Ari Nave (anave@UCLA.EDU)
Thu, 11 Apr 1996 07:25:53 -0800

As I receive the list in journal form, I have not been following the string
on Eugenics but did see Benjamin Spatz's rather common misconception that
Eugenics was not supported by scientific theory of the Nineteenth Century.
Hope I am not repeating something already expressed, but putting aside the
fear of re-addressing an old issue:

Eugenics stems out of the predominance of "Progress" as an idea during the
time, and its confusion with "evolution" and evolutionary processes.
Darwin himself at times conflated these concepts which only later grew to
have different meanings. In The Origins Darwin writes..

..we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never
once been broken, and that no cataclysm has desolated the world. Hence we
may look with some confidence to a secure future of great length. And as
natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all
corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress toward perfection

Added to Darwin's use of selective breeding to illustrate principles of
natural selection, I believe there certainly was a fundamental basis in
scientific theory at the time. As the distinction between race and species
was not distinguished, (the secondary title of Origins is The Preservation
of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life), the application to human
"races" is not surprising. Francis Galton applied selective breeding
principles to humans directly from Darwin's principles, while adding his
own ethnocentric views about which race had progressed most closely to

Much of Eugenics stems from base ethnocentric fears but found support in
the sciences. The search for typologies of race was a bona fide endeavor
during the 19th Century. Joseph Arthur de Gobinea's Essay on the
Inequality of the Human Races clearly had preconceived ideas and hidden
agendas, but was rooted in what was known about engineered breeding and the
linguistic, and cultural phylogeny of Europe.

These ideas continued for quite some time:

Charles Davenport wrote in Science:
It appears probable, from extensive pedigrees that have been analyzed, that
feeble-mindedness of the middle and higher grades is inherited as a simple
recessive, or approximately so. It follows that two parents who are
feeble-minded shall have only feeble-minded children and this is what is
empirically found, (1921)

Madison Grant in The Passing of the Great Race (1916) took the argument one
step further:
A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak
or unfit - in other word, social failures - would solve the whole question
in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables
who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums. The individual himself
can be nourished, educated, and protected by the community during his
lifetime, but the state through sterilization must see to it that his line
stops with him, or else future generations will be cursed with an ever
increasing load of misguided sentimentalism. This is a practical,
merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied
to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the
criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types
which may be called weaklings rather then defectives, and perhaps
ultimately to worthless race types.

A general confusion existed between genetic, cultural, and environmental
factors and how these interacting forces manifested different behaviors in
different contexts.

I don't believe it was until later that genetics as a discipline matured to
undermine the assumptions about "racial purity" or "race" at all for that
mater. Nor was it until much later that we began to disentangle genes,
culture, and environment as analytical concepts to behavior theory.

The boundary between science and psudoscience is clear in hindsight where
one can distinguish which theories tend to hold up to the mounting
evidence. But Eugenics as a concept was founded upon what was understood
of the facts of the time, and of course motivated by a political-economic
context, as we always are.


See also:

1. Banton, M.
1987 Racial Theories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. .

2. Blumenbach, J.F.
[1795] 1865 On the Natural Variety of Mankind, In The Anthropological
Treatise of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. T. Bendyshe, ed. . London:
Longman, Green.

3. Bury, J.B.
1932 The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry into Its Origins and Growth. New
York: Macmillan. .

4. Culvier, G.
1829 Le R=E8gne Animal. Paris: D=E9terville. .

5. Darwin, C.
1859 On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the
Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John
Murray. .

6. Gobineau, J.A.d.
1854 The Ineqality of Human Races. New York: H. Fertig. .

7. Gossett, T.F.
1963 Race: The History of an Idea in America. Dallas: Southern Methodist
University Press. .

8. Gould, S.J.
1981 The Meimeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton and Co. .

9. Knox, R.
1850 The Races of Men. . .

10. K=FChl, S.
1994 The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National
Socialism. New York: Oxford University Press. .

11. Lasch, C.
1991 The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics. New York: Norton.=

12. Livingston, F.B.
1962 On the non-existence of human races. Current Anthropology 3(279-81).

13. Morton, S.G.
1851 On the infrequency of mixed offspring between European and Australian
races. In Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Philadelphia:

14. Nisbet, R.
1980 History of the Idea of Progress. New York: Basic Books. .

15. Shipman, P.
1994 The Evolution of Racism: Human Differences and the Use and Abuse of
Science. New York: Simon and Schuster. .

16. Stephan, N.
1982 The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britian 1800-1960. Hamden, Conn:
Archon Books. .

17. Tylor, E.B., Sir
1898 Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization.
New York: D. Appleton and Co. .

Ari Nave
Dept. of Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1553
Campus Mail Code: 155303

=46ax: (310) 552-3453