The Role of Darwinism in Preparing the Ground for World War I
As Darwinism dominated European culture, the effects of the fallacy of struggle for survival began to emerge. Colonialist European nations in particular began to portray the nations they colonized as so-called "evolutionary backward nations" and looked to Darwinism for justification.
The bloodiest political effect of Darwinism was the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
In his book Europe Since 1870, the well-known British professor of history James Joll explains that one of the factors that prepared the ground for World War I was the belief in Darwinism of European rulers at the time:
…it is important to realise how literally the doctrine of the struggle for existence and of the survival of the fittest was taken by the majority of the leaders of Europe in the years preceding the First World War. The Austro-Hungarian chief of staff for example, Franz Baron Conrad von Hoetzendorff, wrote in his memoirs after the war:
Fascism, which has Darwinist concepts at its heart, caused the death of millions of innocent people. This dreadful ideology drew many countries of the world into a maelstrom of destruction and misery.
Philanthropic religions, moral teachings and philosophical doctrines may certainly sometimes serve to weaken mankind's struggle for existence in its crudest form, but they will never succeed in removing it as a driving motive of the world… It is in accordance with this great principle that the catastrophe of the world war came about as the result of the motive forces in the lives of states and peoples, like a thunderstorm which must by its nature discharge itself.
Seen against this sort of ideological background, Conrad's insistence on the need for a preventive war in order to preserve the Austro-Hungarian monarchy becomes comprehensible.
We have seen too how these views were not limited to military figures, and that Max Weber for example was deeply concerned with the international struggle for survival. Again Kurt Riezler, the personal assistant and confidant of the German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, wrote in 1914:
World War II caused the deaths of 55 million people, leaving many others wounded and homeless, their lives in ruins. The war devastated cities and caused economies to collapse.
Eternal and absolute enmity is fundamentally inherent in relations between peoples; and the hostility which we observe everywhere… is not the result of a perversion of human nature but is the essence of the world and the source of life itself.27
Friedrich von Bernhardi, a World War I general, made a similar connection between war and the laws of war in nature. "War" declared Bernhardi "is a biological necessity"; it "is as necessary as the struggle of the elements of nature"; it "gives a biologically just decision, since its decisions rest on the very nature of things."28
As we have seen, World War I broke out because of European thinkers, generals and administrators who saw warfare, bloodshed and suffering as a kind of development, and thought they were an unchanging law of nature. The ideological root that dragged all of that generation to destruction was nothing else than Darwin's concepts of the "struggle for survival" and "favoured races."
World War I left behind it 8 million dead, hundreds of ruined cities, and millions of wounded, crippled, homeless and unemployed.
The basic cause of World War II, which broke out 21 years later and left 55 million dead behind it, was also based on Darwinism.
Nazism, a blend of Social Darwinism and neo-paganism, has killed millions and spread horror into the hearts of many others.