November 30, 2009

Leftist eugenics

The Spectator (U.K.) has an article by Dennis Sewell called "How eugenics poisoned the welfare state" that lists a number of prominent left of center folks who were ardent supporters of eugenics policies:
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 ...

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. ...

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’. ...

Another Fabian eugenicist, the writer H.G. Wells, vented his frustration and indignation in a direct address to the working class. ‘We cannot go on giving you health, freedom, enlargement, limitless wealth, if all our gifts to you are to be swamped by an indiscriminate torrent of progeny,’ he complained, ‘...and we cannot make the social life and the world-peace we are determined to make, with the ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens that you inflict upon us.’ It was as if — as in the Brechtian joke — the Fabian left had lost confidence in the people and had determined to dissolve the people and appoint a new one. ...

The article skips some others, such as Winston Churchill during his Liberal Party years, Harold Laski (Britain's most prominent Jewish intellectual and chief ideologist of the Labour Party, he had been the golden boy protege of the elderly Galton), and statistician Karl Pearson (who changed the spelling of his first name from Carl to Karl to honor you-know-who). One interesting aspect of the article was a late enthusiast:
Eugenics was no quickly passing fad. The Eugenics Society reached its peak, in terms of membership, during the 1930s, and the cusp of the following decade saw the zenith of its prestige. The economist John Maynard Keynes served on the society’s governing council and was its director from 1937 to 1944. Once again, this was no casual hobby. As late as 1946 [the year of his death], Keynes was still describing eugenics as ‘the most important and significant branch of sociology’

Of course, now that I think about it, it's not at all surprising. After all, the distinguished Keynes and Darwin families intermarried, in the Galtonian manner: actor Skander Keynes, who plays Edmund in the Narnia movies, is a direct descendant of Darwin.

The funny thing is that Britain was just about the only advanced nation that didn't pass a law calling for the sterilization of mentally retarded people in the 20th Century. (The very progressive Swedes were doing this into the mid-1970s.) Why not? Largely, because another one of Darwin's relatives, a member of the Wedgwood family, took a strong stand against it in the House of Lords.

As for the point of Sewell's article in the Spectator, as best I can make out, he's arguing that the left of a century ago were worried that subsidizing the poor would create more of them, so they hoped that limitations on reproduction would heal the welfare state's Achilles heel.
It was during the late 1930s that much of the detailed planning for the welfare state was carried out. And a good deal of it was undertaken at meetings of the Eugenics Society. On the evening that the House of Commons met to debate the [1942] Beveridge Report [outlining the post-WWII welfare state], Beveridge himself went off to address an audience of eugenicists at the Mansion House. He knew he was in for a rough ride. His scheme of family allowances had originally been devised within the Eugenics Society with a graduated rate, which paid out more to middle-class parents and very little to the poor. The whole point was to combat the eugenicists’ great bugbear — the differential birth rate between the classes. However, the government that day had announced a uniform rate. Beveridge was sympathetic to the complaints of his audience and hinted that a multi-rate system might well be introduced at a later date.

Which, presumably, never happened.

Sewell sums up his indictment of the welfare state. Unlike older conservatives who felt that the ideologues of the welfare state had been too optimistic about how well the work ethic would survive down through the generations under a welfare state, David Cameron's New Conservatives feel that the leftists of a century ago were too damn realistic:
Given the association of so many of its founding fathers with the dismal pseudo- science of eugenics, perhaps we should not be surprised that our welfare system has ended up preferring safety nets to trampolines [ouch], or that it prefers simply to warehouse the poor rather than give people who have fallen on hard times a chance to take responsibility for their own lives. Eugenics infected its adherents with a deeply pessimistic view of the poor, branding them as irredeemably genetically second-rate, and this view has cast a long shadow over social policy assumptions. Labour figures who mock the idea of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ or make light of David Cameron’s focus on our ‘broken society’ need to take a hard look at some of their own history and intellectual heritage. When it comes to who really can claim to care about the problems of the poor, the dividing lines are not so straight as Gordon Brown thinks they are.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

The article's conclusion does have a point -- merely being poor doesn't imply bad genes even if they are correlated. A better way to do it would be to submit everyone to IQ and personality tests and create a family profile, then tabulate the odds of offspring being 'trouble'. The only problem with it is ending up with high-IQ eloi as a result.

Simon said...

So the Conservatives are boasting about being less reality-based than the Left? As if the modern Left are still worried about dysgenics when they're inviting in half a million fast-breeding Third Worlders every year. Pathetic.

Simon said...

"merely being poor doesn't imply bad genes even if they are correlated"

We used to have these things called Grammar Schools; smart poor people like my mother could get into them by doing well on the 11+ test and thus establish their fitness for middle-classness. The Left abolished them for not being Equal enough; the Conservatives have showed no inclination to restore them.

Anonymous said...

Though I'm not a cheerleader for eugenics (in part because of how little I trust the people in charge) I'm very pleased to see that leftist socio-economic policies (based on leftist worldviews) are being given a fairer hearing in the hbd-sphere over the past couple of years.

I myself believe that no man should be allowed to pass on more than $500K (in any sort of assets) to any one heir and that the legal ceiling on any individuals net-worth should be south of $100 million. I further believe that I have every moral right to point a gun at a doctor's head and demand life-saving treatment if I'm unable to afford it otherwise and that basic sustainence should be made available by the government free for all citizens.

At the same time, I'm as ruthlessly interested, honest and outspoken on HBD issues as the best of them and have been for all of my adult life.

There's plenty of room in the anti-rich weltanschauung for HBD interest and concern.

Having "leftist" socio-economic passions (often on account of finding one's self poor and lacking or by having grown up that way and thus retaining a sympathy for people like one's parents) in no way preclude an honest biological and statistical reckoning of society.

mnuez

robert61 said...

Sweden still has a generous program of parental leave, with payouts based on a percentage of the leave-taking parent's salary, up to a ceiling that is well above the average salary. It had never occurred to me that this could be construed as a eugenic policy, but I guess it can.

I think it would be a good idea to require women of childbearing age who accept welfare to use birth control as long as they are receiving public support. Clearly I am an irrepressible progressive. Such a policy would run afoul of social conservatives, libertarians and wielders of the disparate-impact club; would it have any chance of passing?

Anonymous said...

"We used to have these things called Grammar Schools; smart poor people like my mother could get into them by doing well on the 11+ test and thus establish their fitness for middle-classness."

John Derbyshire is a product of the Grammar School system, no?

l said...

Why dredge up history like this? The Left has more than made up for its past sins with its current dysgenic social policies.

RKU said...

Yeah, it's always a little amusing that today's "conservatives" denounce yesterday's Socialists for having been rightwing extremists...

Same thing in America. These days, the Republicans are always denouncing Democrats for their "racism" and such...

Meanwhile, the Chinese just wonder what's gotten into our drinking water, and spend their time building new factories and power stations...

Anonymous said...

The Welfare State now subsidizes the rich as well as the 'poor'.

Google 'Somali family's 1800 pound a week rent' for the latest 'scandal' and bear in mind that the landlord was getting 83 thousand a year from the state.

RB London

Simon said...

anon:
"John Derbyshire is a product of the Grammar School system, no?"

I expect so. Me too, I went to school in Northern Ireland, where the Grammar system has not been abolished, although Sinn Fein-IRA seem keen to get rid of it.

Anonymous said...

I myself believe that no man should be allowed to pass on more than $500K (in any sort of assets) to any one heir and that the legal ceiling on any individuals net-worth should be south of $100 million. I further believe that I have every moral right to point a gun at a doctor's head and demand life-saving treatment if I'm unable to afford it otherwise and that basic sustainence should be made available by the government free for all citizens.

You are morally repulsive.

No way we can consider bank robbers and muggers scum but not you.

dearieme said...

Has anyone on the left explained how they plan to keep welfare states sustainable without both limits to immigration, and eugenics for the natives? No doubt there are methods - what are they?

Dutch Boy said...

Eugenics was always a progressive ideological fantasy. Contemporary progressives have airbrushed this out of their collective memories but the ideology lingers on in the abortion rights movement (Planned Parenthood began as a eugenics organization but morphed into a birth control/abortion provider when eugenics became disreputable).

Anonymous said...

Lets also remember that middle class children also went to Grammar schools since they could get a good education but without the costs of going private. Its said that Grammar schools were killing off all but the most elite private schools.

Since the mainstream parties all decided to kill the Grammar school system, private education has rebounded.

Another one of those mysterious policies (cf immigration, criminal justice) which is unpopular with almost all sectors of the electorate yet slides effortlessly through the 'democratic' system.

Curvaceous Carbon-based Life Form said...

Damn.

No eugenics breeding program, no Khan Noonian Singh.

No Khan, no Wrath of Khan.

No Wrath of Khan, no Kirk howling Khaaaaaaannnnnnnnn!

Ah, such a lovely dream. But, alas, 'twas not to be.... damn liberals!

Mr. Anon said...

"I further believe that I have every moral right to point a gun at a doctor's head and demand life-saving treatment if I'm unable to afford it otherwise and that basic sustainence should be made available by the government free for all citizens.

mnuez"

And I believe that that doctor, in treating you, has every moral right to administer a lethal dose of poison to you.

I believe society should have the right to send you to a glue factory.

Not everyone, mind you.

Just you.

Middletown said...

I wonder where Eugenics might have gone if it weren't for great crimes of Nazism. As Stanley Kubrick demonstrated in all of his movies, the only REAL change can come about biologically or evolutionarily. Not only intellectually but spiritually. Dr. Strangelove is a super intellect but has no soul. Hal computer is 1000% intellect but devoid of spirit. As for people without intellect, they are little more than hairless apes.

What is the key to reaching both higher levels of intellect and spirituality? Where's that damn monolith?

Gringo_Malo said...

As Milton Friedman said, "It's just obvious that you can't have a welfare state and open immigration." It should also be obvious that you can't have a welfare state in which the welfare recipients vote themselves increases in their stipends and produce as many children as they wish. The Fabians had sense enough to see that, but failed to understand that only a very small elite has any rights under a welfare state. Then again, perhaps they did understand but expected that tyranny would be inflicted only upon lesser folk.

Fortunately, the Fabians didn't get the kind of welfare state they wanted. The welfare states they did manage to create will eliminate themselves, perhaps sooner than many people expect. The Darwinian world that succeeds our welfare states will prove highly beneficial to human evolutionary advancement, but quite hard on many individuals. Some of us might find that we're much less fit than we think.

ben tillman said...

Has anyone on the left explained how they plan to keep welfare states sustainable without both limits to immigration, and eugenics for the natives? No doubt there are methods - what are they?

Nothing beyond enslavement of the productive population. Of course, there is a limit to what we can produce.

Svigor said...

I wonder where Eugenics might have gone if it weren't for great crimes of Nazism.

Same place anti-racism might have gone if it weren't for the great crimes of Commie-ism.

Alticor said...

I think negative eugenics-weeding out the low IQ, the deformed, und so weiter is indeed the legitimate purview of a healthy State. Positive eugenics-breeding a Khan Noonian Singh-should be left to voluntary alliances.

There should be no Philander Rodman Jr's, no Bree Walkers, etc.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking of a quick fix for welfare - rather than a property qualification for voting. A welfare qualification. If you are a welafre benficiary, you dont get to vote.

I'd like to think that applied to corporate welfare as well.

Mr. Anon said...

"RKU said...

Yeah, it's always a little amusing that today's "conservatives" denounce yesterday's Socialists for having been rightwing extremists...

Same thing in America. These days, the Republicans are always denouncing Democrats for their "racism" and such..."

That's true, and it's silly. It might however have been a reaction to Democrats critizing the Republicans for their southern strategy all those years - poaching all of THEIR "racist" voters.

It's nice to know that those old social democrats had a plan: welfare statism AND eugenics - the two legs of the stool of fabian progressivism. But they only managed to get one enacted - so it didn't work out so well.

Bismarck was an early proponent of the welfare state too - I guess he was counting on wars to serve the eugenics function.

Anonymous said...

To the two anons: Thank you for your insights. I happen to have been making a point regarding the subject of this post when admitting my locally-unpopular moral preferences, you however took the brave path of calling me a cocky doody face. Well done. Your intellects shine.

RKU said...

Bismarck was an early proponent of the welfare state too - I guess he was counting on wars to serve the eugenics function.

People are always a little gullible and tend to read the "spin" of history books rather than the actual basic facts.

After Unification in 1871, Germany never fought *any* wars during the 40-odd years that followed, either under Bismark or under Wilhelm, being the only major nation in the world that avoided getting into lots of wars.

Bismarck famously observed that the endless conflicts in the Balkans weren't worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier.

Pat Buchanan's recent book on WWII has a nice introductory chapter summarizing some of this (rather obvious) history.

Mr. Anon said...

"RKU said...

People are always a little gullible and tend to read the "spin" of history books rather than the actual basic facts.

After Unification in 1871, Germany never fought *any* wars during the 40-odd years that followed, either under Bismark or under Wilhelm, being the only major nation in the world that avoided getting into lots of wars."

And then they managed to piss that all away by getting into one great big one, in which case they were not entirely blameless. Bismarck too - Germany's foolish insistance in keeping Alsace-Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian war needlessly antagonized France, and made the Great War possible.

But even given their many years of peace - and I agree that Bismarck was an above average statesman - none-the-less, the german empire was built through a series of wars (with Denmark, Austria, and France). And Bismarck certainly was a prussian militarist - I don't think he ever considered decreasing the size of the army. So presumably the odd slum-dweller or rural peasant killed off in the course of him exercising his talents in statecraft didn't bother him all that much.

Whiskey said...

Buchanon and Bismarck were not conservative, both were Corporatist Socialists.

Conservatism means a limited government, focused on doing a few things well (national defense, roads, postal service), with low taxes, economic growth, opportunity, and extensive citizen audit. With traditional social organizations such as monarchy, or beneficial societies, or titles, left in place to grow or die naturally as society changes, slowly.

Bismarck's welfare state, KulturKampf, and and corporatist socialism shows the danger: when Government slices every thing in life into a giant pie, the result is a net spoils struggle and the temptation for any group in power is to eradicate the others. Because the cut goes farther the fewer the slices.

Socialism is like a den of thieves who knocked over a big bank -- they cannot help themselves from killing each other to make the loot go farther. It is why Conservative social nations generally (not always) have greater social peace. Note: part of conservatism is the ability of society and broad sections of the populace to address change without violent revolt: Universal male suffrage, one-man-one-vote, female suffrage, civil rights, etc. Which in turn requires broad sections of daily life outside the government, acting as a check and influence on it. Rather than a Czar, or President for Life, or what have you.

Mr. Anon said...

"Whiskey said...

Buchanon and Bismarck were not conservative, both were Corporatist Socialists.

..................

Note: part of conservatism is the ability of society and broad sections of the populace to address change without violent revolt: "

This is riduculous nonsense, even for you, Whiskey? Bismarck a socialist? Your definition of conservative applies only to a very limited span of history - specifically American history over the last couple hundred years. For most of human history people have been governed by czars, kings, dukes, emperors, and various other flavors of monarch.

History did not begin with the election of Ronald Reagan.

Anonymous said...

Germany's foolish insistance in keeping Alsace-Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian war needlessly antagonized France, and made the Great War possible.

And this petulant French behaviour was another straw on the camel's back that, in turn, made WW2 possible.

The borders of France and other nations have been constantly buggered about with. Post 1871 a German speaking province was thereafter in Germany. One would like to think that sensible Frenchmen would have huffed and puffed a bit - and then left it quietly at that, seeing one little future complication safely removed from contention.

I'm one of those stupid people, lacking in refined political nuance, who think that in the long run conflict would actually be reduced by tidying up these kinds of linguistic/ethnic/national loose ends.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

And this petulant French behaviour was another straw on the camel's back that, in turn, made WW2 possible.

The borders of France and other nations have been constantly buggered about with. Post 1871 a German speaking province was thereafter in Germany."

And yet, for some reason, those selfless prussians decided they absolutely had to keep polish silesia for themselves - presumably to give young polish lads the chance to make men of themselves fighting the Kaiser's wars for him.

David said...

> you however took the brave path of calling me a cocky doody face <

Are you the one who said

> I have every moral right to point a gun at a doctor's head and demand life-saving treatment if I'm unable to afford it >

?

If so, then take note that no one here called you a "cocky doody face," whatever that means. They called you a thug, which is a perfectly accurate description.

Remember that if you assert your right to put guns into your betters' faces in order to steal from them, then by the same token they have the same right to defend themselves by the same means. Be careful.

none of the above said...

Wasn't the whole abortion-decreases-crime hypothesis from Levitt basically a way of arguing for eugenics by the backdoor? I assume that's one reason it didn't get more immediate fact-based criticism (as opposed to morality-based criticism)--lots of people who heard it thought it all sounded sensible, but few wanted to delve too deeply into *why* it sounded sensible.

corvinus said...

I think we might think of a new term: Leftist dysgenics. The ultimate aim of this is a handful of smart, super-rich leftists with the brown masses serving as their pets. In this scenario, there is no room for regular white people.

Anonymous said...

And yet, for some reason, those selfless prussians decided they absolutely had to keep polish silesia for themselves - presumably to give young polish lads the chance to make men of themselves fighting the Kaiser's wars for him.

Im not trying to take sides vis a vis Germany or whoever. Im trying to put forward a general principle. The French doing something silly in one place doesnt let the Germans off the hook for doing something as bad somewher else.


Regarding Northern Ireland for instance - the debate is couched almost always in terms of either Catholics living uneasily under British rule or Protestants being made in future to live uneasily under Irish rule. Apparently one side or the other is just supposed to suck it up and in effect be punished. That debate usually ends up as a historical tit for tat over who are the bad guys.

Trying to redefine the borders to obviate this problem is apparently beyond the bounds of reasonable thought. You would think trying to be as morally neutral as possible while trying to actually reduce conflict would be a good thing.

Somewhat similar situation in Cyprus though over there the Turks are happy to keep something like the status quo. Greeks otoh would like the whole island. Where that leaves the Turks is not given real consideration. Seems to me the current set up is pretty close to ideal.