Persecution of Science: A Lesson from the 20th Century – Article by Benjamin Locke
Editor’s Note: The United States Transhumanist Party publishes this guest submission by Benjamin Locke to bring attention to the important issues it raises regarding how irrational prejudice against science, as well as against human beings based on circumstantial attributes more generally, can be prevented and diminished, to avert the kind of terrible toll that transpired in the mid-20th century from being inflicted again.
~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party,
July 18, 2020
Throughout the course of human history, there has been a struggle between rationality and antiscience. This struggle also grips the United States. The U.S. Transhumanist Party is a rarity in the American political atmosphere. There is admiration for seeing an American political party dedicated to reason, scientific advancements, and improving life for all of humanity. So, I started wondering: what would happen if parties like us were too afraid to exist? What would happen if people dedicated to reason and science were too afraid to speak? I found my answer in one of the most infamous, cruelest governments ever to taint the face of Earth.
During the reign of the Nazi Fascists, there was a mass scientific exodus from Germany because the Nazis valued nationalism and “racial pride” over brilliant minds like Albert Einstein, Hans Bethe, Leo Szilard, and many others who fled to the United States. Two years before the Nazis consolidated power in 1933, a journalist asked Adolf Hitler who would be the brains of Germany if the Nazis took over. Hitler responded: “I’ll be the brains!” By 1945, Hitler’s “brains” deepened Germany into a system of hate and genocide. He pushed Europe into a brutal world war, and he oversaw the largest persecution of logic and reason.
Many people wonder: “Why wasn’t an atrocity like the Holocaust prevented?” While many are quick to solely place blame on the actions of Hitler and his unfortunately large amount of monstrous followers, a large portion of the blame falls on those who remained silent and indifferent. In the spring of 1933, a few protested the expulsion of great scientists (like Max Born, James Franck, and many more) from Gottingen University. Even famous scientists like Werner Heisenberg voiced dissent. Despite the calls for reason, Hitler and his companions were deafened by their own tune of hate.
By the end of 1945, when the hatred of the Nazis was finally stomped out by the Allies, 6 million Jews and 5 – 6 million members of other groups had been murdered. We will never know the number of future Albert Einsteins, Hans Bethes, and Leo Szilards buried because of systematic hatred.
So that raises the question: why were high-ranking Germans so blinded by antiscience and racism that they could not see reason? When World War One concluded, the once-powerful German Empire was replaced by a weak nation called the Weimar Republic. It was a nation which, many claimed, was unnecessarily weakened by the victorious powers of the First World War through articles like the Treaty of Versailles (signed 1919). This infuriated World War One veterans (Hitler himself was one) and many patriotic Germans. A wave of fervent nationalism arose and demanded an answer to Germany’s failures. This is why groups like the Nazis assembled in 1920. Instead of utilizing reason and using it as a tool to rebuild their national pride, they settled on scapegoats and pseudoscience. The Jews were quickly targeted. Their shops were vandalized, they were beaten in the streets, and German doctrine declared them “subhuman”. By 1933, the Nazis were so entrenched in their hatred that their misguided beliefs became their reason.
Some may argue that Hitler’s Nazi Party is the reason why Germany rose out of a broken and impoverished nation like the Weimar Republic. However, in the span of less than 20 years, Germany went from the forefront of the scientific world back to a devastated, impoverished nation… a nation in a worse state than that after the infamous signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
We have to wonder: What if the flames of bitter hate were stomped out early before it blazed into an uncontrollable forest fire? What would happen if Germany had, instead of persecuting their most brilliant minds, let them live and work? How much further would science be today? What responsibilities do we, as Americans dedicated to defending life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, hold so a terrible system of hatred never burns down our country?