Ernst Haeckel’s Alleged Anti-Semitism and Contributions to Nazi Biology

Biological Theory 2 (1):97-103 (2007)
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Ernst Haeckel’s popular book Nat¨urliche Sch¨opfungs- geschichte (Natural history of creation, 1868) represents human species in a hierarchy, from lowest (Papuan and Hottentot) to highest (Caucasian, including the Indo-German and Semitic races). His stem-tree (see Figure 1) of human descent and the racial theories that accompany it have been the focus of several recent books—histories arguing that Haeckel had a unique position in the rise of Nazi biology during the first part of the 20th century. In 1971, Daniel Gasman brought the initial bill of particulars; he portrayed Haeckel as having specific responsibility for Nazi racial programs. He argued that Darwin’s champion had a distinctive authority at the end of the 19th century, throwing into the shadows the myriads of others with similar racial attitudes.1 But it was not simply a general racism that Haeckel expressed; he was, according to Gasman (1971: 157–159), a virulent anti-Semite. Since its original publication, Gasman’s thesis has caught on with a large number of historians, so that in the present period it is usually taken as a truism, an obvious fact of the sordid history of biological thought in the first half of the 20th century.2 Perhaps the most prominent scholar—at least among historians of biology—to adopt and advance Gasman’s contention was Stephen Jay Gould. In his first book, Ontogeny and Phy- logeny (1977), Gould took as his subject Haeckel’s principle of recapitulation, the proposal that during ontogeny the developing embryo went through the same morphological stages as the phylum passed through in its evolutionary descent. So according to this conception, the human embryo begins as a one-celled creature, then takes on the form of an ancient invertebrate (e.g., a gastraea), then of a primitive vertebrate, then of an early mammal, then of a primate, and finally of a distinct..



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Robert Richards
University of Chicago

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The Ecology of Form.Devin Griffiths - 2021 - Critical Inquiry 48 (1):68-93.

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