Scientism, Democracy, and Totalitarianism

September 14, 2021 Updated: September 23, 2021


“Relieving people of the burden of freedom in order to make them feel safe is a recurring theme in the history of authoritarianism.”—Frank Furedi

Egon Friedell committed suicide in 1938.

The author leaped from his apartment window in Vienna, warning the crowd below to spare them from his ruin; it was his last selfless act. Friedell was an extraordinary polymath and a mensch who had long bravely dissented from the scientism of his day. It had terrifying consequences.

Friedell’s parents were Jewish. The Nazis had annexed Austria, and the SA had come to arrest him.

Scientism is the belief that moral or evaluative judgments are merely subjective and that only the “hard” sciences—think physics, chemistry, or biology—furnish legitimate objective knowledge. The belief is self-refuting insofar as it’s a subjective moral evaluation of what is legitimate.

The charge of intellectual dishonesty and amorality didn’t discourage the Nazis.

The Nazis’ eugenics research was rooted in scientism. If Darwinism taught survival of the fittest as the mechanism of natural selection, then a scientific society must ruthlessly obey nature’s amoral lead just to survive. If racial purity was the solution, the Jews were the problem. Hitler saw them as a virus, an existential threat to the German Volk:

“The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world. The battle in which we are engaged today is of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! … We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew.”

The Nazis’ atrocities were borne of indoctrinated fear. As genetic determinists, they concluded that only eugenics could repel the threat. The amoral mob that arose in Germany, and soon in Austria, having lived first through World War I, the Spanish flu, punitive reparations, and hyperinflation, wa+s strongly motivated by a demagogue playing on their fears of survival.

They had to go over some speedbumps first.

In the Weimar Republic of 1931, the German Medical Association issued “Guidelines for New Therapy and Human Experimentation.” That articulated the motives of beneficence and nonmaleficence for medical treatment, as well as the legal doctrine of informed consent. The public’s fear and Hitler’s scientism steamrolled the ethics of the medical association.

German universities, world-famous for their academic rigor and liberal thinking, suffered a similar fate. Many were simply told by bureaucrats that Jews would be forbidden to enter university premises. They capitulated. Peter Drucker recorded that after that bullying “most kept a safe distance from these who only a few hours earlier had been their close friends.” Others, such as the famous philosopher Martin Heidegger, collaborated, arguing that freedom of inquiry and expression were “negative and selfish ideas.” Albert Einstein was among the 15 percent who lost their jobs.

After World War II, the Nazis were tried for war crimes. Similarly, in the “Doctors’ Trial,” German physicians responsible for their nefarious experiments on humanity were prosecuted. And part of the lesson was learned. In 1947, the Nuremberg Code once again articulated that the voluntary informed consent of the human subject is the bedrock of medical ethics. It’s been rigorously enforced both in the field of medicine and research ever since.

Scientism didn’t go away, however.

Scientists who hold to it actually flourish in democracies. Indeed, they dominate public policy. Why? Because by relegating matters of religion or ethics or conscience to “private” concerns, they appear nonpartisan and of practical benefit in a multicultural society. They’re well funded by democratic governments and rise in the ranks. Richard John Neuhaus described the political result as “The Naked Public Square.”

It’s true that not all scientists adhere to scientism. But when fears are sufficient, what some do out of conviction, all eventually must do out of compulsion. Nazi Germany is just the object lesson. C.S. Lewis noted the insidious effect of the denial of moral authority in English education in his 1943 masterpiece “The Abolition of Man” (pdf). It remains prophetic.

But why does it tend toward totalitarianism?

Because the belief in scientism is a pure act of will, an unbreakable resolution to accept only what can be verified empirically by everyone as real. Augusto Del Noce said that a society that follows scientism “cannot help being totalitarian inasmuch as [its] conception of science … cannot be the object of any proof … [it] does not intend to elevate other forms of thought to a higher level … but simply ‘denies them.’”

Instead of genetics, scientists now appeal to computer models. Computers are ideal for scientism. They have even less concern for ethics. In fact, R0 is now the gold standard that trumps medical ethics.

More insidiously, it involves a will to power.

The technocrats are terrorizing us into a dystopia with algorithms. As I write, the medical profession has abandoned its commitment to the Nuremberg Code. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario deems questioning still-experimental vaccines (or any related government policy) to be “misinformation” and doctors have been encouraged not to give medical exemptions.

Universities and colleges across Canada have also been told by politicians to bring in vaccine mandates. Despite the fact that there’s no legislation to compel it and that it contradicts privacy rights and fundamental charter rights, the universities have dropped their own commitment to the Nuremberg Code.

And the students themselves, at almost no risk from COVID-19, have likewise meekly capitulated to the methodologically blind experts who slavishly follow R0 charts. Informed consent has become a mockery, and children are now enticed with ice cream, lottery prizes, financial incentives, and fun activities.

Yet not all are so blind or fearful.

Huron College’s brave ethics professor Julie Ponesse has affirmed the Nuremberg Code’s doctrine of informed consent and, in an object lesson, has refused to be the subject of genetic medical experimentation mandated by her employer.

Egon Friedell asserted that “God does not rule the world outwardly by gravitation and chemical affinity, but inwardly in the heart of man: As is your soul, so will the destiny be of the world in which you live and do.”

Let’s hope and pray that the world in which we live and do will be shaped by their ethical example.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Scott Masson
Scott Masson is a public intellectual and an associate professor of English literature. For more information on Masson, visit and