Darwinism and eugenics


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Darwinism and eugenics

  1. 1. “Darwinism” and eugenicsJohn Wilkins, University of Queensland
  2. 2. The Eugenics Myth• Or, Nazis ate my Evolution• The claim is:Eugenics is applied Darwinism.And it sticks out like a sore thumb that all of theseGerman eugenicists, preceding the Nazi regime, were enthusiastic Darwinists.Margaret Sanger, of course, in this country of Planned Parenthood—enthusiasticDarwinist. Hitler—that is the most amazing thing at all, that I could get through 12years of government schools here in the United States, Cornell and Michigan LawSchool, and with all of the chit-chat about what led to the Nazi regime, I never knewabout the link between Darwin and Hitler, until reading Richard Weikart’s book.Andonce you see it, it’s one of those things you see that the truth has an inherent appeal—the moment you hear it, suddenly it all makes sense. I mean, how is it that Hitlercould simultaneously seem to be anti-abortion, but be slaughtering six million Jews?Well, that’s because he wasn’t against abortion for Jews. He was applying Darwinism.He thought the Aryans were the fittest and he was just hurrying natural selectionalong. I mean, Mein Kampf means my struggle, which he described in explicitlyDarwinian terms—the struggle among races.
  3. 3. Is this true?• Did Darwin’s theoryof evolution lead tothe Holocaust?• Is eugenics alwaysracist?• What does thismean for moderntechnologies likegenetic counselling?
  4. 4. Darwin’s theories• Transmutation of species• Struggle for existence• Natural selection• Common Descent• Sexual Selection• Heredity• Biogeography
  5. 5. Natural Selection• There are more organisms born than can survive• Traits vary in a population• Some traits have a greater contribution tosurvival and reproduction than others• These traits are heritable• Ergo, traits that are better adapted will spreadthrough a population
  6. 6. Types of selection
  7. 7. Common Descent• Organisms fall intogroups within groups• e.g., Mammals withinVertebrates• So the history of life islike a tree
  8. 8. What Natural SelectionIsn’t in social terms
  9. 9. Social Darwinism• Began 4 years before the Originof Species was published in 1859• Based on the work of HerbertSpencer• Spencer aimed at a universalphilosophy based on evolution• He therefore argued thatsociety was served byelimination of the unfit
  10. 10. Evolution beforeDarwin• The first person to offer anevolutionary theory was the Frenchphysicist Pierre Maupertuis, in 1743• Maupertuis also held thatinheritance came equally from bothparents, and was passed on indiscrete particles. He came up withsomething very similar toMendelian ratios, based on a studyof polydactyly
  11. 11. Evolution beforeDarwin• Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus,also proposed an evolutionarytheory in 1794• He was followed by JeanBaptiste de Lamarck in 1800–1809• Both theories involvedprogress and a scale fromlower to higher
  12. 12. Progress and evolution• The idea of a scale ofnature is called the GreatChain of Being• Racial classifications,begun in the 1760s,relied on races beingthought to be “higher orlower”• It was popular from the15th century onwards(Lullius, right, from 1550)
  13. 13. Racial classificationbefore evolution179917701854
  14. 14. So when evolution was• We get this:• Note that the left-to-right ordermatches racialrankings:African,Australian,Mongolian, European
  15. 15. Racialist evolutionism• Ernst Haeckel developed“Darwinismus”, a mix of Lamarck,Darwin and Goethe• He believed thatevolution wasprogressive, and thatraces were part of aspectrum from apesto Aryans (mid-Europeans)
  16. 16. Racialist evolutionismafter Haeckel• In the period from 1890 to 1930,there were many racialist evolutionbooks and pamphlets• About this time, genetics developed• Many early geneticists were bothevolutionists and eugenicists• But not all: a famous opponent ofeugenics was the leadingevolutionary geneticist,TheodosiusDobzhansky
  17. 17. Dobzhansky wrote in1935“The eugenical Jeremiahs keep constantly before oureyes the nightmare of human populations accumulatingrecessive genes that produce pathological effects whenhomozygous. These prophets of doom seem to beunaware of the fact that wild species in the state ofnature fare in this respect no better than man does withall the artificiality of his surroundings, and yet life has notcome to an end on this planet. The eschatological criesproclaiming the failure of natural selection to operate inhuman populations have more to do with political beliefsthan with scientific findings.”
  18. 18. The origins of eugenics• Term coined in 1887 by Francis Galton,Darwin’s first cousin• From eu- a Greek prefix meaning “good” or”well”, and genos, meaning “tribe” or “race” or“kind”, related to the term genes, meaning“stock” or “birth”: hence “well born” or“good stock”
  19. 19. Before Galton• There is a tradition of breeding humans the waylivestock are bred going back to the Spartans• Plato argued for it in The Republic around380BCE• The western tradition of the Aristocracy (“ruleby the best”) spoke of “good breeding” and“good (and bad) blood”, at a time wheninheritance was thought to involve the blood
  20. 20. Galton on HereditaryGenius• Published in 1869, this book aimed to matchachievement (by “professional men”) withfamilies, in order to establish how social traitswere passed on• No simple distinction between biology andculture at this time• Galton invented “biometrics” (measurement ofbiological traits) and started the development ofmodern statistics, such as the “normal curve”
  21. 21. Eugenics in America• From 1907, the United Statesintroduced eugenics legislation,along with other English speakingcountries such as Australia,Canada, South Africa and others.• The charge was led by CharlesDavenport, who headed up theCold Spring Harbor Laboratories,where he started the EugenicsRecords Office
  22. 22. Eugenics in America• Connecticut enacted marriage laws witheugenic criteria in 1896 to prevent the“epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded” frommarrying• William Graham Sumner, a socialDarwinist sociologist, arguedagainst state support for the“defective” portion of society, whoshould be allowed to sink or swimon their own, and that“delinquents” should be eliminatedby sterilisation
  23. 23. • Eugenics became something of a cause celebreamongst educated people• Davenport was influenced strongly by Galton,and Pearson and Fisher at the Galton Institutein London• In 1927, the Supreme Court decided in Buck vBell that the “feeble-minded” could be forciblysterilised by the state, declaring of one familythat “four generations of idiots are enough”Eugenics in America
  24. 24. The Eugenics Movement– 1921
  25. 25. Eugenics in America• The last sterilisations occurred in America in1967!• In Canada and Australia in 1972!• Interestingly, in the land of its birth – theUnited Kingdom – church pressure ensuredthat legislation for eugenics was neverpassed
  26. 26. Eugenics in Germany• The original Nazi legislation in 1933 wasdeliberately modeled on the US legislation• In 1942 the Final Solution was commenced,killing six million Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and“mentally unfit” in industrial scales• The Nazis also practised a positive eugenics,giving state subsidies to those who wereAryan to have more children
  27. 27. “This person with hereditarydefects costs the community60,000 Reichsmarks in hislifetime. Fellow Germans, that isyour money too”“We do not stand alone” – listingthe countries that have eugenicslegislation like the 1933 Germanlaw
  28. 28. So, is evolution toblame?• The counter-evolutionary nature of eugenics:• Natural selection doesn’t need intervention bydefinition; this is artificial selection• Natural selection defines the “fit” – if the Irish,or the working class, etc. are outbreedingother classes or nationalities, then they are bydefinition more fit• Might makes right: the drawing of moral orvalues from what is “natural”.The NaturalisticFallacy
  29. 29. Is evolution to blame?• The science from which eugenicswas drawn was genetics, notevolution. Evolutionary theoryand genetics did not becomeharmonised until 1930...• By Ronald Fisher, who devotedsome one-third of his seminalwork The GeneticalTheory ofNatural Selection to arguing foreugenics
  30. 30. Different kinds ofeugenics• Two kinds of eugenics:• Positive eugenics, in which the “fit” areencouraged to breed and given incentives• Negative eugenics, in which the “unfit” aresterilised, prevented from breeding, orkilled (“euthanised”)• State involvement:• Laissez faire versus enforced eugenics
  31. 31. Back to SocialDarwinism• Herbert Spencer is often called a socialDarwinist• But he predated Darwin, and was appalled atthe use of his ideas by American industrialiststo justify their materialism• Sumner was a social Darwinist, but arguablythe only one• The term “social Darwinism” has no genericcontent; it was a term used to smearopponents, particularly by the Left
  32. 32. Not all Darwinian applicationsto society are evil• “Darwinism” is a mythical creature• If it means Darwinian theory, then it has nomoral consequences• If it means anything, it is Haeckel’sDarwinismus• But the odour of social evolutionary theoryand eugenics affected attempts to applyDarwinian evolution to society
  33. 33. Social biology• Early social evolutiontheories were based on non-Darwinian views, such as theneo-Lamarckians’• In the 1970s, Ed Wilsonpublished Sociobiology, inwhich he argued thatbehaviour is geneticallydetermined• Critics called this “eugenics”
  34. 34. Genes and health• Since the rise of molecular genetics, it hasbecome common to screen for geneticillnesses such as Porphyria,Tay-Sachs, andTrisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), so thatparents can decide to abort• Recently, gene screening has started forinsurance and employment purposes
  35. 35. Natural selection andNazism• Did the Nazis employ natural selection?• Their view of competition was betweennations and races, not individuals as Darwin(mostly) thought• They rarely appealed to evolution, and whenthey did, it was of a progressive kind• They also appealed to Christianity, paganreligion, and genetics, as well as an oldtradition called Volksphilosophie.
  36. 36. Discussion