Continuity and Persistence of Eugenic Thought and Goals

During a time of rapid social change in which there are disruptions of the established order and the attendant challenges to authority and tradition, there is a special appeal of genetic explanations and eugenic solutions to the most privileged strata of society. The power of the state to control its population can be awesome, and thus when the state puts forward eugenic programs in a post-holocaust world, critics are well prepared to react with revulsion. The government of Singapore came under fire during the 1990s for its program to reward middle-class and wealthy families for having more children, while actively discouraging the poor from having large families. Far less attention has been given to the fact that 30,000 babies have been produced by sperm banks and egg donations in the United Kingdom alone, from people who are literally choosing what they consider to be better human stock (Maranto; Hill).

The industrial revolution and rapid urbanization wreaked havoc with traditional life and traditional social roles in both nineteenth-century Europe and the United States. Extended kinship systems that had been valued as an economic advantage on farmlands were often inverted and became economic liabilities when those families were forced off the land and moved to the teeming cities. Unemployment, homelessness, mental illness and a host of other social problems seemed to especially victimize the poor, whose visibility if not sheer numbers dominated the public sphere of urban life.

Cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, and tuberculosis were the scourge of city dwellers, and once again, the poor were the most likely victims. But as Sylvia Tesh noted in Hidden Arguments (1988), the poor were also the most likely to be blamed for causing the problems, typically characterized as living in unclean conditions. Hygiene came first as both an explanation for the better fortunes of the privileged and middle classes, and later—as a challenge to the poor.

As the wealthier families began to have fewer children, and to have the resources to hire the poor as servants to help them clean up—some observers began to notice what they thought was a disturbing pattern. The more well-to-do members of society were procreating less, while the poor were still having very large families. The dark Malthusian prediction about a population explosion took a particularly elitist turn. If people are to learn anything from the past, it is imperative to have a more complete understanding of the appeal and popularity of eugenics and why it was compelling to the full range of thinkers of all political persuasions at the beginning of the twentieth century. Very much like its sister concept hygiene—there was a strong association between cleanliness and order, progress and eugenics.

Just as hygiene was seen as the normal value of cleanliness to which all should aspire, eugenics was widely accepted and actively promoted by the major public figures of the period. University presidents, medical doctors, judges, academic scholars, writers, intellectuals, political figures on both the left and right of the political spectrum—all espoused the idea that the betterment of humankind would result from the practices and techniques that would prevent the procreation of imbeciles and mental retards and criminals and prostitutes and homosexuals and alcoholics and gamblers.

100 Health Tips

100 Health Tips

Breakfast is the most vital meal. It should not be missed in order to refuel your body from functional metabolic changes during long hours of sleep. It is best to include carbohydrates, fats and proteins for an ideal nutrition such as combinations of fresh fruits, bread toast and breakfast cereals with milk. Learn even more tips like these within this health tips guide.

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