Social-problem solving politics: The eugenics concept

History: Eugenics literally means “good creation.” The ancient Greek philosopher Plato may have been the first person to promote the idea, although the term “eugenics” didn’t come on the scene until British scholar Sir Francis Galton coined it in 1883 in his book, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development. In one of Plato’s best-known literary works, The Republic, he wrote about creating a superior society by procreating high-class people together and discouraging coupling between the lower classes. He also suggested a variety of mating rules to help create an optimal society. For instance, men should only have relations with a woman when arranged by their ruler, and incestuous relationships between parents and children were forbidden but not between brother and sister. While Plato’s ideas may be considered a form of ancient eugenics, he received little credit from Galton. In the late 19th century, Galton—whose cousin was Charles Darwin—hoped to better humankind through the propagation of the British elite. His plan never really took hold in his own country, but in America it was more widely embraced. [...] As the concept of eugenics took hold, prominent citizens, scientists and socialists championed the cause and established the Eugenics Record Office.

- - -

Definition of Progressive Liberalism: Progressive liberalism has its roots in the early 20th century Progressive Movement, which spanned both major American political parties. Republican presidents like Theodore Roosevelt [he departed later to the Progressive Party] joined Democrats like Woodrow Wilson in believing that government could help ease social distress. This resulted in major policies such as the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and laws to protect workers. All of these laws used government authority to actively regulate the free market to correct problems perceived to be social ills. Even during the Progressive Era itself, Benjamin Parker DeWitt's 1913 book, "The Progressive Era," defined progressivism along these terms, saying it was tied to a belief that government could relieve "social and economic distress."

- - -

Progressivism in The United States - Eugenics: Some Progressives sponsored eugenics as a solution to excessively large or underperforming families, hoping that birth control would enable parents to focus their resources on fewer, better children. Progressive leaders like Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann indicated their classically liberal concern over the danger posed to the individual by the practice of eugenics. The Catholics strongly opposed birth control proposals such as eugenics.

Progressive eugenics is hardly history - the science and politics have just evolved (intro): Eugenics has been science’s toxic brand since the end of World War II. [...] However, this is not the most useful way to think about eugenics, either in terms of its history or its lessons. Historically, eugenics was primarily embraced as part of a “progressive” political agenda across the world – not only in regions under Western imperial rule. As the excellent "Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics" demonstrates, Mexico, Iran and China have been among the most enthusiastic eugenically oriented nations without any trace of white supremacist ideology. I believe that we should understand eugenics in the context of what the original “progressive eugenicists” were trying to achieve, in spite of their ill-chosen means, because it is not so clear that our own political and, increasingly, personal ambitions are so different from theirs. (MORE)

- - -

Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era (excerpt): In the United States especially, Progressive Era eugenics tended to be racist. But “race” had connotations in the Progressive Era different than those of today,and eugenicists of that time were both imprecise and inconsistent in their use of the term. Sometimes the term refers to all of humankind—the human race. Sometimes “race” was used in something like its modern sense. But more commonly, the Progressive Era usage of “race” meant ethnicity or nationality, especially when distinguishing among Europeans [...] those of Anglo-Saxon ethnicity, were presumed to be a race distinct from, say, the Irish race or the Italian race.

Race did not exhaust the variants of human hierarchy embraced by American eugenicists, whose catalogue of unfit persons often included women and the lower classes. Eugenicists were also gravely concerned with those they regarded as deficient in intellect [...] During the Progressive Era, eugenic approaches to social and economic reform were popular, respectable and widespread. This essay documents the influence of eugenic ideas upon American economic reform, especially in the areas of immigration and labor reform, and tries to illuminate something of its causes and consequences. Though our focus is upon economics, eugenics appealed no less, and arguably more, to scholars in the other emerging sciences of society, especially. Racism is neither necessary nor sufficient for eugenics. The Swedish eugenicists of the mid-twentieth century, for example, disavowed racism. Also, some with racist views were skeptical of the idea that the social control of human breeding would be carried out by wise, humane governments.

[...] It was a scholarly fashion, circa 1890, to declare the U.S. frontier “closed” and to sound a Malthusian alarm about excess American population growth. But the professional economists who wrote on immigration increasingly emphasized not the quantity of immigrants, but their quality. “If we could leave out of account the question of race and eugenics,” Irving Fisher said in his presidential address to the Eugenics Research Association, “I should, as an economist, be inclined to the view that unrestricted immigration . . . is economically advantageous to the country as a whole....”But, cautioned Fisher, “the core of the problem of immigration is . . . one of race and eugenics,” the problem of the Anglo-Saxon racial stock being overwhelmed by racially inferior “defectives, delinquents and dependents. ”Fear and dislike of immigrants certainly were not new in the Progressive Era. But leading professional economists were among the first to provide scientific respectability for immigration restriction on racial grounds. They justified race-based immigration restriction as a remedy for “race suicide,” a Progressive Era term for the process by which racially superior stock (“natives”) is outbred by a more prolific, but racially inferior stock (immigrants).

The term “race suicide” is often attributed to Edward A. Ross, who believed that “the higher race quietly and unmurmuringly eliminates itself rather than endure individually the bitter competition it has failed to ward off by collective action.” Ross was no outlier. He was a founding member of the American Economic Association, a pioneering sociologist and a leading public intellectual who boasted that his books sold in the hundreds of thousands.Ross’s coinage gained enough currency to be used by Theodore Roosevelt, who called race suicide the “greatest problem of civilization,” and regularly returned to the theme of “the elimination instead of the survival of the fittest.” In that same year, more than 40 years after the American Civil War, Ross wrote: “The theory that races are virtually equal incapacity leads to such monumental follies as lining the valleys of the South with the bones of half a million picked whites in order to improve the conditions of four million unpicked blacks." (MORE)

- - -

(Washington Post) The liberals who loved eugenics -Mar 2017-: The progressive mob that disrupted Charles Murray’s appearance last week at Middlebury College was protesting a 1994 book read by few if any of the protesters. Some of them denounced “eugenics,” thereby demonstrating an interesting ignorance: Eugenics — controlled breeding to improve the heritable traits of human beings — was a progressive cause. [....] Middlebury’s mob was probably as ignorant of this as of the following: Between 1875 and 1925, when eugenics had many advocates, not all advocates were progressives but advocates were disproportionately progressives because eugenics coincided with progressivism’s premises and agenda.

Progressives rejected the Founders’ natural-rights doctrine and conception of freedom. Progressives said freedom is not the natural capacity of individuals whose rights preexist government. Rather, freedom is something achieved, at different rates and to different degrees, by different races. Racialism was then seeking scientific validation, and Darwinian science had given rise to “social Darwinism” — belief in the ascendance of the fittest in the ranking of races. The progressive theologian Walter Rauschenbusch argued that with modern science “we can intelligently mold and guide the evolution in which we take part.”

Progressivism’s concept of freedom as something merely latent, and not equally latent, in human beings dictated rethinking the purpose and scope of government. Princeton University scholar Thomas C. Leonard, in his 2016 book “Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era,” says progressives believed that scientific experts should be in society’s saddle, determining the “human hierarchy” and appropriate social policies, including eugenics. (MORE)

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)