April 16, 2014


Race Cleansing In America : A nationwide gene-purity movement promoted methods that eventually were adopted by the Third Reich. And everyone from John D. Rockefeller to W. E. B. Du Bois supported it. (Peter Quinn, March 2003, American Heritage)

Eugenics--the theory as well as the word (which means "wellborn")--originated with Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Inspired by Darwin's theory of natural selection, Galton's study of the family backgrounds of prominent members of British society led him to the conclusion that achievement and heredity were clearly linked. He declared in his 1869 book Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences: "It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality." A wise and enlightened state, in Galton's view, would encourage "the more suitable races or strains of blood" to propagate and increase their numbers before they were overwhelmed by the prolific mating habits of the pauper classes.

Galton's beliefs were mirrored in the work of Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician who warned of the "atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals." (Robert Louis Stevenson made Lombroso's theory the basis of his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.) Lombroso wrote: "There exists, it is true, a group of criminals, born for evil, against whom all social cures break as against a rock--a fact which compels us to eliminate them completely, even by death."

In 1874 Richard Dugdale, a wealthy English expatriate social reformer, made a tour of upstate New York jails. Acquainted with Lombroso's notion of hereditary criminality, he focused in particular on a jail in which six inmates were related and found that they shared a family tree perennially abloom with social deviates. He called them the "Jukes," and gave the pseudonym to his book.

Dugdale insisted that human behavior was influenced by several factors, environment among them, but it was the portrait of a self-perpetuating clan of reprobates that the public focused on and embraced. He said he found among the 700 Juke descendants 181 prostitutes ("harlotry may become a hereditary characteristic," he speculated), 42 beggars, 70 felons, and 7 murderers. The Jukes became a staple of eugenic literature, a spur to similar case studies, and a symbol of all those whose poverty and aberrancy were seen as expressions of the ineluctable dictates of biology. A decade after The Jukes appeared, the eminent German biologist August Weismann added to the notion of eugenic predestination his theory of a hereditary "germ plasm," an embedded legacy that dictated individual physical, mental, and moral traits and was the collective basis of rigidly distinct race differences.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, several forces had joined together to give the eugenics movement new power and prominence, foremost among them the growing concern over the quality and quantity of the country's newest immigrants.

Nativism can not be reconciled with conservatism.

Posted by at April 16, 2014 5:38 AM

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