November 26, 2009

AT THE CENTER OF THE ISMS:

How eugenics poisoned the welfare state: A century ago many leading leftists subscribed to the vile pseudo-science of eugenics, writes Dennis Sewell, and the influence of that thinking can still be seen today (Dennis Sewell, 28 November 2009, Spectator)

Most accounts of the origin of Britain’s welfare state begin with the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, drafted by Sidney and Beatrice Webb during the first decade of the 20th century. Beneath their seemingly compassionate rhetoric, the founders of the Fabian Society were snobbish, elitist and harboured a savage contempt for the poorest of the poor. Both husband and wife were enthusiastic supporters of the eugenics movement, which held 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.

Eugenics had been the brainchild of Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, and was developed in response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. It was taken up as a programme of political action by Darwin’s son Leonard. The eugenicists aimed to replace natural selection with a planned and deliberate selection. They were alarmed by the fact that the poorest in society bred faster than the middle class, forecasting that this trend would lead to a spiral of degeneration in the gene pool. Their aim was to encourage the rich to have more children and the poor to have fewer. They quickly got the science establishment on their side, creating a national panic about genetic deterioration that became as widespread and salient as fears of global warming are today. In this scenario, the poorest with their ‘defective’ genes were the bogeymen, a class that threatened to contaminate future generations.

For the Fabians, eugenics was not merely some eccentric hobby or sideline, but central to their social thinking. Beatrice Webb regarded eugenics as ‘the most important question’ of all, while her husband revealed the statist and dirigiste character of the movement with his declaration that ‘no eugenicist can be a laissez faire individualist… he must interfere, interfere, interfere!’ Even for George Bernard Shaw, ‘the only fundamental and possible Socialism’ was ‘the socialisation of the selective breeding of Man’.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2009 7:36 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« EAT YOUR HEART OUT, PEGGY (via Jim Yates): | Main | THERE'S A REASON THE CLEAVERS WERE HAPPY: »