Hitler’s Mein Kampf is one of the most notorious works of the twentieth century. It is generally recognised as being the blueprint for the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. It is however rarely seen in its correct context as a piece of eugenic literature in the same tradition as Marie Stopes’ Radiant Motherhood, H.G Wells’ A Modern Utopia and Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilisation. In this series of posts I wish to focus attention on the eugenic principles which not only inform the whole work but which are in fact its ultimate foundation.
The inspiration behind Mein Kampf was
theory of evolution by natural selection. Hitler saw races and nations as governed
by the law of ‘the survival of the fittest’. Weak races deserved to be
outcompeted and subjected to the will of stronger races. This sense of perpetual
competition surely informs the title of the book, ‘Mein Kampf’, which means ‘My
Struggle.’ Hitler begins his account by outlining how his own life began as a
struggle against the overbearing will of his father. Hitler’s attempt to pursue
a career as an artist ended in failure and with Hitler eking out a living,
homeless, on the streets of Vienna.
He was saved from being a victim of natural selection himself by the outbreak
of the First World War which provided him with a cause to fight for. The defeat
of Germany in November 1918
was a shattering emotional blow and Hitler, like many of his contempories,
found solace in the view that Germany
had not really been defeated on the battlefield but had rather been betrayed by
politicians at home. In the immediate aftermath of defeat Germany was
racked by revolution and counter-revolution as Communist uprisings took place
across the nation. Hitler was present in Munich
during the Bolshevik revolution of 1919 and for him it was a moment of
political awakening. He became involved in an extreme fringe of German
political life which merged a desire for radical social change with extreme nationalism, often
with overt assertions of racial superiority. Anti-Jewish feeling was common
among such groups because of the prominent Jewish involvement in the left-wing revolutionary
movement as well as older associations of Jews with wealth and capital. The National Socialist ideology, which combined hostility to
Communists and Jews with the Darwinian theory of evolution, was appealing to
many because it provided a supposedly scientific justification for strong
actions to restore German power and punish internal and external enemies.
Hitler’s belief in German superiority had its origins in his Austrian childhood which was marked by assertions by German Austrians of their identity in the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire. He had however at one time considered himself hostile to anti-Semitism and in one remarkable passage he describes his earlier disgust at anti-Jewish rhetoric and his horror at the possibility of violence against the Jews. In Mein Kampf he explains that his views changed after discovering the prominent role of Jews in the Social Democratic movement, which he detested, and their role in socialist and Marxist movements in general as well as in immoral industries such as prostitution. These feelings hardened during the post-war revolutionary period because many of the revolutionary leaders were Jewish. These reasons however are not sufficient to account for the full horror of the persecution and genocide unleashed under the Third Reich. The Nazi regime did not seek out Jews who were political opponents but rather all people of Jewish ancestry whatever their religious beliefs, political views, or social status. This was the result of Hitler’s conviction that the Jewish people were racially different, sub-human, and along with other groups such as Roma and Sinti gypsies in need of extermination. Hitler was not the creator of this ideology; he was simply a student of the international eugenics movement.
To be continued...
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