November 24, 2004


REVIEW: of War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race By Edwin Black (Johannes L. Jacobse, Townhall)

The father of the modern eugenics movement, England's Francis J. Galton, gave the pseudo-science its first taste of scientific credibility. Intoxicated by the ideas of Charles Darwin, the rediscovered genetic theories of Gregor Mendel, and the secularized philosophy of Herbert Spencer, Galton concluded that assembling data about social heredity could predict which families and ethnic groups would produce socially desirable offspring.

Eugenics never found widespread acceptance in England, but in America it was a different story. The American movement found a leader in Charles Davenport, a biologist with a flair for organization, fundraising, and promotion. Drawing upon Galton's work and funded by the Carnegie Foundation, Davenport opened the Carnegie Station for Experimental Evolution in Cold Spring Harbor, New York in 1904.

Davenport wasted no time. In short order, a battalion of social workers fanned into the countryside to chart the characteristics of people they considered undesirable (blacks, poor, infirm, criminals, alcoholics, etc.). Thousands of people were forcibly sterilized (6,000 between 1907 and 1927; 36,000 by 1940). Children were taken from their families. Criminals were castrated.

Some states passed legislation supporting sterilization, and the nation soon found itself considering a federal policy of forced sterilization. The eugenics movement found its poster child in Carrie Buck, the daughter of a prostitute. After giving birth to an illegitimate child, Carrie was forcibly institutionalized and declared "feebleminded by the laws of heredity."

Oliver Wendell Holmes was the chief jurist hearing the case. Carrie lost 8-1. Writing for the majority, Holmes arrogantly declared:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if we could not call upon those who sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices… compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes… three generations of imbeciles is enough.

It was music to the eugenicists' ears.

Common people were more clear-headed. The arbitrary decisions about what constituted social desirability struck many Americans not only as capricious but as evil. The movement was resisted, critiqued, and mocked at every turn, and justifiably so. It was challenged in the courts and editorial pages. Support for it finally began to wane.

In Germany, the opposite happened. The American ideas were enthusiastically embraced by German thinkers, resulting in the murder of 250,000 disabled Germans between 1935 and 1945 alone. Black believes that the inspiration for Hitler's Final Solution drew more from the ideas of American eugenicists than from Hitler's nationalism.

One of the main reasons it couldn't "happen here" was because William Jennings Bryan and his fellow fundamentalists fought back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 24, 2004 2:59 PM

Just one more example of those religious nuts preventing progress.

Posted by: luciferous at November 24, 2004 3:05 PM

Holmes had it absolutely right.

The comparison with Hitler's genocide is utterly inapposite. What modern eugenicists want is for the criminal, the mentally defective, the people with genetic diseases to not be able to reproduce. It is not the race-based nonsense of the early 20th century, that provided a scientific gloss to bigotry.

What precisely is wrong with sterilizing a violent felon? It is an additional punishment and to the extent that his genetic matter has brought on his criminal behavior, it is no longer a problem.

On what theory should the mentally defective be permitted to reproduce? Their progeny will continue to be burdens on society, and why should I get taxed to pay for them?

The Nazis, BTW, discontinued the practice of sterilizing or killing the mentally handicapped at the insistence of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. There was no such insistence on the part of these clergymen for keeping Jews alive.

Posted by: Bart at November 24, 2004 3:11 PM

What does their mental capacity have to do with their value as human beings? Better the imbecile than the morally repugnant.

Your Church shtick is, of course, just another New Deal lie you've bought:

Posted by: oj at November 24, 2004 3:20 PM

It matters because they are incapable of being decent parents and they are significantly more likely to produce progeny who will be a drain on the taxpayer. Either is sufficient in my mind to warrant sterilization.

Posted by: Bart at November 24, 2004 3:27 PM


Start sterilizing bad parents and there'll be none.

Posted by: oj at November 24, 2004 3:45 PM

It is not the race-based nonsense of the early 20th century, that provided a scientific gloss to bigotry.

Do you really think that it is the inclusion of "race-based" that makes that sentence true?

Posted by: David Cohen at November 24, 2004 3:51 PM

Bart's right about one thing, it's not race based anymore.

We've slaughtered 40 million and counting innocents considered less than human by some, of all races, creeds, colors, and genders.

Posted by: Chris B at November 24, 2004 4:06 PM


Race or class was the basis. Marx or Darwin. Science or it's retroactive misinterpretation.

Posted by: at November 24, 2004 5:47 PM

Who gets to decide who is or is not a "decent" parent?

Justice Holmes? or maybe Hillary Clinton? Or the editorial page editor of the NYTimes, or maybe the DNC?

Or maybe Clarence Darrow?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 24, 2004 6:26 PM

Obviously eugenics can and has been misused, so I'm not quite so eager as Bart to see it revived. However, the idea shouldn't be entirely dismissed. At the very least, I think that parents have an obligation to care for their children, so having children one can't care for immoral. Furthermore, I think it's extremely immoral to knowingly have children who are so severely handicapped they can never be independent adults.

(I don't mean aborting defective fetuses. I'm thinking of someone I used to work with years ago, a very Catholic attorney. The doctors told him and his wife that having children risked the health of the mother and would likely produce children with severe defects. They went on to have four [maybe more after I left the company]. Each one had severe health problems as predicted, and after each birth the mother got less healthy. And, of course, the company health plan paid for it all.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 24, 2004 6:38 PM

Bart's heart is in the right place. (can't believe I said that)

Obviously there are people who should not have children and it is equally obvious they will be a burden on others. But the execution of such rules and laws, would be subjective and would necessarily lead to injustice and abuse.

Posted by: h-man at November 24, 2004 6:47 PM


We're all a burden on each other--presumably since that's the measure we should kill the old and infirm too? And folks wonder why Darwinism led to Nazism...

Posted by: oj at November 24, 2004 10:12 PM

Only a highly selective partisan tries, endlessly, to connect darwinism with naziism.

The concept of 'mudsill races' in America was popularized long before Darwin published. It was an entirely Christian view.

Not all Christians shared it, but all who shared it were Christians.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 25, 2004 12:29 AM

Those that consider themselves part of the "elite" sure love to scheme about eliminating hoi polloi, but interestingly enough, in modern America and Europe, it's the "elite" who are least fit, in Darwinian terms.

If you don't reproduce, you aren't "fit".

Anyway, the "Master Race" is almost here, with no sterilizations or mass killings required.

Genetic engineering and bio-mech implants should have 22d century humans looking distinctly "super" as compared to the 21st century's motley bunch.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 25, 2004 5:58 AM

Just the thought of eugenics, and some of these comments, is literally making me physically ill at this moment.

No wonder some people cannot believe in God -- they don't even believe in humans.

Pride like that brings tears to my eyes.

Posted by: Randall Voth at November 25, 2004 7:38 AM


The world of progress has no room for inconvenient people.

Posted by: Peter B at November 25, 2004 8:46 AM


Not just in America--the secular everywhere are dying off. They've been selected against.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2004 9:33 AM


Christianity was anti-Semitic

Darwinism was racist and eugenic

We all have our crosses to bear.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2004 9:49 AM

As far as the substance of this thread is concerned, I think OJ has it about right. But the topic is interesting to me from a timing standpoint. My local librqry just had a sale on books that it was weeding out of its collection. I managed to purchase a dog eared copy, with all pages there but some loose, of C. Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer's Whatever Happened to the Human race. This book had a dramatic impact on my thinking bqck in the 80's when I first read it. Before reding the book, I really didn't think that what we now call "culture of life"issues were as important as many of my Catholic friends thought. I actually first strted re-reading the book this morning before I came back to turn hte computer on. It will be interesting to see how the book reads after so many years.

Posted by: Dan at November 25, 2004 10:11 AM

We have it in our ability to eliminate, say, Tay-Sachs disease.

Is sterilizing Tay-Sachs carriers immoral?

It would certainly be eugenics.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 25, 2004 2:27 PM

Darwinism got over racism.

Christianity has never gotten over its antisemitism.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 25, 2004 10:15 PM

Actually, the fascinating thing is that reconciling with Judaism has made Christianity more coherent. Darwinists denying race makes nonsense of the whole theory. Two finches are supposed to fight to extinction over beak size but men are supposed to ignore race?

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2004 10:26 PM

"Two finches are supposed to fight to extinction over beak size ..."

Ummm, they don't.

It has been a long time since I have seen so much internal contradiction and ignorance wrapped up in so few words.

BTW--Evolutionists do not deny race exists. They only deny that the genetic variation between races is larger than among races.

But given your vast genetic expertise, I am sure you will present detailed observations to prove them wrong.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 26, 2004 11:55 AM


Harry does.

Posted by: oj at November 26, 2004 3:00 PM


Nonsense. Harry has said words virtually identical to "They only deny that the genetic variation between races is larger than among races."

I happened to note that since it exactly reflected what a genetics book I had recently read said on the issue.

Perhaps you should be little more careful before characterizing what someone has said.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 27, 2004 10:07 AM

On a less cosmic level, Orrin has stated that darwinism had to restate the idea of race in embarrassment over the murder of the Jews.

But this is counterfactual. The 'biological species' concept was (painfully) achieved by 1942, well before anybody was worried about justifying his lack of action regarding Jews.

The definition of 'species' was one of the weakest parts of Darwin's original statement. The weakness derived from the obscurantism the modern biologists inherited from Judaism, which its concept of Chosen Races.

Most people have not yet figured out how evil the concept of Chosen People is. Darwinism offers them a way out.

As Orrin says, the dominant opinion is pro-racist.

Darwinists can regret but not change that. We are such a small minority.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 27, 2004 2:39 PM


Harry is a fan of Cavalli-Sforza who denies race in order to, as you guys try to, get Darwinism off the hook for the eugenics/genocide that traces directly to the theory

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2004 3:37 PM


Harry words have been very precise; your interpretation of them is so absurd so as to make even Maureen Dowd blush.

Christianity had a prolific 20-century head start. The Oberammergau Passion plays were far uglier than anything Darwin said.

Perhaps we should discuss the blood libel for a bit?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 27, 2004 11:17 PM