Eugenics is perhaps the most downright evil idea that humanity has ever come up with. It is a misapplication of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: directing human breeding towards the improvement of “desirable” traits and the reduction of “undesirable” traits. Unsurprisingly, this led to some of the most shameful state interference and to some truly disgusting policies: forced birth control, marriage restriction, segregation, compulsory sterilisation, forced abortions, and, of course, genocide.
Eugenics was in vogue in the early 20th century, the age of Fascism, National (and International) Socialism and, of course, Progressivism - all the same thing, really. It was a time when “intellectuals” from America to Nazi Germany though they had the right and duty to create society in their image. Leftist ideologies are the most fertile ground for social engineering of any sort, however well-disguised it may be. Of course, liberals and progressives will try to claim that it is the conservatives that are predisposed to eugenic thought. However, historically that has not been true at all.
Why does leftist ideology in general lend itself to eugenics? The answer lies ultimately in their idea of the “community”, “state” or “nation” and their belief that societal problems can be solved from the top down. In a world prior to the atrocities of World War II, it was seen as “progressive” to believe that the ills of society, like the ills of the body, can be cured by removing the “problematic elements” or the “undesirables”. In other words, if society was akin to a human body, then politics was akin to medicine.
Without question, eugenics is a deeply racist concept. And the leftists of the early 20th century were deeply racist, particularly in their concern about the growth of populations with more melanin in their skin cells. This was, of course, an “issue” in America specifically, espoused by the American Eugenics Society and such people as Teddy Roosevelt’s advisor, Madison Grant, an exceptionally extreme eugenicist. However, Britain was no better: the Fabian socialist Sydney Webb was concerned that the “wrong” people were outbreeding the “right” ones. Luckily, he also put forward the idea that a laissez-faire attitude could never be complementary to eugenics. So much for it being a conservative ideology! And what about H. G. Wells? He insisted that if his utopia of the “New Republic” were to be achieved, all undesirables (mostly those of a different skin colour and mental capacity) would have to go. In general, on both sides of the pond, there was a great concerned about “race suicide”.
Welfare state, another flagship socialist ideal, is deeply entwined with eugenics. In racially homogeneous nations of the time, like Germany and Britain, it was formed for the obvious purpose. However, in America things were a little different. There it was mainly indented to help the poor white and to exclude the other poor. A good example of this policy was the Davis Bacon act, which was intended to protect the white working class from cheaper black labour. Fearing that a welfare state would help the “undesirables” to thrive, the progressives of America stressed the need for a strict eugenics programme.
For a long time, all over the Western world, it was not only legal but desirable to sterilize those deemed unfit to reproduce, whether because of their mental state or socioeconomic status. Around 60,000 Americans were sterilized in the 1930s. It may surprise (or not) that the countries where eugenic laws persisted well into the previous century are the ones regarded by leftists as “the best places on Earth”: the Scandinavian countries. Between 1936 and 1976, more than 60,000 Swedish women were forcibly sterilized. The Swedes were the most zealous. Danes sterilized “only” 11,000 people between 1929 and 1967, and the Norwegians have maybe a thousand to their name.
Some (most) of today’s Left’s favourite historical heroes were dirty, dirty eugenicists. One of America’s favourite bear-wrestling presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, the master of bad economics, J. M. Keynes, the mother of contraception, Margaret Sanger, the authors G. B. Shaw and H. G. Wells, the founder of the World Wildlife Fund, Julian Huxley… The list is, sadly, very long.
Leftists seem to have no problem telling people how to live their lives. After all, the God-State and its enlightened disciples know better. It is absolutely not surprising that such a horrendous practice was embraced by socialist governments of all types. Eugenics was seen as a way to cure the “social cancer”. As a side note, Nazi obsession with cancer seems would not be out of place in modern times.
Even more worryingly, such practices are not necessarily a thing of the past. And don’t let anyone tell you that eugenics is a conservative idea. The very people who opposed it most vehemently back in the day were conservatives, libertarians and those old-fashioned, “fascist”, “racist” religious organizations.
Goldberg, J. (2007). Liberal Racism: The Eugenic Ghost in the Fascist Machine. In Liberal Fascism (pp. 243-284)
Paul, D. (1984). Eugenics and the Left. Journal of the History of Ideas. Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 567-590.