This site is the result of countless hours of research that went into the writing of a doctoral dissertation on eugenics and Darwinism. Most of that research could not be used in the dissertation itself, but was nonetheless very useful in understanding eugenics in the past and present. This research is slowly being added to the site, as the author has time. Likewise, as time becomes available to produce essays and other pieces of analysis, it shall be posted here, as well. The focus of the site, however, is to allow the eugenicists to speak for themselves, in their own words, and on their own terms. Indeed, attempting to put their beliefs into your own words almost always has the effect of making them much more palatable; only by seeing them ‘in the wild’ does one really see how horrific their worldview really is. Worse is the discovery that many of these comments can be found in the mouths of moderns, who have no idea that they are treading ground already tilled by people they think they find abhorrent.
Works presently being written by the author:
Anatomy of A Eugenicist
Anthony Horvath, PhD
For Further Reading:
This site aims to produce mostly primary source material, but there are a number of books that may serve as good introductions to the topic and provide, for some, the necessary context in which to understand the primary sources provided on this site.
One of the most cited books on Eugenics is Daniel Kevles’ In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. The book has many strengths and draws good conclusions, but doesn’t make it clear enough that eugenics was a creature of the ‘left,’ at least as much, if not more, as of the ‘right.’
That particular point is made very clear in Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Leonard’s book is particularly instructive when it comes to making it clear that eugenics goes far, far, beyond ‘breeding superior humans.’ Eugenicists considered everything, from economics to education, as potentially useful eugenics tools. See also the Jaffe Memo for illustration of this.
A very good examination of eugenics and other ideologies associated with it at the time (anti-immigration, anti-miscegenation, etc), as seen through the prism of just one eugenicist, is Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant by Jonathan Peter Spiro.
Eugenics is nearly always associated with the ‘right wing’ in large part because the Nazis–otherwise known as the National Socialists–were the ones who gave it a bad name, and the Nazis are considered ‘right wing.’ The rise of eugenics in Germany is best detailed in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart. That Darwin(ism) had anything to do with eugenics will be a shock to many people, for whom this is the first they’ve heard of it.
But Eugenics was an American thing as much as it was a German thing. Indeed, German eugenicists got many of their best ideas (eg, ‘segregation camps’) and their science from Americans. Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race exposes America’s eugenics roots very well.
Complete bullshit! Do you want to be ugly, dumb, fat, a hunchback, a loser through and through? Do you want to suffer from mental illnesses? If you answer yes, I might at least call you honest, although then you would be an imbecile. Eugenics works, which is what even Richard Dawkins and Matt Ridley acknowledge.
Richard Dawkins (The Greatest Show on Earth)
“Political opposition to eugenic breeding of humans sometimes spills over into the almost certainly false assertion that it is impossible. Not only is it immoral, you may hear it said, it wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, to say that something is morally wrong, or politically undesirable, is not to say that it wouldn’t work. I have no doubt that, if you set your mind to it and had enough time and enough political power, you could breed a race of superior body-builders, or high-jumpers, or shot-putters; pearl fishers, sumo wrestlers, or sprinters; or (I suspect, although now with less confidence because there are no animal precedents) superior musicians, poets, mathematicians or wine-tasters. The reason I am confident about selective breeding for athletic prowess is that the qualities needed are so similar to those that demonstrably work in the breeding of racehorses and carthorses, of greyhounds and sledge dogs. The reason I am still pretty confident about the practical feasibility (though not the moral or political desirability) of selective breeding for mental or otherwise uniquely human traits is that there are so few examples where an attempt at selective breeding in animals has ever failed, even for traits that might have been thought surprising. Who would have thought, for example, that dogs could be bred for sheep-herding skills, or ‘pointing’, or bull-baiting?”
Matt Ridley: Genome. Page 297:
“This brief history of eugenics leads me to one firm conclusion. What is wrong with eugenics is not the science, but the coercion. Eugenics is like any other programme that puts the social benefit before the individual’s rights. It is a humanitarian, not a scientific crime. There is little doubt that eugenic breeding would ‘work’ for human beings just as works for dogs and dairy cattle. It would be possible to reduce the incidence of many mental disorders and improve the health of the population by selective breeding. But there is also little doubt that it could only be done very slowly ata gigantic cost in cruelty, injustice and oppression. Karl Pearson once said, in an answer to Wedgewood: ‘What is social is right and there is no definition of right beyond that. That dreadful statement should be the epitaph of eugenics.”
But *I* have to live this crappy life! Eugenics would have prevented it. I only continue to live because of my faith in Christ, otherwise I would simply off myself. The ugliness is horrid, but my mental illnesses are even worse.
You guys are arrogant self-aggrandizers, selfish egotists who have it made. PhD? You can’t be serious. I’m living at the bottom of society, I will die a loser and all because of my average IQ and my mental illnesses. Fuck this shit, your minimization of other people’s suffering is disgusting.
I will quote the great Colombian Catholic Nicolás Gómez Dávila:
“Depopulate and reforest — first civilizing rule.”
“Eugenics appals those who fear its judgment.”
“No beneficiary of slaves is supporter of birth control.”
“The two most pressing problems of the contemporary world: demographic expansion and genetic deterioration are unsolvable.
Liberal principles prevent the solution of the first, egalitarian ones that of the second.”
“Population growth disquiets the demographer only when he fears that it will impede economic progress or make it harder to feed the masses.
But that man needs solitude, that human proliferation produces cruel societies, that distance is required between men so that the spirit might breathe, does not interest him.
The quality of a man does not matter to him.”
“A totalitarian state is the structure into which societies crystallize under demographic pressures.”
“Demographic pressure makes people brutish.”
And so on. Bye.
Every now and then we get malevolent beasts like “Christian Reactionary” to drop in to remind us that far from being a discarded and fully repudiated outlook of the past, ‘eugenics’ still has a broad base of support.
Does anyone else seriously believe lines like this:
“But *I* have to live this crappy life! Eugenics would have prevented it. I only continue to live because of my faith in Christ, otherwise I would simply off myself. The ugliness is horrid, but my mental illnesses are even worse.”
So, not only does he embrace eugenics, but he wishes it had been applied to himself, so that he wouldn’t exist at all? Such faith in Christ here displayed! He loves Christ so much, he resents the fact that he exists in order to love Christ so much.
Looks like a troll job by a ‘new atheist’ to me.
There is nothing evil about family planning that reduces severe heritable suffering and increases heritable competence in future generations. Eugenic contraception is not murder. Humanitarian eugenics can and should rule out the killing of any innocent human before and after birth. Eugenics was neither motive nor effect of the Nazi killing of Jews, but it is the motive and effect of the reduction of Tay Sachs disease among Jews.
Assuming that ‘eugenic contraception’ can be prevented from becoming actual murder (eg, if our our concern about Tay Sachs leads people to use a condom rather than abortion), the question of just what counts as ‘severe heritable suffering’ has never once been settled without resorting to horror, in part because the raising of ‘avoiding suffering’ as a moral virtue is far too commanding to allow itself to limit itself to such limitations as ‘contraception.’ The epitome of this was the ‘scientific’ paper a few years back on “After-birth abortion” which made it abundantly clear that any argument for abortion logically applied to infants. They explicitly raise the example of the Down Syndrome child, who, despite having inherited a deformity tends to be very happy–that is, NOT one that suffers–who can nonetheless be aborted… and, by extension… killed after birth. Naturally, they don’t have the courage to run their logic all the way up the flag pole. If they would have, the Nazi comparisons would have been unmistakable, and they themselves would not have failed to make them. But that is where their logic would take them.
You don’t think that this was the ‘motive nor effect of the Nazi killing of Jews’ but that can’t be because you’ve actually examined the question, for if you did, you would find that in point of fact the Nazis very much had ‘eugenics’ in mind. It was about purging from the ‘social body’ that which hinders and harms it. There is a reason why before the Nazis exterminated millions of Jews, they exterminated hundreds of thousands of disabled people, many of whom were actually blue-eyed Germans. Why would they kill fellow Germans if it was only ‘race’ that was spurring them on?
It is the raw logic of eugenics which is the problem. It assesses that it is good and right for mere mortals to decide who should live and die, nay, who should even exist. Any kind of ‘barrier’ to try to hedge in this logic, such as invoking ‘eugenic contraception’ and asserting that innocents should not be killed before or after birth, has as much strength as a wet paper bag.
God save us from ‘humanitarians.’
As it happens I am against the killing of sentient and viable unborn humans whether “disabled” or not.
Contraception is not murder. You confuse quite different, even contrary matters, and resort to prejudicial hyperbole,
People are entitled to refrain from having children and from inflicting a hereditary disease on a child. They are also welcome to have children likely to be specially gifted.
If it is compassionate to treat illness, why not also painlessly to prevent it? Why was Jesus commended for curing blindness instead of celebrating it as contribution to diversity, equality and inclusion? Why was the cripple restored to mobility instead of being provided with a better bed?
There was and is a range of opinions about eugenics, especially among eugenicists. See e.g. the writings of John Glad and Richard Lynn. Frankly I don’t think you give even your selection of quotes, such as Galton (ignoring his reprimand of Shaw, for instance) a fair and balanced assessment.
You muddle Nazi antisemitism with their eugenics policy, though there are links [cf. Lutz Kaelber.] I am familiar with Richard Weikart, and have a large library on “The Holocaust” including some revisionist studies.
I also have favourable comments on positive eugenics from Christians, including RC theologians, from Bertrand Conway and Teilhard de Chardin to Dean Inge and Bishop Barnes.
As for God, see e.g. Genesis 6.7, Leviticus 21.18, Deuteronomy 7.2, I Samuel 15.3, Matthew 13.41-42, Revelation 2.23.
Replies spaced out over 2 years. I don’t know if I can keep up with that rapid fire. 😉
I resorted to no hyperbole. I recounted the actual trajectory of history. This is not about your feelings. It’s about facts and reality. I presented facts.
As for your rebuttal, “Contraception is not murder. You confuse quite different, …” I think what we have here again is you going beyond what was written and drawing upon your feelings. What I said was, and I quote, “Assuming that ‘eugenic contraception’ can be prevented from becoming actual murder” which, on its face, cannot be correlated with your apparent perception of my view (“Contraception is not murder” entails that you believed my statement was tantamount to saying “Contraception is murder.”) To repeat MY ACTUAL WORDS, I wondered aloud HOW ‘eugenic contraception’ CAN BE PREVENTED FROM BECOMING actual murder. Hence the distinction between using a condom vs abortion.
I didn’t equate it with murder. I threw down the gauntlet, demanding to hear precisely how someone–in this case, you–were going to PREVENT ‘eugenic contraception’ from becoming murder. Because, yea, sorry, but the facts are the facts, but so-called ‘eugenic’ contraception (YOUR modifier, not mine) has not yet been observed to do anything but fly off the rails. I gave examples, and there are still more, such as the widespread use of compulsory sterilization… not just in Nazi Germany.
You used a term, ‘eugenic contraception,’ without offering to explain just what on earth that was, and then when I demanded to hear how your scheme would be kept in check, when historically it never has been kept in check (at least, not when the word ‘eugenics’ has been explicitly invoked), you thought you were making a killer point that there is a range of opinions about eugenics… uh, yea, well, duh. All that means is that there is no particular reason to put the best possible interpretation on what on earth YOU could possibly mean by ‘eugenic’ contraception, when, as you point out, there are quite a few range of opinions.
This, I think, raises a point that I don’t think you wanted to raise, because it really torpedoes your perspective. I could extract from you, after another two years, I guess, just what YOU mean by ‘eugenic sterilization,’ but I don’t know why any of us should really care what YOU mean by it, unless you can assure us that whenever this program you envision is put into action, it is administered ONLY by people who share YOUR (evidently thoroughly compassionate and humane) view about eugenics, and is never taken over by people who likewise invoke ‘eugenics’ but conceive of it differently. For, if the latter were to happen… and with a ‘range of opinions’ out there about eugenics ESPECIALLY AMONG EUGENICISTS… your best-laid plans could… or would… wait for it… wait for it… we’re about to come full circle…
…Turn into the next great Horror of History.
Which leaves us with the most pressing question, “HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PREVENT YOUR ‘EUGENIC’ CONTRACEPTION FROM DESCENDING INTO THAT?”
In the real world, in light of real history, we must always ask questions like this: “WHO decides?” “Are our checks and balances robust enough?” “If David Ashton is put in charge of a ‘eugenic contraception’ program, and dies of old age, or simply decides to retire, how can we be sure that his successor doesn’t have an entirely different view, which nonetheless is covered by the term ‘eugenics’?” And so on and so forth.
As soon as you bring ‘eugenics’ into the mix explicitly, you’re playing with fire. It is not out of line to demand that any proposal which does this explain precisely how you’re not going to burn down the neighborhood.
Now, I’ve repeated myself several times in this reply and used ALL CAPS in places for a reason. You cannot possibly read this reply in good faith and be literate and still miss the point: HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PREVENT YOUR ‘EUGENIC’ CONTRACEPTION FROM TURNING INTO TERROR?”
This seems like an impossible task to me, since, on your own reckoning, you’re going to have to cover your flanks from rival eugenicists who are willing to go where you (ostensibly) are not, but I’m interested to hear you give it a shot.
Hello! I’m just popping in to say thank you for collecting these awful texts in one place; your site has been very helpful for an article I’m editing on the eugenics conversations spurred by COVID-19. This work is not glamorous, but it’s very necessary, and I sincerely thank you, Dr. Horvath, for sharing your efforts in such an accessible form.
Thank you for the good word. I appreciate the appreciation.
My ‘about’ page was becoming cluttered with assertions related to James Dobson and eugenics so I created a new page devoted to that topic and moved the comments to that page. You can find it all here:
Thank you Anthony for your work on this site, I found you through searches on Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils, and you’ve led me to a treasure trove of further information! God Bless
Thank you, JSmith. Glad I could be of service!
Absolutely wonderful web site. Thank you, Anthony Horvath. I found no place to email you so forgive me if I ask a question here. What is your explanation for how we went from being largely eugenicist among the elites to the elites pushing a welfare state in the 60s and 70s that have produced multitudes of children without fathers and opportunities? What a huge pendulum swing. How did we go from being so wickedly uncaring to basically fostering people to breed in such a way that the children would be uncared for? BTW I am a Christian and reasonably well-read and it’s amazing how Eugenics was toned down and hidden from my baby boomer generation. How people like GBS were portrayed as great lights. Shocking to read how he encouraged “free love” not understanding that children brought up without a foundation of a committed love between parents will be at great risk. Thank you so much for assembling all this for us.
I guess I need a contact form option.
I never like to think of humans ‘breeding’ with the intonation inherent that we are like cattle (which is precisely the way the elite see humanity).
Your question is a very good question and the answer I will give has evidence that is posted on this site. In sum: the elites realized that you could successfully implement a eugenics program by going the OTHER direction, and just be sure not to to give it the label of ‘eugenics.’ In other words, the welfare state IS/WAS a eugenics program, just as all the other ones were.
I could write a book on it, and maybe should, but in the interests of brevity, consider this remark by former president of the American Eugenics Society, Frederick Osborn:
When one reads the primary sources of the 1970s, it is clear that in some circles–and especially the eugenics/population control people (which was quite a lot of them)–the welfare programs were going to be a great way to reduce the population… especially those groups of people we don’t want more of… or, as Justice Ginsburg let slip in 2009:
Here the link between abortion and Medicaid, and the reduction of “populations we don’t want to have too many of” is literally explicit.
It appears to me that sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a decision was made to continue the program of depopulation (of certain groups) using the welfare state rather than through overt, ‘coercive’ means. Read the book “Intended Consequences.” Also, check out my other site, https://jaffememo.com/, where the elites gave us a very helpful document in which they list and organize the different ideas they were considering.
This document proves unequivocally that the elites saw a direct connection between various governmental social policies and a reduction in the size of the population. Some questions linger, unanswered by the memo itself: WHICH policies did they select? WHAT groups did they decide to target?
Since we have the advantage of looking back over 50 years, we can answer those questions pretty well. The last question, pertinent to our day: If it was known in the 1970s that these policies would have these effects, what does it mean that these policies are still in effect?
To show that this was the outgrowth of a eugenics program, one would need to trace back the development and implementation of the Great Society to the era immediately after WW2 when the fallout from the Nazi application of eugenics worked its way through American society. This is not too terribly difficult. Although they couched their arguments in less explicitly ‘eugenics’ terms, it is often the case that we can identify their penchant for eugenics pre-Nazis and notice their relatively abrupt new penchant for population control, and witness them then hard at work building their section of the Great Society. Osborn, quoted above, is a great example of what I mean. There are plenty others.
Hello Dr. Horvath,
Thank you for this incredible resource. A few questions for you:
Are either of your books published or coming out soon?
Is your dissertation available to read anywhere?
What do you make of this year’s overturn of Roe in light of your knowledge of eugenics, especially as a currently existing covert agenda?
Thanks for your comment, A. W.
Unfortunately, the books remain partially unfinished manuscripts gathering dust in my hard drive as I continue my research, as I connect dots and follow leads. Who knew that the Rwandan genocide had eugenic elements thrown in? I know, I know. I just need to sit down and FINISH them based on the research I’ve already done. I hate the idea of taking something to print that I haven’t chased down every angle for. the dissertation, of course, is finished. 😉 However, I think it would sit better for broader consumption if I strip out a big chunk of it. That would probably be the easiest to bring out. I will take your questions as a gentle prod to get SOMETHING done. 🙂
To your question about Roe. Thanks for asking it.
There were many problems with Roe, but from the point of view of eugenics, it enabled shadowy figures to act on their own agendas from behind billion dollar bureaucracies virtually undetected. By returning the issue to the states, it increases the possibility that citizens will have the ability, practically speaking, to sift through the various currents pushing abortion on demand along. It is very difficult for citizens to gather up the resources needed to find out what is going on at the Federal level, especially when the agencies have virtually limitless dollars. I’m not saying that it won’t still be difficult at the state level, just that it is closer to being logistically practical. In addition to this, it now becomes (a little more) possible for citizens to effect change as they deem necessary.
To put it differently, prior to the reversal of Roe, there was one, giant, impossible fight, and now we have 50+ smaller, still formidable, but doable fights.
Again, limiting my scope to the issue of eugenics, there are now several ‘fronts’ where abortion has often intermingled with eugenics that now become slightly more accessible to citizens in their quest for self-governance. For example, the fate of children diagnosed in the womb with a birth defect. Frederick Osborn could have never hoped for the cover of legal abortion when he proposed ‘voluntary unconscious selection.’ But now that it is broadly available, there are many who advocate for the ‘termination’ of these children with reference to the gene pool; even if they don’t use the word ‘eugenics,’ that is eugenics–especially if it is financed and supported by a state government. If advocates for abortion at the Federal level had this as a motivation, we probably would never have known. But we might now detect it at the state level, if only by observing which policies seem to be getting implemented. We have a greater ability to reverse those policies, too.
To sum it up, the overturning of Roe does not remove the possibility of abortion being advocated for eugenic purposes, but it does make it harder for it to proceed covertly.
It sounds like you have noted some of the crypto-eugenic individuals documented on this site. If anyone reading this comment is confused by this, take a few minutes to use the search function. Plus there is this: https://eugenicsarchive.com/crypto-eugenics-quotes-of-eugenicists-discussing-the-need-for-a-covert-eugenics-program/124.htm
Thanks again for your comment, A.W.
Thank you for the reply! I’d be very interested in seeing your writing on this subject. I hope you bring something to press soon. 🙂
My first thoughts:
How do we understand the paradoxical existence of a covert eugenics movement and the religious right movement to criminalize women’s bodily autonomy? My gut reaction to Roe’s overturn, not based on research, mind you, beyond what I’ve observed and “feel,” is that if people are divided and squabbling they are without power. I recently searched the web and my podcast app for reactions to Roe’s overturn and the results in both places were disappointingly limited to things published between May and July. It seems for all the outrage, fear, and controversy, it was only another blip on the timeline of history. Is it as simple as the religious right “won” one of their long-standing battles? It seems to me Roe has been the dragon they have raised their sword against since it passed. But if there is a push to allow abortion access as a means of eugenics improvement without using the word or forcing women into institutions, then the overturn would go against that scheme. Are the ultra conservatives “stronger” than the—what do we call them—elitists?
My research has suggested that early advocates for women’s reproductive freedom joined the eugenics movement because, while they were being depicted as baby-devouring devils, eugenics had popular support, scientific support (of the day, see Mendel’s peas), amongst politicians, clergy, and even social welfare groups during the Progressive Era. Linking reproductive freedom, the decriminalization of educating women about birth control (Comstock law), and ultimately making abortion safe and legal with the movement to better society through “good genes” was, or seemed to be at the time to them, a savvy political move, because it gave these women’s advocates a platform that was already socially acceptable and had momentum. They hitched their wagon to a movement with a strong team of horses already racing along; little did they know how public opinion would turn.
I did see that you have Sanger pieces on your site, along with many other figures from the era who are today being called out for eugenic sentiment.
And yet, I wonder, how do we separate the benevolent from the malevolent in discourse when one cannot approach the subject without the world crying foul? Wanting women to have the right to choose if and when they become mothers, and how many children to have, to create the possibility of economic freedom for half of the human population is benevolent. Advocating abortions in segments of the population “someone” deems unworthy is malevolent. If the right to abortion is the objective, then we have two conflicting motives for the same objective coming from highly polarized social-political movements/organizations/agendas. We see the conflating of these motives in recent demonization of Planned Parenthood and figures like Margaret Sanger.
Were Sanger, Keller, and so many others (certainly not all) more a product of their times than evil? (Some players *were* just wrong and evil in their motives.) Might they have believed their stance was one of mercy, not cruelty? I do not believe we can judge another without understanding the context—cultural, social, religious, political, and financial—of both the individual and the time and place they lived.
(But then I write historical fiction, so this is the sort of complex exploration I’m all about. *My raising these questions in no way indicates I agree with any individual’s attitude or statements about the issues, only that I believe in thorough examination of the person, context, and statements.*)
Regarding malevolent motives, I think this may be what you mean by crypto-eugenics? On the ground, the people who work in and support PP do or may have the former motive, our benevolent motive. While overhead, near the top of the social-economic-political pyramid, some others involved may have the latter motive, our malevolent motive. Whatever the motive of the players, at the root of it all (below ground, grassroots, for the populace concerned) remains the issue of bodily autonomy. Can a woman freely, safely, legally choose for herself if and when to become a mother?
“In addition to this, it now becomes (a little more) possible for citizens to effect change as they deem necessary.”
Interesting thought. The reaction to the overturn of Roe has been shock and horror, as it should be: our government has made half of the population potential criminals by denying the individual’s right to choose whether or not to have a medical procedure for any individual reason. But, you suggest, this might not be such a calamity if at the state level it is easier to see and therefore shift the laws. I do not know that others have had this thought, because all the talk I have seen, albeit not much, but if it is representative, is about where women can go now to get the procedure, not how this could be an opportunity to affect change in a new way. Maybe I misunderstand what you mean, or need a larger sample of reactions?
“To sum it up, the overturning of Roe does not remove the possibility of abortion being advocated for eugenic purposes, but it does make it harder for it to proceed covertly.”
Also interesting. But to my thoughts about the conflating motivations for the desired objective, I’m going to state unequivocally that bodily autonomy in all senses of the word is *the* fundamental human right, and discuss from that position:
Eugenics proponents who want to sterilize people they deem unfit is a clear violation of bodily autonomy. Likewise, eugenics proponents who want to abort fetuses they deem unfit is a clear violation of bodily autonomy. Also, denying women the right to choose if, when, and how to carry a fetus to term is a clear violation of bodily autonomy.
Here we toe the debate about personhood. I think most people would accept viability as a clear and reasonable marker for personhood. So, we could say, denying women the right to choose if, when, and how to carry a fetus *up to the point of viability* is a clear violation of bodily autonomy.
Ultimately, whatever decision one would or would not make, would or would not approve of, the choice must be that of the woman whose bodily autonomy is at stake, and no one else’s.
When bodily autonomy is absolute, women have the freedom to choose to have the babies a eugenist would deem unfit. Or not.
As your crypto-eugenics page points out, eugenics survived WWII. The equation of eugenics with Hitler creates a very narrow field. To only think eugenics = genocide can leave us with a societal blind spot, which in turn creates an opening for those with malevolent intent to slip in agendas that are not benign, even when we desire the object placed before us.
Fertility clinics that offer sex selection and screen for genetic anomalies are providing a eugenics service, offering prospective parents the opportunity to ensure their baby’s future health through “good genes”. During the interwar years one found “Fitter Family Contests” at state fairs all over. Families competed for blue ribbons by showing their healthy stature, proportions, skin, hair, teeth, bright eyes, physical fitness, and intelligence. We have phy-ed in schools, school lunch programs, etc. etc. all to ensure society has healthy children who are able to learn and prosper during those developmental years. And of course, what’s wrong with any of these examples? Nothing. We want healthy families. But if our eyes are open to the possibility of mixed motives, we can possibly be on guard. This brings us back around to the issue you raised about crypto-eugenics: one person’s pro choice is another person’s eugenic self-selection. It is a very strange quandary. But, to your point about motives possibly being more apparent at the state level, with open eyes, we may be able to keep the objective, e.g. reproductive freedom, school lunches, but remove the players who intend to work the system for ill intent, then without that influence, reshape the system so it functions better for the people it serves.
That is a rabbit hole I won’t go down today….
I had a feeling you knew quite a bit more about the topic. 😉 Quite a bit to unpack here. Watch for an email from me and I’ll have a deeper conversation. I’ll have to leave some thoughts here when I get the chance just for the sake of lurkers, but will have to be a bit later.
Looking forward to more! 🙂
did you get my email?
Thanks for the lengthy comment, which I took as wholly offered in good faith. I cannot respond point by point but will offer some general remarks. Here and there I’ll take up a few specific points, mainly because I think they help further the mission of this site.
To begin with, I wanted to jump off of your statement, here: “Were Sanger, Keller, and so many others (certainly not all) more a product of their times than evil? ([…]) Might they have believed their stance was one of mercy, not cruelty?”
It may indeed be the case that they were a ‘product of their times.’ In the context of what we are talking about, though, I don’t think we can restrict our gaze to the people of this era. We should be wondering whether or not 100 years from now people will be quoting our peers, or even our very selves, in debate and discourse and asking, “Were A.W. / Anthony more a product of their times than evil…”? We would all do well to remember the tragic contrast of the good Nazis who loved their families with great and tender affection, who at the same time participated in great atrocities. The atrocities were so great that today, no one dares to excuse them by suggesting that perhaps they were merely a product of their times. But any honest look at the most of them would make it painfully clear that they were quite normal… normal like us?
My own personal ambition is to be such that no one, at any time, can submit that I was just a ‘product of my time.’ I can only assure that by striving to get the best information possible, making my own judgements about that information, and acting bravely according to my own assessments–to hell with what anyone of ‘my time’ thinks of me. For, I do not know what great calamity will befall us (if we do not count COVID), although history insists it is likely to do so. Thus, I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, allow my opinions to be molded and shaped according to the approval of ‘society.’ Let society agree with me, but I have seen what ‘society’ is capable of, and do not feel any need for its blessing.
I say all that to say this: nearly all of the eugenicists very much did believe that they were acting according to principles of ‘mercy.’ Moreover, because they believed they were merely acting according to the dictates of unanswerable science… “the consensus”… they felt they were not even particularly racist or bigoted, etc. Theirs was the dispassionate posture of Pure Science. This describes nearly all of them–and that is the warning to our own time. When we hear “trust the science!” or “the consensus” we must remember ours is not the first era such slogans were muttered.
On this site I have documented several attempts by eugenicists to meet their critics. That is to say, on occasion, the people who were ‘products of their times’ were forced to answer hard questions by people who were above and beyond their times. For example, on this page, a certain Benjamin Kidd raises this question:
Kidd was right. Not only were the ‘ardent reformers’ (he’s talking about Americans and Brits, not Nazis, here) advocates of lethal chambers for defectives, but it was the case, that “in the name of science” tyrannies emerged. The Great Galton (coiner of the word ‘eugenics’) brushed it aside, “As to Mr. Kidd, I do not attach importance to his points.” But Kidd, the ‘religionist’, was proved right.
Or consider the remarks of Herbert Walter, who decades after the above incident, in approximately 1921, said,
At almost exactly this moment, just as the National Socialist Party was being born, and no one could imagine what horrors it might do… G.K. Chesterton was imagining what horrors ‘it’ might do.
The bottom line is that almost everyone thinks that what they are doing is good and noble, inspired by compassion and mercy. Let us just posit it, and go further and accept that their motives are good and pure. And so? The dreadful story of eugenics, past and present, shows us that compassionate people not only allowed unspeakable crimes to occur against tens of millions of people, but participated in them. This truth forces us to consider carefully the outcomes of our own ‘compassionate’ views (which I am assuming here are genuine) and whether or not, if looking back afterwards, we see painfully they were not compassionate at all.
I guess I’ll have to reply in stages. 🙂
I am loathe to go too far down the abortion path. This is a site where people can encounter eugenicists in their own words and, potentially, struggle with the implications. Some of those eugenicists were strongly in favor of abortion, or would have been, if it had been legal during the time in question. The wrinkle would have centered around just who they wanted to have an abortion and who they thought should continue breeding. However, abortion was a means to an end, not the end, and I fear that this conversation could devolve into a debate about the ‘end.’ I have strong feelings about the subject and I am not shy about sharing them, but don’t want to detract from this platform’s purpose.
With that qualifier in mind, we should at least bear in mind one of the core features of eugenics, as understood by the eugenicists themselves. They get quoted at length in an essay I’m sure you saw: https://eugenicsarchive.com/definition-of-eugenics/40.htm
The one who coined the definition, Francis Galton, defined it as: “Eugenics is the study of the agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally.”
I emphasized the ‘agencies under social control.’ To put it bluntly, eugenics entailed direction by the State towards ‘improving’ future generations. During the Progressive Era, it went without saying that the State could always be trusted to act benevolently. It was only after one particular State disproved that sentiment decisively that the eugenicists re-vamped their tactics with Osborn’s “voluntary unconscious selection” in mind. But, it is important to note, that they still relied on ‘agencies under social control’ to pursue this. For example, they relied on doctors and medical professionals to ‘nudge’ people in a general direction. They knew the deference to doctors was, and is, strong. They took to the academic journals. They laid out big bucks for advertising in newspapers. You may think of it as being in the spirit of Bernay’s “The engineering of consent.” You’ve already read enough of what I’ve put on this site to know where I’m going: once abortion was made legal, their quest was to make the woman’s ‘freely’ made ‘choice’ one and the same with what they, the ‘experts,’ wanted.
I don’t get autobiographical very often on this site, but it was an encounter very much along these lines that sent me into study of eugenicists. My daughter was diagnosed in the womb with a birth defect. Not more than a moment or two after the diagnosis was confirmed, the doctor prodded us towards ‘terminating’ her. We told the doc to pound sand–if I knew then what I knew now I would not have been so nice–and we were shunted over to the genetic counselor, who, coincidentally, I’m sure, had his office right next door. When THAT didn’t work, the doc spent the next few months of the pregnancy telling us how God-awful my daughter’s life would be. As if to shame us, I think.
To say that my level of contempt for that worldview and those who espouse it is high would be an understatement. But at the time, I was just stunned and confused that so many people would be so quick to inject their ‘values’ into what is supposed to be (so I’ve been told over and over again) the woman’s free ‘choice.’ But now I understand. How did you put it? “Also, denying women the right to choose if, when, and how to carry a fetus to term is a clear violation of bodily autonomy.” But that is not actually the language that is used; when it gets boiled to its essence, the mantra is “abortion is a matter between a woman and her doctor.”
You see, when possible, they always want the doctor involved. That way the right ‘free’ decision is made.
And if the doctor is not available, there is still the public health official, the media, school health classes, and so on. “Agencies under social control.”
The eugenicists who built this framework are long dead, but their approach is in full motion.
Now, the reason why I took my reply in this direction is to give explanation to my ‘political’ reaction to the reversal of Roe. I hope you can hang in there and see how it all fits.
The larger the ‘agency’ is, the more inscrutable its activities, the more difficulty to monitor the motives of the people involved, the much harder it is to keep viewpoints which so many of us would agree are malevolent from getting play. The thing that is hard to come to terms with here is that whether we like it or not, in the 1960s and 1970s, people with a certain viewpoint specifically targeted ‘agencies’ for infiltration, and they succeeded. They did so largely, to borrow your language, because they found a cause (over-population) that was “socially acceptable and had momentum. They hitched their wagon to a movement with a strong team of horses already racing along;” We live in the era of “little did they know how public opinion would turn” and are watching with bated breath to see just where exactly it does turn.
Stand by for the finale.
Ok, I’ve got to wrap this up.
In my last paragraph in the previous reply, I already began bouncing off of your statement:
“But, you suggest, this might not be such a calamity if at the state level it is easier to see and therefore shift the laws. I do not know that others have had this thought,”
No, not many others have had this thought. 🙂 But it is because of my research into all of this that I have had ‘this thought.’ However, to be absolutely clear, I am not the only ones who have had this “thought.” Before I expand on it, I’d like to point out how easy a nationalized right to ‘abortion’ makes it for people with malevolent motives to move and breathe. It is relatively easy to find horrific perspectives (ones that I think you and I would agree are horrific) prior to the 1980’s. But everyone knows about the Internet, now. They know not to put their viewpoints in a format that can be discovered by a web search, and they don’t. It is virtually impossible, today, to know what our bureaucrats REALLY believe. I bet we realistically only know .0001% of the decisions they make on a daily basis, let alone WHY they made their decisions. You have to trick them into revealing their true viewpoints, yet some of them are perfectly positioned to exact disproportionate influence on the values and opinions within society. They are not elected. We don’t even know their names. Their work is well outside any kind of democratic accounting.
I believe that the healthiest thing for a free society, especially if it shall remain free, is that values percolate UP rather than down. The free exchange of ideas must be robustly protected. Just as ‘free speech’ must mean the protection of speech we disagree with, or else it isn’t free, ‘self-governance’ must allow communities to make decisions that other communities won’t agree on, even on extremely sensitive issues. If it were up to me, I would even strip away power and reach from the state governments, and take it down to regions within the state or even counties. And yes, it would mean tolerating the existence of things that are deemed pretty bad by a lot of people. Certain checks and balances can and should be in place. The US Constitution has a few good ones listed, already. Of last resort, the right to vote with one’s feet must be supreme.
This would no doubt exact a price which would be tough to swallow. However, I believe that civil wars, concentration camps, gulags and genocides are pretty bad, too. These things are only possible when individuals have access to very long levers of power. There is no hope in the idea that we might be able to give better people access to those levers. There is only hope in removing those levers of power altogether. Shortening them up as short as possible, so they can do as little damage as possible, AND we can see who is using the levers, and interrogate them on their motives.
This is probably not the reply you expected. Typically, I keep my ‘politics’ out of things on this site. However, I wanted you to understand better what I was getting at, and why, and see how my study of eugenics has informed my present view.