Social Darwinism is an ideology found commonly within the late nineteenth century. It was inspired from Darwinism and is the result of natural selection. Social Darwinism is a theory rooted in the ability to apply the laws of nature to a society and its people and is often associated with the popular notion of “survival of the fittest. ” However, it is often used to justify social and political policies that discriminate against a certain type of people. What role did Social Darwinism play in the unfolding of the Holocaust?
Social Darwinism played a role in the Holocaust through the Theory of Natural Selection and the lead versus follow principle; both allowed Hitler to believe the Aryans as the “Master” race and the need to exterminate all other peoples, in particular the Jews. It is important to examine and distinguish the differences between Darwinism and Social Darwinism when applying the Theory of Natural Selection to Hitler and the Nazi ideology. Secondly, the concept of human behaviour plays a key role in the unfolding of the holocaust through the Lead versus Follow principle.
Darwinism, the philosophy of Charles Darwin, is a biological philosophy that proposes that there is a process of natural selection that seeks to advance superior species. This Theory of Natural Selection acts to slowly accumulate small advancements in genetic mutations. The members of the species that fail to accumulate these small advancements would eventually be subject to extinction and thus leaving the superior members to prosper. Social Darwinism follows the same premises.
Social Darwinism’s Theory of Natural Selection states that one group of people are better than all others and thereby the lesser of the peoples are left to die out on their own or there is justification in their execution. The goal is to continuously advance the best members of society to form the best societies possible. Social Darwinism’s Theory of Natural Selection continues to develop the idea that some peoples had advanced more than others and thereby the continuous extinction of more primitive members of society is a natural process and is justifiable to help along this process by forced extinction.
Social Darwinists seek to promote the idea of the best societies possible; the most intelligent people, the most beautiful, the healthiest. It was Social Darwinism that had an influential role in the Holocaust through specifically the Theory of Natural Selection. The Theory of Natural Selection as expressed by Social Darwinists is a theory that attempts to protect a selective group of people above all others. To protect these selected people certain restrictions applied.
The people deemed to be below the superiors are limited in who they partner with, there is a restriction placed on people so they cannot dirty the gene pool and mix amongst the superior peoples. The superior peoples are given special status and are isolated from anyone who might contaminate the group.  Those superior members of society came to be the Aryans. For Hitler this race of people was deemed to be pure and in some way better than all others. Aryans were characterized by blonde hair and blue eyes as opposed to the Jews who had dark hair and darker coloured eyes.
According to Hitler and Himmler, a top SS leader, there were many conflicts that Hitler must face; the entire Jewish population, Marxism, freemasonry, and churches. The Jews were thought to be the driving force and “the origin of all the negatives” that would cause dilemmas for Hitler. It wasn’t a question for Hitler and Himmler if the Jews would hold out; it was a question of merely how long they would last.  For Hitler the annihilation of the Jewish population would solve many of his problems and he thought his ruthlessness in their utter destruction would be highly appreciated amongst his peers.
Hitler thought that by eliminating the Jews specifically he would be ridding Europe of the bad seeds that were holding back the master Aryan race. According to Hitler ridding Europe of all those who failed to conform to the Aryan standards would be doing the world a favour. By eradicating themselves of the Jews then the Aryans could form a better, more pure and more complete society that would be responsible for future advancements in the European world.  To further make the distinction between the superior Aryan people and the unimportant Jewish people new measures began to take place.
Jew could no longer practice certain careers; they could no longer keep a business, they were required to clearly identify themselves as Jews, their passports were stamped with a “J”, and they had to alter their names adding ‘Israel’ to the male name and ‘Sara’ to the female name.  Slowly Hitler attempted to execute all the European peoples except the Aryan race. This process can be described as a forced process of selection wherein Hitler chose who would further society and who was not fit to live. A form of The
Theory of Natural Selection is at play here yet instead of the selection being a natural process the decisions were made primarily by Hitler who believed the Jewish population was the root of his negative problems. It wasn’t only the Jewish population that seemed to pose a problem for Hitler. Hitler wanted to amass all peoples against the Jews so their extermination wasn’t based solely on his own justification. Hitler wanted to turn people against all those who weren’t part of the Aryan Master Race to a point where they would blindly follow his principles without questioning them.
The Lead versus Follow principle is a principle that explains why, through a group mindset, people are more likely to follow a leader because of pressure rather than actual like thinking. This principle is characterized by group think and a single person’s inability to rationally draw conclusions that differ from those expressed by the represented leader. In terms of the Holocaust, Hitler is the leader and the German people are his followers. When characterizing the German people as a group it is easier to see the Germans as a whole system rather than the individuals within it.
By doing this Hitler can control a larger portion of the population at once without worrying about individual rebellion because the pressures from peers would crush any objections.  This is beneficial to Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews because with the coerced support of the German people he was free to act as he wished without fear. Social Darwinism plays a role here through the idea that if there was no public rebellion then they too believed that the Jews needed to be executed to preserve the sanctity of their superior race.
Whether or not this was actually the mindset of the German people was not important, what was important was that Hitler was able to alter the culture of the people. Culture is a group phenomenon which has the ability to remain unchanged for generations yet when faced with a single change has the power to adapt into a completely new and complex system. It makes individuals dependent on the society until it stabilizes.  Hitler realized this and through his dictatorship he altered the mindset of the German people to a point where they themselves began to believe in their own superiority.
The idea of superiority over another is a premise of Social Darwinism, a premise that the people Hitler deemed Aryan began to believe. In conclusion, Social Darwinism played a role in the Holocaust through the Theory of Natural Selection and the Lead versus Follow principle. Both recognized Hitler’s choices behind the eradication of mainly the Jewish population. Social Darwinism is a concept that can be used to examine the ideas behind Hitler’s dictatorship over the German population and his need to glorify the Aryan race and exterminate the Jewish one.
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