Eugenics as a Religion and Social Darwinism, Collin Wells

Source: Dr. Collin Wells, “Social Darwinism” a paper presented in 1907, found in The American Journal of Sociology, pages 706-709

Finally, what is the evolutionary value of certain ideals? Let us take individualism, the ideal of democracy, which has tacitly figured in many of the phenomena to which I have already referred. Let us go back to one—the higher education of women. This involves essentially the idea that women are individuals, with all the rights and privileges of personality, and not merely the mothers of persons. The two-child system, or the limitation of offspring, is, in part, based upon a recognition of this, in part due to ambition for the children, in part to physical inability of man or woman. Sidney Webb, in one of his letters to the London Times, informs us that in one-third of the reported cases of restriction the cause was the unwillingness of the women to bear children. Steinmetz says: “I incline to the opinion that all higher culture must lead to limitation of offspring. Both the fear of diminishing welfare and the increased emotional sensitiveness make children seem undesirable.”

The ideal of individualism demands of women years of education, late marriage, and certain leisure comforts and enjoyments afterward which are not compatible with a large family of children. Puritan families were large, but one is impressed by the mention of second or third wives in the accounts. It was a system of female sacrifice—not to ancestors, but to descendants.

Individualism as a social ideal also accounts for much of the behavior of men upon the family question. Ambition for riches, or power, or fame, or pleasure—all non-social in motive and likely to prove anti-social in their effects—lead men in ages of culture to postpone marriage or to forego it entirely.

Francis Galton has recently said [in Sociological papers, Vol. I.] that the obligation of sound people to marry and rear sound children may need the sanction of religion, since it is in fact the one imperative of evolutionary science.

It [Eugenics] must be introduced into the national consciousness like a new religion. The improvement of our stock seems to me to be one of the highest objects that we can reasonably attempt. We are ignorant of the ultimate destinies of humanity, but feel perfectly sure that it is as noble a work to raise its level, in the sense already explained, as it would be disgraceful to abase it. I see no impossibility in Eugenics becoming a religious dogma among mankind, but its details must first be worked out sedulously in the study.

Christianity seems to me to have put its emphasis upon qualities somewhat neglected in the age of its founder, such as fraternity, chastity, and spirituality, to the partial eclipse of conjugal affection, the family sense, and the economic qualities of honesty, frugality, and industry. The disastrous celibacy of the Roman church is one result of this; another is the present helplessness of Christianity before the disintegration that threatens the family as well as our industrial life. Its original motives must be recovered from the rubbish of traditional emphasis, and these logically lead to much that is meant by Eugenics. They certainly negative drunkenness and immorality, while the doctrine of self-sacrifice may easily be extended to the obligation of parenthood for all healthy men and women, as well as to abstaining from marriage wherever mental or physical defects are involved. Physical soundness of self, offspring, and neighbors is not an un-Christian criterion of the moral quality of behavior.

In China and Japan the family obligation receives the sanction of ancestor-worship. Confucianism hinges immortality upon the observance of certain ceremonies before the memorial tablets by direct male descendants. Upon this ideal celebacy and the limitation of offspring are unthinkable. The whole social system is based upon family solidarity—upon the family rather than upon the individual. It is, indeed, a question whether this can survive when European individualism comes to offer itself to the Chinese as a competing ideal. Not merely will it threaten the system of ancestor-worship and modify the aspirations of the men; it will mean new and insistent claims on the part of women as they become infected with western notions. Is it not likely that the Chinese, too, will come to postpone marriage and limit their offspring? Or possibly Confucianism will triumph because it has a stronger social ideal and inspires a people of finer industrial qualities than our own.

This contrast illustrates clearly what I mean by the evolutionary meaning of ideals. Probably many of the social and religious ideals of the past have been of importance because of their biological results rather than by virtue of such superficial expressions as have attracted the attention of historians. Such I conceive to be the case with Mormonism and polygamy; the latter has proved inferior to monogamy in its exclusive regard for masculine individualism and in its defective family training of the young; while Mormonism, in spite of this defect in its original form, is strong in its insistence upon social solidarity. Protestant Christianity is inferior to both Judaism and Catholicism from the standpoint of social biology, and these will gain upon it rapidly, in numbers, because their family life is sounder.

Neither individualism nor socialism, but “familyism” in the evolutionary, biological sense, seems to me to be the true social ideal. It involves all that is sound in ethics and wise in benevolence or business. What father, under the insights of this ideal, could wish his children to be children of millionaires, or avoid the family obligations that rest upon the well-to-do? As Karl Pearson has recently said:

The great problem is whether limitation has not begun at the wrong end. If a nation is to be strong, there must be wastage; the reckless and diseased must not be in a condition to multiply like the strong and able. At present the strong and able refrain from bringing into the world those who might render it harder for the weak to multiply. They apparently prefer that the weak—too often artificially maintained in workhouse, institute, and asylum—shall pass in and out, multiply and inherit the land. It is not race-suicide; it is degeneracy of type. What is needed is a national awakening, a sense of national duties, and the primary duty of women to raise strong and healthy children.

Men are not plants, and I cannot share the optimism of Luther Burbank as to the future of man in America; but they are animals, and subject, in part, to the laws that govern animal life. Men also have intelligence, and can recognize these laws and their application to themselves. Have they faith and courage enough to make the application?

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