“Whatever the motives and methods used to realise them – persuasion, education, coercion, sterilisation, segregation, euthanasia and more – eugenics has stemmed from the belief that a population, ‘race’, or even the species, is ‘degenerating’ and in urgent need of improvement and revitalisation.” (Prof. John Galloway. Review, The Oxford Handbook of The History of Eugenics, 2011)
Eugenics is not a dead and buried spurious historical phenomenon — its roots and influential tentacles are deep and enduring. And the human casualties resulting from this supremacist ideology number in the tens of millions. Eugenics began as an elitist racial supremacist movement that enlisted highly respected academic scientists in an evangelic campaign to control human reproduction. It was a diabolical massive human experiment precipitated by a deluded misconception; the belief that by applying population control methods used in animal breeding would result in improving the “quality” of the human race.
Eugenics appealed and galvanized the elite members of the wealthy and academic class who believed that uncontrolled population growth by poor people posed a threat to the social order. One of the first proponents of population control was the Anglican clergyman, Rev. Thomas Malthus who in 1798 published a tract called An Essay on the Principle of Population in which he stipulated that within 23 years – by the year 1890, there would be standing room only on the earth. To prevent that catastrophe, he recommended facilitating an increased mortality rate.
“All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons… Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations.” (Quoted in Allan Chase. The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism, 1977; Steven Mosher. The Origins of Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, 2009)
Malthus’ dire prediction did not materialize; but his essay was a commercial success, issued in six editions. His views about the need to control the population of the poor was adopted by the British and American upper class. Furthermore, as lifespans lengthened and general health improved in the 19th century, Charles Darwin suggested that not only were the poor having more children who survived, they were rapidly dumbing down the population. This was regarded as an ominous “dysgenic” trend. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, coined a term that gave a pseudo-scientific gloss to “eugenics” promoted as a progressive ideology aimed at increasing the birth rate of the “fit.” Galton and his staff collected extensive genealogies which were duplicated in every western country. Galton advocated “eugenical marriage” as a “religious duty,” nothing more. (Edwin Black. War Against the Weak, 2003)
However, Galton’s version of a freely chosen “positive eugenics” soon gave way in the United States to government mandated racially charged “negative eugenics.” Legislation was enacted to control the reproduction of segments of the population which were deemed to be the carriers of “defective” genes.
David Starr Jordan, President of Stanford University, was an influential American eugenicist whose publication, Blood of a Nation: A Study in the Decay of Races by the Survival of the Unfit, which was aimed at influencing the wide public. It was published in 1902 and again in 1910 by the American Unitarian Association. Eugenicists adopted dubious racial-genetic theories borrowed from animal breeding techniques used to improve the genetic stock of animal. They used specious screening and measuring techniques — which they called “scientific” — to identify, label and control human beings with presumed inferior genetic traits, whom they deemed “unfit.” To reduce the number of “unfit” people, they promoted policies to restrict their reproduction — through forced sterilization — and restrictive immigration.
In 1904, Davenport received grants from the Carnegie Foundation and the widow of the railroad baron E.H. Harriman to open the Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor. He worked closely with the American Breeders Association, adding a Eugenics Committee whose purpose was to “devise methods of recording the value of the blood of individuals and families, peoples and races” emphasizing ” the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood.” (Black. War Against the Week, p. 39)
In 1910, again with funding from Carnegie and Harriman, Davenport opened the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) for the purpose of compiling family records on the “unfit” and to take a census of America’s “defective” population at hospitals, prisons, refuge homes, and insane asylums. Davenport hired Harry Hamilton Laughlin, a lawyer, to head the ERO field office operation and collation of the records at the ERO.
The ERO census takers determined that 10 million Americans met the criteria for “defectives” classified within 10 categories. The first category was the “feeble minded” — a broadly defined catch-all category that included stutterers, people who spoke poor English, and those who were shy. Physicians working for the government enthusiastically surgically sterilized tens of thousands of such as California’s Dr. Pilicher, superintendent of a home for the feeble minded, had sterilized 58 children in his care.
Secular eugenicists discarded the Biblical belief that all humans descended from one source; that despite various ethnic diversities, humans share a common heritage. Instead, eugenicists embraced scientific racism.
“In the early 20th century, most scientists believed in the existence of distinct biological races. Scientific disciplines such as physical anthropology, cephalometry, phrenology, physiognomy, and anthropometry sought to measure physiological differences among human populations. The thinking was that physical differences translated into mental differences. Cephalometry, for example, dealt with the variations in size, shape, and proportion of skulls among human races. Scientists theorized that larger skulls held larger brains, which resulted in increased intelligence. Races possessing a higher average “cephalic index,” that is, the Nordics, were supposedly smarter.
What separated scientific racism from older ideas about race was the belief that racial differences were fixed and unchangeable. Mankind was divided into superior and inferior races. Such theories lent themselves to racial discrimination.” (Eric Rudolph. White Lies: Eugenics, Abortion, and Racism, 2014)
Eugenicists’ materialistic view of the world inevitably led to social engineering. If heredity and/or environment determine all human behavior, then it stands to reason that man can be modified –engineered, like any other material object. Eugenicists were confident in the ability of their scientific method to evaluate, classify, and manipulate; ultimately fix the negative characteristics and qualities of human beings – just as is done in the breeding of animals. However, to do so, it was essential to dispense with free will. Only by eliminating free will can human beings be manipulated and improved – for society’s best interests.
The American Eugenics Society, founded in 1922 by Henry Fairfiild Osborn, President of the American Museum of Natural History, was a large umbrella organization for various factions. The Society changed its name in 1972 to Society for the Study of Social Biology; and again in 2008 to Society of Biodemography and Social Biology. (Scribd) American promoters of eugenics included highly trusted professionals, including medical doctors, national leaders, charitable organizations, and respected corporate foundations. The Society collaborated with the Department of Agriculture and various state agencies in formulating public policies designed to restrict the birth rate of humans deemed genetically, ethnically, or socially “unfit.” Notable proponents of eugenics defined power and prestige in America; they included:
“The Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Harriman railroad fortune, Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, the American Medical Association, Margaret Sanger, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Robert Yerkes, Woodrow Wilson, the American Museum of Natural History, the American Genetic Association and a sweeping array of government agencies from the obscure Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics to the U.S. State Department. (Edwin Black. War on the Weak: Eugenics and American’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, 2003)
It is especially significant that the U.S. was the first country to impose eugenic sterilization under state statutes; Indiana was the first (1907) of 30 states that enacted forced sterilization laws; which the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes upheld (in 1926).
Applied Eugenic (1918), a textbook co-authored by Dr. Paul Popenoe, a venereal disease specialist, advocated eugenicide. The recommended methods included: a “lethal chamber,” “Lethal Selection” was another method “through the destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency.” (Edwin Black, Eugenics: the California connection to Nazi policies, SF Chronicle)
Another American physician, regarded as “progressive reformer,” John Randolph Haynes, MD, recommended medical murder of mentally ill patients:
“There are thousands of hopelessly insane in California, the condition of those minds is such that death would be a merciful release. How long will it be before society will see the criminality of using its efforts to keep alive these idiots, hopelessly insane, and murderous degenerates. . . . Of course the passing of these people should be painless and without warning. They should go to sleep at night without any intimation of what was coming and never awake.” (Haynes Papers, box 84, c. 1918)
Harry Laughlin’s Model Eugenic Sterilization Law (1922) served as the model for both American sterilization laws, and was the blueprint that Hitler used to frame Germany’s Sterilization Law (1933); its ethnic exclusionary Nuremberg Laws (1935); and its medical murder of handicapped children and of adults in psychiatric institutions under T-4 (1939). In recognition of his contribution, in 1936, the Dean of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute awarded Laughlin an honorary Medical Doctor degree. Eugenics institutes in the U.S. and in Germany were financed by America’s corporate elite – the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation.
“Throughout the first six decades of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Americans and untold numbers of others were not permitted to continue their families by reproducing. Selected because of their ancestry, national origin, race or religion, they were forcibly sterilized, wrongly committed to mental institutions where they died in great numbers, prohibited from marrying, and sometimes even unmarried by state bureaucrats. In America, this battle to wipe out whole ethnic groups was fought not by armies with guns nor by hate sects at the margins.
Rather, this pernicious white-gloved war was prosecuted by esteemed professors, elite universities, wealthy industrialists and government officials colluding in a racist, pseudo-scientific movement called eugenics. The purpose: create a superior Nordic race.
To perpetuate the campaign, widespread academic fraud combined with almost unlimited corporate philanthropy to establish the biological rationales for persecution. Employing a hazy amalgam of guesswork, gossip, falsified information and polysyllabic academic arrogance, the eugenics movement slowly constructed a national bureaucratic and juridical infrastructure to cleanse America of its “unfit.” (War Against the Weak: Eugenics and American’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, 2003)
“American eugenicists saw mankind as a biological cesspool.”
Psychiatrists withheld medical treatment: “nature had intended for them to die”
Black writes that an entrenched eugenic practice by psychiatrists at state mental institutions was denying patients needed medical treatment, following a eugenic rationale which they justified by claiming that nature had intended for them to die.
Though the term eugenics was largely abandoned after the revelations at the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trials, its proponents have not given up nor disappeared. Eugenics continues to permeate U.S. public health policies & research involving vulnerable, disenfranchised human subjects. Covert eugenicists invoke the “greater good for society” argument when they seek to embark on dubious public health policies and experiments that no rational person would voluntarily agree to participate. Experiments aimed at behavior modification and genetic engineering aimed at controlling biological traits have most often backfired; after causing irreparable harm to hundreds of thousands of victims. the evidence of their invariably pose serious risks of harm with no likely potential personal benefit for the human subjects whom they seek to enroll. The moral problem at the heart of eugenics –and public health — continues to be the tension between public (social) good and individual liberty, rights and interest
The only change is in the terminology from eugenics to human genetics. As in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics makes clear, “while there is a common ‘old wine in new bottles’ argument about eugenics, this reading disregards a rather more openly continuous history.”
The journal, Annals of Eugenics (1925) became Annals of Human Genetics in 1954; Eugenics Quarterly (1926) changed its name to Social Biology in 1969, then changed again to Biodemography and Social Biology in 2008; the Bulletin of the Eugenics Society (1969-1983) changed to Biology and Society; The Journal of Eugenics Society (1984-1990); The Eugenics Review (1909-1968) changed to the Journal of Biosocial Science (1969 -). The Galton Laboratory of National Eugenics — which had been named for Francis Galton who had been Chair of Eugenics at the University College of London, and coined the term eugenics — was renamed the Department of Human Genetics with Galton as Chair of Genetics in 1963.
“Historians of race and American medicine have documented over two centuries of race-based scientific exploitation. There is a long history of the use and abuse of racialized bodies in the name of advancing medical knowledge…Scientists’ expectation of uniformity within racial groups and differences across racial groups was a belief repeated across at least two centuries of American research.
Yet, their assumptions were not proven in their studies, and researchers admitted that individual variation was the most significant finding…their own research led them to conclude that ‘race’ provided little, if any, meaningful health information.” (Susan Smith. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 2008)
Austin Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, deconstructs the dogmatic belief in the supremacy of all knowledge derived from measurable scientific methods in his essay, “Folly of Scientism,” (The New Atlantis, 2012)
“the eugenics movement arose, with its battle cry, “The unfit are reproducing like rabbits; we must do something to stop them!” Although plenty of prominent Darwinians endorsed such sentiments in their day, no more incoherent a plea can be imagined from a Darwinian point of view:— not the supposed “winners” in the economic struggle. It is the genteel classes, with their restrained reproduction, who are the unfit. So the foundations of eugenics are complete nonsense from a Darwinian point of view.”
If the great unwashed are out-reproducing the genteel classes, that can only imply that it is the great unwashed who are the fittest
Nevertheless, modern day eugenicists occupy positions of authority at academic institutions; medical professional associations; the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry; bioethics departments; medical journals; and public health agencies.