Written by Vladimir Moss



     In both East and West, the most popular application of science was in the control of man himself, his numbers, his “quality” – his very nature. “Eugenics”, the science of improving humanity’s gene pool, is most notoriously associated with Hitler’s experiments. But this goal was pursued before Hitler, and the “science” achieved new heights (or depths) in the decades after the discovery of DNA.


     The term “eugenics” was coined by George Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, in 1883. That it should arise in Darwin’s family is logical, for to the Darwinists it was self-evidently good to help along the process of natural selection of those whom they considered the fittest – that is, the people of their own race and class. Galton, as A.N. Wilson writes, “would campaign politically for tax breaks to encourage intelligent people to have large families and to sterilize the ‘unfit’. Long before this campaign got under way George Darwin, developing the ideas of his father’s Descent of Man, had written a proposal ‘on beneficial restrictions to liberty of marriage’ in 1873. The article appeared in the Contemporary Review and was a classic exposition of the ‘eugenic’ idea, viz. that those deemed by the Darwins to be defective should be forbidden to breed. In July 1874, an anonymous essay appeared in the Quarterly Review discussing works on primitive man by John Lubbock and Edward Burnett Tylor. It included an attack on George Darwin’s paper as ‘speaking to an approving strain… of the encouragement of vice in order to check population’. The anonymous author was St. George Mivart [a major critic of Darwin’s views on the origin of man]. Today, ‘liberal’ opinion in the West deplores eugenics, not least because of the enthusiasm with which it was adopted in Germany in the period 1933-45. It would only be among conservative Christians, however, that you would be likely to find those who believed contraception or medically induced abortion to be immoral. Mivart, it is true, was Roman Catholic, albeit a convert who had been excommunicated for his belief in evolution. In 1873-4, however, he would probably have been in the huge majority of Victorians in believing contraception to be morally questionable and abortion positively criminal. Geroge Darwin had not even ventured into the notion, which was a commonplace in the entourage of Bertrand Russell (heterosexual), Lytton Strachey (gay) and the Bloomsbury Set in the 1920s, that homosexuality was another good way of limiting the population explosion…”[1]


     It was the huge humanitarian crises of the decade after World War One that stimulated the development of eugenicist and other scientistic ideas.


     “The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored campaigns to eradicate tuberculosis by ‘applying the art of advertising the facts of science’. But Europeans, too, liked to see social policy as a non-political matter, a question of ‘social hygiene’. In Britain, for instance, members of the British Social Hygience Council called for the ‘institutionalization’ of the mentally ill, health and sex education in schools, better housing and sanitation and improvements in child nutrition. In France, the Health Ministry was advised by a Conseil Supérieur d’Hygiène Sociale. Society was seen as an object made in a spirit of rational detachment from political passions.


     “Nowhere were the ambiguities of this kind of approach more evident than among the eugenicists – those people, on other words, on both Left and Right who believed that it was indeed possible to produce ‘better’ human beings through the right kind of social policies…”[2]


     We associate the policy of killing and sterilizing the mentally ill with the Fascists. But we find similar attitudes in liberal Britain. Thus while “Britain passed laws to bring down infant and maternal mortality, and set up the Ministry of Health in 1919”, “its priorities on behalf of child-rearing worried some extreme eugenicists like Sir Robert Hutchinson, President of the Royal College of Physicians, who wondered ‘whether the… careful saving of infant lives is really, biologically speaking,… wholesome…’”[3]


     But then came Hitler, and if there was something everyone, young and old, could unite on was, supposedly, the utter evil of Nazism. Everything to do with it was abhorred and banned, and especially its racism and its experiments to improve the genetic stock of the race by eliminating Jews, homosexuals and the mentally ill. But the Europeans secretly went back to their cursed inheritance…


     Eugenics, writes Jonathan Freedland, was “the belief that society's fate rested on its ability to breed more of the strong and fewer of the weak. So-called positive eugenics meant encouraging those of greater intellectual ability and "moral worth" to have more children, while negative eugenics sought to urge, or even force, those deemed inferior to reproduce less often or not at all. The aim was to increase the overall quality of the national herd, multiplying the thoroughbreds and weeding out the runts.


     “Such talk repels us now, but in the prewar era it was the common sense of the age. Most alarming, many of its leading advocates were found among the luminaries of the Fabian and socialist left, men and women revered to this day. Thus George Bernard Shaw could insist that ‘the only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man’, even suggesting, in a phrase that chills the blood, that defectives be dealt with by means of a ‘lethal chamber’.


     “Such thinking was not alien to the great Liberal titan and mastermind of the welfare state, William Beveridge, who argued that those with ‘general defects’ should be denied not only the vote, but ‘civil freedom and fatherhood’. Indeed, a desire to limit the numbers of the inferior was written into modern notions of birth control from the start. That great pioneer of contraception, Marie Stope – honoured with a postage stamp in 2008 – was a hardline eugenicist, determined that the ‘hordes of defectives’ be reduced in number, thereby placing less of a burden on ‘the fit’. Stopes later disinherited her son because he had married a short-sighted woman, thereby risking a less-than-perfect grandchild.


     “Yet what looks kooky or sinister in 2012 struck the prewar British left as solid and sensible. Harold Laski, stellar LSE professor, co-founder of the Left Book Club and one-time chairman of the Labour party, cautioned that: ‘The time is surely coming … when society will look upon the production of a weakling as a crime against itself.’ Meanwhile, JBS Haldane, admired scientist and socialist, warned that: ‘Civilisation stands in real danger from over-production of “undermen”.’ That's Untermenschen in German.


     “I'm afraid even the Manchester Guardian was not immune. When a parliamentary report in 1934 backed voluntary sterilisation of the unfit, a Guardian editorial offered warm support, endorsing the sterilisation campaign ‘the eugenicists soundly urge’. If it's any comfort, the New Statesman was in the same camp.


     “According to Dennis Sewell, whose book The Political Gene charts the impact of Darwinian ideas on politics, the eugenics movement's definition of ‘unfit’ was not limited to the physically or mentally impaired. It held, he writes, ‘that most of the behavioural traits that led to poverty were inherited. In short, that the poor were genetically inferior to the educated middle class.’ It was not poverty that had to be reduced or even eliminated: it was the poor.


     “Hence the enthusiasm of John Maynard Keynes, director of the Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944, for contraception, essential because the working class was too ‘drunken and ignorant’ to keep its numbers down.


     “We could respond to all this… by saying it was all a long time ago, when different norms applied. That is a common response when today's left-liberals are confronted by the eugenicist record of their forebears, reacting as if it were all an accident of time, a slip-up by creatures of their era who should not be judged by today's standards.


     “Except this was no accident. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their ilk were not attracted to eugenics because they briefly forgot their leftwing principles. The harder truth is that they were drawn to eugenics for what were then good, leftwing reasons.


     “They believed in science and progress, and nothing was more cutting edge and modern than social Darwinism. Man now had the ability to intervene in his own evolution. Instead of natural selection and the law of the jungle, there would be planned selection. And what could be more socialist than planning, the Fabian faith that the gentlemen in Whitehall really did know best? If the state was going to plan the production of motor cars in the national interest, why should it not do the same for the production of babies? The aim was to do what was best for society, and society would clearly be better off if there were more of the strong to carry fewer of the weak.


     “What was missing was any value placed on individual freedom, even the most basic freedom of a human being to have a child. The middle class and privileged felt quite ready to remove that right from those they deemed unworthy of it.


     “Eugenics went into steep decline after 1945. Most recoiled from it once they saw where it led – to the gates of Auschwitz. The infatuation with an idea horribly close to nazism was steadily forgotten…”[4]


     Except that in the Protestant countries of Northern Europe eugenics was neither forgotten nor abandoned, revealing a darker side of the all-embracing state. This was particularly true of that paragon of Social Democracy, Scandinavia. As Judt writes, “Early twentieth-century confidence in the capacity of the state to make a better society had taken many forms: Scandinavian Social Democracy – like the Fabian reformism of Britain’s welfare state – was born of a widespread fascination with social engineering of all kinds. And just a little beyond the use of the state to adjust incomes, expenditures, employment and information there lurked the temptation to tinker with individuals themselves.


     “Eugenics – the ‘science’ of racial improvement – was more than an Edwardian-era fad, like vegetarianism or rambling (though it often appealed to the same constituencies). Taken by thinkers of all political shades, it dovetailed especially well with the ambitions of well-meaning social reformers. If one’s social goal was to improve the human condition wholesale, why pass up the opportunities afforded by modern science to add retail amelioration along the way? Why should the prevention or abolition of imperfections in the human condition not extend to the prevention (or abolition) of imperfect human beings? In the early decades of the twentieth century the appeal of scientifically manipulated social or genetic planning was widespread and thoroughly respectable; it was only thanks to the Nazis, whose ‘hygienic’ ambitions began with ersatz anthropometrics and ended in the gas chamber, that it was comprehensively discredited in post-war Europe. Or so it was widely supposed.


     “But, as it emerged many years later, Scandinavian authorities at least had not abandoned an interest in the theory – and practice – of ‘racial hygiene’. Between 1934 and 1976 sterilization programmes were pursued in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, in each case under the auspices and with the knowledge of Social Democratic governments. In these years some 6,000 Danes, 40,000 Norwegians and 60,000 Swedes (90 percent of them women) were sterilized for ‘hygienic’ purposes ‘to improve the population’. The intellectual driving force behind these programmes – the Institute of Racial Biology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden – had been set up in 1921, at the peak of the fashion for the subject. It was not dismantled until fifty-five years later…”[5]


     Closely related to eugenics is the euthanasia movement. In 2002 assisted suicide and euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands. A few years later, it was found that more and more people were asking for euthanasia even when they did not have life-threatening diseases. The reason might be that their children did not visit them, or that they felt they would become a burden on their family. Most recently, cases of euthanasia against the will of the patients have been recorded…[6]


     Still more recently, eugenics has enjoyed a boost from Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft Systems, who openly declares his intention to reduce the world’s population by various technological means (especially vaccination) by 15 per cent… Slowly, the old idea is creeping back: the idea of a super-race that is worthy to live, and for whose sake the older and sicker must die…


     The moral objection to eugenics is obvious: the superiority of one man to another consists, not in any calculus of men’s abilities of mind or body, which God has distributed to men in accordance with His inscrutable will, but in his love for God and man – including men inferior to himself. The eugenicist is prepared to sacrifice others for the sake of himself and those like him: the Christian is prepared to do the exact opposite. The Christian dies for others; the eugenicist makes others die for himself.


     The theological objection to eugenics consists in the assertion that man is constituted by his body – that is, his genes – alone, so that he can be improved by manipulating his genes alone. But man consists of both soul and body, and the soul is infinitely more important than the body. In fact, at the general resurrection, when man’s soul and body will be reunited and transfigured, the state of his body – glorious and beautiful, “without spot or wrinkle”, or corrupt and disgusting – will have been determined by the quality of his soul alone. Today, however, science in both East and West, while propelled, seemingly, by the most pious motives of love for mankind, no longer believes in the soul, having become completely conquered by atheist materialism… But how, if you do not believe in man, can you love him?


February 11/24, 2021.

[1] Wilson, Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, London: Harper, 2017, pp. 314-315.

[2] Mazower, The Dark Continent, p. 92.

[3] Mazower,op. cit., p. 89.

[4] Freedland, “Eugenics: the skeleton that rattles loudest in the Left’s closet”, The Manchester Guardian, February 17, 2012.

[5] Freedland, “Eugenics: the skeleton that rattles loudest in the Left’s closet”, The Manchester Guardian, February 17, 2012.

[6] Cassy Fiono-Chesser, “1 in 20 deaths in the Netherlands is now due to euthanasia”, Live Action, August 7, 2017.

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