Shortly after Darwin published his Origin of Species, his cousin Francis Galton conceived the idea of applying its teachings to human development. Galton’s own description of his ideas could be summarized with the following fragment: “qualities gained by good nourishment and education never descend by inheritance, but perish with the individual; while his inborn qualities are transmitted. (…) It is therefore a waste of labor to improve a poor stock by careful feeding. (…) The question then was forced upon me: could not the race of man be similarly improved? Could not the undesirable be gotten rid of, and the desirables multiplied? The answer to this question was a decided yes. Fit humans produce fit offspring, unfit humans produce unfit offspring. As a thinking species, humans can use this to accelerate the evolutionary process through the selective breeding of humans”. This is what is now called eugenics.

Galton defended his theory with social surveys and polls that showed that ability and success run in families, while inability and failure run in other families. Of course this could just as easily be explained by the environments of those families. Galton, however, didn’t see this that way.

He linked intelligence, beauty and health with ability, and they all should be together. Ignorance, ugliness and sickness he connected with inability. In fact, he once published in a popular British journal a “beauty-map” of England. He showed where the most beautiful women of England are found so that male seeking to eugenically mate would know where to go. These beautiful women would also be the most intelligent and able.

In 1883, Galton actually coined the term eugenics. He had been writing about it for a decade before that. He used the word eugenics to designate policies and programs designed to encourage more children from the fit, and less children from the unfit.

Eugenics was sort of a cult idea for half a generation, but it gained widespread interest after the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics. Mendel made it all seem more credible. Genetics appeared to offer a physical basis for Galton’s theories. Many experts saw such traits as mental illness, retardation, epilepsy, physical defects and criminality as the products of hereditary factors. If you want to get rid of criminals, just get rid of the gene that causes criminality.

The IQ Test

This was a time when science was held in high esteem. Biology was rising in authority and credibility, and genetics seemed to offer new solutions. Here, eugenics appeared to offer a scientific methodology for the social sciences. The IQ was invented at this time as an objective measure of intelligence. They came with the idea that you could quantify intelligence through IQ tests. The IQ test was actually brought to America to be used to differentiate people by eugenicists. They considered it a good parameter for determining who should breed and who should be discouraged from breeding.

Sociologists conducted public health surveys, compiled families’ pedigrees to show hereditary basis for crime, poverty and low IQ. Since they were looking for that, they found plenty of evidence. Who they picked and how they picked seemed to support their ideas.

Although eugenics never really gained broad popular appeal among the masses in America, many scientific, professional and philanthropic organizations promoted its acceptance actively. These efforts greatly influenced public policies throughout the United States in Europe during the first third of the 20th century.

Great Leaders Who Advocated Eugenics?… How Dare You…

People don’t talk about this anymore, as it isn't politically correct, but many “great leaders” advocated eugenics. Winston Churchill was a prime proponent of eugenics in England. Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and other presidents during this period were strong proponents of eugenic policies. They openly worried that the professional classes were not reproducing in sufficient numbers. Progressive sociologist, and good friend of Teddy Roosevelt, Edward Alsworth Ross, called it race suicide. Race suicide was going on because the able women were not producing enough kids. Professional classes were going to be swamped by the inferior products of their own race, that is, the worker classes.

There were efforts to taught students the value of eugenic mating. You could go back to biology and civics textbooks of the time and you’ll see eugenic mating advice, and the importance of having large families. Organizations would hold “fitter family” contests, much like “best sheep” contests.

Eugenic fitness was proposed as a prerequisite for marriage. Many States adopted laws requiring eugenic tests before a person could get married. Some churches, such as the Episcopal Church, actively proposed that only eugenically fit people could be married. Some countries adopted tax and employment policies to encourage its able citizens to have children.

Negative Eugenics

Until now, we’ve talked about positive eugenics. Let’s go now to the dark side of eugenics. Negative eugenics is the one that seeks less children from the unfit. Every single American State, and most western countries, adopted policies of sexually segregating certain dysgenic classes, typically the mentally retarded. 35 American States, and many European countries, instituted compulsory programs of sexual sterilization for the mentally ill and retarded, for criminals and epileptics.

From 1900 to 1960, some 60000 Americans were sterilized under compulsory State programs, and many more were sterilized under voluntary programs (parents took their children to be sterilized because of some supposed eugenic defect). Such programs were even upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1927, in the case involving Carrie Buck, who was sterilized against her will under evidence that both her mother and grandmother had been mentally retarded.

The Supreme Court unanimously declared this sacrifice was appropriate for society because, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “three generations of imbeciles are enough”.

Nazi Germany and the Decline of Eugenics

Germany’s programs adopted during the Weimar Republic period were later extended under the Nazi era to include Jews, Gypsies and other “disfavored” groups. Nazi Germany then moved from eugenic sterilization to euthanasia. It is interesting to note that German geneticists and biologists joined the Nazi party at a much higher rate than other professional groups. Except for the Catholic Church, opposition to eugenics was disorganized and ineffective until the 1930’s, when Nazi practices discredited it a lot. Then, gradually, social scientists and geneticists began to turn form these ideas.

By the end of World War 2, social Darwinism and eugenics was morally bankrupt. This I consider to be an amazing “moral evolution”. For a half century, “scientifically” informed governments treated their unfortunate citizens eugenically. This is a great example of how far human arrogance can go.


EtherEagle said...

Great information, thanks for the research. I would consider eugenics to be the blatant attempt at social engineering. Much more subtle programs are in place today. A sad situation many people are completely unaware of. Thank you!

Pablo Antuna said...

Yes, it is really amazing how this information is known by very few people. Most folks think that eugenics was something invented by Nazis. British and Americans actually taught them how to do it.

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