According to Harari Nazi ideology was humanist- which is not, of course, to say that it was “humane” or humanitarian.
Harari says that humanism is constituted by any ideology which holds that Homo Sapiens have a unique and sacred nature different from all other animals and that this unique nature is the most important thing in the world. The common characteristic of humanist ideology is the view that the good of Homo Sapiens is the supreme good.
Harari says that there are three basic rival humanist tendencies or sects:
- Liberal humanism which holds that the individual, and liberty of the individual, is the most important priority.
- Socialist humanism which holds a notion of humanity as collective and for which equality is the main priority.
- Evolutionary humanism, which holds that Sapiens might either degenerate as a species, or evolve into “super-humans”.
Both liberal humanism and socialist humanism have some roots in religious ideas. Liberal humanism has roots in the idea that each individual possesses a unique individual soul. Socialist humanism has roots in the idea that every human soul is equal before God. Evolutionary humanism, on the other hand, has its roots in a particular interpretation of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, commonly referred to as “Social Darwinism’.
The Nazis did not hold a general hatred towards human beings. Like other strands of humanism they believed that human beings, or at least certain human beings, were unique. But they believed that different races had evolved along their own evolutionary paths. They valued the so-called Aryan race above other races and regarded the supreme good as what was good for this race. They believed that natural selection must be allowed to weed out unfit individuals allowing only the fittest to survive and reproduce.
Nazi racial theories have now been debunked by science. There are no “pure” races. Nobody, except extreme fringe groups, now speak of eliminating lower races or inferior people, or of breeding a super race. However the Nazi’s basic idea of using science, including biology, to create “super-humans”, is far from dead.
For billions of years every animal and plant on Earth evolved by natural selection. Not a single plant or animal was designed by an intelligent creator.
Then, around 10,000 years ago, after the agricultural revolution, Homo Sapiens began to use selective breeding techniques. They might, for example, breed fatter, slower moving chickens. But their technologies were limited. In particular they could not introduce completely new characteristics that were absent from the previously wild and now domesticated plants and animals.
Today, however, things have changed. Scientists are intelligently engineering living beings, busting open the laws of natural selection. Scientists have implanted DNA from a green fluorescent jellyfish into a white rabbit embryo to produce a green florescent rabbit they have named Alba. Alba simply cannot be explained by the laws of natural selection. She is product of intelligent design- intelligent design by Sapiens.
The passage from natural selection to Sapiens led intelligent design could happen in any of three ways- through bio-engineering of organic life, the combination of organic life with non-organic parts, or the engineering of non-organic life.
Geneticists have already been able to extend the life of worms sixfold and produce mice that display much improved memory and learning skills. They have also been able to turn normally promiscuous rodents named “voles” into monogamists, potentially engineering not only individual tendencies but social structures. Scientists are looking at recreating now extinct animals including mammoths and potentially Neanderthals.
Harari poses the rhetorical questions: “Why stop at Neanderthals”? “Why not design a better model Homo sapiens”?
The idea of designing a better model of Homo Sapiens poses huge challenges for egalitarianism. Read part 4 Yuval Harari and ‘The Horrible Challenges to Equality that lie ahead’.