Eugenicists Shared in Common with the Nazis Concepts of the “Social Body.”

One of the under-appreciated elements of what animated the eugenics mindset was the view that each species could very well be conceived of as a ‘body’ of sort.  A different level of moral calculation could be applied to the ‘social organism’ or ‘social body’ then the individual.  This is no mere invoking of the ‘common good.’  It was believed a matter of settled science, given the implications of Darwinism, that there was a social organism, and the individual had certain duties to it that logically followed.  Darwin may have laid the framework for that thinking, but other eugenicists such as Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel, brought the argument to a head.  What follows are quotes by eugenicists subsuming the individual for the ‘common good.’


John Stuart Mill – Utilitarianism – 1863 – From Chapter 3

But there is this basis of powerful natural sentiment; and this it is which, when once the general happiness is recognised as the ethical standard, will constitute the strength of the utilitarian morality. This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful principle in human nature, and happily one of those which tend to become stronger, even without express inculcation, from the influences of advancing civilisation. The social state is at once so natural, so necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some unusual circumstances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he never conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a body; and this association is riveted more and more, as mankind are further removed from the state of savage independence. Any condition, therefore, which is essential to a state of society, becomes more and more an inseparable part of every person’s conception of the state of things which he is born into, and which is the destiny of a human being.


R.Z. Mason, mayor of Appleton, WI, “The Duty of the State in its Treatment of the Deaf and Dumb, the Blind, the Idiotic, the Crippled and Deformed, and the Insane.” [Reference]

The question arises, whether the state shall expend its hundreds of thousands of dollars per annum in the almost hopeless effort to correct congenital malformations, to subdue the frantic manifestations of insanity, to counteract the subtle forms of organic disease, and to educate the feeble minded and still allow these pre-natal and constitutional disorders to flow on through countless generations of the unborn.  Of course we assume in our argument, that it is the province of the state, acting from considerations of the highest political economy, to care by systematized and organized effort, for such of the unfortunate as cannot care for themselves, or whose wants friends cannot supply.  The insane can, not unfrequently be rendered happy and useful, but even sane.  The idiotic can, by skillful treatment of the educator be developed into the self-reliant, self-sustaining human being.  The orthopedic surgeon can bring beauty out of deformity, and can so change those flexures that deform and weaken the physical anatomy, as to bring nature to her true and original lines, and impart a new strength and vitality.

But the prosecution of all these lines of experiment and modes of rendering the combined skill of the civilized world available, require large outlays of time and money.  And is it not vastly better that the state, acting in her organic capacity as the agent of human society, should encourage and aid by her own means, the foundation of institutions for such purposes, rather than to leave the large numbers of these unfortunate people to the ill-directed and uncertain efforts of poor, and often unintelligent families, to get along with their herculean difficulties as best they may?  Is it not better, therefore, that the state should tax herself a little to help the blind to become an intelligent, self-sustaining member of society, or to cure a child of some dwarfing deformity or some smiting paralytic stroke, rather than tax herself much by and by in maintaining these victims of relentless misfortune in poor-houses in the long years of their future.  Such a question can, I apprehend, have but one answer.

But above and beyond all this, the state has another and more important duty to perform to society, than that of merely taking care of such as have come into the world under the blight of some terrible misfortune.  This other and higher duty is to modify its legislation as to prevent the propagation of congenital idiocy, deforming insanity and organic disease.


August Weismann, Essays Upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems (London: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1889), 9-10.

In the first place, in regulating duration of life, the advantage to the species, and not to the individual, is alone of any importance.  This must be obvious to any one who has once thoroughly thought out the process of natural selection.  It is of no importance to the species whether the individual lives longer or shorter, but it is of importance that the individual should be enabled to do its work towards the maintenance of the species.  This work of reproduction, or the formation of a sufficient number of new individuals to compensate the species for those which die.  As soon as the individual has performed its share in this work of compensation, it ceases to be of any value to the species, it has fulfilled its duty and may die.


Helene Stöcker, founder of the League for the Protection of Mothers, c. 1890-1910 as quoted in From Darwin to Hitler, a book by Richard Weikart:

If one believes in the eternal Becoming, in the flow of evolution, and holds struggle for the father of all things, then one can only see the moral task of humanity as seeking ever new, higher forms of morality.


W. Duncan McKim, Heredity and Human Progress, 1900. pg 3-4

Many persons see in the present fermentation of civilized society the signs of approaching disintegration.  Society, they say, is an organism, which like all others, has its stages of infancy, youth, maturity, old age, and final dissolution, and we now, as a people, find ourselves in the stage of senile decay.  This view seems to have support in the history of earlier civilizations, as of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome; but that such a fate is inevitable may well be questioned.  It has been contended, of late years, by Weismann that the lowest of animals, the protozoa, are potentially immortal; that they have no inherent tendency toward natural death, but that if unmolested by extrinsic or accidental agents of destruction they will live forever.  That in this matter Weismann is right, appears very probable.  In like manner, as we may believe, a social organism may be potentially immortal; but it must be adequately self-regulative.  It must have the intelligence to recognize, and the courage to prune away, all the outgrowths which are very weak or morbid.  Had the empires of antiquity possessed this enlightenment, it is probable that they would not have perished.


Leonard Cole, scientist and professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1914, in a presentation to the Race Betterment conference.

 Until social customs became comparatively highly developed, individual physical prowess was as necessary to existence as among the lower animals. This was in the stage of individualism. With specialization, as particular classes in a community took up certain special tasks, and especially as armies were formed not including the total population, physical selection became relaxed for some of the individuals. These conditions have become more pronounced until modern philanthropy and medical science are bringing them to a point where they can no longer be ignored. Neither the greater diligence in seeking them out nor the fact that they remain in institutions for longer periods will account for the disproportionately increasing number of defectives and criminals in our population. This fact seems demonstrated and one does not merit the epithet of alarmist for pointing it out. And if true, must we not give thought to its remedy? Chatterton-Hill, in a striking simile, has likened the condition of the social organism under these circumstances to that of a biological organism in which catabolism is exceeding anabolism, resulting in autointoxication, the gradual poisoning of the civic body. Death is the normal process of elimination in the social organism, and we might carry the figure a step further and say that in prolonging the lives of defectives we are tampering with the functioning of the social kidneys!


Nazi doctor Dr. Hanns Löhr, as quoted as writing in 1935 by Stephan Chorover in From Genesis to Genocide:  The Meaning of Human Nature and the Power of Behavior Control (Massachusetts:  The MIT Press, 1979), 100.  Emphasis in the original.

“The health of the Volk stands above the health of the individual.”


Greg Johnson, writing on the Counter-Currents Website, May 11, 2012 in the site’s “about” section.

The following paragraph is of more recent vintage, but given that the ‘organic’ nature of eugenics-reasoning is often overlooked by eugenics scholars, it is noteworthy that Johnson not only recognizes it, but appeals to it in his own rationale, as part of their shared goals:

The New Right and the Old Right share the same goal: a society that is not just hierarchical but also organic, a body politic, a racially and culturally homogeneous people, a people that is one in blood and spirit, a people that is politically organized and sovereign and thus in control of its own destiny.



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    • Barbara Brown on May 11, 2018 at 11:01 pm
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    I would think that the Nuremberg Code that came out of World War Two with all its cost and devastation deserves respect. I do not respect postpartum eugenicists no matter who they are or were.

  1. […] Eugenics and the ‘Social Body/Organism’ […]

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