If we know anything of twentieth century history, we know of the Second World War, Nazi Germany, and eugenics. But what we have forgotten (and what some actually deny) is that eugenics was once a hot topic among the intellectual elites in the United States and Europe in general. Prior to World War II, it was quite fashionable to believe that the application of evolutionary principles to human breeding would be the savior of the human race. In its absence, man would be fated to make the same mistakes indefinitely, continue to make war, and generally fail to progress as he could.
Then World War II and the Holocaust happened, and eugenics got its deservedly negative reputation. It faded from the textbooks, but not entirely from the discourse of Western civilization. Lest we forget its vision, philosophy and attitude when it started out, I wish to display what the books of the early twentieth century presented.
First, from 1922, The Laws of Life, by William M. Goldsmith (available on Amazon as original copies or even as reprints!) See Figure 1.
The focus of the book is life, evolution and genetics, with the latter parts of the book discussing how these laws must be applied to human breeding for the betterment of those yet to be born.
Outside of Nazi Germany, there was less talk of eliminating any of the currently living. Rather the focus was the on the eugenic alternatives of sterilization of the “unfit”, and the encouraged reproduction of the “fit”. This was necessary, because, as Goldsmith complains (Figure 2):
“Contrast, if you will, the low rate of reproduction of the superior classes in America with the overproduction of children by the inferior classes whose mental and moral standing are often nearer that of the brute than that of civilized man. These feeble-minded, vicious, and diseased individuals are competing with intellectual man for supremacy in the perpetuation of human characteristics.”
In eugenic thinking, there is no love for humanity, no care for the less fortunate, no thought of helping anyone to rise up, and no consideration for the possibility of educating and leading people. Just a heartless view of people as animals to be managed.
The tie to evolution is clearly made in the following passage (Figure 3), which he quotes from Leonard Darwin, son of Charles Darwin:
“The belief that man has been slowly developed from some ape-like progenitor came towards the close of the last century [i.e., the close of the 1800’s] to be nearly universally held by thoughtful persons; this belief gave rise to a new hope that this upward march of mankind might be continued in the future; and out of this new hope sprang the eugenic ideal.”
Of course, this is all in the best interests of future people. For, as he quotes:
“Progress on eugenic lines will make mankind become continually nobler, happier and healthier…”
And so as with other eugenicists, his hope for man’s future is tied to this central idea.
In the second installment, I will show a more extreme example by a trio of authors more well known than Goldsmith.