Did you know that Konrad Lorenz, that Austrian father of Ethology, the study of animal behavior, was both a Nazi and a cheerleader for "race cleansing"?
Now, to be fair, a lot of folks believed in eugenics in the 1920s, and a lot of folks in Austria and Germany also became Nazis, some with more passion than others.
What is distinctive about Konrad Lorenz, however, is that he did not join the Nazi party early on, or as a callow youth.
Lorenz was 35 years old when he joined the Nazi party in 1938, just four months before Kristallnacht. Eager to ingratiate himself with the Nazis, he suggested that animal behaviorism provided a solid platform and rationalization for "racial cleansing."
As Richard W. Brukhardt, Jr. notes in Patterns of Behavior: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the Founding of Ethology:
Summoning up an image with which the Nazis were obsessed, the naturalist [Lorenz] who only a few days before had applied for membership in the Nazi Party likened degenerate members of society to cancerous cells in an organism: "Nothing is more important for the health of an entire people [Volk] than the elimination [Ausschaltung] of invirent types, which, with the most dangerous and extreme virulence, threaten to penetrate the body of a people like the cells of a malignant tumor."
Apologists for Lorenz paint him as a simple opportunist willing to say anything for money or advancement, but the true history is a little more troubling.
In private letters, Lorenz is overtly antisemitic, and in his application to join the Nazi party, his supporters noted that his father's autobiography was "a decidedly Nazi book."
There is more, of course. Sworn in as a Nazi in 1938, Lorenz was a member of the Office of Race Policy and a goose-stepping supporter right up until 1943, when it became clear the Nazi cause was doomed.
In 1940, even as trains full of of Jews rolled to the ovens, Lorenz saluted the cause of extermination for racial purtity, writing that:
The selection of toughness, heroism, social utility ... must be accomplished by some human institutions if mankind in default of selective factors, is not to be ruined by domestication induced degeneracy. The racial ideas as the basis of the state has already accomplished much in this respect.
In 1942, Lorenz participated in a study of 877 children of mixed German-Polish marriages to determine their potential for assimilation into German culture. Those considered of inferior social or genetic value were sent to concentration camps where, presumably, most were killed.
At the end of the war, Lorenz was rounded up by the Russians and put in a camp for former Nazis from which he was discharged in 1948.
After being released by the Russians, Lorenz found it hard to get funding in Austria or Germany because of his past Nazi associations. What to do?
The answer, of course, was to lie overseas, where his track record was less clear due to time, distance and translation issues. Lorenz now claimed he was never a Nazi, and downplayed his numeous published papers which supported racial cleansing.
In 1973, Konrad Lorenz joined Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen and Austrian biologist Karl von Frisch, as one of three joint winners of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine -- the same award given in 1912 to Alex Carrel, the French scientist who, in 1935, first proposed using gas chamber "as we do in the breeding of dogs" to improve the human race.
The notion that Konrad Lorenz gave up his Nazi theology is simply not true. In his last book (Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins, 1974), Lorenz has a chapter on "genetic decay" in which he continued to claim that domestication of animals had weakened them -- a Nazi idea now stripped of Swastika's, but otherwise unchanged from its original permutation.
And what was Lorenz's solution? Lorenz believed that aggressive measures should be embraced in order to prevent "degeneration" of both humans and animals, and that to achieve success both humans and animals should be to bred to a standard enforced through eugenic measures. If this was done long enough for humans, Lorenz argue, we might be able to perfect a new species of man, but to do so we would have to replace the Golden Rule with a new maxim; "You shall love the future of your Volk above all else."
- Related Links:
** The Eugenics Man and the Kennel Club
** From Bassetts to Auschwitz in 50 Years
** The Francis Galton Dog Show
** A Fear of Foreign Blood
** On Eugenics and Dogs, Circa 1942
** Gas Chambers, Dog Breeders and "Shelters"