Nazi Ethics in the 21st century?

We would like to believe that the Nazi ethos was buried under the ruins of Europe in 1945. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Rafael Castro

OpEds New-born babies in Nazareth maternity ward
New-born babies in Nazareth maternity ward

Historians still debate the reasons for the rise of Nazism. Some note that Hitler succeeded due to his rhetoric; others emphasize the role of the Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression in the emergence of the Third Reich. More insightful historians delve deeper in German culture and explore the toxic brew of racism, nationalism and romanticism that inspired National Socialist ideology.

These interpretations are all correct and convincing, yet somehow miss the deeper psychological appeal of Nazism.  As propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once vaunted, the goal of Nazism was to build a perfect world. This statement sounds absurd and cynical, yet we would be mistaken to dismiss it if we are to understand how Germany - Europe’s perhaps most civilized nation – committed such heinous crimes in the name of the Nazi ideology.

Nazis fought for a world ruled by the Aryan race. This race was to epitomize the virtues of strength, beauty and health which are universally viewed as desirable. It is these very qualities that render Leni Riefenstahl’s choreographies of athletes and soldiers so seductive.

The worship of aesthetic beauty has a long pedigree in Western civilization. The classical Greeks coined the term Kalos kagathos to express their belief that the beautiful is synonymous with the good. This belief was embraced by the Romantic Movement during the 19th century, and attained its intellectual justification in the writings of Nietzsche. It is no coincidence that the Nazis set themselves the mission of breeding Übermenschen or super-humans.

We would like to believe that the Nazi ethos was buried under the ruins of Europe in 1945. Unfortunately this is not the case. The roots of this ethos are alive and well in Western culture. The resilience of the Nazi worldview is demonstrated by the fact that tall athletic men with blue eyes are the most sought-after sperm donors and that white children have far better odds of being adopted than black ones.

We may believe that these preferences only concern people unable to have children, but this is not the case. The psychological worldview of Nazis is implanted in our children every time they read stories where the beautiful are good and the ugly evil. Our marketers reinforce the Greek notion of “beauty as goodness” by using actors and models to drive our buying decisions. This mindset inspires us to look down on obese or short statured individuals. Ultimately, it culminates in the routine elimination of unborn babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

Biologists might refute this claim and state that it is not Nazism but evolution that makes us value young, healthy and beautiful humans more than old, disabled and physically unattractive ones. They are right; just as right as the Nazis who claimed that their ideology was in harmony with nature and science.

Modern science is invaluable. Nevertheless, history proves it is a poor teacher of ethics. Should we acquiesce to natural determinism and pursue human perfection from an exclusively evolutionary and materialist perspective?

The Nazi answer was affirmative. Let us hope that the 21st century will inspire humankind to value the holiness of every human existence.