Eugenics and the Left
By: John Ray
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 26, 2003
Everybody now knows how evil Nazi eugenics were: How all sorts of people were exterminated not because of anything they had done but simply because of the way they had been born. And we have all heard how disastrous were the Nazi efforts to build up the "master race" through selective breeding of SS men with the best of German women -- the "Lebensborn" project. Good leftists today recoil in horror from all that of course and use their "Hitler was a conservative" mantra to load those evils onto conservatives. But Hitler was a socialist. As he himself said:
"We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions." (Speech of May 1, 1927. Quoted by Toland, 1976, p. 306)So it should come as no surprise that Hitler's eugenics were an intergral part of his socialism and that the great supporters of compulsory eugenics worldwide in Hitler's day were overwhelmingly of the Left. Left-influenced historians commonly blur the distinction between a belief in eugenic or dysgenic processes and actually advocating a state-enforced eugenics program but we can find the facts if we look carefully. And it was American Leftists upon whom Hitler principally drew for his "inspiration" in the eugenics field.
In the USA, the great eugenicists of the first half of the 20th century were the "Progressives". As it says here:
A significant number of Progressives -- including David Starr Jordan, Robert Latham Owen, William Allen Wilson, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Robert Latou Dickinson, Katherine Bement Davis, and Virginia Gildersleeve--were deeply involved with the eugenics movement.And as we read further here:
The second stage in the development of the eugenics movement extended from 1905 to 1930, when eugenics entered its period of greatest influence. More and more progressive reformers became convinced that a good proportion of the social ills in the United States lay in hereditary factors.... And who were the Progressives? Here is the same writer's summary of them:
An educator, biologist, and leader of the American peace movement, Jordan's main contribution as a major architect of American eugenics was to bridge the gap between eugenics and other reform groups. Like other progressives, Jordan subscribed to the Populist-Progressive criticism of laissez-faire capitalism. Jordan had faith in progress and in a new generation. Yet, this optimistic environmentalism of Jordan's contradicted his Darwinian-hereditarian outlook of the world. Ironically, a similar ambivalence - - a "love-hate" attitude toward environmentalism - - ran through most progressive ideology.
For Jordan, the first president of Leland Stanford University, education permitted society's better members to outlive inferior peoples. Jordan believed the twentieth century had no place for the weak, the incompetent, and the uneducated. In addition, Jordan urged an end to indiscriminate and sentimental charity, a major factor he believed in the survival of the unfit. Jordan, like most progressives, viewed the urban setting as detrimental and destructive to human life. He held the general progressive belief in the social goodness of the small town or farm. The progressive's romantic attraction to the countryside can be partly explained by the alien character of the urban population. An increasing number of city dwellers belonged to the "undesirable foreign element."
"Originally, progressive reformers sought to regulate irresponsible corporate monopoly, safeguarding consumers and labor from the excesses of the profit motive. Furthermore, they desired to correct the evils and inequities created by rapid and uncontrolled urbanization. Progressivism ..... asserted that the social order could and must be improved..... Some historians, like Richard Hofstadter and George Mowry, have argued that the progressive movement attempted to return America to an older, more simple, agrarian lifestyle. For a few progressives, this certainly was true. But for most, a humanitarian doctrine of social progress motivated the reforming spirit"Sound familiar? The Red/Green alliance of today is obviously not new. Hitler got his eugenic theories from the leftists of his day; Hitler's eugenics were yet another part of his leftism!
Both quotes above are from De Corte's "Menace of the Undesirable" (1978). Against all his own evidence, De Corte also claims that the Progressives were "conservative." But the book by Pickens (1968) sets out the connection between the Progressives and eugenics far more throughly than the few quotes here can indicate.
Eugenics, however, was popular science generally in the first half of the 20th century. As a scientific idea it was not confined to Leftists. But note the difference in the implementation of eugenic ideas (again from De Corte):
Even early social crusaders held similar illiberal views. Josephine Shaw Lowell, a leader in asylum reform, stated in 1884 that "every person born into a civilized community has a right to live, yet the community has the right to say that incompetent and dangerous persons shall not, so far as can be helped, be born to acquire this right to live upon others. Thus, strands of eugenic-style racism not only found their way into conservative philosophy represented by Sumner and other Social Darwinists but so did progressive reform ideals. Consequently, reformers began viewing the criminal, insane, epileptic, retarded and impoverished as more products of their heredity than of their social surroundings. To state his message another way: conservatives wanted to leave well enough alone; left-wingers, in their usual way, wanted to introduce compulsion into the matter.
Whereas Social Darwinists desired to let nature take its course in eliminating the "unfit," eugenicists, on the other hand, felt Social Darwinism had not accomplished the task of guaranteeing the "survival of the fittest" quickly enough. For eugenicists, the "vigorous classes" should be encouraged to have more children, while the "incompetent classes" should be compelled to have fewer. Consequently, eugenicists in their distrust of laissez-faire concluded that "natural selection" must be helped along.
And in Great Britain, too, the leftists of the first half of the 20th century were outspokenly in favor of eugenics. As just one instance, that famous philosopher, peacenik and anti-nuclear camapaigner, Bertrand Russell spoke in favor of it. Writing in "Icarus Or the Future of Science" in 1924 he clearly approved of it, though he did voice doubts about its being employed for the wrong purposes. In a letter to his first wife, feminist Alys Pearsall Smith, about socialism and "the woman question," he wrote of eugenics in words that could well have been Hitler's -- even echoing Hitler's bad grammar:
"Thee might observe incidentally that if the state paid for child-bearing it might and ought to require a medical certificate that the parents were such as to give a reasonable result of a healthy child -- this would afford a very good inducement to some sort of care for the race, and gradually as public opinion became educated by the law, it might react on the law and make that more stringent, until one got to some state of things in which there would be a little genuine care for the race, instead of the present haphazard higgledy-piggledy ways." (Quoted here.)Even when Russell came to realize that state-sponsored eugenics could very easily fall into the wrong hands -- a realization he expresses in Icarus -- he still clearly saw it as desirable at least in theory. Nor was Russell alone in Britain. As this author notes:
The fact is that eugenics was popular across the political spectrum for many years, both in England and in North America (e.g., Paul, 1984; Soloway, 1990). In England, many socialists supported eugenics. Even those viewed as critics, such as J. B .S. Haldane, Lancelot Hogben and Julian Huxley were not against eugenics per se, but came to believe that eugenics in capitalist societies was infected with class bias. Even so, some (see Paul, 1984), accepted the idea of upper class genetic superiority. The few real critics of eugenics in the early 20th century were mainly conservatives and Christians like G.K. Chesterton who saw eugenic planning as just another arm of the wider campaign to impose a "scientific" socialist planning. In fact Chesterton subtitled his anti-eugenics tract "Eugenics and Other Evils" as: "An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State."
Not only were R. B. Cattell's eugenic beliefs commonplace in that milieu, but he was influenced by prominent socialists who supported eugenics, men such as Shaw, Wells, Huxley and Haldane, some of whom he knew (Hurt, 1998). Jonathan Harwood (1980) actually cited the example of Cattell to demonstrate that British eugenics was not a right-wing preserve in the inter-war years (although Keith Hurt, 1998, has noted that Harwood later characterised Cattell's 1972 book on Beyondism as a "right-wing eugenic fantasy").
Oppenheim (1982) claimed that American eugenicists were opposed by those in the Progressive Movement, juxtaposing the hereditarian reformism of the former with the environmental reformism of the latter. Actually many progressives were also eugenicists and incorporated the idea of eugenic reforms into their larger agenda (e.g., Burnham, 1977); there was a great deal of cross-over between the two movements (e.g., Pickens, 1968).
As we see from all the quotes above, the racialist thinking of the eugenic socialists was quite "scientific" and progressive in it's day, much as "global warming" is seen as scientific and progressive today. And many of the eugenics true believers continued on postwar moving into campaigns for legalised abortion, planned parenthood and population control. In fact some conservative critics have highlighted the racist roots of much of the liberal pro-abortion movement.
And eugenics of a sort is back on the Left: The Zero Population Growth brigade are back with their "people are pollution" attitudes! Only this time they want to halve our population. And it does seem to be the old gang from the 1960's again -- including Paul Ehrlich. The abject failure of their earlier prophecies, e.g., that we would all be doomed by the 1970s, has not given them occasion for pause.
The Feminist connection
And are feminists conservative? Hardly. And feminists are hardly a new phenomenon either. In the person of Margaret Sanger and others, they played an active and prominent role in the USA in the first half of the 20th century, advocating (for instance) abortion. For her energetic championing of eugenics, Margaret Sanger won a public admirer in no less a figure than Hitler himself. Naturally, the American eugenicists were virulently racist, desiring to reduce the black population. They shared Hitler's view that Jews were genetically inferior, opposing moves to allow Jews fleeing from Hitler into the United States. If Hitler's eugenics and racial theories were loathsome, it should be acknowledged that his vigorous supporters in the matter at that time were leftists and feminists, and their opponents were conservatives.
The Green connection
As in America, Hitler's eugenics were merely one aspect of a larger "Green" theme -- a theme that continues, of course, as the Red/Green alliance of today. The Nazis were probably the first major political party in the Western world to have a thoroughgoing "Green" agenda. A good short summary of that has been written by Andrew Bolt. He writes:
The "big government" connection
Here's a quote which may sound very familiar -- at least in part. "We recognise that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind's own destruction and to the death of nations.
"Only through a re-integration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger . . .
"This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought."
That was Ernst Lehmann, a leading biologist under the Nazi regime, in 1934, and he wasn't alone. Hitler, for one, was an avid vegetarian and Green, addicted to homeopathic cures. His regime sponsored the creation of organic farming, and SS leader Heinrich Himmler even grew herbs on his own organic farm with which to treat his beloved troops.
Hitler also banned medical experiments on animals, but not, as we know to our grief, on Jewish children. And he created many national parks, particularly for Germany's "sacred" forests.
This isn't a coincidence. The Nazis drew heavily on a romantic, anti-science, nature worshipping, communal and anti-capitalist movement that tied German identity to German forests. In fact, Professor Raymond Dominick notes in his book, The Environmental Movement in Germany, two-thirds of the members of Germany's main nature clubs had joined the Nazi Party by 1939, compared with just 10 per cent of all men.
The Nazis also absorbed the German Youth Movement, the Wandervogel, which talked of our mystical relationship with the earth. Peter Staudenmaier, co-author of Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, says it was for the Wandervogel that the philosopher Ludwig Klages wrote his influential essay Man and Earth in 1913. In it, Klages warned of the growing extinction of species, the destruction of forests, the genocide of aboriginal peoples, the disruption of the ecosystem and the killing of whales. People were losing their relationship with nature, he warned.
Heard all that recently? I'm not surprised. This essay by this notorious anti-Semite was republished in 1980 to mark the birth of the German Greens -- the party that inspired the creation of our own Green Party.
Its message is much as Hitler's own in Mein Kampf: "When people attempt to rebel against the iron logic of nature, they come into conflict with the very same principles to which they owe their existence as human beings. Their actions against nature must lead to their own downfall."
Why does this matter now? Because we must learn that people who want animals to be treated like humans really want humans to be treated like animals. We must realise a movement that stresses "natural order" and the low place of man in a fragile world, is more likely to think man is too insignificant to stand in the way of Mother Earth, or the Fatherland, or some other man-hating god. We see it already. A Greenpeace co-founder, Paul Watson, called humans the "AIDS of the earth," and one of the three key founders of the German Greens, Herbert Gruhl, said the environmental crisis was so acute the state needed perhaps "dictatorial powers."
As they do today, the leftists of the 1920s and 1930s captured most of the intellectuals and much of the educated class of the day and this gave them access to the levers of government power, which is of course what leftists want above all. Once in power, a culture of death prevailed, to wit:
"President Woodrow Wilson signed New Jersey's sterilization law, and one of his deputies descended to greater fame as a Nazi collaborator at Buchenwald. Pennsylvania's legislature passed an 'Act for the Prevention of Idiocy,' but the governor vetoed it .... Other states, however, joined the crusade. ... Eventually, the eugenicist virus found a hospitable host in Germany. There... it led to the death chambers of Buchenwald and Auschwitz. Thanks to the Nazis, highly praised by eugenicists here, the movement eventually collapsed. But not before nearly 50,000 Americans were sterilized."
And someone from the past who is still something of a hero to the Left is the American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who famously said: "When you pay taxes you buy civilisation." This was quoted approvingly recently by Simon Crean, Federal Parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party. Crean somehow failed to note that Holmes was also known for ordering compulsory sterilizations of the supposedly mentally ill: Yet another forgotten American inspiration for Adolf.
California was also one of the earliest supporters of eugenics laws and in fact provided the model for Hitler's laws:
Under the banner of "national regeneration," tens of thousands, mostly poor women, were subjected to involuntary sterilization in the United States between 1907 and 1940. And untold thousands of women were sterilized without their informed consent after World War II. Under California's 1909 sterilization law, at least 20,000 Californians in state hospitals and prisons had been involuntarily sterilized by 1964. California, according to a recent study, "consistently outdistanced every other state" in terms of the number of eugenic sterilizations.... Another country that is to this day a model and inspiration to leftists everywhere is Sweden -- with its all-embracing welfare State. So what happened in Sweden? As we read here:
California not only led the nation in forced sterilizations, but also in providing scientific and educational support for Hitler's regime. In 1935, Sacramento's Charles M. Goethe praised the Human Betterment Foundation for effectively "shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler…." In 1936, Goethe acknowledged the United States and Germany as leaders in eugenics ("two stupendous forward movements"), but complained that "even California's quarter century record has, in two years, been outdistanced by Germany." In 1936, California eugenicist Paul Popenoe was asking one of his Nazi counterparts for information about sterilization policies in Germany in order to make sure that "conditions in Germany are not misunderstood or misrepresented." .....
California's eugenicists could not claim ignorance that Germany's sterilization program was motivated primarily by racial politics. For example, in 1935, the Los Angeles Times published a long defense of Germany's sterilization policies, in which the author noted that the Nazis "had to resort to the teachings of eugenic science" because Germany had been "deprived of her colonies, blessed with many hundreds of defective racial hybrids as a lasting memory of the colored army of occupation, and dismembered all around." Not only did California eugenicists know about Nazi efforts to use sterilization as a method of "race hygiene" -- targeted primarily at Jews -- but they also approved efforts to stop "race-mixing" and increase the birth rate of the "Northern European type of family." The chilling words of Progressive reformer John Randolph Haynes anticipated the Nazi regime's murder of 100,000 mentally ill patients: "There are thousands of hopelessly insane in California, the condition of those minds is such that death would be a merciful release. How long will it be before society will see the criminality of using its efforts to keep alive these idiots, hopelessly insane, and murderous degenerates. … Of course the passing of these people should be painless and without warning. They should go to sleep at night without any intimation of what was coming and never awake."
During the Nazi era in Germany, eugenics prompted the sterilization of several hundred thousand people then helped lead to anti-Semitic programs of euthanasia and ultimately, of course, to the death camps. The association of eugenics with the Nazis is so strong that many people were surprised at the news several years ago that Sweden had sterilized around 60 000 people (mostly women) between the 1930s and 1970s. The intention was to reduce the number of children born with genetic diseases and disorders. After the turn of the century, eugenics movements -- including demands for sterilization of people considered unfit -- had, in fact, blossomed in the United States, Canada, Britain, and Scandinavia, not to mention elsewhere in Europe and in parts of Latin America and Asia. Eugenics was not therefore unique to the Nazis. So what exactly did happen in the USA? I am indebted to one of my fellow bloggers for a useful summary of one of the cases. Some extracts:
In the 1920's, the eugenics movement was ... popular. So popular in fact, that mandatory sterilization laws were passed in 34 states from the mid-1920's to mid-30's. Basically, these laws stated that sterilization was mandatory for socially undesirable persons. "The socially inadequate classes, regardless of etiology or prognosis, are the following: (1) Feeble-minded; (2) Insane, (including psychopathic); (3) Criminalistic (including the delinquent and wayward); (4) Epileptic; (5) Inebriate (including drug habitues)..." [etc]. So basically, if you were hyperactive, promiscuous, an alcoholic or drug addict, had cerebral palsy or Down's syndrome, were epileptic, (etc., ad nauseum), or exhibited ANY socially undesirable behavior at all, you were eligible for mandatory sterilization. And not you, nor your parents (if you were a minor) had any right to say "No." Conservative eugenics?
In the mid 1920's, Carrie Buck, at the ripe old age of 17, fought the state of Virginia's mandatory sterilization statute. She was classified as a socially inferior woman, having born a child out of wedlock and her foster parents stated that she was "a handful". Carrie's mother had also been incarcerated in a state institution as a 'promiscuous woman'. And at the age of 7 months, Carrie's child, Vivian, was 'certified' as being 'deficient,' based on the 'history' of Carrie and her mother.
Carrie lost her case at the state court level, and it wound up in front of the Supreme Court in 1927. The prominent Supreme Court jurist, Oliver Wendel Holmes, wrote the opinion in Buck v. Bell. The decision was 8-1, Justice Butler dissenting. Here's what the majority opinion boiled down to:
"In order to prevent our being swamped with incompetents... society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes." ...
"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough." — Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (Buck v. Bell, 1927)
Five months after this decision, Carrie was forcibly sterilized. It later came out that her promiscuity was nothing of the sort. She'd been raped by the nephew of her foster parents, himself a violent (unsterilized) little scumbag. And her daughter's school records show that Vivian was a B student, receiving an A in deportment (behavior), and she was on the honor roll. Genetic tests later showed that neither Carrie nor her daughter had any genetic defects.
I should note that economist Steven Levitt's work suggests that the old leftist eugenics program of reducing the birth rate (via abortion) among the "lower classes" was not totally misconceived. Levitt's findings seem to show that making voluntary abortion available to poorer mothers reduces the crime rate years later. He is at pains of course to indicate that his empirical findings are not an endorsement of either eugenics nor abortion. Slate featured a three-day correspondence between him and Steve Sailer dealing with the issue.
Given the traditional conservative regard for individual liberty, it seems to me that the only eugenics programs that conservatives could justify would be voluntary ones, such as the large material incentives to reproduce that the Singapore government offers to highly educated Singaporean women. Christian conservatives, however, tend to regard all reproduction as God-given so would oppose even voluntary eugenic programs that limit reproduction, such as the Woodhill Foundation programs that pay crack-addicted mothers to undertake contraception.
Leftists, however, oppose the Woodhill programs because they are voluntary and privately-funded. They like such matters to be in the hands of the State (i.e., under their control).
And the problem of a self-perpetuating and substantially criminal underclass does not need to be addressed by eugenics. It can be addressed by addressing its major causes, such as the over-generous welfare system that the Left has created to thunderous praise.
And despite everything, there are useful and non-coercive eugenics programs in operation right now. Genetic screening in the U.S. Jewish community has now all but eliminated the awful hereditary disease Tay-Sachs.
Shifting the blame
Modern-day left-wingers hate it when you point out that it was they who inspired Hitler and in their reaction try to shift the blame, even to the most unlikely targets. A recent book has tried to lay the blame for the Left's eugenics of the early 20th century at the door of someone who opposed all compulsion. As the book reviewer says:
It has long been open season on Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). Perhaps because he was the 19th century's most prominent defender of individual liberty and critic of the violence of the state, Spencer has always been the object of hatred and distortion; indeed, it sometimes seems that no accusation is too bizarre to be leveled against him... It is a good comment on the dismal minds of leftists that they think that nothing can be accomplished except through compulsion. And accomplish a lot they have. And in the realm of eugenics, Adolf Hitler remains their most successful disciple.
What common ground could there be between Spencer and the eugenicists? Both, to be sure, were 'Social Darwinists,' if that means that both thought there were important sociopolitical lessons to be drawn from evolutionary biology. But Spencer and the eugenicists drew opposite lessons. For the eugenicists, the moral of evolutionary biology was that the course of human evolution must be coercively managed and controlled by a centralized, paternalistic technocracy. For Spencer, by contrast, the moral was that coercive, centralized, paternalistic approaches to social problems were counterproductive and so would tend to be eliminated by the spontaneous forces of social evolution ....
De Corte, T.L. (1978) Menace of Undesirables: The Eugenics Movement During the Progressive Era. University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Pickens, D. (1968) Eugenics and the Progressives. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
Toland, J. (1976) Adolf Hitler Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday.
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