Eugenics: The Skeleton that Rattles Loudest in the Left’s Closet

Jonathan Freeland, The Guardian, February 17, 2012

Does the past matter? When confronted by facts that are uncomfortable, but which relate to people long dead, should we put them aside and, to use a phrase very much of our time, move on? And there’s a separate, but related, question: how should we treat the otherwise admirable thought or writings of people when we discover that those same people also held views we find repugnant?

Those questions are triggered in part by the early responses to Pantheon, my new novel published this week under the pseudonym Sam Bourne. The book is a thriller, set in the Oxford and Yale of 1940, but it rests on several true stories. Among those is one of the grisliest skeletons in the cupboard of the British intellectual elite, a skeleton that rattles especially loudly inside the closet of the left.

It is eugenics, the belief that society’s fate rested on its ability to breed more of the strong and fewer of the weak. So-called positive eugenics meant encouraging those of greater intellectual ability and “moral worth” to have more children, while negative eugenics sought to urge, or even force, those deemed inferior to reproduce less often or not at all. The aim was to increase the overall quality of the national herd, multiplying the thoroughbreds and weeding out the runts.

Such talk repels us now, but in the prewar era it was the common sense of the age. Most alarming, many of its leading advocates were found among the luminaries of the Fabian and socialist left, men and women revered to this day. Thus George Bernard Shaw could insist that “the only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man”, even suggesting, in a phrase that chills the blood, that defectives be dealt with by means of a “lethal chamber”.

Such thinking was not alien to the great Liberal titan and mastermind of the welfare state, William Beveridge, who argued that those with “general defects” should be denied not only the vote, but “civil freedom and fatherhood”. Indeed, a desire to limit the numbers of the inferior was written into modern notions of birth control from the start. That great pioneer of contraception, Marie Stopes—honoured with a postage stamp in 2008—was a hardline eugenicist, determined that the “hordes of defectives” be reduced in number, thereby placing less of a burden on “the fit”. Stopes later disinherited her son because he had married a short-sighted woman, thereby risking a less-than-perfect grandchild.

Yet what looks kooky or sinister in 2012 struck the prewar British left as solid and sensible. Harold Laski, stellar LSE professor, co-founder of the Left Book Club and one-time chairman of the Labour party, cautioned that: “The time is surely coming … when society will look upon the production of a weakling as a crime against itself.” Meanwhile, JBS Haldane, admired scientist and socialist, warned that: “Civilisation stands in real danger from over-production of ‘undermen’.” That’s Untermenschen in German.

I’m afraid even the Manchester Guardian was not immune. When a parliamentary report in 1934 backed voluntary sterilisation of the unfit, a Guardian editorial offered warm support, endorsing the sterilisation campaign “the eugenists soundly urge”. If it’s any comfort, the New Statesman was in the same camp.

According to Dennis Sewell, whose book The Political Gene charts the impact of Darwinian ideas on politics, the eugenics movement’s definition of “unfit” was not limited to the physically or mentally impaired. It held, he writes, “that most of the behavioural traits that led to poverty were inherited. In short, that the poor were genetically inferior to the educated middle class.” It was not poverty that had to be reduced or even eliminated: it was the poor.

Hence the enthusiasm of John Maynard Keynes, director of the Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944, for contraception, essential because the working class was too “drunken and ignorant” to keep its numbers down.

We could respond to all this the way we react when reading of Churchill’s dismissal of Gandhi as a “half-naked fakir” or indeed of his own attraction to eugenics, by saying it was all a long time ago, when different norms applied. That is a common response when today’s left-liberals are confronted by the eugenicist record of their forebears, reacting as if it were all an accident of time, a slip-up by creatures of their era who should not be judged by today’s standards.

Except this was no accident. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their ilk were not attracted to eugenics because they briefly forgot their leftwing principles. The harder truth is that they were drawn to eugenics for what were then good, leftwing reasons.

They believed in science and progress, and nothing was more cutting edge and modern than social Darwinism. Man now had the ability to intervene in his own evolution. Instead of natural selection and the law of the jungle, there would be planned selection. And what could be more socialist than planning, the Fabian faith that the gentlemen in Whitehall really did know best? If the state was going to plan the production of motor cars in the national interest, why should it not do the same for the production of babies? The aim was to do what was best for society, and society would clearly be better off if there were more of the strong to carry fewer of the weak.

What was missing was any value placed on individual freedom, even the most basic freedom of a human being to have a child. The middle class and privileged felt quite ready to remove that right from those they deemed unworthy of it.

Eugenics went into steep decline after 1945. Most recoiled from it once they saw where it led—to the gates of Auschwitz. The infatuation with an idea horribly close to nazism was steadily forgotten. But we need a reckoning with this shaming past. Such a reckoning would focus less on today’s advances in selective embryology, and the ability to screen out genetic diseases, than on the kind of loose talk about the “underclass” that recently enabled the prime minister to speak of “neighbours from hell“ and the poor as if the two groups were synonymous.

Progressives face a particular challenge, to cast off a mentality that can too easily regard people as means rather than ends. For in this respect a movement is just like a person: it never entirely escapes its roots.

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  • loyalwhitebriton

    I’ve never been a fan of Eugenics. What if we had a system of Eugenics that was based on IQ, say, and we really did weed out low IQ individuals, and created a society of geniuses?
    Who would do all of the menial jobs that, whilst being menial, still nevertheless need to be done?.
    Jobs like sweeping the streets, cleaning public toilets, production line jobs in factories?. Some guy with an IQ of 150+?; possibe, I guess, but they would resist it, and never be content.
    Or would we import lesser IQ immigrants to do these jobs, like Blacks? – back to square one. 
    The fact is, a normal, healthy society needs diversity of talent – meaning people with average IQ to genius. That way, all of the jobs that need to be done can get done, from street cleaners to brain surgeons.
    I don’t think Eugenics is a solution to anything. As far as our racial problems are concerned, deportation, or balkanisation, is the way forward; or my ‘Soft’ Final Solution that I mentioned earlier.

    • A man with a 130 IQ in a 150IQ world could sweep floors. But a 70 IQ man could not build something nice

    • The_Bobster

      When I go to the grocery store, I try to use the checkout girls that have higher IQ’s. They do the job faster and better.

  • anonymous_amren

    Eugenics does have its dangers, but overall the supporters of Eugenics are correct.

    Marie Stopes was wrong. Some of the same genes that cause shortsightedness also cause higher IQ. This is one of the IQ genes that we know about (although we don’t know which gene it is) that we can show occurs much more commonly in white people than black people, and causes high IQ (proving white IQ is partly genetic). We have since developed surgery to easily correct short-sightedness, and also cheap glasses and contact lenses, but there is no way to correct low IQ. It would be interesting to compare those grandchildren with any others she might have had.

    But they are correct that genetic personality traits help cause poverty and crime.

    People who oppose eugenics need to realise that there’s no such thing as a natural way that keeps things the same. Government policy will always cause different kinds of people to have more or less children. And so we will always have either dysgenics or eugenics, even if it’s not deliberate.

    I would like to sterilize people with IQs less than 70 for genetic reasons, partly for eugenics, and partly because they don’t have the ability to look after their children.

    I would also like to see encouragement of high-IQ people to have more children.

  • anonymous_amren

    @loyalwhitebriton,

    You’re assuming eugenics is only needed if we want to improve our society.

    The fact is, eugenics is needed even if we just want to keep IQs the same instead of sliding backwards due to disgenic fertility.

    • loyalwhitebriton

      I hear what you’re saying, and I hear what bobster and steven are saying.
      Nevertheless, this whole Eugenics business has a sort of elitist, new-world-order-ish feel about it, according to the (though not by any means exhaustive) research that I’ve done on google and youtube. To reiterate, I hear what you’re saying, but I have a niggling feeling that something just doesn’t sit right about it.

      • bluffcreek1967

        I agree completely! I’ve read some essays on Eugenics and it just isn’t a good fit for my worldview. I’m just not comfortable with it, and there is definitely a utopian, new world order feel to it. Granted, I see what appear to be some benefits to it and I don’t pretend to know the subject as well as I perhaps should. Regardless, I’m not persuaded by its rationale or means. Some of the folks who have been supporters of it (e.g., Margaret Sanger, et. al) also give me the creeps.  

  • Hirschibold

    If you haven’t seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to watch the movie “Idiocracy.” It deals with the dysgenic consequences of minority-rule and declining birth-rates among the intelligent, in such a sly and humorous way that it somehow escaped the thought police / and censors. I am convinced, based on this film and “King of the Hill” that Mike Judge is one of the few advocates for white males working in Hollyweird, though he is of course subtle about it.

    • Christopher_Nelson

      Well, if you notice in the film, it also shows the leading white guy marrying a black chick in the end. Plus, in the begining of the movie , it shows  that the stupidity was caused from white trash people having kids.  

      Altho, I am surprised that they used a black president in the movie.  And that they didn’t make the lead character, with the intelligence, a black guy.

      I guess they bypassed the censors  by having plenty of stupid white people in the future.

      • Dewey

        I saw that too.  If you look behind the PC veneer though, the writers of that movie made the truth clear enough.

        It’s pretty clear from the opening barrage of trashy black culture that Blacks were to blame.  They put the White football player in there having kids just to satisfy the requisite Anti-White hate level for the PC people.

    • Full movie at:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMkrJOOTjj4

      First 3 1/2 minutes are EXCELLENT — of course, if they had made the low IQ guy, his women, and son black, there’d be riots across America….

  • Eugenics lives in the hearts of leftists. 

    Those feeble-minded folks who must be sterilized are they who cherish Southern culture, note that black women have nappy hair, or venture to write books titled, “Suicide of a Superpower”.

    Sterilization occurs through a process of intimidation, stigmatization and ostracism. 

    It is of vital importance to 21st century eugenists that the thoughts of free-thinking Americans not reproduce. 

  • RobRoySimmons

    This month’s Playboy has an article called “Bio-politics” and it is quite accepting of eugenics.  I’m quite sure the average white liberal has seen enough dysgenic breeding in his/her life.

  • Unperson

    “Such talk repels us now…”

    “Us”? Who’s this “us”? Knee-jerk leftist multiculti Guardian readers? Because “such talk” doesn’t repel me at all.

    What repels ME is the thought of a world with absolutely NO eugenics — in which the dumbest, the drunkest and the most dangerous frantically outbreed the mentally and morally fit. Because the PC reign of terror has made the smart terrified of sounding “judgmental” about the stupid.

    IOW, the world we are living in now.

  • Wayne Lo

    There are about 1.2 billion whites in the world today, second after 1.4 billion East Asians as the world’s most numerious race.

    There are several hundred million more white people in the world than people of  sub-saharan descent.

    And what about distinct races such as Amerinds, Polynesians, Australian aborigines, Melanesians, Malays, Pygmies etc? Surely they are all more endangered than the white race?

     

  • anarchyst

    #1 question for pro-eugenicists . . . who makes the decision??