The History and Politics of Eugenics



A Brief History of the Eugenics Movement


The first stages of plant and animal-breeding mark the end of the hunter-gatherer period of human evolution. As far as written testimony is concerned, Plato’s Republic provides an early theoretical treatise on eugenics.

Once Darwin’s 1859 Origin of Species had established both the mechanism of evolution and man’s place in nature’s greater scheme of things, it was inevitable that people would want to engage in what was then referred to as “racial” improvement. They would, at the same time, worry about the genetic consequences of eliminating natural selection in the modern world. Darwin himself became a true Social Darwinist, bemoaning the fact that:

We do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment…. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.89

It was Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, who in his 1883 book Inquiries into Human Faculty coined the word “eugenics”. Even earlier he had done pioneering work in his Hereditary Genius (1869) and English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture (1874). Galton was also one of the first to recognize the importance of twin studies. He also proved to be correct (unlike his more famous cousin) in rejecting the Lamarckianism of the age, which held that acquired characteristics could be passed on to offspring.

In 1907, the Eugenics Education Society was founded in London, and eugenics enjoyed broad support among the British elite, including that of Havelock Ellis, C. P. Snow, H.G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw. The last wrote that “there is now no reasonable excuse for refusing to face the fact that nothing but a eugenics religion can save our civilization from the fate that has overtaken all previous civilizations.”90 The movement was also strong in the United States. In the 1870s, Richard Dugdale published his famous study of the Juke family, unearthing 709 members of a single family with criminal pasts.


By the 1880s, custodial care was widely introduced to prevent the feebleminded from reproducing, and by the end of the century, there were cases of sterilization of the feebleminded. 1910 saw the founding of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, on Long Island. Alexander Graham Bell, who was wed to a deaf woman and was concerned about the interbreeding of the deaf, feared that such selective mating could lead to the creation of a deaf population. He became a prominent member of the American eugenics movement.

The influence of the eugenics movement did not derive from the number of its members. Both in Great Britain and in the United States adherents numbered only a few thousand. Rather, the influence of the movement was explained by the wealth and influence of an elite and, unfortunately, an often elitist group.

After 1910, eugenics societies were founded in various American cities, and a number of Americans attended the First International Eugenics Congress in London in 1912. The Second and Third were held in New York, in 1921 and 1932, respectively.

When World War I broke out, eugenicists helped the U.S. Army develop intelligence testing, and they proselytized widely after the war. In the 1920s, they played a major role in tripling the number of institutionalized feebleminded and in vastly increasing extra-institutional care.91 As for sterilization, contrary to popular belief, eugenicists were split down the middle on the issue. Neither the National Committee for Mental Hygiene nor the Committee on Provision for the Feebleminded supported sterilization.92 Part of the reason for the reluctance was that eugenicists were a straight-laced lot, who were afraid that sterilization could lead to a loosening of sexual mores. Neither, for that matter, were they particularly eager to see eugenics tarred with the polygamist brush.


By 1931, 30 states had passed a sterilization law at one time or another. Even so, the number of actual sterilizations was modest on a national scale. By 1958, these amounted to only 60,926.93 In comparison, twenty million sterilizations were performed in India between 1958 and 1980, and in China some thirty million women and ten million men were sterilized between 1979 and 1984. An undetermined number of these were coerced.94 German submarine warfare had temporarily braked free immigration to the United States during World War I. In 1924, Congress was strongly influenced by eugenic considerations in framing immigration law, so that immigration flows were made to reflect the ethnic makeup of the country as a whole. On July 1, 1929, national origin quotas were established as the basis of American immigration policy.


The subsequent history of eugenics is presented in the next four subchapters. We can note here only the enormous current interest in the topic. A search of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC, or “Worldcat”) on the World Wide Web revealed some 3,200 published books on the topic. 84 of them preceded Galton’s 1883 coinage of the word:


OCLC Search for Books on Eugenics


before 1883




If visual and sound recordings are added to the 2000-2004 book search, the number comes to 498 –greater than the annual average for books during the peak period of 1910-1919. Given the revolutionary progress of the science of genetics, it is a safe bet that this trend represents a rising curve. There is also a flood of articles on eugenics circulating over the Internet –a medium nonexistent in 1910-1919. An April 2005 Internet search for eugenics using Google produced 532,000 items as opposed to 231,000 as of April 2004. Thus, the popular view of eugenics as a bygone historical phenomenon is patently incorrect.






Eugenics is now popularly presented as the ideology of Holocaust and, as such, is an object of intense vilification. Leo Strauss, the philosopher and Zionist member of the Jewish Academy, coined the maxim “reductio ad Hitlerum”: Hitler believed in eugenics. X believes in eugenics. Therefore X is a Nazi.95 It is impossible to discuss the eugenic platform without treating the history of eugenics in Germany. To do so we must begin farther back in time than the period of 1933 to 1945.During the late nineteenth century the upper classes in Germany –and not only in Germany –turned to Social Darwinism as a justification for the disproportionate wealth which they had accumulated.


Thus it was no surprise that in 1893 Alexander Tille promoted the idea that a people which has been raised in the consciousness of competition as a mechanism for achieving progress “will be difficult to convert to Socialist daydreams.”96 Aside from economic class, race was a much abused theme. The subject of degeneration in animals had been raised by the French naturalist Georges Buffon (1707-1778) in 1766, and as early as the 1820s the topic had drawn broad public attention. The French Count Joseph de Gobineau (1816-1882) developed the notion still further, applying it to humans and postulating the existence of an “Aryan” race that supposedly formed the basis of “Nordic” populations.


The last remaining Aryan groups were seen by him as inhabiting Northern Germany and England. According to Gobineau, the interbreeding of Nordic types with other groups would lead to degeneration. Gobineau was best received in Germany.

In 1895, the German amateur anthropologist Otto Ammon preached a gospel of interbreeding “the pure original type with somewhat dark long-skulled types and roundskulled types with somewhat lighter pigment. All intermediate mixed forms do not count among the great successes, but are given over to the struggle for existence, for they were created only as inevitable byproducts in producing the better.”97 A relatively small group of German physicians, some of whom were related to each other by marriage, picked up on Galton’s eugenics and degeneration –but from a leftist point of view. The founder of German eugenics, Alfred Ploetz (1860-1940), was a socialist. In 1891, Wilhelm Schallmayer (1857-1919) published a brochure on species decline, but, while Galton’s interests related largely to intellectual abilities, Schallmayer was captivated by the idea of physical degeneration.


Schallmayer maintained that Darwin, having discovered the causal nature of evolution, thus rendered that process manageable. Schallmayer was opposed to Gobineau’s racial theories. Alfred Grotjahn (1869-1931) concurred that there was a danger of genetic decline and saw the theory of degeneracy as an important step in the process of “medicalizing” the problem. The theses of the German Society for Racial Hygiene, adopted in 1914, stood in marked contrast to Gobineau’s views and made no mention of either class or race. (The phrase “racial hygiene” was coined by Ploetz in 1895 as an alternate name for eugenics. Its use was unfortunate in that it often came to be misinterpreted as referring to individual races rather than to the human race as a whole.)


The theses called for family-friendly housing; elimination of factors that might hinder members of certain male professions from having children; raising the taxes on alcohol and tobacco; legal regulation of medically required abortions; combating what was then viewed as the hereditary transmission of gonorrhea, syphilis, tuberculosis, and diseases acquired in the course of practicing a profession; mandatory exchange of health certificates prior to marriage; and the awarding of prizes for literary and art works in which family life was praised. Young people were asked to be ready to sacrifice for the communal good.98 By the end of the 1920s eugenics had moved beyond the small group of specialists to become a topic of national discussion.


The Society’s 1931/32 theses again stressed the importance of inheritance, warned of degeneration, and stressed the importance of the family, calling for a heightened birthrate and the provision of tax relief for families. Lengthy periods of professional training were recognized as undermining fertility, genetic counseling was recommended, childbearing by persons whose children were likely to suffer from genetic illness was to be discouraged, and young people were to be instructed as to their eugenic obligations to their children.99 Once again, no mention was made of race.

Nineteenth-century Social Darwinists had viewed war as an invigorating process that weeded out the weak, just as economic competition sorted out a population into classes according to fitness. As World War I dragged on, eugenicists came to judge it “counter-selectionary.”

Prior to the end of World War I there had been a real fear in Germany of overpopulation. The population of the German empire had grown from 45 million in 1880 to 67 million by the end of the First World War. Only in 1918-1919 did the number of deaths exceed the number of births.100 The new fear of under population made it more difficult to propagandize negative eugenics, but “racial hygienists” attacked the Malthusians on the grounds that precisely the more desirable elements of the population were most likely to heed their calls for restraint and that this ill-advised altruism would prove to be dysgenic. They were also concerned that population decline would pose an existential threat to the “Nordic race.” Within the context of theories of racial superiority, racial interbreeding was seen as a sort of suicide of those of the “superior” race.
Nevertheless this was not what originally concerned Adolf Hitler. In 1920, he put forward a list of 25 points, none of which dealt with eugenics.

To best comprehend the role of eugenics under the National Socialist government, and not limit my examination of German eugenics to a narrow context, I approached the topic by first selecting one hundred books dealing with the Weimar and Nazi periods which contain indexes covering not only proper names but topics as well. I made no attempt to preselect other than choosing volumes that deal with the period. All hundred books are listed in Appendix 2. It is an experiment that anyone with an afternoon to spare and access to a serious library can easily replicate, selecting whichever books he or she might like.
The authors of these books range from Nazi ideologues to recognized Western scholars. Ninety-six of these indexes did not contain the word “eugenics.” The four volumes whose indexes listed eugenics contained only a handful of mentions. Even the indexes to Mein Kampf and Hitler’s speeches do not list eugenics as a topic, although they contain numerous references to race. Obviously, eugenics was not the powerful ideological motor it is made out to be.

Still, Hitler had heard of eugenics and eventually came to view it –approvingly –as being of a single piece with his ideas of Social Darwinism and a mystical “Nordic” or “Aryan” race, much in the spirit of Gobineau (whose name is never mentioned in Mein Kampf). This was a case of explicit tribalism buttressed with superstitions and mysticism, eventually even producing expeditions to the Himalayas in search of roots, and the prominent use of Germanic pagan symbols and runes. While Hitler may have been a dyed-in-the-wool hereditarian, he was also an anti-universalist who saw the production of a pure Nordic stock as the ultimate goal of genetic selection. Rather than view the development of humanity as one of cooperation, he held to a doctrine of competition. Abilities displayed by other peoples were for him negative phenomena which threatened the group he proposed to champion. This anti-universalist system of values represented a system of values that was anti-eugenic in the most fundamental sense.

A number of German eugenicists held views opposed to the government’s vision of “racial hygiene.” Hans Nachtsheim, a proponent of voluntary sterilization and Germany’s leading geneticist after the conclusion of World War II, consistently rejected the Nazis’ ideas of race. Even Fritz Lenz, who was perhaps the most influential German eugenicist during the Nazi period, spoke out against anti-Semitism. The biologist and eugenicist, Professor Walter Scheidt, denounced the unscientific nature of “racial biology” as taught at German universities.


Still another proponent of eugenics, the Viennese physician Julius Bauer rejected Nazi concepts of race as “fantasies plucked from the air” and complained bitterly as to the harm they were doing the cause. A fellow Austrian physician and supporter of eugenics, Felix Tietze, condemned the Nazi law on “Protection of the Blood.” The biologist and eugenicist Juliux Schaxel protested the exploitation of eugenics by the Nazis and actually emigrated to the Soviet Union. Rainer Fetscher and the former Catholic priest Hermann Muckerman were dismissed from their positions because their worldview contradicted that of the Nazis, and Fetscher ended up being shot by the SS when he attempted to make contact with the Red Army.101 Eugenicists in other countries explicitly rejected Hitler’s anti-Semitism and racism.


At the International Eugenics Conference held in Edinburgh in 1939 British and American geneticists criticized the racist orientation of eugenics in Germany.102 That same year prominent eugenicists in the United States and England issued a statement explicitly rejecting “race prejudices and the unscientific doctrine that good or bad genes are the monopoly of particular peoples” (see Appendix 1).

But the National Socialist government took control of scientific institutions and funded a number of chairs of “Racial Hygiene” in German universities, so that eugenicists abruptly found themselves face to face with the temptation to leave behind the pack of daydreaming social reformers and begin to implement eugenic reform.

One geneticist who became an ideologue of Nazi crimes was Otto von Verschuer. His essay, “The Racial Biology of Jews,” appeared in Hamburg in 1938 as one of nearly fifty articles, published in six volumes, under the title Forschungen zur Judenfrage (Studies on the Jewish Question). The research had been subsidized by the National Socialist government. The article purports to treat physical differences between Central-European Jews and Germans. Verschuer points out the astonishing phenomenon that an ethnic group could preserve itself for two thousand years without a territory. He then goes on, quite correctly, to point out that the differences he describes are not absolutely applicable to either group but are a matter of relative frequency within the two groups.


Taking a great deal of trouble to impart a scientific tone to the text, including such characteristics as, for example, fingerprints, blood types, or vulnerability to specific diseases –all of which pose fully legitimate questions for the physical anthropologist – he nevertheless presents a pathological document of ethnic hatred disguised as science. The Jews, we learn from Verschuer, have hooked noses, fleshy lips, ruddy light-yellow, dull-colored skin, and kinky hair. They have a slinking gait and a “racial scent.” Verschuer then moves on to “pathological racial traits.” He does concede high intellect and a relatively low birth rate, but by the end of the article his hatred becomes blatant:

I believe that only people of a certain type feel attracted by Judaism and could decide on conversion to it, people in particular who felt related to Judaism on the basis of their intellectual and psychological makeup. (It may only seldom have been physical reasons.) In this sense, the element which was absorbed in Jewry was not “foreign.” Verschuer then goes on to conclude that there is an absolute necessity for Germans and Jews to remain separated. It was a position identical to that laid out in Mein Kampf, whose author states that “the most lofty human right and obligation is to preserve the purity of the blood.” Once that primary task has been accomplished Verschuer then insists on combating childbearing by “syphilitics, persons suffering from tuberculosis, persons suffering from genetic disabilities, cripples, and cretins.”103

That is, he is first and foremost concerned with the prevention of interbreeding with other groups, and only after that with disability, heritable or nonheritable. Although nowhere in the article does Verschuer use the word “eugenics,” he saw his argument as being fundamentally “eugenic.” It is, after all, so convenient for someone consumed with hatred to claim his arguments are the product of scientific reasoning and not emotion. True, he does not call for an extermination of the Jews, but the train of his logic is very close to doing precisely that. Verschuer was a mentor for Joseph Mengele, who was keenly interested in twins research.


There is probably nothing in the universe that cannot be twisted, distorted, and used for evil. The danger of the misuse of science will always be with us. It is even more disheartening to see that this product of either a sick mind or shameless opportunism has been translated and distributed by a translator who displays a Ph.D. after his name.
Verschuer’s Manual on Eugenics and Human Heredity was published in French translation in German-occupied Paris in 1943. His signature on the preface is dated summer 1941. Much of the book contains the facts of heredity, as known at the time, a statistical distribution of variance, and so on, and is simply a popularized textbook on human genetics. In it he writes that the prominent eugenicists Erwin Baur, Eugen Fischer, and Fritz Lenz all read the manuscript and made suggestions.104


Obviously, to make the document acceptable to them, he avoided the insidious anti-Semitism of the earlier essay, maintaining that “Galton’s eugenics and Ploetz’s racial hygiene were in complete agreement with regard to both content and goal.”105 He also praised Gobineau’s Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines. Darwin, Mendel, and Karl Pearson were also praised as pioneers of eugenic thinking.

There are three basic charges associated with eugenics under National Socialism: a) the July 1933 sterilization law; b) the September 1939 national euthanasia program; and c) the persecution of Jews and gypsies and their mass murder toward the end of the war. Let us examine each in order:

A bill was drafted in 1932 by the Prussian Governmental Council – before Hitler’s accession to power– to lay the groundwork for selective sterilization in cases of heritable diseases. Although sterilization had been discussed for twenty years, the legislation took the leading German eugenicists by surprise, who were critical of it as counterproductive and inefficient with regard to genetic improvement.106

On July 14, 1933, the legislation was passed by the German parliament, entering into force in 1934, but now it permitted sterilization against the wishes of the individual concerned, specifically for the surgical sterilization of persons whose offspring would have a high probability of suffering from physical or mental illness, of hereditary feeble-mindedness, schizophrenia, manic-depressive syndrome, hereditary epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, hereditary blindness, deafness, or severe physical defects, as well as severe alcoholism.107 No mention was made of race. From 1934 to 1939 an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 persons were sterilized.108 Most sterilizations were for feeble-mindedness, followed by schizophrenia. 109 At the time, sterilizations were also being practiced in a number of European countries and the United States, although on a smaller scale.


Eugenic considerations did not play a significant role in the debate. Rather, German legislators misguidedly saw sterilization as a cheap alternative to welfare.110 The Catholic Church was opposed to sterilization, but the Evangelical Church supported it.111 The debate over euthanasia was launched by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche’s 1920 book Legalizing the Destruction of Life Not Worth Living. The authors, a lawyer and a physician, put forward a strictly economic argument. While there may have been some peripheral eugenic case to be made for the sterilization legislation, the euthanasia question had nothing whatever to do with eugenics, since persons who were already institutionally segregated and in many cases sterilized could not have had any procreation.


To their credit, German eugenicists vehemently attacked euthanasia proposals. In 1926, the eugenicist Karl H. Bauer, for example, stated that if selection were used as a principle for killing people, “then we all have to die”; the eugenicist Hans Luxenburger, in 1931, called for “the unconditional respect of the life of a human individual”; in 1933, the eugenicist Lothar Loeffler argued not only against euthanasia, but also against eugenically indicated pregnancy terminations:

“we justifiably reject euthanasia and the destruction of life not worth living.” 112

Hitler, however, regarded the institutionalized as “useless eaters” who were taking up the time of hospital personnel and occupying bed space to no worthwhile purpose.113 When, in September 1939, he issued a secret order initiating a national euthanasia program, he did so strictly to free up as many as 800,000 hospital beds for expected war casualties.114


The murder of huge numbers of Jews is an undeniable fact, but it is not accurate to regard the eugenics movement as the ideological engine of this Holocaust. It is true that Hitler, partly under the influence of a manual on human heredity and eugenics written by Erwin Baur, Eugen Fischer, and Fritz Lenz, supported eugenics,115 but he did not hate the Jews because he had been taught by eugenicists to classify them as intellectually inferior. On the contrary, he regarded them as powerful competitors of the blue-eyed, blond race he proposed to champion. The Jews were blamed for Germany’s defeat in World War I and for the humiliations of the Versailles treaty. When it became apparent that a new defeat awaited Germany as a consequence of World War II, vengeance became the order of the day.


As for the gypsies and Slavs, the former were to be exterminated and the latter could be exploited as slaves captured from an inferior tribe. The mass murders of Jews, gypsies, and many Slavs during the late war period took place in absolute secrecy. The community of German eugenicists did not call for a holocaust. Nevertheless, it is equally undeniable that there were German eugenicists who allowed themselves to be co-opted by the regime and who helped to create a climate of legitimization of policies of hatred for other ethnic groups. By giving themselves over to ethnic partisanship rather than universalism, they harmed not only the specific victims of Nazi atrocities but their own system of values and beliefs.

Intellectual history is replete with instances of idealism taking disastrous turns. Christianity and socialism must forever bear their respective crosses of Inquisition and Gulag. Eugenics is not the ideology of Holocaust, but in one specific country a small group of its adherents, a group that had already shrunk even further in the changing climate of contemporary genetics, was guilty of complicity. Nevertheless, this was not the driving force behind National Socialism that it is popularly made out to be. Rather, eugenics was an argument that could be conveniently twisted by the Nazi government over the explicit objections of the movement’s leaders.





Left and Right

every step to the right
begins with the left foot.

Aleksandr Galich


While there was a definite association between Social Darwinism and laissez-faire capitalism, the debate on eugenics actually cut across class and political lines throughout Europe and America, and it is historically incorrect to associate the movement exclusively with the political right. To no small degree it grew to prominence as part of a search for an exit from the excesses of unbridled nineteenth-century capitalism. Even when Herbert Spencer, in England, and William Graham Sumner, in the United States, began defending the period’s gross social inequalities, the left was not about to renounce natural selection, and proponents of socialism saw no inherent contradiction between the two schools of thought.


Marx and Engels were themselves enthusiastic Darwinists, feeling that the theories of evolution and communism were mutually complementary sciences that dealt with related but different topics – biology and social interaction. Vladimir Lenin himself derided the claim that people are equal in ability. 116 Galton’s chief pupil and the leader of Britain’s eugenics movement, Karl Pearson, was a Fabian socialist, as was Sidney Webb, who contributed an essay on eugenics to the influential 1890 Fabian Essays. Geneticists in the early Soviet state attempted, unsuccessfully, to model the socialist experiment along eugenic lines.

There was an influential “Weimar Eugenics” prior to Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany, where eugenics and socialism were viewed as mutually complimentary –a symbiosis that is still difficult for today’s left to accept.117 The “father” of German eugenics, Karl Ploetz, was a socialist who even spent four years in the United States exploring the possibility of establishing a socialist pan-Germanic colony there. The Austrian feminist and socialist journalist Oda Olberg, who went into exile during the Nazi period, was keenly interested in the ideas of Wilhelm Schallmayer, who attempted to achieve a fusion of eugenics and socialism and vigorously opposed all forms of racism. Another of Schallmayer’s fans was Eduard David, one of the leaders of Social Democrat Revisionism.


Max Levien, head of the Munich chapter of the German Communist Party, wrote that eugenics would play a role in the development of humanity as a function of technical progress. 118 Alfred Grotjahn favored efforts, within a socialist framework, to reduce the birthrate of the genetically disadvantaged, and the influential socialist theoretician Karl Kautsky took degeneration for granted. There was even a considerable eugenics faction in the Social Democrat Party. In the heyday of eugenics, the geneticist H. J. Muller argued that the privileges of capitalist society too often promoted persons of limited ability and that society “needed to produce more Lenins and Newtons.”119 Another confirmed Marxist, the distinguished geneticist J. B. S. Haldane, commented in 1949 in the Daily Worker that “The formula of Communism: ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ would be nonsense, if abilities were equal.”120 The geneticist Eden Paul summed up the view of many on the left:

“Unless the socialist is a eugenicist as well, the socialist state will speedily perish from racial degradation.” 121

The traditional breakdown between left and right can be fundamentally rephrased as “redistributive” and “competitive,” respectively. Logically, egalitarianism is consistent with the competitive point of view. If we are really all “equal,” we should for consistency’s sake favor a “best man wins” approach. If, on the other hand, inequality is genetically preprogrammed, then fairness demands that redistribution become the order of the day, first of material goods, and –with time –of genes. Eugenicists point out that if a material good can, by definition, be redistributed only by confiscating from one person to give to another, genetic redistribution does not suffer from this zero-sum limitation.

Holocausts were supposed to have been the creations of hereditarians, not egalitarians, but the left has generally discredited itself no less than the right with its mass murders. And then, too, there was the ubiquitous economic collapse of socialist economies, the self-serving tyranny of their bureaucracies, and the poverty into which they had managed to drive their own populations. It is not a good time for leftist ideology, and self-examination is definitely on the agenda –on the most fundamental level.

As the second millennium came to a close, Yale University Press published a tiny volume by the bioethicist Peter Singer, who attempted to bridge the gap between leftist political thought and Darwinism. Singer propounds a socialism based on championing the rights of the downtrodden. He points out that the 400 richest people in the world possess a combined net worth greater than the bottom 45%. He takes up their cause, arguing that it was the political right that had attempted to co-opt Darwinism, while the left made the mistake of accepting the right’s assumptions. “It seems implausible,” Singer maintains, “that Darwinism gives us the laws of evolution for natural history but stops at the dawn of human history.122

In principle, Singer is correct in maintaining that a “Darwinian left” can again arise, although traditional Marxists who regard their founding father as a prophet-like figure whose views have forever determined what is left and what is right will undoubtedly point out his famous dictum that “social being determines consciousness.” And Marx was, it should be mentioned, hostile to Malthusian thinking, which has often gone hand in hand with eugenics and the right-todie movement.
The notorious nature/nurture debate has been grossly exaggerated by sophisticates who in reality are far less “egalitarian” and “environmentalist” than they would have their naïve followers believe. The true conflict rages between interventionism and a laissez-faire approach. If one imagines a continuum with hereditary factors at one end and upbringing at the other, there are three basic possible positions which one can take:

  • genetic determinism explains the diversity between individuals and groups, with environmental factors playing a trivial role

  • environmental conditioning overwhelms any genetic predispositions

  • hereditary factors and environmental conditioning interact

In reality, unalloyed genetic determinism is partly a memory of nineteenth-century social Darwinism and partly an invention of egalitarian environmentalists, who attribute such views to their opponents in an attempt to discredit them. As for the all-nurture school, it remains a lovely fantasy (would it were true!), which all but the most radical egalitarians have abandoned. There is only one tenable view of nature/nurture –that of interaction, not mutual exclusion. Legitimate differences of opinion relate only to the relative importance of the one factor vis à vis the other.

Egalitarians have erected a multiplicity of arguments:

a. Modern man represents a tabula rasa, a clean slate upon which environment can write any text.

b. There are no significant intergroup differences.

c. While differing levels of individual skills may exist on an intragroup basis, there is no such thing as general intelligence.

d. IQ tests do not test intelligence but only the ability to take tests.

e. The heritability of intelligence is zero.

Even if one concedes that the fertility patterns of modern society are dysgenic, evolution does not always follow Darwin’s gradualist model, in which minor alterations lead over time to major evolutionary changes. Rather a “punctuated equilibrium” governs lengthy periods of genetic stasis. This seemingly scientific argument, applied, for example, to crustaceans, is a true Trojan horse really intended to be dragged into the gates of the human city.

The foregoing are essentially delaying tactics, but they have created in the public mind an assumption of genetic exclusionism –the assumption that humankind has emancipated itself from subsequent evolution.

Ultimately science cannot be stopped by historical events, however tragic they may be. University of Massachusetts political scientist Diane Paul has summed up the current intellectual climate quite well:

Virtually all of the Left geneticists whose views were formed in the first three decades of the century died believing in a link between biological and social progress. Their students, coming to intellectual maturity in a radically different social climate, either did not agree or, in a social climate inhospitable to determinism, were unwilling to defend that position. The appearance of sociobiology probably signifies a fading of the bitter memories surrounding the events of the 1940s. As those memories recede, it would not be surprising to witness the reemergence of a doctrine that was never defeated in the scientific arena but rather submerged by political and social events. From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, it has been, perhaps, a viewpoint latent among scientists only requiring another change in the social climate to prompt its expression. 123

Biologist Lawrence Wright, basing his assessment on the University of Minnesota twin studies, concludes that The prevailing view of human nature at the end of the century resembles in many ways the view we had at the beginning.124 Because of the heated nature of the debate, the ideological lines of the various participants often appear fuzzy to the observer, and, on occasion, even to the participants. Below are laid out four basic positions, two of which are egalitarian – “naïve egalitarianism” and “sophisticated antiinterventionism.” The reason for the latter distinction is that sophisticated egalitarians are in some respects in greater agreement with eugenicists than with naïve egalitarians. Naïve egalitarians may claim to be adamantly opposed to eugenics but are able to define the concept only vaguely or perhaps not at all. Basically, sophisticated egalitarians are leery of reveling or discussing their own true views for fear of a possible misuse of genetic knowledge.

The following chart has a certain artificiality to it, since people do not fit into neat, distinct groups. National Socialism, for example, attempted to erect a eugenic superstructure over a Social Darwinist base.

  Eugenics Social Darwinism Naïve Egalitarianism Sophisticated Anti-Interventionism
Universalist/Tribalist Universalist Tribalist Universalist Mixed
Human evolution Admit Admit Mixed admission/denial Admit
Natural selection of humans Oppose Favor Oppose Oppose
Artificial selection of humans Favor Mixed favor/oppose Oppose Oppose
Current intragroup diversity Admit Admit Either deny or admit but denigrate Privately admit but publicly denigrate
Current intergroup diversity Admit Admit Deny Privately admit but publicly deny
Intragroup selection Feasible and desirable Feasible and desirable Neither feasible nor desirable Feasible but too dangerous
Intergroup selection Feasible but not desirable Feasible and desirable Neither feasible nor desirable Feasible but not desirable
Future intragroup diversity Admit Admit Mixed admission/denial Privately admit but publicly denigrate
Future intergroup diversity Feasible and desirable Feasible but not desirable Deny (not feasible) Feasible and Desirable, but not essential
Long-term group coexistence Desirable Not desirable Desirable Desirable

Small as the group of individuals concerned over the future genetic composition of humankind may be, a single ideological spark in this area has the potential to engender an allconsuming conflagration, so that hostility all too often squeezes out rational discussion. Aside from conflicting ideologies, a huge range of sophistication also exists within the various camps. The following is a simplified breakdown by group:

Social Darwinists. Although they were major players in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, they have lost their viability as a distinct group. Selection by mortality has been overwhelmed by selection through fertility, although epidemics such as AIDS and modern warfare may one day reverse this equation, possibly sooner than we think. Nevertheless, Social Darwinism still exists as a “residual” philosophy embedded in the very core of the ideologies of certain groups.

The “Nordic” or “Aryan” idea.Driven underground as much by the Holocaust memorial movement (in which the author of this book played a modest role), which was launched after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, this group has been reduced to arguing for white survival rather than for white supremacy. The average woman in Europe now bears only 1.4 children, whereas 2.1 are needed just to maintain a population. According to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2003 Population Data Sheet, the population of Europe will drop from 11.5% of the global population to 7.2% by 2050, despite projected strong in-migration. Equally ominous to these theoreticians are the genetic consequences of racial interbreeding inevitable in the “global village.” This group’s loyalties are drawn along ethnic lines, not class. They can be termed tribalists.


Sophisticated anti-interventionists. This is a group which opposes intervention in the human germ line, and some of its members are opposed to intervention even in the germ lines of animals and plants. The anti-interventionists were traumatized by the German slaughter of Jews and by the lip service paid by the National Socialists to eugenics, and this circumstance has shaped their views accordingly. Strangely enough, the private position of this group has much in common with that of the eugenicists. There is a considerable gap between the group’s core beliefs and the views which it proselytizes. It wields influence vastly incommensurate with its size. Some sophisticated anti-interventionists are actually tribalists.

Naïve environmental egalitarians are people who have not given much thought to population and who have accepted the mass-consumption egalitarian gospel disseminated by the anti-interventionists. The goal of any propaganda campaign is to achieve a “disconnect” from practical experience in the targeted population, and in the case of naïve egalitarians this goal has been admirably achieved. They accept that intelligence is strictly the result of education and that altruistic behavior or the lack of it is exclusively the result of upbringing. Millions of them reject even the theory of evolution.
Universalist eugenics is described in this book in some detail, so that a description at this point would be repetitive. Suffice it to say that eugenicists see themselves as a lobby for future generations.

Neo-Malthusians. As many nations pass through the demographic transition, this group is losing much of the credence it enjoyed only recently. Most demographic forecasts now predict a leveling off of global population growth, but the Malthusians argue that the population may well be too large already to be self-sustaining and that rapid population growth is still alarming in many areas of the planet. Most eugenicists tend to be Malthusians, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

Anti-Malthusians. This group maintains that human capital is itself the greatest resource and that fears of exceeding the planet’s “carrying capacity” are grossly exaggerated and misplaced. In theory, eugenicists could conceivably be anti-Malthusians, but this has not been the case historically. Disengaged scholars and scientists. These include geneticists, demographers, anthropologists, archeologists, sociologists, psychologists –in a word any discipline devoted entirely or in part to the study of man. This group is painfully aware of the unwritten rules of censorship with regard to qualitative studies, so that members of the scholarly and scientific community often seek refuge from ideological storms by occupying themselves with noncontroversial questions.


A geneticist, for example, may devote himself to studying specific gene sequences and studiously avoid the discussion of all social implications. It is like a mechanic who repairs a carburetor with no thought as to where the automobile is to go. Some members of this particular group can be ideologized to a greater degree than nonmembers, and they can on occasion permit their personal views to influence their studies, concealing the fact not only from the public, but even from themselves. On the other hand, a large percentage remain oblivious to the philosophical and political implications of their field of study.