Carrel: eugenics asks for the sacrifice of many individuals.

Alexis Carrel, Nobel Prize Winner.  Man the Unknown, 1939.  [Source]

A choice must be made among the multitude of civilized human beings. We have mentioned that natural selection has not played its part for a long while. That many inferior individuals have been conserved through the efforts of hygiene and medicine.

But we cannot prevent the reproduction of the weak when they are neither insane nor criminal. Or destroy sickly or defective children as we do the weaklings in a litter of puppies. The only way to obviate the disastrous predominance of the weak is to develop the strong. Our efforts to render normal the unfit are evidently useless. We should, then, turn our attention toward promoting the optimum growth of the fit. By making the strong still stronger, we could effectively help the weak; For the herd always profits by the ideas and inventions of the elite. Instead of leveling organic and mental inequalities, we should amplify them and construct greater men.

We must single out the children who are endowed with high potentialities, and develop them as completely as possible. And in this manner give to the nation a non-hereditary aristocracy. Such children may be found in all classes of society, although distinguished men appear more frequently in distinguished families than in others. The descendants of the founders of American civilization may still possess the ancestral qualities. These qualities are generally hidden under the cloak of degeneration. But this degeneration is often superficial. It comes chiefly from education, idleness, lack of responsibility and moral discipline. The sons of very rich men, like those of criminals, should be removed while still infants from their natural surroundings. Thus separated from their family, they could manifest their hereditary strength. In the aristocratic families of Europe there are also individuals of great vitality. The issue of the Crusaders is by no means extinct. The laws of genetics indicate the probability that the legendary audacity and love of adventure can appear again in the lineage of the feudal lords. It is possible also that the offspring of the great criminals who had imagination, courage, and judgment, of the heroes of the French or Russian Revolutions, of the high-handed business men who live among us, might be excellent building stones for an enterprising minority. As we know, criminality is not hereditary if not united with feeble-mindedness or other mental or cerebral defects. High potentialities are rarely encountered in the sons of honest, intelligent, hard-working men who have had ill luck in their careers, who have failed in business or have muddled along all their lives in inferior positions. Or among peasants living on the same spot for centuries. However, from such people sometimes spring artists, poets, adventurers, saints. A brilliantly gifted and well-known New York family came from peasants who cultivated their farm in the south of France from the time of Charlemagne to that of Napoleon.

Boldness and strength suddenly appear in families where they have never before been observed. Mutations may occur in man, just as they do in other animals and in plants. Nevertheless, one should not expect to find among peasants and proletarians many subjects endowed with great developmental possibilities. In fact, the separation of the population of a free country into different classes is not due to chance or to social conventions. It rests on a solid biological basis, the physiological and mental peculiarities of the individuals. In democratic countries, such as the United States and France, for example, any man had the possibility during the last century of rising to the position his capacities enabled him to hold. Today, most of the members of the proletarian class owe their situation to the hereditary weakness of their organs and their mind. Likewise, the peasants have remained attached to the soil since the Middle Ages, because they possess the courage, judgment, physical resistance, and lack of imagination and daring which render them apt for this type of life. These unknown farmers, anonymous soldiers, passionate lovers of the soil, the backbone of the European nations, were, despite their great qualities, of a weaker organic and psychological constitution than the medieval barons who conquered the land and defended it victoriously against all invaders. Originally, the serfs and the chiefs were really born serfs and chiefs. Today, the weak should not be artificially maintained in wealth and power. It is imperative that social classes should be synonymous with biological classes. Each individual must rise or sink to the level for which he is fitted by the quality of his tissues and of his soul. The social ascension of those who possess the best organs and the best minds should be aided. Each one must have his natural place. Modern nations will save themselves by developing the strong. Not by protecting the weak.

Eugenics is indispensable for the perpetuation of the strong. A great race must propagate its best elements. However, in the most highly civilized nations reproduction is decreasing and yields inferior products. Women voluntarily deteriorate through alcohol and tobacco. They subject themselves to dangerous dietary regimens in order to obtain a conventional slenderness of their figure. Besides, they refuse to bear children. Such a defection is due to their education, to the progress of feminism, to the growth of short-sighted selfishness. It also comes from economic conditions, nervous unbalance, instability of marriage, and fear of the burden imposed upon parents by the weakness or precocious corruption of children. The women belonging to the oldest stock, whose children would, in all probability, be of good quality, and who are in a position to bring them up intelligently, are almost sterile. It is the newcomers, peasants and proletarians from primitive European countries, who beget large families. But their offspring are far from having the value of those who came from the first settlers of North America. There is no hope for an increase in the birth rate before a revolution takes place in the habits of thinking and living, and a new ideal rises above the horizon.

Eugenics may exercise a great influence upon the destiny of the civilized races. Of course, the reproduction of human beings cannot be regulated as in animals. The propagation of the insane and the feeble-minded, nevertheless, must be prevented. A medical examination should perhaps be imposed on people about to marry, as for admission into the army or the navy, or for employees in hotels, hospitals, and department stores. However, the security given by medical examination is not at all positive. The contradictory statements made by experts before the courts of justice demonstrate that these examinations often lack any value. It seems that eugenics, to be useful, should be voluntary. By an appropriate education, each one could be made to realize what wretchedness is in store for those who marry into families contaminated by syphilis, cancer, tuberculosis, insanity, or feeble-mindedness. Such families should be considered by young people at least as undesirable as those which are poor. In truth, they are more dangerous than gangsters and murderers. No criminal causes so much misery in a human group as the tendency to insanity. Voluntary eugenics is not impossible. Indeed, love is supposed to blow as freely as the wind. But the belief in this peculiarity of love is shaken by the fact that many young men fall in love only with rich girls, and vice versa.

If love is capable of listening to money, it may also submit to a consideration as practical as that of health. None should marry a human being suffering from hidden hereditary defects. Most of man’s misfortunes are due to his organic and mental constitution and, in a large measure, to his heredity. Obviously, those who are afflicted with a heavy ancestral burden of insanity, feeblemindedness, or cancer should not marry. No human being has the right to bring misery to another human being. Still less, that of procreating children destined to misery. Thus, eugenics asks for the sacrifice of many individuals. This necessity, with which we meet for the second time, seems to be the expression of a natural law. Many living beings are sacrificed at every instant by nature to other living beings. We know the social and individual importance of renunciation. Nations have always paid the highest honors to those who gave up their lives to save their country. The concept of sacrifice, of its absolute social necessity, must be introduced into the mind of modern man.

Although eugenics may prevent the weakening of the strong, it is insufficient to determine their unlimited progress. In the purest races, individuals do not rise beyond a certain level. However, among men, as among thoroughbred horses, exceptional beings appear from time to time. The determining factors of genius are entirely unknown. We are incapable of inducing a progressive evolution of germ-plasm, of bringing about by appropriate mutations the appearance of superior men. We must be content with facilitating the union of the best elements of the race through education and certain economic advantages. The progress of the strong depends on the conditions of their development and the possibility left to parents of transmitting to their offspring the qualities which they have acquired in the course of their existence. Modern society must, therefore, allow to all a certain stability of life, a home, a garden, some friends. Children must be reared in contact with things which are the expression of the mind of their parents. It is imperative to stop the transformation of the farmer, the artisan, the artist, the professor, and the man of science into manual or intellectual proletarians, possessing nothing but their hands or their brains. The development of this proletariat will be the everlasting shame of industrial civilization. It has contributed to the disappearance of the family as a social unit, and to the weakening of intelligence and moral sense. It is destroying the remains of culture. All forms of the proletariat must be suppressed. Each individual should have the security and the stability required for the foundation of a family. Marriage must cease being only a temporary union. The union of man and woman, like that of the higher anthropoids, ought to last at least until the young have no further need of protection. The laws relating to education, and especially to that of girls, to marriage, and divorce should, above all, take into account the interest of children. Women should receive a higher education, not in order to become doctors, lawyers, or professors, but to rear their offspring to be valuable human beings.

The free practice of eugenics could lead not only to the development of stronger individuals, but also of strains endowed with more endurance, intelligence, and courage. These strains should constitute an aristocracy, from which great men would probably appear. Modern society must promote, by all possible means, the formation of better human stock. No financial or moral rewards should be too great for those who, through the wisdom of their marriage, would engender geniuses. The complexity of our civilization is immense. No one can master all its mechanisms. However, these mechanisms have to be mastered. There is need today of men of larger mental and moral size, capable of accomplishing such a task. The establishment of a hereditary biological aristocracy through voluntary eugenics would be an important step toward the solution of our present problems.

Although our knowledge of man is still very incomplete, nevertheless it gives us the power to intervene in his formation, and to help him unfold all his potentialities. To shape him according to our wishes, provided these wishes conform to natural laws. Three different procedures are at our disposal. The first comprises the physical and chemical factors, which cause definite changes in the constitution of the tissues, humors, and mind. The second sets in motion, through proper modifications in the environment, the adaptive mechanisms regulating all human activities. The third makes use of psychological factors, which influence organic development or induce the individual to build himself up by his own efforts. The handling of these agencies is difficult, empirical, and uncertain. We are not as yet well acquainted with them. They do not limit their effects to a single aspect of the individual. They act slowly, even during childhood and youth. But they always produce profound modifications of the body and of the mind.

The physical and chemical peculiarities of the climate, the soil, and the food can be used as instruments for modeling the individual. Endurance and strength generally develop in the mountains, in the countries where seasons are extreme, where mists are frequent and sunlight rare, where hurricanes blow furiously, where the land is poor and sown with rocks. The schools devoted to the formation of a hard and spirited youth should be established in such countries, and not in southern climates where the sun always shines and the temperature is even and warm. Florida and the French Riviera are suitable for weaklings, invalids, and old people, or normal individuals in need of a short rest. Moral energy, nervous equilibrium, and organic resistance are increased in children when they are trained to withstand heat and cold, dryness and humidity, burning sun and chilling rain, blizzards and fog—in short, the rigors of the seasons in northern countries. The resourcefulness and hardihood of the Yankee were probably due, in a certain measure, to the harshness of a climate where, under the sun of Spain, there are Scandinavian winters. But these climatic factors have lost their efficiency since civilized men are protected from inclemencies of the weather by the comfort and the sedentariness of their life.


    • Nehemiah on May 3, 2023 at 1:23 am
    • Reply

    You probably should mention that Carrel’s attitudes probably softened after he returned to his Catholic faith late in life after he had witnessed two separate miracles at Lourdes, although you can’t unlearn genetics after you understand it:

    1. Granted, I throw some editorial bits in on this site fairly often, but in general, I just let the people speak for themselves. That was the case in this instance. Good of you to provide the link. Not so sure I am with you about ‘unlearning genetics.’ Combined with some of your other comments I’m set to approve after issuing this reply, I have the feeling you are implying that genetics, properly understood, logically entails certain conclusions and taking certain actions (res ipsa loquitur). This I reject. GE Moore was right about one thing: “you can’t get an ought from an is.” Insofar as genetics is genuinely an ‘is’, Carrel’s conclusions in the quoted essay do NOT necessarily follow from understanding genetics.

      Unless I misunderstand your meaning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.