I understand how, for example, nationalism and imperialism can be said to have been causes/contributing factors behind World War 1 and how the Great Depression was a cause behind World War 2.

Are there any theories on how the philosophical environments in Europe (or the World) in some way can be said to have contributed to the wars? Has it, for example, ever been argued that existentialism was a contributing cause? Was there, for example, a greater belief in the capabilities of man?

Please note that I am not asking about how the world wars changed philosophy.

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    This is more appropriate for Philosophy. For starters go read up on the German Youth Movement and its relationship with German Social Democracy and German fascisms.
    – Samuel Russell
    Nov 9, 2013 at 23:22
  • @SamuelRussell: Please feel free to migrate the question. I don't understand the downvote though...
    – Thomas
    Nov 10, 2013 at 15:13
  • You'd have to ask somebody else about that.
    – Samuel Russell
    Nov 10, 2013 at 20:27
  • @SamuelRussell: Yeah, I already tried flagging the question, but it didn't work... still don't get the downvote...
    – Thomas
    Nov 10, 2013 at 21:51
  • Neil Meyer's answer below address the broader intellectual climate, as eugenics was not a prominent (if even present) idea in professional philosophy. Are you interested in the broader intellectual climate or in the work of philosophers per se? Nov 11, 2013 at 14:05

7 Answers 7


If you read Mein Kampf you learn that the Nazi Ideology was strongly influences by the tenants of Eugenics. This idea that humanity should facilitate the improvement of the evolutionary process is central to what the Nazi did.

After the eugenics movement was well established in the United States, it was spread to Germany. California eugenicists began producing literature promoting eugenics and sterilization and sending it overseas to German scientists and medical professionals.[4] By 1933, California had subjected more people to forceful sterilization than all other U.S. states combined. The forced sterilization program engineered by the Nazis was partly inspired by California's.[5]

The Rockefeller Foundation helped develop and fund various German eugenics programs, including the one that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.[4][6]

Upon returning from Germany in 1934, where more than 5,000 people per month were being forcibly sterilized, the California eugenics leader C. M. Goethe bragged to a colleague:

"You will be interested to know that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the > opinions of the group of intellectuals

who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought . . . I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people."[7]

Eugenics researcher Harry H. Laughlin often bragged that his Model Eugenic Sterilization laws had been implemented in the 1935 Nuremberg racial hygiene laws.[8] In 1936, Laughlin was invited to an award ceremony at Heidelberg University in Germany (scheduled on the anniversary of Hitler's 1934 purge of Jews from the Heidelberg faculty), to receive an honorary doctorate for his work on the "science of racial cleansing". Due to financial limitations, Laughlin was unable to attend the ceremony and had to pick it up from the Rockefeller Institute. Afterwards, he proudly shared the award with his colleagues, remarking that he felt that it symbolized the "common understanding of German and American scientists of the nature of eugenics."[9]


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    You will also find that it is strongly anti-Communist, which is particularly relevant given the popularity and success of communism at that point in history in neighboring countries.
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 15, 2013 at 1:05
  • I'd like to add that social conception of science was very different at the time as well. The 20th century reads like 'the rise of anti-intellectualism' in many ways. Prior to WWI, most saw science as unfettered good. Then they saw mustard gas and tanks. It shook people, but they bought into eugenics (despite it only having the trappings of science without the substance). And then they saw the concentration camps. Tragedy after tragedy was laid at the feet of those claiming science and reason as their ostensible banner through the century.
    – otakucode
    Apr 7, 2018 at 0:46

In Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, Ludwig von Mises explains that the idea that the state can and should control the economy contributed to the world wars, paying special attention to the Second World War. A few quotes from Section II of the Conclusion (these quotes are not contiguous):

Durable peace is only possible under perfect capitalism, hitherto never and nowhere completely tried or achieved. In such a Jeffersonian world of unhampered market economy the scope of government activities is limited to the protection of the lives, health, and property of individuals against violent or fraudulent aggression. The laws, the administration, and the courts treat natives and foreigners alike. No international conflicts can arise: there are no economic causes of war.

Government interference with business and trade-union policies combine to raise domestic costs of production and thus lower the competitive power of domestic industries. They therefore would fail to attain their ends even in the short run if they were not complemented by migration barriers, protection for domestic production, and—in the case of export industries—by monopoly. As any dependence on foreign trade must restrict a government’s power to control domestic business, interventionism necessarily aims at autarky.

There are nations which, for lack of adequate natural resources, cannot feed and clothe their population out of domestic resources. These nations can seek autarky only by embarking upon a policy of conquest. With them bellicosity and lust of aggression are the outcome of their adherence to the principles of etatism.

There are some specific comments on the influence of philosophers, e.g. - Chapter 1 of Part II, Chapter 5 of Part VI. It is easy enough to use the search function on your browser to look for "philosoph" if that's what you're interested in.


Personally (and this is an uncommon position), I believe the Wars stemmed from deep, and poorly misunderstood disagreements between the Christian interpretation of the Jesus and the Jewish one.

That's one part of it. The other part is the Christian position that America and all the land discovered since the Columbus was theirs via Manifest Destiny. The mistreatment of the Natives, sanctioned by the Pope under requirimiento, allowed them to kill the people found here shamelessly. Since the bloodlines of the Natives was not rooted in the Judeo-Christian bloodlines, Japan, their biological relative, simply attacked in unconscious defense, a sort of genetic reaction of a people who otherwise had no hope whatsoever of ever claiming America as their territory.


Both world wars should have been fought between the philosophy departments of 18th century British Empiricism and 19th century German Romanticism from Kant onwards.

Kant "resolved" the rationalist-empiricist debate with his acceptance of an unknowable noumenal world which was the true absolute reality and the sum of all that reason had access to. The phenomenal world of experience was only contingent and unreliable. Once Kant had parked Reason a safe distance from Reality and Faith had been rescued, German philosophy slid into a quagmire of arbitrary emotionalist speculation in a number of hydra-headed variations on the irrationalist monster.

The nightmare of Nazism was an eloquent expression of the Kantian-Hegelian world-view. The Anglosphere decided globally to defend objective reality, freedom of the individual and rule of law to the death.


If one accepts socionomics, negative social mood caused these wars along with their alleged causes. In other words, the wars and the believed causes for the wars had a more fundamental, non-deterministic but hard to resist, holistic cause that is not apparent, appears to be an effect rather than a cause, which can be traced and even predicted by looking at social, in particular market, behavior.

Social mood, however, is not well defined except to say what it is not. It is not the market changes themselves. It is not political decisions. These are all effects. So, ontologically, it is not clear what social mood is. What makes it worth considering is that socionomists claim they can assign likelihood to future changes in social mood that affect changes in political, social and market trends by studying patterns of social mood displayed in "sociometers" such as market charts. The reason market charts are useful is because of the large quantity of data available that appear patterned rather than random. The market patterns socionomists value are called Elliott Waves.

The efficient market hypothesis (EMH) provides an opposing interpretation of these market charts by calling them random walks. For EMH social mood is an effect, not a cause. If the EMH is right then social mood would not help in finding the causes of the world wars.

However, assuming socionomists are right, and they do show enough success in market predictions that traders are willing to purchase such predictions and learn the patterns themselves, socionomics or Elliott Wave analysis could provide a way to predict when a future war is likely to occur as well as why the world wars in the past occurred.

To see how such analysis might help explain world wars, here is a video showing a socionomics analysis of Korean politics and the KOSPI (Korea Composite Stock Price Index). Although political changes in Korea and the market chart are compared, both the market and the political changes are assumed to be caused by a holistic cause of something called social mood that changes in a patterned manner.

  • The implication in the above is no specific philosophy caused these wars. Social mood was the major, though not complete cause of both the wars and any potential philosophical or religious cause one might come up with. Apr 7, 2018 at 16:48

I think monotheism has its blame. Polytheists know they only have different mythologies from other peoples, while monotheists put the difference in terms of us (correct, good, saved) against them (wrong, bad, cursed). China, for instance, has not gone imperialistically beyond their linguistic territory. India has kept many different cultures, languages and races in the same territory. Samuel Huntington, in "The clash of civilizations", shows a graph where muslims are the "civilization" more involved in wars. It seems to me that judeo-christians come right after.

I'm not saying polytheists don't make war. They only have one reason less to do it. And in many cases that's a strong reason.

  • Can you substantiate any of this? Also can you define which religions you would qualify as monotheism or polytheism?
    – virmaior
    Jul 17, 2014 at 17:09
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    The claim China has not gone beyond their linguistic territory is wrong.
    – virmaior
    Jul 17, 2014 at 17:09
  • Main monotheisms: judaism, christianism, islamism. I don't call polytheisms religion, but mythologies. Every people has a mythology. But some mythologies don't admit to be called by that name, they pretend to be "the truth". This makes them so different that I call them, and only them, religions. Only monotheism does this, as far as I know. Do you want references? Nietzsche (Antichrist), Freud (The future of an illusion), Russell (Why I am not a christian), Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World). Beyond that, I've learned a lot from indigenous peoples in brazilian Amazon.
    – Rodrigo
    Jul 17, 2014 at 18:56
  • About China, are you talking about Tibet? Do you really think Tibet equals the millions of square km invaded by monotheists?
    – Rodrigo
    Jul 17, 2014 at 18:57
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    I think that's a pretty shallow duck "linguistic territory." On the same logic and roughly the same history of conquest, we can call all of Latin America, Europe, and North America parts of Christendom's "linguistic territory." Both are places that have multiple cultures and languages unified roughly by a writing system and general culture.
    – virmaior
    Oct 29, 2014 at 14:19

Any proselytizing religion would fit: medieval Christianity & Islam, etc.

Any philosophy that has been used as a basis for totalitarian ideology would fit too: Marxism, twisted aberration of Nietzsche philosophy, etc.

  • Could we convince you to elaborate on this answer somewhat? How, specifically, did these frameworks contribute to the world wars? Nov 15, 2013 at 10:15
  • @NieldeBeaudrap: Medieval Christianity was instrumental in mounting the crusades, that involved most Mediterranean nation. Ditto Islam's Jihad. Communism ideology of Marx & Lenin led to bloodshed in Russia, and Trotskiy was trying to export it to the rest of Europe under his "perpetual revolution" theory. Nietzsche philosophy was rather aggressively re-interpreted by Nazis, who postulate racial distinction between "undermen" and "supermen" and launched WWII. But I'm sure you've heard all that, why the question?
    – Michael
    Nov 15, 2013 at 17:08
  • You do not actually show or cite how these philosophies (or ideas, or historical events) promoted WWI or WWII in particular. For example, it is not clear to me how the crusades applies to the World Wars, unless you mean that they informed some totalizing philosophical framework of just war; in which case that newer philosophical framework is a more proximal cause than the crusades. Similarly, you should argue how Trotskyism prompted WWII. (To compare: Jefferson seemed to think regular revolution healthy, but it would be an academic project in History to show the effect on the U.S. Civil War.) Nov 15, 2013 at 17:19
  • @NieldeBeaudrap: here's a very brief outline of one of the things I had in mind. First, proselytizing Christianity drives Crusades, including the 1st one within Europe. Then Ostsiedlung proceeds through the centuries from Central to Eastern Europe. Later Friedrich Ratzel referred to biology and eugenics for justification for "Drag Nach Osten" to take "Liebenstraum" from Untermensch Slavs. Now with eugenics and Nietzscheanism replacing Christianity, Eastern Drive contributes to German's willingness to march WWI and even more in WWII.
    – Michael
    Nov 15, 2013 at 18:42
  • I think you mean "Lebensraum" (living space), not "Liebenstraum" (loving dream).
    – celtschk
    Jul 16, 2014 at 21:50

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