The Day the Universe Changed

by James Burke

page 226

In 1899 Haeckel issued his major philosophical statement in Weltsratsel (The Riddle of the Universe).

It was a bestseller, running to ten editions in the first decade and selling half a million copies by 1933. In it Haeckel evoked the pagan past, the fatherland, the inevitability of struggle and faith in the people. In 1906, at the age of seventy-two, he founded the Monist League in Jena. It united eugenicists, biologists, theologians, literary figures, politicians and sociologists. Its president in 1911 was William Ostwald, Nobel prize-winner in chemistry.

By 1911 the league had six thousand members in forty-two towns and cities throughout Germany and Austria. Its influence on the growing Volkist movement was considerable, especially among its principal intellectuals. Otto Ammon, a leading racial anthropologist, wrote that the laws of nature were the laws of society.

Alexander Ploetz advocated a national board to screen would-be parents for racial purity, in order to eliminate defective babies. In 1904 he set up a eugenics journal, Archiv, the first issue of which was dedicated to Haeckel. In it proposals were advanced for breeding communities such as the great elite breeding city planned by Theodor Fritsch, to be called Mittgard. After 1918 Fritsch was the ideological guide of a youth movement named, after the Aryan deity, Artamarzen. Charter members of the movement included Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess. Aloysius Unold, vice-president of the Monists, said:

A new national party would unite the community. It would function as a living example of the survival of the fittest, a hierarchy based on ability. Work would be compulsory. The state dynamic would be economic, not political. The confusion and anarchy of parliamentary procedures would disappear. The nation would become a biological elite. Struggle would be its prime reason for existence. Underpinned by Darwin's theory of evolution, Nazism was born.