Doctoring the Nation: The Rise of Eugenics

Doctoring the Nation: The Rise of Eugenics

Kill or Cure Doctoring the Nation: The Rise and Fall of Eugenics Aims/Structure of Lecture 1. Introduce eugenics as a prime example of doctoring the nation between the 1880s and 1940s 2. Demonstrate that this went beyond Nazi Germany

3. Examine the reasons for the rise of this mode of doctoring the nation 4.Consider reasons for its particular association with Nazi Germany 5. Postscript looking at whether the war saw the end of eugenics 1. Eugenics as a way of doctoring the nation What was eugenics? Term coined in 1883 by British scientist

Francis Galton (18221911), cousin of Charles Darwin Galton builds on work of Darwin to extend interest in variation, the role of heredity, and the question of (un)natural selection when it came to man Eugenics becomes a science and a movement 1904: setting up of the

Eugenics Record Office (later the Eugenics Laboratory) at UCL 1907: Eugenics Education Society founded (from 1926 The Eugenics Society) 1908 first edition of the Eugenics Review Eugenics Society never more than 1000 members (high proportion of professionals) but influence of idea extends much further

Eugenics as a prime example of doctoring the nation Interested in the variation of qualities (eg intelligence) across a population Draws attention to those at either extreme Theory of heredity offers clue to how the society might adjust the mean to minimise

social problems and maximise ability of population Positive eugenics Encouragement of the fit to breed: education and propaganda Leads to consideration of incentives Consideration of marriage advice and certificates of fitness

Encourages use of mental testing to create a ladder of opportunity in education Often meritocratic Negative eugenics

Birth control Immigration control Sterilisation Segregation Euthanasia Particular focus on mental defectives, feeble-minded, mentally ill, physically handicapped 2. Demonstrate that this

went beyond Nazi Germany Compatibility with liberal regimes British roots and continuing leading role Support from leading writers and intellectuals including many on the left such as H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw British Mental Deficiency Act 1913 USA, Canada, Australia:

immigration control USA: introduction of sterilisation in large number of states by 1930s Compatibility with social democracy Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden all introduce eugenic laws in 1930s By 1970 estimated

170,000 sterilised Becomes an international movement International eugenics conferences beginning in London, 1912 Part of being a modern nation

Global Perspective Britain, South Asia, Australia, New Zealand, China and Hong Kong, South Africa, Kenya, South East Asia, Germany, France, Holland and Dutch East Indies, Scandinavia, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Japan, Iran, Cuba, Puerto

Rico, Mexico, Brazil, USA, Canada 3. Reasons for the rise of this mode of doctoring the nation Science and pseudoscience Victorian cult of measurement (Galton) Longer-term cultures of breeding

Emerging science of heredity Modernist attractions of science of The demographic transition From late 19th century a fall in fertility in western nations Concern in Britain about decline being most marked in middle-classes and among

professionals In France, fear of overall population decline by early 20th century (encourages positive forms of eugenics) Moral objections to birth control focus attention on segregation and treatment Link to womens groups, birth control advocates, and even sexual liberals Nation building era

Heightened concern about international competition and national efficiency Era of nation building & interest in defining the nation (eg post WWI) Immigrant nations concerned about racial mix New ways of seeing /ranking

population Population problems and differences exposed by rise of mass education, and growing scale of asylums, prisons, workhouses Emergence of new tools such as the social survey and the psychological test to rank individuals

The challenges of a welfare state Explaining failures: the ineducable; the recidivist, the unemployed Opportunities for new experts to test, identify, segregate, and treat the unfit Growing concern about the capacity and cost of solution of segregation (particularly as welfare

state faces economic crises of war and depression, and as it becomes more ambitious) 4. Nazi Germany: an exceptional case? Why Nazi Germany stands out Importance of ideology of national fitness and purity to politics and culture: the racial

state Leader in psychiatric and genetic science Opportunities from a sympathetic state Degree of economic problems via depression and mobilisation of economy in WWII Scale of sterilisation policy (375,000) Use of euthanasia for mentally handicapped (Action T4 70,000)

Yet German eugenics has roots before Nazi era Sterilisation Law introduced before Nazis come to power Follows example of USA Eugenics and an interest in race hygiene well established (1st society 1905) Germany already a leader in eugenic sciences of psychiatry and genetics, eg via Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (and has financial support from

Rockefeller Foundation into 1930s) Deaths of mentally ill in German asylums in First World War (140,000) Concluding thoughts Strong position of science in German culture Key importance of a regime able and willing to ignore rights of individual (compulsory rather than voluntary sterilisation); and of limited opportunities for

organised opposition Key importance of wartime situation in radicalising situation, though most extreme policy of euthanasia still remains secret and encounter opposition But far from unique in seeing eugenics as a tool to doctor the nation Broader structural factors: demography; nationbuilding; economics and welfare; medical science; new visibility Postscript: the End of Eugenics? The post-war reckoning At post-war Nazi trials

the question of medical experiments is subject for prosecution, but eugenics itself in fact attracts little attention Not until 1970s and 1980s and a new generation of historians does it come into focus Persistence?

Policy of sterilisation for eg mentally handicapped continues in some countries well beyond WWII, eg in Sweden until 1970s In Britain, abortion and sterilisation legalised in 1960s/70s as a form of voluntary birth control (along with contraception can target the problem family) Subsequently, techniques of prenatal screening used to prevent birth of handicapped,

though without the language of eugenics In Britain, a eugenics society continues after WWII, though one that makes efforts to distinguish itself from acts of Nazis In science, interest continues under the banner of human genetics Far more potential now for eugenics than in first half of

the century, but largely in hands of medical consumer rather than the state

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