IN THE good old days that preceded the Russian-German alliance Hitler railed at Marx and Communism, and Stalin at Fascism and Capitalism. Yet both dictators stood on common ground; for both insisted, as Marx had insisted long before them, that society is everything, that the individual citizen must submerge himself in the state and its destiny. It makes little difference that Stalin, following Marx and Lenin, still talks of "proletarian" science and art and philosophy and of their duty to the worker, while Hitler talks of Nordic superiority and of what he regards as the manifest destiny of the Nordic stock to rule the earth. Both agree that the university professor must serve the state, accept the tenets of the official ideology and eschew any excursions into the metaphysical or the theoretical. The artist, philosopher and scientist must not only believe what he is told to believe by his rulers; he must practise that belief. Objectivity is derided in both the Soviet Union and Germany as unattainable and as anti-social.

If this insistence on the crushing of individuality assumes different aspects in Russia and in Germany it is because of different economic needs and social conditions. Despite the greatness of Mendelyev and Pavlov, despite the eminence of some Russian mathematicians and physicians, the Tsars did little to encourage science. In Germany, on the other hand, science was officially cultivated, and the chemist or engineer who had earned an international name became a Geheimrat, an Exzellenz, even a Freiherr or Graf, with the right to precede his family name with a von, though he might be a Jew. The Herr Professor was outranked in the salons and at court only by higher state dignitaries and army officers. There were universities in nearly all the important towns, and each of them was preëminent in some Fach, such as mathematics, as at Göttingen, or medicine, as at Tübingen, or philosophy, as at Berlin.

Today the academic rôles of Germany and Russia are changed. The Germans have closed most of their universities; the professor has so completely lost his old status that students covet membership in the "party" or the position of Gauleiter rather than that of Dozent. In Russia, on the other hand, there are over 700 universities and colleges with over 600,000 students. For 1942 the plans call for thirty-four times as many students in various Russian schools as there were before the revolution. There are now over eight hundred scientific research institutions, with 24,246 full-time researchers and a budget of well over a billion rubles. The explanation of this rapid growth of the university and the laboratory is that the Soviet Union needs scientists and engineers to develop vast but still unsurveyed natural resources.

"The old idea of science based on belief in the supremacy of the intellect is dead," Bernhard Rust, Minister of Culture, declared at the Jubilee celebration of Heidelberg, a university which in supposedly benighted times had invited that powerful intellect, Spinoza, to join its faculty. Frank, Minister of Justice, was similarly explicit when he told the Association of University Professors that the old objectivity was nonsense and that "today the German university professor must ask himself one question: Does my scientific work serve the welfare of National Socialism?" This contempt for independent thought explains the closing of Göttingen's school of mathematics, once the finest institution of its kind in the world, and the disappearance of the entire cancerresearch staff of Heidelberg. Lectures on scientific theory and philosophy have given place largely to lectures on such subjects as "Nazi Philosophy and Race Theory," "Folk and Race," "Medical Outlook on Physical Culture," "First Aid with Special Reference to Military Sport and Gas Defense."

If we substitute "the Proletarian State and the Communist Party" for "National Socialism" we have the Soviet argument. At the International Congress of the History of Science and Technology held in London in 1931, Nikolai Bukharin, like Rust and Frank, flatly denied that any scientist should try to be impersonal. In Soviet Russia the only basis of scientific and artistic creation is Marxism, with the result that in meetings of the Soviet Academy of Sciences the discussions dwell on proletarian science. As in Germany, "the Party" dominates. Dismissal from it amounts to academic ostracism.

Curious rejections of scientific doctrines which are accepted in Great Britain, France and the United States follow as a matter of course. And there are equally curious variations in the reasons given for the rejections. Relativity was denounced in Nazi Germany before the Hitler-Stalin alliance as a piece of "Jewish communism;" since the alliance it has become an example of characteristically perverse Jewish thinking. In Soviet Russia relativity is likewise scorned, but as an expression of "bourgeois idealism." Because it believes so fervently in race and blood, Nazi Germany accepts the Mendelian principles of heredity. Soviet Russia repudiates them because they conflict with Marx -- conflict with the communistic doctrine that environment is everything and heredity is of secondary importance, that good food, good schools and a good proletarian atmosphere can overcome hereditary disease and physical defect.

Nazi and Soviet officials and professors go to incredible lengths in following their rulers. Professor Philipp Lenard, a Nobel prize winner after whom a physical institute at Heidelberg has been named, asserts that only Nordics have made fundamentally important contributions to science. Professor Johannes Stark, head of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt, is of like mind. "It can be adduced from the history of physics that the great discoverers from Galileo and Newton to the physical pioneers of our time were almost exclusively Aryans, predominantly of the Nordic race," he observed in an article contributed to Nature. Professor Bieberbach of the University of Berlin writes diatribes on the Jewish approach in mathematics, of which relativity is a flagrant example, and heads a group of Berlin professors who maintain that Germans conceived mathematical infinity; that mathematics is a heroic science with a mission precisely like that of National Socialism, namely the reduction of chaos to order; and that German mathematics must remain Faustian so that it may serve the new German system effectively. These views are popularized by C. J. Tietjen in a pamphlet, "Raum oder Zahl?", which has the support of the Ministry of Culture and in which it is maintained that the Nordic race has a unique feeling for space which it is the duty of every teacher to foster, so that German children may be protected from the logic that curses the mathematics of Latin and Semitic peoples. (The pamphlet was written before the creation of the Axis.) Soviet mathematicians are equally mystical. Sharp distinctions are drawn between "bourgeois mathematics" and "proletarian mathematics." At the International Congress for the History of Science and Technology, Professor Colman rose to expound the "present crisis in the mathematical sciences" as it is conceived in Russia and to assert that if it is to be dealt with properly "we must take into consideration the crisis in the bourgeois natural sciences, especially physics," and bear in mind that both crises are part and parcel of "the crisis within capitalism as a whole." French, British and American mathematicians and physicists seem to have remained strangely unaware of any economic "crisis" in their sciences.

The totalitarian conception of the relation of science to the state is remarkably elastic. When political expediency so determines, the whole concept is modified. At the time Hitler came to power we heard much about the blue-eyed, blond, long-headed "Aryan," the born ruler of men. When it turned out that roundheaded, swarthy Bavarians could not qualify physically as "Aryans" in this sense, and when the Japanese, whom Hitler soon began to cultivate, resented the German implication that they were inferior because they were obviously not "Aryans," the concept was changed. Early in 1939 the German Law Academy announced that the terms "Aryan" and "German blooded" and "of German and cognate blood" were to be supplanted by the term "European-racial." As the Polish issue became acute, it was impossible to regard Poles as "German blooded" or even as a people of "cognate blood," despite the ethnological connection of the Germans with the Slavs and the manifestly blue eyes and blond hair of many Poles. In popular German writings more is now made of the "German soul" than of physical characteristics.

The Soviet régime demands equal flexibility. When Stalin and Trotsky clashed, Soviet laboratories, research institutes and universities were combed for Trotskyites. Many scholars who had been respected alike for their attainments and for their adherence to Marxism became suspect politically and were arraigned as "unscientific." Even to have a book praised by a supposed Trotskyite or Fascist was enough. When Zelenin fell into disgrace much was made of the fact that a book of his had been published in pre-Hitler Germany. Because Tscherni had received the approval of German professors of psychology his disciples, Zeitlin and Katsnelson, were persecuted. Motorin and Busygin were denounced for attempting to "liquidate ethnography as a science," though before Trotsky's downfall their writings had been entirely acceptable. A school of which Bogayevsky, another alleged Trotsky adherent, was a prominent representative offended because it pictured ancient Crete as a scene of class struggle, contrary to the Marxist gospel. When it was suspected that Bukharin, official philosopher and interpreter of Marx and Lenin, was leaning toward Trotsky, he at once became "a kulak ideologist and a restorer of capitalism."

This Nazi and Soviet pursuit of "rebels" may seem absurd, but actually it is logical. An artist or a scientist in Germany and in Russia serves the state. He therefore cannot separate his politics from his strictly professional activities. If he departs from the prevailing official ideology he automatically becomes an anti-Nazi in Germany and a counter-revolutionary in the Soviet Union. If Vavilov, an outstanding geneticist, is still at large it is because the Soviet Academy of Sciences has not yet made up its mind about the social merit of the theories of his rival, Lysenko. The extraordinary claim is made by Lysenko that by changing the environment it is possible to change the hereditary characteristics of plants -- a claim which, if proved, would reinstate Lamarck's discredited theory that acquired characteristics are transmissible and would mean, for instance, that a blacksmith can pass along his trained strength to his offspring.

In sheer vehemence of denunciation the Soviet zealots far outshine their Nazi counterparts. "Bandit," "traitor," "fascist agent," are among the milder epithets hurled at scientists who, though fanatic followers of Marx and Lenin, have failed to toe the most recently chalked professional line. "We demand ruthless punishment for the vile betrayers of our great country," was the opening phrase of a remarkable document published in the first issue of Vol. 14 of the Astronomical Journal of the Soviet Union, an official organ of the astronomical division of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Scientists suspected of following Trotsky were branded as "this despicable gang of human degenerates" who "were selling our socialistic country and its riches to the worst enemies of human progress." "A complete investigation into the participation of the right-wing renegades Bukharin, Rykov and Uglanov" was demanded. The same official journal published -- in Vol. 16, No. 2 -- an extraordinary deliverance on relativity. "Modern bourgeois cosmogony is in a state of deep ideological confusion resulting from its refusal to accept the only true dialectic materialistic concept, namely the infinity of the universe with respect to space as well as time," we read. "The hostile work of the agents of fascism, who at one time managed to penetrate to leading positions in certain astronomical and other institutions as well as in the press, has led to revolting propaganda of counter-revolutionary bourgeois ideology in the literature." It was also charged that Soviet materialistic works on cosmology "have been suppressed by the enemies of the people." In other words, because Marx and Engels were saturated in Victorian materialism, which followed Newton in picturing the universe as a colossal machine instead of a problem in higher geometry, all the experimental and observational evidence that supports relativity must be rejected.

How does science like this tyranny? A few bold spirits still survive in Germany and Russia, but, on the whole, there is a remarkable pliancy of the scientific mind in both countries. Professor Fischer, who with Bauer and Lenz wrote a standard work on genetics in which he showed that some Hottentot-Dutch hybrids are often better men than their "pure" parents, recanted nobly by explaining that the superiority of such mongrels must be attributed to an indefinable something that flowed into them with Nordic-Dutch blood. Soviet scientists are equally adroit sidesteppers. When the New York Times reported the bitter debate on genetics in which Vavilov and Lysenko engaged (a debate in which a belief in heredity was excoriated by Lysenko as a belief in "racialism"), Vavilov cabled a reply in which he praised Soviet science. Vavilov also declined to serve as the president of the last International Congress of Genetics (1939), evidently under orders, though he knew of his election months before. Serebrovsky, another geneticist, who saw how the wind was blowing, promptly repudiated his own views, particularly those which favored eugenics by means of sterilization, as "counter-revolutionary" and "unscientific." The Russian gift of recantation, which marked the trials of Party members accused of adherence to Trotsky, manifests itself in science as well as in politics.

Back of the ideologies of the dictators, back of the professional pliancy, is something more than political expediency, something more than blind obedience. Long before the world ever heard of Mussolini and Stalin and Hitler it was in a state of social unrest. The revolutions that overthrew the Romanoffs and the Hohenzollerns, the upheavals that gave British labor new rights and privileges, were expressions of dissatisfaction with the social structure. To say that the dictators emerged because science and technology had taken possession of society and stamped it with a pattern utterly different from that which the égalitarians of the eighteenth century knew is an over-simplification. There are psychic factors that cannot be ignored -- inner drives, national traditions, habits of life. Yet if the dictators are to be overthrown, if democracy is to be preserved, the part that science and technology played in the rise of democracy cannot be ignored. Research produces not only change within science itself but social change. The democratic method is to adapt social change to technological change. The dictators are trying to do the contrary.

In considering the relation of science to the dictators we must bear in mind that the human mind is intrinsically no better than it was 10,000 years ago. It simply has acquired new interests under social tension. In the Middle Ages social tension expressed itself so strongly in religion that there were 110 holy days in the year; a new ecclesiastical architecture was evolved; all Europe rose to the spiritual need of wresting Jerusalem from the "infidel." Today, however, it means more to our society to discover how the atom is constituted than that a new ecclesiastical architecture is developed, more that the mechanism of heredity is revealed than that savages in Africa are converted to Christianity. Perhaps its pragmatic attitude has led science to ignore essential ethical values. But the point is that science dominates our society, and that if our society wants science it must choose between totalitarianism and democracy. There can be no compromise.

No self-respecting anthropologist or social scientist now believes in the "great man" theory of culture expounded by Carlyle in "Heroes and Hero Worship." Great men do not of themselves produce cultures; nor do cultures necessarily produce great men. Lincoln is credited with the remark, "I have not made events, events have made me." And so it was with Bach and Beethoven, Newton and Einstein, Edison and Bell. Progress in art, science, politics is not made merely by waiting for a unique genius to appear. In every people there are strong, gifted personalities that respond sensitively to social tension. Their works, whether they be poems or scientific discoveries, paintings or machines, have a way of appearing "when the time is ripe," as we say.

Why was it that invention lagged before the liberal movement of the eighteenth century? Because it involved experimentation, work with the hands, dirty work. Also it was useful -- and anything that was useful or commercial was held in contempt by the nobility. When the business man and the inventor were freed from this aristocratic fetishism, machine after machine appeared, and with the machines came mass production and mass consumption of identical goods. Without standardization mass production is impossible. To have cheap, good clothes we must all dress more or less alike. To bring automobiles within the reach of millions we must have the assembly line. To live inexpensively in cities we must eat packaged foods, dwell in more or less standardized homes, bathe in standardized bath tubs, and draw water and gas from common reservoirs. Mass production has brought it about that the average life in New York is hardly different from the average life in Wichita. The same motion pictures brighten the screen, the same voices and music well out of loud-speakers in every town, identical cans of tomatoes and packages of cereals are to be found on all grocers' shelves, identical electric toasters brown identical slices of bread everywhere, identical refrigerators freeze identical ice cubes in a million kitchens. If gunpowder made all men the same height, in Carlyle's classic phrase, mass production has standardized behavior, pleasures, tastes, comforts, life itself.

Mass production and labor-saving devices have created a social crisis. We cannot have mass production and mechanization without planning. Engineers and their financial backers are planners. Dictators are planners. Whether they know it or not, most corporation executives and engineers are necessary totalitarians in practice. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin clearly have the instincts of engineers. Their states are designed social structures.

Often enough we hear it said that mechanical invention has outstripped social invention -- that new social forms must be devised if we are to forestall the economic crises that are brought about by what is called the "impact of science" on society. Communism and Fascism are social inventions, intended among other things to solve the economic problems created by technological change under the influence of capitalism. They attempt to answer a question: Are the technical experts and their financial backers to shape the course of society unrestrained, and even to rule nations directly and indirectly, as they did in France, and as they do in part in Great Britain and the United States? The totalitarians say that a capitalistic democratic government cannot control the experts, the inventors, the creators of this evolving mechanical culture. They therefore have decided to take control of thinking, above all scientific thinking, out of which flow the manufacturing processes and the machines which change life.

But science is more than coal-tar dyes and drugs, electric lamps, airplanes, radio, television, relativity and astrophysics. It is an attitude of mind -- what Professor Whitehead has called "the most intimate change in outlook that the human race has yet experienced." If Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin are to rule, that scientific attitude will have to be abandoned when it conflicts with the official social philosophy. But if it is abandoned there can be no Newtons, no Darwins, no Einsteins. Science will be unable to make discoveries which will change the human outlook and, with the outlook, the social order. If the world wants to preserve science as a powerful social force for good the research physicist, chemist and biologist must be permitted to work without intellectual restraint, i.e. to enjoy the fundamental freedom of democracy.

The Marxists are right in maintaining that science has never achieved perfect objectivity. No scientist has yet performed an experiment without injecting himself into it. Yet there has been a brave and determined and continuous and on the whole successful effort to strip scientific investigation and theorizing of emotion, of personal predilection. From animism science passed to Newton's abstract "forces," and from forces (still anthropomorphic), to a mathematical conception of the cosmos and atomic structure. An essential to this progress has been that the scientist has not demanded that his theory be considered "true." He does not profess to know what the truth is. A theory must work. It is an expedient. When it ceases to work it is thrown overboard or modified. This method of merciless self-examination cannot be followed in a society where the result of each investigation is predetermined for extraneous reasons. Democracy flounders before it arrives at satisfactory solutions of its social problems. But it is better to flounder and progress than to follow the philosophy of a dictator and to remain socially and scientifically static.

It does not follow that under the Nazi or the Marx-Lenin dispensation there can be no science. What is likely to happen to science if totalitarianism prevails is revealed by the course of Egyptian art. In its earliest phases that art was fairly free; hence there was much experimenting, much striving for realistic modes of expression. When the priests took control of Egyptian life a dramatic change occurred. The ways of portraying the human being became stylized. For centuries the style hardly changed. Art had been frozen. And so must it be with research. There can be science and engineering under dictation; but it will be stylized science, engineering which does not progress.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now