Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Haeckel Controversy

Daniel Gasman has written two books on Ernst Haeckel. First, his 1971 The Scientific Origins of National Socialism which examines the Monist roots of National Socialism and his 1998 study, Hackel's Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology, which extends his analysis by examining Haeckel's influence on French and Italian fascism.

Gasman's work was widely accepted, if not fully appreciated. Now comes Professor Robert Richards to turn Gasman on his head. Where Gasman contends that Haeckelian Monism is significantly different from Darwinian evolutionary theory, Richards argues they were substantially the same. Where Gasman contends that Haeckel was an antisemite, Richards argues he was a friend of the Jews. Where Gasman contends that Haeckel was a proto-Nazi, Richards argues he was hated by the Nazis. Some observers have commented that the debate is about ego's rather than issues; that the debate between Gasman and Richards has become vitriolic and personal and therefore not fit for public consumption. But that view ignores the underlying significance of what is at stake. This is not about Dr. Gasman's or Professor Richards' reputation, although, both are clearly at stake. If Gasman is right, if his criticisms of Richards are sound, Richards reputation and integrity will be called into question. If Richards is right, Gasman's life work becomes a misguided attempt to malign a man who ought to share the stage with Darwin as one of the great heroes of modern science.

But beyond that and far more important is how we end up understanding fascism, the single most pernicious political and social ideology of modern times. Taken in this light, ISAR believes that Richards obscures and Gasman illuminates.

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