White supremacist racial science had a hold on all of Western civilization for nearly 300 years from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Unfortunately, in America and Europe, the belief that intentional breeding could create a better world was embraced by most religious, educational, scientific, and political leaders. In the past, racial science was used as a justification to enslave the darker races, but at the turn of the 20th century racial science was used as a way to eliminate, segregate, or abuse the darker races.
This ideology began when Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term eugenics and developed the scientific concept (based on Mendel’s genetics) that humanity could reach new heights of intelligence, strength, beauty, and even morality through the process of breeding. Those with these strong characteristics were encouraged to procreate, while those who were “feeble-minded, alcoholic, immoral, or criminal persons” were discouraged from having children.
There was even a silent film entitled The Black Stork (or Are You Fit to Marry?) which attempted to explain the importance of marrying only healthy, normal people who come from good moral and genetic stock by showing a couple who give birth to a baby who was a crippled hunchback. One doctor tells her to let it die and other doctors offer to save the baby. She doesn’t know what to do, so she prays and God gives her a vision of how her crippled son would suffer through life, so she decides to let him die, and film shows a ghost of Jesus receiving the baby into his arms. The husband, it turned out, was the culprit, because he was hiding the fact that he was the offspring of an embarrassing grandfather who had a drunken romp in the hay with an immoral woman!
The eugenicist believed that immorality could be inherited, not in the sense that we are all descendants of Adam, but in the sense that there were some blood lines that produced good offspring and some that produced evil.
A common argument used in American eugenic teachings (found in nearly all biology textbooks from the early 1900s through to the early 1960s) was to contrast the family of the Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards, whose descendants included presidents, generals, inventors, and many other prestigious persons, with the descendants of the “Kallikak” family (the name was a pseudonym), but instead of being made up of upstanding citizens, this family line included “feeble-minded, immoral, drunkards, and epileptics.” (1) Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, mentioned the Kallikak family in her booklet, The Case for Birth Control. (2)
Biology textbooks made the argument, just like the film The Black Stork, that students should be careful about those whom they married and had children with, or their offspring could become burdens to society. A common textbook entitled Civic Biology lamented that this goal was difficult to attain in America because “modern charity” shielded “defectives” from being culled out by the law of survival of the fittest and that it was wrong to allow these “heavy burdens” to drain society.
Avoided by the normal, defectives generally marry defectives. Since they are allowed to multiply at will and are shielded by modern charity from operation of the law of survival of the fit[test], this process has gone on until we now have nearly 3,000,000 dependents and defectives–one in thirty of our population. By far the larger part . . . of the heavy burdens imposed upon society by the idiotic, imbecile and insane, the paupers, alcoholics, and criminals, is caused by inherited mental and moral defects. (3)
Hitler revealed this same attitude in Mein Kampf, except he went so far as to try to euthanize “defectives,” thinking it was an expression of mankind’s humanity!
The demand that defective people be prevented from propagating equally defective offspring is a demand of clearest reason and, if systematically executed, represents the most humane act of mankind. It will spare millions of unfortunates undeserved sufferings, and consequently will lead to a rising improvement of health as a whole. (4)
Hitler’s views on race and genetics didn’t just bubble up from his own wicked mind. They came from the most advanced sources of knowledge available at the time. Eugenics was a way to help evolutionary natural selection along. It easily merged with the racism produced by social Darwinism. This is what happened in New York City, where a human zoo was set up and Ota Benga was put on display. The Bronx Zoo where he was housed was set up by Madison Grant, the founder of the American Eugenics Society and author of The Passing of the Great Race, a book that Hitler would refer to as his “Bible.” (5)
Grant was a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, and was friends with several U.S. presidents. An avid environmentalist/conservationist and believer in the “survival of the fittest,” he argued that it was necessary to preserve the environment so that the “Nordic” races would have the natural resources necessary to survive. (Perhaps this view had an influence on Hitler’s concern for lebensraum [living space].) Grant was on the board of the American Museum of Natural History and he also helped to set up Glacier National Park and contributed to saving the bison and the California redwoods. As a eugenicist, he believed miscegenation (interracial marriage) was dangerous, that sterilization could be a solution for getting rid of the weak, and that ghettos could be used to keep races separate from one another so that the gene pool would not be corrupted. Grant’s solution sounds eerily like Hitler’s “final solution.”
A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit–in other words social failures–would solve the whole question in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums. The individual himself can be nourished, educated, and protected by the community during his lifetime, but the state through sterilization must see to it that his line stops with him, or else future generations will be cursed with an ever-increasing load of misguided sentimentalism. This is a practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied to an ever-widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types. (6)
In America, forced sterilization was used as a solution to the problem of “inferior” genes, but any suggestion towards euthanasia was shut down due to the protests of those in charitable organizations. Still, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that America, rather than Germany, was the state that was using the principles upon which he wished to build his ideal society.
At present there exists one State which manifests at least some modest attempts that show a better appreciation of how things ought to be dine in this matter. It is not, however, in our model German Republic but in the U.S. A. that efforts are made to conform at least partly to the counsels of commonsense. By refusing immigrants to enter there if they are in a bad state of health, and by excluding certain races from the right to become naturalized as citizens, they have begun to introduce principles similar to those on which we wish to ground the People’s State. (7)
Many states, such as California and Indiana, had active sterilization laws. (8) Indiana was the first to pass a law for forced sterilization. Thirty-three states eventually followed. They also passed laws which made interracial marriage a felony. (9) In other words, “science” was used as a justification to create laws that didn’t allow people of color to marry whites.
In Nazi Germany, though, people with mental and physical disabilities were euthanized by gas or lethal injection, and its usefulness was extended, just as Grant suggested, to include “worthless race types”–the Jews (who were supposedly hindering the expression of God on earth). Eugenics was also used as a justification for the genetic experiments that were done on twins by Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Madison Grant was influenced by the writings of Joseph Arthur Gobineau, who claimed that his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853) was a “science of history.” (10) In it, Gobineau, who was influenced by the American polygenist/phrenologist skull collector named Samuel George Morton, claimed that there was a hierarchy of the races, with the most highly developed races being the white races, and the most highly developed white race being the Aryan race.
The writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who fell in love with Germany because of the music of Wagner (composer of “Ride of the Valkyries”), were also influenced by Gobineau, except Chamberlain’s book, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, was anti-Semitic. Chamberlain, whose writings were steeped in the philosophies of Herder and Kant, became immensely popular and were even used as required reading in German schools.
The second volume of Foundations of the Nineteenth Century was entitled “The Struggle.” Because of the influence of Chamberlain, Hitler (whose book was entitled Mein Kampf [My Struggle]) was convinced the German people were the descendants of the Indo-European Aryans, and that they were the most advanced race on the planet. Chamberlain had pointed out in his writings that the Teutonic/German race had produced great philosophy, literature, and music, and he even pointed to the Protestant Reformation as evidence of German racial/cultural superiority.
If only the German church would have remained faithful and not given in to the latest science and philosophy. Unfortunately, almost all of the churches placed Mein Kampf on their altars and flew the swastika in their churches–except for the Confessing Church, who refused to add racial and philosophical ideologies to their faith. This pure devotion is what they declared in the Barmen Declaration:
“We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.”
- Clifton Fremont and Jean Dawson, Civic Biology: Textbook of Problems, Local and National, That Can be Solved Only by Civic Cooperation (Boston: Ginn, 1918), 342. (Study by Henry H. Goddard).
- Sanger, Margaret. The Case for Birth Control (United States: Modern Art Printing Co., 1917), 207.
- Clifton Fremont, Civic Biology, 344.
- Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. James Murphy, (London: Hurst and Blackett, Ltd., 1939). Project Gutenberg, Australia. http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt.
- Stefan Kuhl, Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 85.
- Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race; or, The Racial Bias of European History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918), 50-51.
- “Human Sterilization Today,” 1938, pamphlet of the Human Betterment Foundation, included in the article by Rebecca Onion, “How Proponents of Forced Sterilization Convinced Everyday Californians to Support Their Cause, May 6, 2015, Slate. https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/05/history-of-sterilization-in-california-pamphlet-from-the-human-betterment-foundation.html.
- W.A. Plecker, “The New Virginia Law to Preserve Racial Integrity,” Virginia Health Bulletin, Vol. 16:2, 1924. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/view_image.pl?id=436.
- Andrew Heywood, Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (New York: Worth Publishers, 1998), 230.
- Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, Vol. II, trans. John Lees (New York: John Lane Co., 1911).