Thursday, 27 April 2017

Authoritarians and science

When I put up my UK version of the Holocaust Museum's poster on Facebook, Gary Lewis of Pencoed suggested that I add "and science" to the fourth sign up from the bottom. One looks at the words and deeds of ultra-Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and takes his point. From denial of accepted scientific opinion on climate change to repudiation of warnings of the effects of pollution on the air and seas, the Trump administration is taking the US backwards. Leading figures in our Conservative party are no better, but thankfully have less power. Indeed, the democratic process in the Western world should ensure that this official obscurantism is reversed over the electoral cycle.

Thinking back to the archetypal fascists, Mussolini and Hitler, one would have to say however that the reverse is true. The fascist movement in Italy is linked with an artistic revolution which embraced science and technology. The mixture of absolutism and science had its adherents in England, too.

Like Mussolini, Hitler welcomed innovation as a means of reviving the German war machine and making it more efficient*. The Nazis applied science to mass executions in the infamous gas chambers. The philosophy behind those mass executions could be found in the theory of eugenics, which was accepted by some serious scientists in the first half of the last century and which lingered after the second world war in Canada and Sweden. It is said that among Hitler's reading material in Landsberg gaol in 1924 (when he wrote Mein Kampf) was an essay by HG Wells promoting eugenics.

Perhaps we should not watch out for disdain for science as a sign of fascism, but rather for an obsession with science to the exclusion of development in the arts.

*He missed out on the computer revolution, though. One wonders whether history could have been changed if he had given more support to Konrad Zuse.

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