Reader Paul Burnett taunts me:
Go ahead, David, say it: “Darwin taught Hitler (and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot) how to kill millions of people.”
Mao Tse-tung finally claimed that Marxism-Leninism could all be boiled down to one sentence, tsao fan yu li — “To rebel is justified” — but that standard translation obscures the force of the li (reason or principle) that rebellion was now said to have. That Neo-Confucian word in [its] new context really meant that rebellion was a natural law, and that lesson had been taught to Mao Tse-tung not by Marx but by Sun Yat-sen and Liang Ch’i-ch’ao, who had learned it, rightly or wrongly, from Darwin. For the li of revolution, they had said, lay in evolution.
Darwin justified revolution and thereby helped the cultural revolutions of Liang Ch’i-ch’ao, Hu Shih, and Mao Tse-tung (and, of course, so many others), and the political revolutions of Sun Yat-sen, Chiang K’ai-shek, and Mao Tse-tung. As things turned out, therefore, he seemd to help Mao Tse-tung the most, and indeed he did. He helped make the Marxists the fittest.
Darwin created the ideological vacuum [by undermining traditional ideas] that cried out for something like Marxism, and he established criteria for what that something should be. The new fit and fittening ideology had to be based on the Western science of evolutionary progress. It had to identify inevitable, natural stages of human social development. It had to promise historical inevitability and yet at the same time recognize the vital importance of human action. It had to be based on struggle and yet stress mutual aid among members of the ch’un. It had to provide a non-racial enemy to explain China’s inner and outer troubles without damning the Chinese — and it had to give the underdog a chance.
That last stipulation was not Darwin’s by any stretch of the imagination, but every Chinese Darwinist we have seen forced Darwin to give the underdog a chance….
The notion that one can be prescient of evolution’s Way has led some to feel that the prescient have special rights, if not duties, in the struggle they believe that Way requires. And so Darwin has ironically helped produce a new kind of religious know-it-all-ism, and a concomitant new kind of religious self-righteousness and religious intolerance….
Mao Tse-tung in an angry moment (as late as 1964) swore that “all demons shall be annihilated.” He dehumanized his enemies, partly in traditional hyperbole, partly in Social Darwinian “realism.” Like the Anarchists he saw reactionaries as evolutionary throwbacks, who deserved extinction. The people’s enemies were non-people, and they did not deserve to be treated as people.