the NeoEugenics' Home Page Eugenics as Propaganda: How Words are Twisted to Preserve
In the 2001 spring issue of Mankind Quarterly pages 315-50, I reviewed nine books on eugenics. Recently, I purchased some recent books on eugenics, and nothing has really changed. A few authors advocate the return of the new eugenics (genetic engineering), but most books are written as dire warnings against its return. Of course what few of these books do is to complete the stories that they tell. Typically they start in the late 1800s and end in the late 1900s, while often dismissing current understandings about the heritability of intelligence, but skipping what we have learned over the last few decades in fields such as pharmacogenetics, genomics, behavior genetics, and recent advances in eugenic practices (see The Baby Business by Debora L. Spar, 2006).
I'll look at two books to tease out the various specious arguments found in virtually all anti-eugenic books. The first book is Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2004, Susan Bachrach begins: "From 1933 to 1945,
"Biomedical language pervaded the crude, pseudoscientific Nazi propaganda that depicted Jews as 'microbes' infecting the German 'national body' and slandered Jewish doctors as sexual predators…. A long path led from racial hygiene before the Third Reich to Nazi racial hygiene and the Holocaust, and the first travelers on that route could not have imagined its horrific ending."
The objectives of anti-eugenic books are to try and show that eugenics led directly to the Holocaust—along with the horrors of sterilization. It is asserted that these two actions, one lasting a few years, the latter over decades, would not have taken place without eugenics. It is true that sterilization was one of the primary objectives of eugenics at the time, because in numerous advanced nations, it was seen as one of the few means that society had to keep primarily feebleminded people, often institutionalized, from having ever more children. Once sterilized, they could be released back into society. That dilemma remains with us today—the permanent underclass.
With regards to the Holocaust however, the events documented in this book and others conflate disparate events and programs under the common red herring of eugenics. I will show how Deadly Medicine uses the language of propaganda and tries to show a continuum from eugenics to the Holocaust. In short, under the Third Reich, eugenics (racial hygiene), medical experimentation on prisoners, euthanasia, extermination of inferiors, and extermination of internal enemies were not connected but were undertaken for different reasons, not all related to eugenics.
It is true that under the Nazi regime, biological propaganda was pervasive—but no less so than the egalitarian propaganda that is present in the current Western media. For example, the heritability of intelligence is rarely mentioned when discussing President Bush's No Child Left Behind Program. Like we do now, the media fed the masses what they felt they should be told, not the actual facts, as they themselves knew them to be. "Pseudoscientific Nazi propaganda" is a meaningless phrase, but the term pseudoscience is tossed often at eugenics as if 10,000 years of animal and plant breeding didn't actually take place, like the often-used disparaging phrase scientific racism to describe the numerous fields of science that take heredity and genetics into account.
The Jews were not exterminated because of racial inferiority. Bachrach quotes Eugen Fischer, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics from 1927 to 1942 from a 1939 lecture: "I do not characterize every Jew as inferior, as Negroes certainly are, and I do not underestimate the greatest enemy with whom we have to fight. But I reject Jewry with every means in my power, and without reserve, in order to preserve the hereditary endowment of my people."
Sheila Faith Weiss also notes that Fritz Lenz, a leading exponent of eugenics and read by Hitler, did not consider Jews inferior: "[Lenz] considered [Jews] a 'mental race,' a people preoccupied with making money or making revolution. But he also praised Jews as a highly intelligent people whose presence in the world of knowledge, particularly in the sciences, was far greater 'than expected from their numbers.' 'To deny that the Jewish race has produced persons of outstanding genius,' Lenz asserted, 'would be absurd.'"
The Jews were not seen as inferior similar to other races, but as an enemy. Their success, their international contacts, their tenacity, their cohesiveness; these were all seen as a threat. They were exterminated for the same reason that the Soviet Communists sent millions of people to their death for being enemies of the State. The Holocaust would have happened if the Nazis had never adopted eugenics. In a racialized world, it was far easier to mobilize the German people against the Jews through numerous accusations, including biological shortcomings with regards to their lack of morality or inability at nation building—but they were not seen by antisemites at the time as being inferior in terms of skill, intelligence, conscientiousness, etc. They were seen as enemies of the nation—as being inassimilable. In this regards they were slaughtered as enemies of the state, again similar to how Communist regimes slaughtered classes of people.
The Nazi euthanasia program was not linked to eugenics—it was undertaken for the same reason as it is practiced today—economy, compassion, plus for a nation at war to free up beds. A nation at war, with few resources, needed to cut costs and to free up beds for wounded soldiers. Hitler's moral system called for an all-out war for the survival of
Euthanasia, like sterilization, is made out to be a universal evil, and yet I have witnessed numerous people getting voluntarily sterilized, hysterectomies performed, and recently the euthanasia of my mother. Of course it was not called that, but after a fall and a brain clot, she was swiftly sent off to a nursing home where she was given only morphine—food and water was withdrawn. I got the feeling that this was a common routine in intensive care units—because everyone seemed be in sync once they were given a wink-and-a-nod to proceed.
Daniel J. Kelves noted: "After the turn of the century, eugenics movements blossomed in the
He then noted that only in Nazi Germany did sterilization become a common practice, and it was used whether people were in institutions or not. Being a totalitarian state, Nazi Germany had the power of the state behind their eugenics' program that was the envy of the
According to Gisela Bock, "Eugenics was an international movement; its tenets, theoretical as well as practical and political, were built on five assumptions, most of which counted as 'science' at the time." What is amazing after reading numerous books on eugenics is how correct these "scientific assumptions" were during this period. The only two places that they were in error were in the lingering belief by some of Lamarckianism versus genetic selection, and the importance of Mendelism versus a polygenic view of how genes influence behavior and disease. The observations that were made with regards to crime, feeblemindedness, disease, psychoticism, alcoholism, etc. were remarkably prescient with the few scientific tools they had. Today we know that genetics in fact does have a remarkable impact on how people behave.
Bock's "five assumptions" are as follows: 1) Modern medicine and social welfare was setting up the situation where the unfit were beginning to outbreed the fit; 2) psychiatry and medicine should be used for eugenics; 3) The unfit had features that were inherited and not due to the environment; 4) Individualism was being supplanted by the collective good; and 5) the vision for the future was for a world without illness, weakness, and misery. These five assumptions are pretty clear and commendable today, with the exception of the "collectivism versus individualism" debate that will probably be an ongoing philosophical debate rather than a scientific one.
Bock does note that about 500 African Germans were sterilized based on race alone. Given Hitler's attitude towards Blacks this is not surprising—they were held in disgust, and attitudes towards them varied dramatically from how the Nazis viewed other minorities. But then Bock states, "Eugenic racism targeted human beings considered inferior on eugenic grounds—their emotional, mental, social, and physical makeup—for the sake of 'regeneration'; ethnic racism targeted those considered inferior on ethnic grounds—especially Jews, but also Gypsies, blacks, and Slavs. Eugenic racism based its scientific legitimacy on the discourse of heredity, ethnic racism on that of descent."
This is typical of the confusing language throughout Deadly Medicine. If the Jews were eugenically targeted even more than the African Germans, why were they not sterilized? But how did "eugenic racism" play itself out in
Bock then states, "In the Weimar Republic, academic racial anthropology was considered a legitimate field and not perceived as a pseudoscience….The fact that most of the international scientific community of the time considered German racial science a 'normal science' does not mean that it was not strongly politicized."
Yet today there are ongoing research programs that study the lineage of "population groups," which has become mainstream science. Race after all is just a term used to arbitrarily categorize population groups with a common ancestry. The strawman to deny race is when the term "distinct" is used to define a racial group—but geneticists are not in search of distinct markers for classifying races, or for breeds of dogs for that matter.
As for being "politicized," science has always had individual and collective biases. Michael Shermer explains: "In science we have built-in self-correcting machinery. Strict double-blind controls are required in experiments, in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters know the experimental conditions during the data-collection phase. Results are vetted at professional conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. Research must be replicated in other laboratories unaffiliated with the original researcher. Disconfirmatory evidence, as well as contradictory interpretations of the data, must be included in the paper. Colleagues are rewarded for being skeptical. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." (Michael Shermer, "The Political Brain,"
Following these guidelines, pseudoscience does not exist outside of palm reading, astrology, horoscopes, and UFOs—as well as the abundance of self-help books based on assumptions and speculations. Eugenics, racial differences, psychometrics, etc. are all firmly grounded in science, no matter the preferential bias of any one individual or field of study.
The "Jewish Problem" was somewhat of an enigma, not unlike the problem of terrorists today. But was it racial? Bock writes: "Anthropologists and human geneticists, nonetheless, provided their scientific backing to Nazi antisemitism in speeches, popular articles, and handbooks. Otmar von Verschuer wrote on the Jewish Problem, 'racial care,' and racial policy in his handbook Principles of Racial Hygiene. He explained to medical students that all previous attempts to solve the Jewish Problem had failed and that only a 'global solution' based on 'racial biology' could be successful. Verschuer also collaborated with Nazi officials of the Research Department for the Jewish Question, lecturing on Jews (and convincing Fischer to join him), despite the possible risk to his scientific reputation: 'International Jewry is perfectly aware of what side we are on; taking part or not taking part in such a meeting will not make a difference. It is important that our racial policy—also in the Jewish Question—receive an objective scientific grounding, which can also be accepted by wider circles.'"
Statements like these lend one to view the "Jewish Problem" as one of assimilation, not one where the Jews were seen as "unfit." Racialism was the norm, and there were constant comparisons made on the equality of different races. But the "Jewish Problem" was seen in a different light—part racial, part cultural, and of a people without a nation that did not belong.
Even when it came to racial purity, Jews were seen differently than other races. Remember, an African German—the one percent rule—was sterilized. But in
Benno Muller-Hill sheds light on how Jews differed from other races in the eyes of the Nazis, and points to conflict rather than race as the cause of the Holocaust: "After 1933, Fischer steadily and frequently supported antisemitism. In 1933, he had already proposed a law, similar to the
What I read in this is the hatred for the Bolshevik Jews, and their own reign of terror. For an extreme anti-Semite like Fischer, such an outburst reveals how it was conflict and fear—not disgust or hatred of the Jews that led to the Holocaust. Then in a classic hypocritical accusation, Muller-Hill states: "One aspect of antisemitism should not be overlooked—the ousting of Jews from the field of medicine. Once in power, the Nazi regime moved quickly to remove Jewish influence, citing its overrepresentation in the medical profession. In
But that sounds just like affirmative action in the
Was Nazi racial hygiene real science or pseudoscience? It seems it was firmly grounded in science, as I could not find one area of pseudoscience. Muller-Hill claims: "In 1943, Verschuer initiated a research project in
No, it would not be considered as pseudoscience—it would be classified as scientific fraud. Today there seems to be a few cases of scientific fraud, but they are quickly uncovered. A careful reading of Deadly Medicine then shows that racial science was as legitimate then as it is today, though the tools and knowledge we have to work with now has far surpassed the crude observations used to study the unknowns of genetics then.
How is Deadly Medicine summed up? Muller-Hill claims: "What is the bottom line? Was Nazi racial science real science or pseudoscience? There is no doubt that science served crime, but was it pseudoscience? There is no simple, clear answer. Racial science under the Nazis was an amalgam of both honest, human genetics and pseudoscience. Like most science, racial science was well funded in
I only found the one example of scientific fraud mentioned above, and no cases of pseudoscience. A careful reading of Deadly Medicine reveals that eugenics, euthanasia, and the Holocaust were not connected but were carried out for different reasons. Compare the Nazi's program of racial science with Stalin's abandonment of selective breeding for Lysenkoism—A biological doctrine that maintained the possibility of inheriting environmentally acquired characteristics. Or the renewed push for intelligent design's reintroduction in the
Another book also published in 2004, From
With the knowledge that humans were merely the embodiment of an evolutionary process, it was now possible for any social program to be put into action to change society to conform to various worldviews. Weikart notes, "Certainly many Darwinists proclaimed the death knell for Christian, Kantian, or any other fixed system of ethics, and they contended that moral relativism was a logical consequence of a Darwinian view of morality. They completely rejected the natural law tradition of morality that had been so influential in the Enlightenment." And that remains the case today, as no one has been able to put together a coherent moral or ethical system—there is no moral certitude in nature. Darwinism leads ineluctably towards the realization, that organisms are merely mechanisms for carrying genes from one generation to the next. (Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, 1976.)
Weikart states, "Darwinian inegalitarianism became so pervasive by the early twentieth century that it even infiltrated the ranks of socialists and other political radicals. In fact, the earliest leaders in the eugenics movement—Forel, Ploetz, Schallmayer, Ehrenfels, Grotjahn, Max von Gruber, and Woltmann, among others—tilted decidedly toward the Left politically."
Racialism was so prevalent during the age of Darwinism, it was just assumed by many of the elite that it would be natural to exterminate the lower races. Again however, antisemitism was different: "Though anti-Semitism has dominated the attention of many scholars examining German racism—for obvious reasons—we can see that ideas about racial extermination were not necessarily connected to anti-Semitism. More often than not when social Darwinists and eugenicists spoke about inferior races, they meant non-European races, especially American Indians, Australian aborigines, blacks, and East Asians. Though some of the social Darwinists and eugenicists I have discussed were anti-Semitic in varying degrees—some rabidly so—very few of them ever referred to the extermination of Jews. On the other hand, some social Darwinists even opposed anti-Semitism, and some German and Austrian Jews (Gumplowicz, for example) justified racial struggle and racial extermination, just as other German thinkers did. Of course, there were some anti-Semitic thinkers advocating elimination of the Jews, and even a few radical anti-Semites advocating extermination, as Daniel Goldhagen has reminded us (while overstating his case). But the notion of racial extermination was much more widespread in forms not associated with anti-Semitism, especially among the educated elites."
What Darwinism allowed Hitler to do then was to establish an alternative morality—one based solely on the advancement of the German people. There was no slippery slope from Darwinism or eugenics to the Holocaust: "Undoubtedly Hitler was immoral… [nor] a mere opportunist. Rather he was a principled politician with a well-defined worldview that he pursued relentlessly…. it is clear from Hitler's writings and speeches that he was not amoral at all. On the contrary, he was highly moralistic and consistently applied his vision of morality to policy decisions, including waging war and genocide. It may be difficult for us to grasp this, but in Hitler's worldview war and genocide were not only morally justifiable, but morally praiseworthy. Hitler was ultimately so dangerous, then, precisely because his policies and decisions were based on coherent, but pernicious, ethical ideas…. Hitler embraced an evolutionary ethic that made Darwinian fitness and health the only criteria for moral standards. The Darwinian struggle for existence, especially the struggle between different races, became the sole arbiter for morality."
This is the elephant in the room that modern ethicists refuse to recognize: humanitarianism is a choice, not a logical system based on some social good. We are all now free to envision and promote the type of world we would like to live in, and the eugenic vision swept through most modern nations for over sixty years. To Hitler, morality was a social construction. Weikart explains: "Hitler, like many other evolutionists we have examined in this work, evaded complete nihilism and moral relativism by adopting a form of evolutionary ethics. He believed that human morality was a product of evolutionary development, representing the highest stage of evolution ever yet reached. Like so many of his contemporaries, his view of evolution was imbued with the notion of progress, and he considered morality one of the greatest evolutionary advances. Of course, given his own belief that morality does not exist apart from the human psyche, Hitler had no objective, scientific basis for decreeing that human morality represented a 'higher' or 'better' stage of evolution, for he had no objective criteria to determine what is 'higher' or 'better.' Hitler was not alone in this error, for many of his predecessors and contemporaries upheld the same view of evolutionary progress, while denying any basis for judging developments as better or worse."
There is some legitimacy in criticizing any attempt to prove that humans would be better off if we were more intelligent, or even if we became healthier. But there is a great deal of empirical data that correlates higher intelligence with many of life's preferable outcomes. (See Linda Gottfredson's articles posted on the Internet.) Some of course might argue that it would be better if humans became less intelligent to the degree that they could no longer produce weapons to kill each other. It seems that many idealists on the left do have a vision of humans returning to cave dwelling and turning our backs on modern technology. Still, eugenics has always been based on two foundations: the science of human biological change and the desire for certain human attributes such as freedom from disease and feeblemindedness.
Weikart elaborates, with some contradiction it seems, how Hitler differentiated the Jews from others: "Hitler contrasted his vision of altruistic Germans, the highest exemplars of human morality, with the Jew as the epitome of immorality. He continually accused the Jews of greed, deceit, sexual deviance, and other immoral deeds, thereby justifying his view of them as an inferior race. Thus inferiority did not just mean physical and mental inferiority, but moral inferiority (remember that all three of these were biologically based, in Hitler's view). Indeed, when discussing the racial inferiority of the Jews, Hitler stressed their alleged moral defects far more than their physical or mental traits. In fact, the only reason the Jews were a threat to
Again and again, the real cause of the Holocaust seems to be very similar to why we are under attack from the Islamic world. The West is viewed as immoral and godless—while the real reason for the hate is the failure in achievement by many Muslims leading to humiliation. The Jews were simply hated because they were more successful than the average German, and they were therefore a threat. It would hardly have been prudent for the Nazi Party to admit to German inferiority in terms of intelligence to Jews, so other Jewish attributes such as clannishness had to be attacked. Again, there was no connect between Darwinism, eugenics, euthanasia, or viewing the Jews as unfit that led to the Holocaust—it was racial competition.
This book is one of the better books on eugenics because it fully explores just how societies went from Darwinism to eugenics. It is well worth reading for that purpose alone. But Weikart never really addresses the problems with the moral relativism he unravels in the book. He admits: "This study is important, not only because it shows the intersection of Darwinian biology and ethics in the past, especially the way that Darwinism influenced thinking about the value of human life, but also because these debates are still with us today. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are making similar claims about the implications of Darwinism for ethics and morality. Often these scientists and philosophers seem oblivious to the many earlier attempts to wed Darwinism to ethics. Also, many bioethicists today are articulating positions quite similar to the views of the figures in this study. Peter Singer and James Rachels, for example, are contemporary philosophers who argue that Darwinism has effectively undermined the Judeo-Christian doctrine of the sanctity of human life, thereby making involuntary euthanasia permissible in some circumstances, such as in the case of a severely handicapped infant."
Weikart as far as I can tell does not try to refute the problems with trying to put together an ethical system. Moral concerns for family, kin, and nation over other unrelated people's has been shown to be not only an innate tendency in humans and animals, but it has a strong philosophical position that at least allows an emotional attachment for one's race over other races. Frank Salter has eloquently laid out such a position based on genetic relatedness in his book On Genetic Interests, 2003.
Weikart concludes: "Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism, especially in its social Darwinist and eugenics permutations, neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world's greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy. Darwinism—or at least some naturalistic interpretations of Darwinism—succeeded in turning morality on its head."
This seems like a rather absurd assumption considering how many millions of people have died over the last 100 years based on all kinds of ideologies: The Armenians in Turkey, the Kulaks and Ukrainians in the Soviet Union, Communist China's numerous purges, the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda, and now Sunnis against Shiites in Iraq and the intended destruction of Israel by Iran's President Ahmadinejad. None of these hostilities and genocides needed any "scientific underpinning."
Eugenics as Propaganda: How Words are Twisted to Preserve