Charles Darwin is partly to blame for eugenics, according to Discovery Institute senior fellow John West. Merriam-Webster’s defines eugenics as “a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed.”
Darwin said that because of our sense of compassion we couldn’t simply follow the dictates of reason and get rid of the unfit, “but he certainly provided the logical basis for why we should do so and later the eugenicists quoted this passage and they weren’t quoting it out of context, because in The Descent of Man Darwin really did argue that our progress as humans is dependent on a struggle for survival and that we were really impeding human progress by trying to undercut that struggle for survival,” Dr. West explained to an audience at the Family Research Council recently.
“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health,” Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man. “We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.”
“There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox,” Darwin wrote. “Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.”
“No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”
Darwin was not alone in his conception of a “supreme” or “perfected” human:
• Harvard Biologist Edward East felt nature eliminates the unfit but we are very capable of getting rid of “fools.”
• Charles Davenport, head of the Biological Research lab in Cold Spring Harbor and the Eugenics Record Office, thought man was nothing less then an animal: “Man is an animal and the laws of improvement of corn and of racehorses hold to true for him also.”
• Alexander Graham Bell thought that “The laws of heredity which apply to animals also apply to man, therefore the breeder of animals is fitted to guide public opinion on questions relating to human heredity.”
“Dressed up in quasi-religious terms, eugenicists promised to create a utopia through the magic of human breeding,” said Dr. West. “One eugenicist was even quoted saying, ‘The Garden of Eden is not in the past, it’s in the future.’”
Connecticut enacted the first marriage law in 1896 and by 1914 more than half of the states also imposed them, Dr. West noted. These laws were a way of regulating who can marry, to make sure “inferior” people were not breeding, he claimed.
One target of the eugenicists was American Immigration law. “They thought America was being overrun with biological defectives primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe—they weren’t [as] ‘biologically helpful’ as Nordic stock,” said Dr. West.
Immigration quotas were set so that only a certain number of people were allowed to come to the U.S. from certain countries. These laws were extremely harmful during the 1920’s when the Nazi’s were moving into countries such as Poland and starting concentration camps.
Poles, then, could not come to America because the quota on Polish immigrants was reached, while Norwegians, for example, still had plenty of open spots under U. S. restrictions. Nonetheless, beyond marriage laws and immigration rules, eugenicists were concerned with the “defectives” already in America.
Indiana enacted the first forced sterilization law in 1907 and, by the 1930s, 30 states had similar statutes on their books. Some of these states still have the law in place today, but not enforced.
Eugenicists promoted this policy as the answer to the looming welfare crisis. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, felt very strongly that sterilization was the answer to all sorts of problems.
“In 1923 over 9 billions of dollars were spent on state and federal charities for the care and maintenance and perpetuation of these undesirables, year by year their numbers are mounting and year by year their costs are increasing,” she said at Vassar in 1926. “The American public is taxed, heavily taxed to maintain an increasing race of morons, which threatens the very foundations of our civilization.”
“Our eyes should be opened to the terrific cost to the community of this dead weight of human waste.”
“The revolution of the Nazi Germany experience is what really killed off forced sterilization more than anything else,” said Dr. West. Some of their extermination and sterilization laws were modeled after American laws; only they did things much more rigorously, sterilizing hundreds of thousands of people just within a few years before they started killing them.
During Dr. West’s presentation he showed some of the German propaganda used to promote eugenics to its citizens, one of which had a bunch of flags on it (the American flag was located top center) to show “this is what the world is doing.” According to Dr. West, eugenics may not be explicitly happening but you can find the idea of it still implicit in other ideas hidden by new verbiage.
“If you were a eugenicist post-World War II you had a problem, because eugenics was a bad word,” said Dr. West. “But if you believed in it, you didn’t just go away.”
He believes eugenics has sort of morphed into other areas today such as, “freedom of choice” on abortion. This is evident from writings of pro-eugenicists who thought renaming it freedom of choice in parenting was a way to keep the idea alive but avoid the controversy, Dr. West argues.