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Darwin, Galton, and “Replacement Theory”

Image: Francis Galton, National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

After the horrific Buffalo, NY, shooting of last weekend, “replacement theory” is suddenly on everyone’s lips. Unlike agitators in the media and politics, John West actually took the time to read the shooter’s manifesto to see what drove him. West found that the latter’s racism derived from online study of mainstream evolutionary theory. What the cynical manipulators don’t tell you is that “the Buffalo shooter’s evolutionary racism is not an outlier among recent mass killers. Arguments drawn from evolution have been prominent in the ideologies of many mass shooters in recent years.” But recognizing this reality would do nothing to advance political agendas, so the partisans ignore it.

Now a new podcast by Hank Hanegraaff with historian Richard Weikart provides some very relevant historical background, drawing on Weikart’s recent book Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism. The interview was conducted before the event in Buffalo unfolded, though Weikart and Hanegraaff discuss a similar crime, a 2019 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, also fueled by the killer’s reading about evolution.

What I found particularly interesting is that Darwinism and eugenics, going back to the 19th century, were haunted by ideas of “replacement.” Darwin in The Descent of Man predicted, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races” (emphasis added). But replacement could work in the reverse direction: Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin who first advanced the idea of eugenic theory, worried that people of what he regarded as inferior stock would “swamp” (Weikart’s word) their betters by out-reproducing them. The question of who would replace or swamp whom has been a preoccupation of pseudo-scientific racists ever since. Listen to the excellent conversation here.