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Racism and Social Darwinism as Drugs: The Lasting Effect of Social Poisons
"What should alarm us today is the fact that competitiveness, efficiency and security have become central elements of rightwing populism in the whole rich center of western Europe...The impression everywhere is that survival is at stake. `You must be the best, the strongest and the winner.'"
Racism and Social Darwinism as Drugs
The Lasting Effects of Social Poisons
By Walter Grode
[This article is translated abridged from the German in: zeitxeichen 12/2000. Walter Grode is a political scientist in Hannover.]
The Germany of the thirties had a drug – racism and violence – and encountered social darwinism on tiptoe. Racism and violence are combated publically. Social darwinism seems adequately disposed of in the annals of the historians. At present national socialism paradoxically casts even greater shadows the more we are temporally removed.
Fear of these shadows is exploited systematically by the new radical right perpetrators of violence. Politics manifestly lacks the means for dealing with radical right racism.
Racism is a drug producing violence and spreading violence outward. Therefore its effect is dangerous to life for all who (like all foreign outsiders) live outside the racist defined community. Whether the NPD-prohibition will help stop the rightwing extremist scene of violence is vitally important for all who bear the stigma of foreignness.
The social problem is merely deactivated, not solved. Through the illegalization, militant rightwing extremism has shifted and is harder to recognize and apprehend. That many politicians consider the problem solved with the prohibition is even more perilous.
The drug that they offer is called racism and violence. Did the German society become immune against these things after May 8, 1945?
All the re-education measures – from the Nurnberg trials to the anti-fascist pedagogy of comprehensive German schools confront west Germans with their crimes committed in racism and the intoxication of violence. This was morally necessary but hardly therapeutically effective. Germans between 1933 and 1945 dealt with things that were more seductive because they were seemingly more harmless.
Whoever survives is right
At the end of the Weimar republic, the national socialists offered something beside racism: social darwinism…
Social darwinism was originally an invention of the second half of the 19th century. The central idea of social darwinism can be summarized very simply. In biological evolution, all development leads to the survival and enforcement of the “fittest”. Conversely whoever survives – at least in the statistical average – proves his “fitness”. Since the fundamental law of selection is also in force in society, the winners in the social struggle over existence, those holding the top rank of the social hierarchy, are eo ipso the “most diligent” and “most fit”. This is also true for the losers in the struggle for existence. The fact of their defeat is also the proof that they are less diligent and less fit.
The drug of social darwinism was provided with seductive labels like “You are one with your Fuehrer” or “You are part of a strong popular body”. Under the first, the Nazis destroyed the boundary between public and private. Under the second, they sold their visionof a national community receptive for the harder drug: racism.
A ten year social darwinism-racist phase of the “puirification of the popular body” from Jews, “gypsies”, communists, “a-socials”, homosexuals, “congenitally sick” and handicapped beginning after the “seizure of power” before the systematic annihilation of the Jewish population from 1941/42 is the criminal side of national socialism. The “community” should be efficient, fit for war and invincible. This goal appears absurd and unrealistic to us today
However the means for reaching this goal, the exclusion of the foreign and the foreign in ourselves, is in no way antiquated even if the proclaimed goals constantly change since they are only a pretext. “Those in right order recognize one another by delimiting the others not in right order.” The NS psychologist Kurt E.O. Gauger, a director of the “German Institute for psychological research and psycho-therapy” emphasized the relation of general surveillance and automatic adaptation.
The “German comrade” of the late thirties made the change from the relatively “soft” drug of social darwinism to the “hard” drug of racism, the real sales target from the outset without grumbling.
In November 1938, many Germans were shocked and shook their heads at the excesses on the Jewish population committed by the SA. A short year later, the war’s beginning was in no way euphorically welcomes as people once dreamt of “the old warriors” of the NSDAP in the first days of 1914.
All this changed in 1941 with the war in the East. In the Soviet Union, a systematic, rational and expansive German war of annihilation occurred with the surprise German attack in which the racist-ideological dominated core program appeared like the annihilation factories of Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz..
The Germans followed their dealers up to the total “collapse” in May 1945 on account of these commonly committed crimes and omissions concerning prisoners of war and forced laborers that did not stop at the home front.
After the war’s end, a far-sighted German policy preserved the partial western state from payment obligations. For forty years the East had to bear the costs of the German crimes begun in racist intoxication and occupation criminality.
Instead of making German guilt and the common German responsibility into the basis of German unity – that would have revealed the former DDR (east German) citizens as believers and the west Germans as debtors -, the east Germans were offered the gift in 1989/90 that must have seemed very enticing to them: competitiveness, efficiency and security.
All this happened before the historical background of a “policy toward the past” in the West. This began with the so-called Federal amnesty of 1949. The recommendations of the Bundestag on ending “de-nazification” followed a year later. Then the 1952 law allowing former Nazi officials, even the Gestapo, to work in public service was resolved in the 1954 Penal immunity law.
“In the middle of the fifties, a public awareness gained acceptance in the West that ascribed responsibility for the wicked acts of the Third Reich only to Hitler and his little clique of main war criminals while the status of the politically `seduced victims’ was granted Germans in their totality.” (Norbert Frei).
The silent basic consensus of the young Germany to move racism into the foreground in working out national socialism remained almost invisibly hidden on the back stage since social darwinism had eaten deeply into German souls.
West Germans passed a therapy against racism and violence about which sociologists and theologians could only rightly shake their heads. This therapy consisted in a mixture of economic miracle and welfare state. We should be glad about this…
On the other hand what should alarm us today is the fact that competitiveness, efficiency and security have become central elements of rightwing populism in the rich center of western Europe.
That our former western therapists and democratic mentors present social darwinism as a supposed source of power must be deeply alarming.
For good or evil, the slowly working poison of our gateway- and base drug social darwinism and the gift of power belong together as with all drugs. This source of power obviously does not have the label “social darwinism”. Today the maxim is “all power to the markets”.
This maxim is regarded as without alternative since the “great turn” at the beginning of the nineties of the last century. Since then the economic doctrines of the former “Chicago boys” around the economic Nobel prize winner Milton Friedman have become the only laws of human conduct with almost supernatural force, inevitably and irreversibly on the whole earth.
The new laws celebrate the idea of the aggressive competition between all territorial communities, all social groups and all individuals. The impression mediated everywhere is that survival is at stake. “You must be the best, the strongest and the winners.” This message resounds to every country, every region and every individual. The message launched by the media is that only the beautiful, young and precious will prevail as the only rewarding form of life. Every possibility of manipulating human life is thankfully taken up in this perspective as a matter of course or foregone conclusion. Racism? Mega-out! Long live the cult of the stronger!