generations of family degeneracy.  Both Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, progressive Republican and progressive Democrat, were influenced by such notions.

But the leader in the sciences of heredity, genetics, and racial hygiene, as in so many other fields at that time, was Germany.  What would happen when these scientists, aided by the medical and anthropological professions, would win powerful political allies and achieve power?  That is the theme of these three books, whose coverage is different yet complementary.  The most recent work is by Robert Proctor, who presents a general overview of Nazi medicine with revealing illustrations, including fascinating chapters on organic medicine in the Third Reich and the opposition to the Nazis by the Association of Socialist Physicians.

Unlike Raul Hilberg,2 Proctor proposes a different logic, one that begins with studies of heredity, genetic disease, and racial hygiene, yet culminates with doctors selecting who would be gassed at Auschwitz.  Benno Müller-Hill’s book is a short, personalized work with a helpful chronology and documentary-type interviews he conducted with some of the murderous scientists, their children, and their assistants.  Robert Jay Lifton’s book is the lengthiest and also based, in part, on interviews, but he dilutes his material so it will fit the author’s narrow preconceptions.

Proctor traces the development of medicine from the turn-of-the-century racism that dominated science in every country, to the growth of anthropology, race hygiene, and eugenics. All stressed racial differences; all, the role of heredity in disease, crime, intelligence, alcoholism, divorce, etc. After 1900, a debate ensued between the followers of Lamarck and Mendel. The political Left, anxious to stress the role of environment and education, generally favored Lamarck’s view of acquired characteristics; the Right embraced Mendelian genetics with such conclusions as these from a Nazi handbook:  “Environmental influences have never been known to bring about the formation of a new race.  That is one more reason for the belief that a Jew remains a Jew, in Germany or any other country. He can never change his race, even by centuries of residence among another people” (pp. 37-38).  Even before the Nazis achieved power, “by 1932 . . . racial hygiene had become scientific orthodoxy in the German medical community” (p. 38).  Prof. Eugen Fischer, Director of the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Heredity Science, and Eugenics from its inception in 1927, was chosen as Rektor of the University of Berlin in 1933.  In his inaugural address Dr. Fischer declared, “What Darwin was not able to do, genetics has achieved. It has destroyed the theory of the equality of man” (p. 345). As early as 1930 the Nazis sloganized, “National Socialism [is] the political expression of our biological knowledge” (p. 28). Proctor adds, “One might even say that National Socialism was itself progressive—if we mean by this that application of science to social problems (in a particular ‘biologistic’ manner) was an important element in Nazi ideology.” Mendelian genetics was hailed by the Nazis as proof that race was the key to history, not environment, not class.  Indeed, to prevent Mendelian genetics from undermining egalitarian ideals in the Soviet Union, Stalin had the scientific opponents of Lamarck and Lysenko imprisoned or murdered.  But the Nazis were unlike the Communists; the Nazis encouraged science and were supported by many scientists.  In 1932, for example, the largest political group of physicians in Germany was the Nazi doctors organization.  After 1933, they sought to expel their competitors from the profession, Jews, Communists, and Socialists.  As 13 percent of Germany’s doctors nationally, and some 60 percent of those in Berlin were Jewish, the expulsion process took some time.

In 1933, Dr. Gerhard Wagner, the Nazi who became the leader of the . entire German medical profession months after Hitler became Kanzler, contrasted the National Socialist medical ideal with that of its predecessors-now there would be an emphasis on health leadership rather than health care, preventative rather than curative medicine, racial rather than individual hygiene. And health leadership implied distinguishing between valuable life and life “not worth living” (p. 73). Most German doctors endorsed Dr. Wagner’s program and during the Hitler regime “a higher proportion of Germany’s top university officers were held by medical doctors than at any time before or since” (p. 94). In fact, as Proctor notes, “there is little evidence that physicians ever refused to participate in Nazi programs. . . . Physicians were never ordered to participate in these experiments; those who participated did so because they were given the opportunity and volunteered” (p. 220).

In July 1933, the Nazis enacted the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring.  To prevent degeneration, about 400,000 Germans were sterilized between 1933 and 1939—feeble-minded, schizoid, epileptic, alcoholic, manic-depressive, blind, deaf, and malformed, overwhelmingly Aryan Germans (p. 108).  Doctors directed this program, which was so thorough that occasionally Nazis like Dr. Wagner and Heinrich Himmler felt compelled to restrain the doctors, who, for example, sought to sterilize an alcoholic in his seventies (pp. 114-15).  Though Jews were not particular victims of this program, blacks were.  Hitler ordered the sterilization of the 500 children of black French occupation forces in the Rhine, usually referred to in the scientific literature as the “Rhineland bastards” (p. 112).

The Nazis sought to restore family values. Women working outside the home, they believed, had caused many of Germany’s problems.  Proctor fails to mention the famous Nazi slogan for women, Kinder, Kiiche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church), but he nevertheless describes this ideal.  In 1933, millions of German women were employed.  If women were to remain at home, men could take their jobs.  And at home, women could bear children, increase the low German birthrate, and care for their larger families. The Nazi leadership presented medals to women with many children, and government funds subsidized large families.  Abortion was judged “race treason,” and penalties for it were both increased and strictly enforced.  The liberal notion that one should control one’s body was denounced as contrary to race hygiene.  Dr. Wagner “declared the nation’s stock of ovaries a national resource and property of the German state” (p. 125).  As a consequence of these Nazi pro-family policies, the birthrate rose so that by 1938 it equalled that of England and France combined. Not all of the pro-family policies were carrots. According to the Nuremberg laws of 1935 an unmarried German woman, like Jews, lost her citizenship.  And while Proctor is extremely negligent on the Nuremberg laws directed against homosexuals, he does relate that “in 1938 all public officials (including professors) were required to marry or else resign. . . . After 1938 couples married for five years who had not yet raised a family incurred a penalty tax” (p. 121).  These pro-family policies of the Nazis are neglected in most histories.

In the fall of 1935, Proctor relates, Hitler signed a series of anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws, which defined Jews racially and forbade them to marry non-Jews. The German medical journals applauded these “health measures.”  And though fewer Jews were allowed to practice medicine, nevertheless, the number of doctors in Germany rose, in part due to an increase in women doctors, who, despite Nazi ideology, returned to the workplace in increasing numbers as Nazi prosperity supplanted the depression.  Proctor notes, “Medicine prospered under the Nazis, as Germans under Nazi guidance became increasingly obsessed with marital, racial, and physical fitness” (p. 141).

While much of the story of anti-Semitism has been told before, Proctor is good at relating how the ever more restrictive laws reduced the percentage of Jewish doctors in Germany from 13 percent in 1933 to the point where no Jewish doctor was permitted to service a non-Jew by 1938. What Proctor adds is the hardships inflicted on Jewish doctors in nations surrounding Germany, like the anti-Jewish policies in Austria instituted by the Roman Catholic Doctors’ Association in 1934. There were also laws enacted against Jewish doctors or refugee Jewish doctors in Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, France, Mexico, and elsewhere.

Shortly before outbreak of war in 1939 the Nazis planned to progress from sterilization to euthanasia, beginning with children under 5 and newborns with Mongolism, deafness, blindness, etc. Doctors selected the unfit to be killed. Some doctors were squeamish and simply allowed their patients to starve to death.  The euthanasia program was quickly applied to mental patients, who, in hospitals, were told to disrobe for showers, where they were gassed. In August 1941, Hitler ordered an end to this general policy, after some 70,000 had been killed. Euthanasia would continue on a more individual hospital basis thereafter, continuing even during the American occupation. All this killing was conducted exclusively by medical personnel, and there were even little parties to celebrate the one thousandth patient. A month after Hitler launched his attack on the Soviets, he ordered transfer of personnel and technical facilities already developed to the East, to be used against Jews, Gypsies, and others. The Jews were judged a diseased race. Dr. Wagner observed “that Jews showed a higher rate of sexual deficiency, expressed, in the blurring of secondary sexual characteristics” (p. 195).  He stressed “not only the higher incidence of homosexuality among the Jews but also the prominence of female Jews in ‘masculine pursuits’ such as revolutionary political activism” (p. 196).  Walled into ghettoes in Poland after the German victory, Jews began to die of disease and starvation.  Proctor regards that the German commissioner of the Warsaw ghetto blocked shipments of food and medical supplies to the city. Proctor fails to record that during the wave of typhus in the ghetto, the Germans removed medicine-from ghetto clinics. Writes Proctor, “Science thus conspired in the solution to the Jewish question: . . . To be Jewish was to be both sick and criminal; Nazi medical science and policy united to help ‘solve’ this problem” (pp. 204-05). Finally, at the Wannsee conference of early 1942, the Nazis decided on the “final solution” of the “Jewish problem.” A medical doctor was among those in attendance.

Proctor is weakest in his discussion of Hitler’s war against homosexuals. He omits mention of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld and his famous institute for the study of sex.  Proctor and, to a lesser degree, Lifton, rely on Frank Rector’s flawed account on homosexuals and Nazis, and neither seems to have consulted the important work by Richard Plant.
Proctor is wrong when he asserts that the killing of Roehm during the Night of Long Knives bloodbath “marked only the first phase of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals” (p. 214). Hitler’s movement was, after all, pro-family. Less than a month after his appointment as Kanzler, Hitler had homosexuals’ bars closed, their publications banned as pornography, their organizations proscribed, and in May 1933, the irreplaceable library of Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Science burned.3 In time, thousands of homosexuals would be incarcerated, castrated, and killed by the Nazis.

And if Proctor is deficient in discussing homosexuals, Müller-Hill is worse.  Müller-Hill’s book was originally printed in Germany in 1984, and the title indicates how the author conceives Nazi policy. Homosexuals fell into Müller-Hill’s category of “others.” Indeed, as he concedes in a footnote Müller-Hill had virtually completed his book before he realized that homosexuals had been singled out for persecution by the Nazis!  Though Lifton mentions homosexuals, Gypsies, Blacks, alcoholics, and others killed by Nazis, his main focus is on the murdering of Jews.

In the name of racial hygiene thousands of Gypsies were also rounded up and sent to extermination camps.  The Nazis discussed killing thousands of tubercular patients.  They conducted medical experiments in concentration camps using inmates as guinea pigs.  Lifton describes in dreadful detail how many experiments were concerned with developing means of mass sterilization, but some, Proctor emphasizes, were made to contribute directly to the Nazi war effort—to discover how much salt water a pilot might drink before dying, or how long one could survive in icy waters, or in low pressure.  Scientists conducted these experiments, presented papers to other scientists about them, and sometimes published on them.  Proctor adds some significant sentences:  “It is curious that, immediately after the war, people were eager to argue that Nazi medical experiments ‘were not even good science.’ . . . ‘insufficient and unscientific,’ ‘a ghastly failure, as well as a hideous crime.’ . . . And yet the cruelty of an experiment is not lessened by its scientific value” (p. 220). Proctor might have revised his sentence to, “the scientific value of an experiment is not lessened by its cruelty.”

Proctor includes a fascinating chapter on organic medicine under the Nazis. Hitler was a vegetarian and neither smoked nor drank alcohol.  The Nazis opposed cruelty to animals, denouncing kosher slaughter practices.  The Nazis discouraged eating of meat, encouraged more fruits and vegetables.  They promoted whole-grain bread and discouraged smoking, alcohol, asbestos, DOT, and X-rays.  Natural healers competed with medical doctors in Germany, both before and after Hitler.  The Nazis promoted midwivery and, in 1939, enacted a law that midwives had to assist all German births.  However, orthodox medicine and science alone were permitted to determine questions of racial hygiene, i.e., who was a Jew, a homosexual, a Gypsy, an epileptic, who would be sterilized, castrated, who would live or die. But interest in natural medicine was widespread and the SS organized farms for cultivating herbs at Auschwitz and other camps.

In his revealing chapter on medical resistance to the Nazis, Proctor stresses the role of the popular-front Association of Socialist Physicians (VSA). Before 1932 the VSA had deemed the Nazi views on race too absurd to evoke a response.  In 1932, it began to answer.  The socialists also had developed an alternative view of medicine, stressing the whole man, the right to abortion, social medicine, factory safety and health, and inexpensive mobile clinics. But by January 1933, even before Hitler became Kanzler, only 1,500 doctors were members of the VSA, while 3,000 doctors had already enrolled in the Nazi medical organization.

After Hitler came to power, the VSA was outlawed, its members silenced, arrested, or exiled. Reconstituted by exiles in Prague as the International Association of Socialist Physicians, the group published attacks on the Nazi medical policies and urged a boycott of German pharmaceuticals. The IASP also aided Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War.  But as the Reich absorbed Austria, the Sudetenland, and finally Prague itself, the anti-Nazi physicians fled and their organization disintegrated.

The last two chapters are among the most important in Proctor’s powerful book. One challenges the orthodox liberal interpretation of Nazi science. For decades one has read and heard how irrational the Nazis were, and some of this view may be traced to “the stereotype of Nazi science as mystical or irrational [that] may have grown in part from reports to this effect issued by émigré physicians attempting to discredit Nazi science and medicine” (p. 265). Proctor adds that the émigrés “exaggerated” the hostility of the Nazis to scientific medicine (p. 265).
And though Proctor records the forced emigration, and murder, of leading scientists and doctors from Nazi
Europe, he also concludes that it is misleading to label National Socialism as anti-intellectual.

“Academics in every field gave support to the Nazi regime. The Nazis, in return, provided support for various forms of intellectual endeavor. . . . Certain fields, such as psychology, anthropology, and human genetics, actually expanded under the Nazis. . . . [The Reich provided] substantial support for research in fields such as criminal biology, genetic pathology, and comparative physical anthropology. . . . More than a dozen new medical journals were founded in the Nazi period. . . . The Nazis expanded Germany’s public health facilities and state health offices” (p. 283).

Elsewhere he notes the expansion of day care centers for working women, and he should have also included a chapter on the expansion of sport and sports’ medicine.

Proctor records a view disturbing to liberals, “Nazi racial theory and practice were not the product of a tiny band of marginal and psychotic individuals.  Nazi racial hygienists were among the top professionals in their fields. . . . Racial hygienists like Lenz, Fischer, and Verschuer were not men whose scientific or medical credentials could be questioned” (p. 284). “Racial science was ‘normal science’ in the sense that Thomas Kuhn has given the expression. . .” (p. 285). And “Nazi medical philosophers defended their revolution as one in accord with the latest results of science” (p. 293).  Hitler himself had declared that National Socialism was “no mystical doctrine, but rather a realistic doctrine of a strictly scientific nature” (p. 294).  Proctor summarizes his attack on the liberal consensus,  “One could well argue that the Nazis were not, properly speaking, abusing the results of science but rather were merely putting into practice what doctors and scientists had themselves already initiated.  Nazi racial science in this sense was not an abuse of eugenics but rather an attempt to bring to practical fruition trends already implicit in the structure of this branch of science” (p. 296). And “It is probably as fair to say that Nazi racial policy emerged from within the scientific community as to say it was imposed upon the scientific community” (p. 297).

Proctor’s last chapter, the Epilogue on what happened after World War II, and the restoration of some of the Nazi scientists to professorships, power, and prestige is short, but the topic is better covered in Müller-Hill’s volume. The main fault of Proctor’s final chapter is his near omission of post-war exposes, trials, and attitudes toward the Nazi scientists in the Soviet zone and later East Germany.

Müller-Hill is less interested in the broad area of Nazi medicine and concentrates on narrow disciplines. The translator’s Preface states that the book is unique in examining

the history of science which involved some of the leading figures in the German academic establishment, especially in the fields of anthropology (including human genetics) and psychiatry. These individuals aided and abetted the racial policy of the Nazi state.  They provided the intellectual and scientific basis for assumptions of racial and genetic inferiority (and, . . . superiority) and they helped to build up the legal infrastructure of the mechanisms which were put into place to give expression to those ideas in the form of mass murder, genocide, and sterilization. This book attempts to trace the action of many of these persons, which included actual participation in mass murder in the guise of scientific and medical experimentation, and to provide some understanding of the motivation of these individuals. (p. ix)

Unfortunately, this excerpt provides an example of the translator’s style, one that is compounded by repetition throughout the book. And the work is weakened by a poor index.

But there are advantages to Müller-Hill: (1) it is short; (2) there is a chronology of the policies of murder; (3) a third of the book consists of interviews conducted by the author with some of the old scientists, their children, or their assistants. These interviews have the feel of a documentary film. Furthermore, Müller-Hill’s text is only 70 pages, yet he occasionally includes more or different tales than does Proctor, as, for example, regarding Max Planck or the Rockefeller Foundation support for German scientific institutes.

Müller-Hill, unlike Proctor, still very much upholds the liberal view of Nazi science.  He sees the Nazi era as “an aberration in the history of science” (p. ix), and the Nazi scientists “showed themselves traitors to their science” (p. 101).  “If injustice becomes monstrous, reason and science perish together. . .” (p. 82).  Similarly Robert Lifton’s book on Nazi medicine is also distorted by a “how-could-they?” attitude.  At one point, however, Müller-Hill’s does break out of the liberal straightjacket: “Science espouses objectivity and spurns value judgements. But pure objectivity leads to regarding everything as being feasible. The killing of mental patients? . . . why not?” (p. 89). Yet overall, Müller-Hill, despite his title, does not view science as murderous, except in the wildly aberrant Nazi form. By contrast, Proctor detects a logic in science that led from Darwin to Mendel to Auschwitz.

The Lifton book, though published only in 1986, has been greatly superseded because of the power of Proctor’s logic. In his 500-page text, Lifton discloses enormous amounts of vivid material, but he shrinks it, attempting to force facts and interviews into his psychiatric categories.  Worse, Lifton dismisses the chief assumptions of the Nazi physicians whom he seeks to describe.

Lifton, a psychiatrist, tries to camouflage his personal value judgements as scientific judgements, labeling what he does not like as “pseudo.” Thus, the Nazis engaged in “pseudo-speciation,” indulged in “pseudo-ethics,” and enshrined “pseudo-science.” Lifton assures readers that eugenics had no scientific standing, was a mystic science for half-educated men based on “false racial theories” (p. 432).

If one denies the scientific assumptions of the Nazi doctors, then of course they become monsters, Faustian figures embracing or choosing evil, in a new “diabolical” and “demonic” venture. They were so evil they had to “double,” like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, killing at Auschwitz, while healing in the pre-Hitler and post-Hitler eras, and even to a small extent at Auschwitz, itself.

Lifton stresses how these Nazi doctors violated their Hippocratic Oath to help patients so that they could uphold their Hitler Oath to kill patients and non-patients. Lifton’s picture of the fit Dr. Pfannmüller proudly displaying to visitors an infant that he held in his hands, whom he was in the process of starving to death, is only one of his many gruesome portraits.

But Lifton distorts his material. He simply refuses to acknowledge that racial science was considered “science” at that time, and not only in Nazi Europe. The Nazis thought they were purifying Europe and protecting Aryans from pollution through the process of exterminating Jews, imbeciles, epileptics, etc. When SS Doctor Klein was asked how he could kill Jews after taking the Hippocratic Oath, he implied that Hippocrates would do the same.  Klein contended he was removing Jews, a gangrenous appendix, from the body of Europe. Klein could have noted that if not Hippocrates, then most ancient Greek doctors practiced infanticide to remove the deformed from Greece, and that they were supported in doing so by such philosophers as Plato.

What Proctor reveals is that the Germans were engaged in “science,” not “pseudo-science.” By stressing racial and genetic differences, they sought to expand Aryan and diminish non-Aryan influence and population. Auschwitz was not a necessary outcome of such scientific principles applied by an efficient and powerful nation, but it was a possible outcome.

Nazi doctors were shocked upon arriving at Auschwitz, but most were “selecting” thousands for the gas chambers within a month. Lifton labels this “doubling,” like Mr. Hyde. But the Nazis saw the process differently.  They viewed Auschwitz as a “sewerage project,” a “dog pound,” the “anus mundi,” and they saw themselves as heroic, medicalized soldiers engaged in an unpleasant task. Some sincerely believed that he who loves humanity hates Jews.  But it was not necessary to believe that.

It is possible that Dr. Mengele did not view Jews as inferior to Aryans, but merely as different, competitors.  Germany, degraded in the 1920s and early 1930s, seemed to rise as Jewish influence diminished under Hitler.  Many began to believe the slogan on Der Stürmer, “The Jews are our [Germany’s] misfortune.” At Auschwitz Mengele was simply protecting his Vaterland by eliminating competition.  And this is what Konrad Lorenz was writing about in 1940 in Nazi Germany, and what he and Desmond Morris discussed, in subdued tones, in best-selling books in the West after World War II. They stress the inherent nature of aggression, combat, and war.

“Highly important to the German-Nazi ethos was the claim of logic, rationality, and science” (p. 439). From the rational science of the 1930s a logic ran to the death camps.  This Lifton admits himself, between lines cluttered with denials. Finally, when Lifton does concede that the Nazis were following a rational policy, he seeks to minimize his concession.  Was it not rational? No!  Lifton claims the Nazis may have been logical, but logic can be paranoid.  Of course, Lifton never reveals which logic is paranoid and which not.  Apparently, Lifton labels logic an exercise in paranoia when he dislikes its conclusions. And what is Lifton’s solution?  The Nazi doctors could avoid the evil of doubling by having integrity.  Lifton is absurd. Hitler had integrity. Dr. Mengele had integrity, was even admired for his integrity by his fellow SS doctors. “Integrity,” “doubling,” labeling “pseudo” and “paranoid” is no way to analyze Nazi medicine.

Lifton denies that eugenics, racial hygiene, certain forms of physical anthropology, heredity, and criminology were “science.” There are many, however, who would question if Dr. Lifton’s brand of psychiatry is a “science.” Certainly, in the 1930s and 1940s, the former had more “scientific” credentials than the latter. Indeed, is it not the defeat of the Nazis that altered the evaluations of these “sciences”?

The major problem with Lifton’s book is that he assumes liberal ethics and liberal science to be the only ethics, the only science.  He assumes that science is liberal, ethics is liberal.  But Lorenz once assumed that science was in accord with Nazi principles, and that any ethics derived from science also would be in accord with Nazi principles.  I ask, is science liberal?  Nazi?  Or anything else?  And equally important should ethics be derived from science? Science may help to delineate the line between an animal and a human, a foetus and a child, a Jew and a German, an epileptic and a non-epileptic, etc., but science cannot tell us to draw a line between those groups, or which lines should be significant. Certainly, science cannot tell us which lines will divide those who should live and who should die. These decisions must be based on ethical views, some of which may be in accord with science, some neutral toward science, and some counter to science.

Two of the books under consideration are reluctant to admit that the Nazis were scientific. Proctor is courageous in revealing the scientific ideal of Nazism. However, none of the three books is willing to stress that there may be conflicts between the ethical and the scientific. And if there are conflicts, where should one stand? Liberals have glorified Galileo for remaining loyal to science and challenging the church.  Liberals have laughed at William Jennings Bryan who quoted the Bible and denied evolution during the Scopes trial in Tennessee. But what if the latest scientific findings were to conflict with certain liberal tenets?  Should liberals remain true to liberalism, or to science?

Lifton and many liberals seek to evade the problem by calling Nazi science “pseudo-science.” But since all science is incomplete and subject to altered interpretations in the future, then all science might be labeled “pseudo.” Proctor reveals that the Nazis were leaders in certain fields of “science.”

There is a major point fully developed by none of these, books. Proctor writes regarding political philosophies of science. “In the liberal view, predominant in twentieth-century liberal democracies, science is political only in its applications. Science in this view is (ideally) neutral or value free, and becomes ‘tainted’ when politics directs the course of intellectual inquiry” (pp. 289-90). How, then, can Proctor account for the fact that it is often liberals who will prevent scientific research for political reasons?  Dr. Wolfgang Abel in the 1930s had been involved in identifying for sterilization the “Rhineland bastards,” and became Professor of Anthropology and Race Biology at the University of Berlin, 1943-45. When asked a few years ago by Professor of Genetics Müller-Hill, “What significance did anthropology and human genetics have for Nazi policies?” Abel replied, “ ‘None at all,’ . . . [Prof. Eugen] Fischer often said, ‘Politics destroys science for us.’ “ But then Abel took the offensive against his younger inquisitor, “In short, you say that the inheritance of mental traits cannot be proved. . . . You use your argument as a protective shield, but what will you do if the inheritance of mental traits is demonstrated?” (p. 138). Is this not a forbidden area of research in the East? And in the West, at least since WWII?

It is comforting, flattering, to think of the West as scientific, the Nazis as irrational, mystical, murderous. But to what extent was their murderous policy the outcome of scientific inquiry? In the Soviet Union under Stalin, when Mendelian genetics seemed to imply the inequality of man, the Mendelians were eliminated or killed, the Lamarckian thesis imposed through the domination of Lysenko. In Stalin’s empire the equality of man could not be questioned, even by scientists using scientific methods.  Can it now be questioned any more effectively in the West, even by scientists using scientific methods? And should it be questioned? These are some of the questions that flow from the books under discussion. The questions flow from, but are too little part of these otherwise interesting books.

 

Notes

1 Bettina L. Knapp, Emile Zola (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1980), p.37.

2 In Raul Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Harper and Row, 1961).

3 See Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (New York: A New Republic Book, Henry Holt and Co., 1986), pp. 209-210.
 

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