It is generally imagined that eugenics was a quack science that began with Mein Kampf and ended with the experiments of Dr. Mengele. This is not the case. “Family planning” and “genetic engineering” are the current euphemistic equivalents, and as we will see, euphemism is very often a means of killing you softly, with a new song.
Eugenics is the practical application of genetic theory to strengthen the genetic material of the human species (positive eugenics) or eliminate genetic dross (negative eugenics). At the turn of the century, eugenics was sold as a moral imperative. To housewives and mothers at that time, eugenics meant health-consciousness applied in a positivist science-directed manner. To social scientists, eugenics was a way to increase the quality of humanity similar to that of breeding more resilient strains of cattle. The presumed results would be auspicious: a steady increase in man’s intelligence and a decrease in crime and birth defects. Many American states took up the eugenic cudgel, passing sterilization laws for the physically unfit. By the end of the 1920s many thousands of mental defectives and violent criminals had undergone compulsory sterilization - a scientifically and legislatively sanctioned foray into the realm of preventative sociology.
By the mid-1930s, however, eugenics more and more became a synonym for racism and pseudo-science. Hostilities with Germany were increasing, and Nazi racial policy was vulnerable to Allied propaganda since Americans and British alike were threatened by intimations of Teutonic racial superiority. Great quantities of anti-Nazi tracts and books appeared, pillorying the myth of the Aryan superman. It is ironic to note, however, that the German Population Courts were merely emulating American eugenic policy. As early as 1930, Hitler reveals to economic advisor Wagener, “I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.” [Otto Wagener, Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant, 1985, Yale University Press.]
“Eugenics=race hatred” became an equation hard to shake in a country of Hun-haters. Yet in the 1920s, mainstream eugenicists were quick to distance themselves from those who, like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard, promoted de Gobineau-derived theories of Nordic racial superiority. “An ounce of eugenics is worth a pound of race prejudice,” wrote Professor Frank Hankins in Evolution in Modern Thought, attempting to salvage eugenic science by merging it with American melting-pot sloganeering. Hankins and fellow scientists failed to keep the flame alive. By 1940, funding for research and legal sterilizations slowed to a halt, and the eugenic ideal of a nation full of geniuses and free of imbeciles became just a fading memory.
In the repudiation of applied genetics, however, a tyranny of a very different nature arose. Grigori Lysenko’s announcement in the late 1930s that there is no such thing as an inherited trait, that all traits are environmentally determined, paved the way for the reordering of the Russian spirit in the likeness of Joseph Stalin. Rejecting theories of inheritance made it easier for Soviet rulers to expect unswerving allegiance to heavy inoculations of communist dogma. Aldous Huxley and other science fiction writers painted pictures of eugenic/technological nightmares, of gleaming postpartum assembly lines complete with stainless steel nipples. (Later in his life, Huxley found an “unregulated” breeding process a far greater nightmare.) In the U.S., an environmentally-based theory of intelligence created the legal basis for lawsuits of race bias against institutions utilizing the I.Q. test and the SAT in which asian-Americans and whites score much higher than hispanics and blacks. Equalitarianism found its answer in Equal Opportunity programs, and not in a science which spoke about genetic advantages and disadvantages. There is no more frightening picture to the civil libertarian than the vision of a State drunk on the scripture of Social Darwinism.
After WWII, in the wake of widespread anti-Nazi sentiment, UNESCO-underwritten scientists such as the anthropologist Ashley Montagu flooded the bookstores, colleges and academies with books such as Man’s Most Dangerous Myth, a debunking expose about “fascism of the gonads.” More recently, the anti-eugenicist torch has been passed to journalist-scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould (The Mismeasure of Man), Allen Chase (The Legacy of Malthus) and Daniel Kevles (In the Name of Eugenics). Their tomes rebuke, in the tradition of American and British anti-Nazi propaganda, the moral premises—and scientific varieties—of eugenics. Concludes Kevles in his book, “... the more masterful the genetic sciences have become, the more they have corroded the authority of moral custom in medical and reproductive behavior.”
UNESCO’s muddled role vis a vis eugenics—now for, now against—is worth contemplating since it describes throwing the birth process in one direction or the other for solely political purposes. G. Brock Chisholm, a former director of the World Health Organization, articulated UNESCO’s apparent aim: “What people everywhere must do is practice birth control and miscegenation in order to create one race in one world under one government.” [U.S.A. magazine, August 12, 1955] A statement such as Chisholm’s demonstrates that a version of eugenics more in line with humanist ideals is exonerated under the rubric of sexual freedom and racial equality while the early eugenicists’ aims of intellectual and moral improvement of the species continue to be damned as diabolic.
This survey will excerpt, in chronological order, leading scientists, philosophers, politicians, and journalists advocating eugenic control.
Numbers 12:1And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
The Republic“And I suppose, when young men prove themselves good and true in war or anywhere else, honors must be given them, and prizes, and particularly more generous freedom of intercourse with women; at the same time, this will be a good excuse for letting as many children as possible be begotten by such men.”
“That is right.”
“Then the officials who are set over these will receive the children as they are bom; they may be men or women or both, for offices are common, of course, to both women and men.”
"The children of the good, then they will take, I think, into the fold, and hand them over to certain nurses who will live in some place apart in the city; those of the inferior sort, and any one of the others who may be bom defective, they will put away as is proper in some mysterious, unknown place.”
An Essay on the Principle of Population, or, A View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness; with an Inquiry into Our Prospects Respecting the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Evils Which it Occasions (1798)A mob, which is generally the growth of a redundant population goaded by resentment for real sufferings, but totally ignorant of the quarter from which they originate, is of all monsters the most fatal to freedom. It fosters a prevailing tyranny and engenders one where it was not; and though in its dreadful fits of resentment it appears occasionally to devour its unsightly offspring; yet no sooner is the horrid deed committed, than, however unwilling it may be to propagate such a breed, it immediately groans with a new birth.
Of the tendency of mobs to produce tyranny we may not, perhaps, be long without an example in this country ... If political discontents were blended with cries of hunger, and a revolution were to take place by the instrumentality of a mob clamoring for want of food, the consequences would be unceasing carnage, a bloody career of which nothing but the establishment of some complete despotism could arrest.
COUNT ARTHUR DE GOBINEAU
The Inequality of the Races (1853)The word degenerate, when applied to a people means (as it ought to mean) that the people has no longer the same intrinsic value as it had before, because it has no longer the same blood in its veins, continual adulterations having gradually affected the quality of that blood. In other words, though the nation bears the same name given by its founders, the name no longer connotes the same race; in fact, the man of a decadent time, the degenerate man properly so called, is a different being, from the racial point of view, from the heroes of the great ages.
SIR FRANCIS GALTON
Hereditary Talent and Character (1865)Our human civilized stock is far more weakly through congenital imperfection than that of any other species of animals, whether wild or domestic.
... If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create.
The Descent of Man (1871)We now know, through the admirable labors of Mr. Galton, that genius ... tends to be inherited.
ALFRED RUSSELL WALLACE
Quoted in Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty (c. 1872)In one of my latest conversations with Darwin, he expressed himself very gloomily on the future of humanity, on the ground that in our modem civilization natural selection had no play, and the fittest did not survive.
Principles of Sociology (1881)Fostering the good-for-nothing at the expense of the good is an extreme cruelty. It is a deliberate storing up of miseries for future generations. There is no greater curse to posterity than that of bequeathing them an increasing population of imbeciles.
DR. ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
From The Journal of Heredity (1898)At the present time considerable alarm has been expressed at the apparently growing disinclination of American women to bear children, and a cry has been raised against what people call race suicide.
HOUSTON STEWART CHAMBERLAIN
Foundations of the 19th Century (1899)... Are the so-called (and rightly so-called) “noble” animal races, the draught-horses of Limousin, the American trotter, the Irish hunter, the absolutely reliable sporting dogs, produced by chance and promiscuity? Do we get them by giving the animals equality of rights, by throwing the same food to them and whipping them with the same whip? No, they are produced by artificial selection and strict maintenance of the purity of the race. Horses and especially dogs give us every chance of observing that the intellectual gifts go hand in hand with the physical; this is especially true of the moral qualities: a mongrel is frequently very clever, but never reliable; morally he is always a weed. Continual promiscuity between two pre-eminent animal races leads without exception to the destruction of the pre-eminent characteristics of both. Why would the human race form an exception?
The Task of Social Hygiene (1914)The eugenic ideal which is now developing is not an artificial product, but the reasoned manifestation of a natural instinct, which has often been far more severely strained by the arbitrary prohibitions of the past than it is ever likely to be by any eugenic ideals of the future. The new ideal will be absorbed into the conscience of the community, whether or not like a new kind of religion, and will instinctively and impulsively influence the impulses of men and women. It will do all this the more surely since, unlike the taboos of savage societies, the eugenic ideal will lead men and women to reject as partners only the men and women who are naturally unfit—the diseased, the abnormal, the weaklings—and conscience will thus be on the side of impulse.
The Passing of the Great Race (1915)True aristocracy is governed by the wisest and best, always a small minority in any population. Human society is like a serpent dragging its long body on the ground, but with the head always thrust a little in advance and a little elevated above the earth. The serpent’s tail, in human society represented by the antisocial forces, was in the past dragged by sheer force along the path of progress. Such has been the organization of mankind from the beginning, and such it still is in older communities than ours. What progress humanity can make under the control of universal suffrage, or the rule of the average, may find a further analogy in the habits of certain snakes which wiggle sideways and disregard the head with its brain and eyes. Such serpents, however, are not noted for their ability to make rapid progress.
PAUL POPENOE & ROSWELL HILL JOHNSON
Applied Eugenics (1918)... One does not overlook the fact that religion has at times sacrificed both personal and eugenic values. Cases of flagellation and religious celibacy come to mind as two spectacular instances. Since progress toward eugenic ideals is hampered by the present inadequate motivation toward eugenic conduct, the eugenicist looks with eager hope to religion for possible aid. Yet, unfortunately, it is necessary to admit that to date religion has contributed, along with some slight eugenic motivation, a large mixture of dysgenic motivation. ... If, on the average, the religious celibates were inferior, there would be no net eugenic loss, but this is not the case, especially with many celibate males who are held to high scholastic standards.
Race or Mongrel? (1918)The degeneracy there [in Peru] is even greater and has been more rapid than in the other South American countries, and the case is the infusion of Chinese blood into the veins of the white-negro-Indian compound. There are scarcely any Indo-Europeans of pure blood in Peru, for with the exception of pure Indians in the interior the population consists of mestizos, Zambos, mulattoes, terceroons, quadroons, octoroons, cholos, musties, fusties and dusties; crosses between Spaniards and Indians, Spaniards and negroes, Spaniards and yellows; crosses between these people and the cholos, musties and dusties; crosses between mongrels of one kind and mongrels of other kinds. All kinds of cross breeds infest the land. The result is incredible rottenness.
ALBERT EDWARD WIGGAM
The Next Age of Man (1924)We can well ask the question, are we winning the human race? When, after searching the records of ten thousand years, we can identify only one hundred and twenty-five thousand who have exhibited “special skill, enterprise or strength.” This would constitute only one person out of every quarter of a million. Certainly, we can scarcely pride ourselves that the human race has as yet won the immense stakes of health, intelligence and energy—the three basic sources from which all genius springs—if only about one person in each quarter of a million has possessed these qualities in a truly notable degree.
Mein Kampf (1925)Those who are physically and mentally unhealthy and unfit must not perpetuate their sufferings in the bodies of their children. Through educational means the State must teach individuals that illness is not a disgrace but a misfortune for which people are to be pitied, yet at the same time that it is a crime and a disgrace to make this affliction the worse by passing it on to innocent creatures out of a merely egotistic yearning.
And the State must also teach that it is the manifestation of a really noble nature and that it is a humanitarian act worthy of all admiration if an innocent sufferer from hereditary disease refrains from having a child of his own but bestows his love and affection on some unknown child whose state of health is a guarantee that it will become a robust member of a powerful community.
JUSTICE OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
Buck vs. Bell Decision (1925)We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices [sterilization], often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. ... Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
STATES APPROVING STERILIZATION LEGISLATION (1907-1931)Indiana, Washington, California, Connecticut, Nevada, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Alabama, Montana, Delaware, Virginia, Idaho, Utah, Minnesota, Maine, Mississippi, West Virginia, Arizona, Vermont, Oklahoma.
COUNTRIES APPROVING STERILIZATION LEGISLATION (1907-1931)Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, United States, Estonia, Free City of Danzig, Switzerland, England, Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany.
From a Speech (1930)The most intelligent individuals on the average breed least, and do not breed enough to keep their numbers constant. Unless new incentives are discovered to induce them to breed they will soon not be sufficiently numerous to supply the intelligence needed for maintaining a highly technical and elaborate system. Further, we must expect, at any rate, for the next hundred years, that each generation will be congenitally stupider than its predecessor, and we shall gradually become incapable of wielding the science we already have.
Germany Population Policy (1938)Opponents of the German laws for promoting the hereditary health of the nation have asked: “Who has given you the right to destroy life and to interfere with the operation of Nature’s laws through which life is created?” No, we do not destroy life. We only prevent the propagation of further lives which will be afflicted by disease and will of themselves be unfit to fulfill the demands which life makes on every individual. On the other hand is it not much more true to say that they sin against the laws of Nature who not only pamper and encourage afflicted lives but even allow these lives to be further propagated and multiplied?
Into the Darkness (1940)There were other cases that day [at the Nazi Eugenics court], all conducted in the same painstaking, methodical fashion. I came away convinced that the law was being administered with strict regard for its provisions and that, if anything, judgments were almost too restrained. On the evidence of that one visit, at least, the Sterilization Law is weeding out the worst strains in the Germanic stock in a scientific and truly humanitarian way.
A Text-Book of Mental Deficiency (1946)Another suggestion has been made of a quite contrary kind [to laissez-faire eugenic policy]—namely, that the State should put an end to the existence of defective and inefficient members within it. Probably most persons will agree that it would be better were there no defectives, and this suggestion is a logical one. ... In my opinion it would be an economical and humane procedure were their existence painlessly terminated, and I have no doubt, from personal experience, that this would be welcomed by a very large proportion of parents.
Brave New World Revisited (1958)In this second half of the twentieth century we do nothing systematic about our breeding; but in our random and unregulated way we are not only overpopulating our planet, we are also, it would seem, making sure that these greater numbers shall be of biologically poorer quality.
The Population Bomb (1968)I have understood the population explosion intellectually for a long time. I came to understand it emotionally one stinking hot night in Delhi a couple years ago. My wife and daughter and I were returning to our hotel in an ancient taxi. The seats were hopping with fleas. As we crawled through the city, we entered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people.
EDWARD O. WILSON
Sociobiology (1975)... Mankind has never stopped evolving, but in a sense his populations are drifting. The effects over a period of a few generations could change the identity of the socio-economic optima. In particular, the rate of gene flow around the world has risen to dramatic levels and is accelerating, and the mean coefficients of relationship within local communities are correspondingly diminishing. The result could be an eventual lessening of altruistic behavior through the maladaption and loss of group-selected genes.
Quoted in Discover (October, 1985)There’s no doubt that you could breed for intelligence in humans the way you breed for milk in cows or eggs in chickens. If you were to raise the average I.Q. just one standard deviation, you wouldn’t recognize things. Magazines, newspapers, books, and television would have to become more sophisticated. Schools would have to teach differently.
“HALF U.S. COUPLES CAN’T HAVE BABIES”
The New York Times (February 11,1986)Nearly half of all [white] couples of childbearing age in the United States are physically unable to have children, as Americans increasingly choose sterilization to limit their new families, according to Government statistics.
“CONCERN IN ISRAEL OVER IMMIGRATION”
The New York Times (May 21,1986)... Prof. Roberto Bacchi, head of the Hebrew University statistics department, told the Cabinet that today’s 9.5 million Jews living outside of Israel would shrink to about 8 million by the year 2000 if current demographic trends in assimilation, intermarriage and low birth rates continues.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the answer is that every Jewish family in Israel should have four children. On Sunday the Cabinet approved in principle the allocation of as much as $20 million to help 6,000 infertile Israeli couples to have children.
“MAJOR PERSONALITY STUDY FINDS THAT TRAITS ARE INHERITED”
The New York Times (December 1,1986)The genetic makeup of a child is a stronger influence on personality than child rearing, according to the first study to examine identical twins reared in different families. The findings shatter a widespread belief among experts and laymen alike in the primacy of family influence and are sure to engender fierce debate.
“NEW ANIMAL FORMS WILL BE PATENTED”
The New York Times (April 17,1987)The Federal Government, in a decision with broad moral and ethical implications, said today that it was clearing the way for inventors to patent new forms of animal life created through gene splicing.
The policy specifically bars the patenting of new genetic characteristics in humans. But one official of the United States Patent and Trademark Office acknowledged that the decision could eventually lead to commercial protection of human traits.
“The decision says higher life forms will be considered and it could be extrapolated to human beings,” said Charles E. Van Horn, director of organic chemistry and biotechnology in the patent office."