Posted by: chartroose | April 10, 2009

The Kindly Ones (Unfinished) and Social Darwinism

Jonathan Littell, 2009, 992 p.

I’ve finally given it up. The only reason I stuck with The Kindly Ones for over 500 pages is because there were a few moments of amazing philosophical brilliance in this novel which left me yearning for more.  So, I would slog through about 70 or 80 pages of Nazi officers (like Overcoatfuhrers and Underwearfuhrers–the Nazis were quite fashionable) discussing their opinions of which Jews to kill and how to kill them in order to get to the next section of brilliance.  I was like a drug addict jonesin’ for a fix, and then finding that the much-anticipated high only lasts for about 30 seconds.  What a let down!  I’m quitting this one cold turkey.

The Kindly Ones wasn’t a complete waste of time, though.  I learned quite a bit from it.  Most of the novel centers on Nazi dogma, especially their conviction that the “Aryan Race” was destined to rule the world.  The Nazis were Social Darwinists, and I decided to look up some information on it at work home during my free time.  The ideal Aryan was tall, fair, strong and athletic.  All other peoples were judged to be inferior, and those who were perceived to be genetically unfit  were disposable (and disposed of during the holocaust).  In case you’ve forgotten, in addition to the millions of Jews that were exterminated, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally/physically disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian oppositionists and many other “genetically unfit” people were also murdered.

I don’t want to make this into a huge history lesson, but I do want to clarify Social Darwinism a little bit.  Social Darwinists believe that:

1.  Biology governs every living thing, including humans.
2.  Uncontrolled population growth will eventually decimate our ecosystems and natural resources.
3.  Physical and mental traits are largely inherited, therefore humans should reproduce with the fittest mates they can find.
4.  Natural selection and genetics lead to the extinction of inferior species and the evolution of superior species.
5.  All of the above can be applied to society, thus our philosophies, religions, political systems and ethical values can also be attributed to natural selection.

When I finished reading these tenets, I became quite agitated because I believe in the first four of them (the last one is just dumb).  Does this make me a Social Darwinist?  Am I a racist, classist murderer like the monstrous members of the Nazi elite?  Am I some kind of evil skinhead type who should move to Couer d’Alene to help them prepare for their imagined war between Caucasions and African Americans?  Should I move to El Paso and patrol our borders with like-minded gun-totin’ redneck vigilante racists?  Should I become a (gasp) Republican?  I’m a terrible person!

Luckily, as I continued to read about Social Darwinism, I realized that I’m not one of them.  You have to believe in #5 to be a true Social Darwinist.  I really don’t believe in much of anything, especially if it has to do with organized religion or governmental/social constructs, so I’m off the hook.

After breathing a sigh of relief (especially about my close call with Republicanism), I continued on my e-journey, where I found one of the best academic websites I’ve ever run across.  It’s a site filled with Nazi propaganda, and you can find it here.  Some of the words and images are quite disturbing.  Here is an example:

This picture is one of many in a picture book entitled Trust No Fox on His Green Heath and No Jew on His Oath. German children actually read this in school.  Unbelievable!

Here is the text that accompanies the illustration:

But the Germans — they stand foursquare.
Look, children, and the two compare,
The German and the Jew.
Take a good look at the two
In the picture drawn for you.
A joke — you think it is only that?
Easy to guess which is which, I say:
The German stands up, the Jew gives way.
The German is a proud young man,
Able to work and able to fight.
Because he is a fine big chap,
For danger does not care a rap,
The Jew has always hated him!
Here is the Jew, as all can see,
Biggest ruffian in our country;
He thinks himself the greatest beau
And yet is the ugliest you know!

Here’s another picture from the website which further demonstrates the Nazi mindset:

The Jewish man in the picture is depicted as Satan.

That’s enough on this subject.  Next week, I’m going to focus on upbeat subjects, like flowers and butterflies!



  1. I heard about this one recently and ALMOST added it to my list … now I’m glad I didn’t. At least you learned a few things though – and you came up with a great post too.

  2. I can’t wait to read about flowers and butterflies after reading this post!

  3. Geeze you got to page 500! I’m only at about 150 because I keep stopping and looking stuff up on wikipedia (lol) I’m gonna try and finish it at some point in my life.

    In no way do I agree with what’s being done in the book, it is interesting to read about it from the Nazi point of view. It’s also fascinating to think of how even though these people were doing things we think we’d never be capable of, studies are finding that may not be so true. I kept thinking of Milgram and how his experiments with behavior and obedience shattered what ordinary people thought about our human nature.

    I thought that was so funny about fitting the first four points for being a social darwinist! In one class I took everyone was given a print out of an imagined society and all it’s major rules. Then we were asked if we agreed with it or not. The entire class said it sounded like the perfect world – turns out we were all communists 😛

  4. One of the things to bear in mind with #4 is that ‘superior’ does not necessarily mean ‘more intelligent’ or ‘stronger’. In this sense it is simply ‘more likely to produce children who live to childbearing age and can attract a mate’.

    As someone who spent quite a bit of time studying biology (particularly evolutionary biology), it’s fair to say that the human race is not particularly evolving, as medical systems (ranging from antibiotics to ‘glasses’) mean that we prop up people with genes which might have caused them trouble otherwise.

    Certain evolution occurs – sexual selection still occurs (females tend to prefer taller mates, so in general there is a slight positive selection towards tall people), but on the whole we aren’t really ‘evolving’.

    Some people see this as a bad thing. I don’t. I see this as a natural price – and one well worth paying – of living in a civilised society.

    Incidentally, a lot of this ties in with eugenics, IQ testing and forced sterilisation (‘sterilise thick people’). I’d strongly recommend Stephen Jay Gould’s ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ as a fascinating ‘popular science’ type book looking at intelligence testing (and how people have used this to promote eugenics). If you’ve not already read it, please consider adding it to your TBR…

  5. Interesting. I’ve read so many things About the book, I’m not sure I want to read it anymore (I received a reader’s copy of it a while ago). Some of it sounds interesting, but plowing through the rest sounds sort of a drag. I guess if nothing else the author has stirred up people to think about the things that happened during WWII.

  6. You have one week for flowers and puppies and pastels. Then it’s Holocaust Remembrance Week (seriously) so a return to tirades against Social Darwinism would be both timely and appropriate.

    And tirades against Bush are ALWAYS timely and appropriate.

  7. No way am I even attempting to read that book.

    I have to defend Republicans of German descent though, can’t let you diss my Dad like that.

  8. Bring on the flowers and butterflies! (ps – I sent ya a letter – watch for it. It even has a tinybutterfly drawing.)

  9. You know, I requested this book from the library and it sat on my shelf for the whole duration that it was “checked out”. I eventually returned it with the promise to myself that I would check it out again during the summer (I’m a teacher and the summer months leave me with days to freely read).

    Although I laughed myself silly through out this post, perhaps I’ll delay picking it up.

  10. Ii look at your blog all the time, but I’ve been a lurker here and don’t think I’ve ever posted a comment (you’re bookmarked though, and have been for some time). I hadn’t checked f or a few days, and just now read this and the previous entry.

    You are tough. What happened to you was terrible, but thank God you are able to move forward. I don’t think we ever forget childhood traumas, but kudos to you for sharing–hopefully, knowing you have everyone’s support now must help you heal a little more.

    Anyway, I read a lot of Holocaust literature (fiction and non), and this one sounds fascinating (but a little arduous and long!). Holocaust Remembrance day is April 21st, and it is books and the memories of all of those (whether they are victims or perpetrators) that help us know we can never forget what happened. people still don’t even know or deny it and books are the perfect vehicle for keeping the Holocaust a memory that will help us avoid this in the future. We must teach our children now.

    Sorry to get all preachy! Love your blog–pic of old W is “priceless” too!

  11. Heather–Thank you! If I were a smarter person, I think I’d actually be able to finish this novel. It may be a worthwhile read for some.

    Kathy–Flowers and butterflies are coming up just for you!

    Joanne–The ideology in this novel is fascinating, isn’t it? I started getting really turned off, though, when there were pages and pages of discussion on the 50 or so languages spoken by inhabitants of the Caucasus mountains. Sometimes there’s just too much information, ya’ know?

    Jack–You continue to surprise me with your knowledge of so many different things. Eugenics is so scary to me, and I wonder how much of it is still going on… I’ll have to try “The Mismeasure of Man.” It’s about time to start reading some non-fiction again.

    Danielle–The novel does definitely have merit, but it’s just so freakin’ long!

    Jill–Luckily, I’ve written another post on Social Darwinism, so next week is set. It’s much harder to think of interesting things to say about roses and lollipops. Why is that?

    Carrie–LOL! One of my Great Grandmothers was from Alsace-Lorraine, and my family refuses to even consider the possibility that she may have been German. She was French, do you hear me, FRENCH!

    As long as your ol’ Dad is a good guy, then his background doesn’t matter.

    Care–Your card is getting me more in a flowers and butterflies kind of mood. Thank you!

    christina–If you manage to read the entire novel, let me know. I want to know how it ends.

    Kiki–I will watch “Schindler’s List” on April 21st, and I will weep as I always do. Doesn’t it seem unbelievable that there are quite a few people who deny that the Holocaust ever happened? Shame on them!

  12. I probably would stick with it if I have come that far. But it’s difficult to derive motivation to read on at various points. I find that the main weakness in the book (besides its prolixity and its determination to shock readers with reiterated and rather pointless depictions of perverted sex and disagreeable references to Aue’s digestive tract) is that (in spite to repeated contrary claims) it fails in convincing that the protagonist is just like the reader and that, in similar circumstances he might have done the same.

  13. Matthew–I got tired of the digestive tract stuff too. It seemed so obvious to me; Aue’s gi problems were used to show his immorality. He was rotten from the inside out. How ridiculously obvious! Also, Matt, your point about the novel trying to show that we are all as morally corrupt as the protagonist is spot-on as well. There’s a part close to the beginning of the novel where Aue says we’re all equally guilty because there is no basic difference between bombing a city and killing an unseen German child and sending a Jewish child to the gas chamber. There is a HUGE difference between the two!

    And the sex stuff, well, I wasn’t shocked at all. I’ve read much more explicit stuff than this!

  14. Wow, what a post. I think I’ll pass on this book. It seems too deep for me. I usually like my reading to let me escape it all, not cause me to have a social crisis.

    You definitely gave me some things to ponder.

  15. […] Unfinished book, thoughts on Social Darwinism and BRING ON THE BUTTERFLIES! […]

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