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Don’t blame right-wing thugs for eugenics – Socialists made it fashionable

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Michael Coren, National Post
June 16, 2008

An exhibition of the history of those scientific ideas that gave a grimy intellectual veneer to the Nazi genocide opens this week at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The collection centres on eugenics, the notion that humanity can be improved and perfected by selective breeding and the elimination of individuals and groups considered to be undesirable. Entitled Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, it reveals how it was not thoughtless right-wing thugs as much as writers and scientists, the intellectual elite, who led the movement.

The exhibit is important, accurate but, regrettably, long overdue. It also fails to stress just how much the socialist left initiated and supported the eugenics campaign, not only in Germany but in Britain, the U.S. and the rest of Europe. Playwright George Bernard Shaw, English social democrat leader Sydney Webb and, in Canada, Tommy Douglas were just three influential socialists who called, for example, for the mass sterilization of the handicapped. In his Master’s thesis The Problems of the Subnormal Family, the now revered Douglas argued that the mentally and even physically disabled should be sterilized and sent to camps so as not to “infect” the rest of the population.

It is deeply significant that few if any of Douglas’s left-wing comrades in this country or internationally were surprised or offended by his proposals. Indeed the early fascism of 1920s Italy, while unsavoury and dictatorial, had little connection with social engineering and eugenics. The latter German version of fascism was influenced not by ultra conservatism in southern Europe but, as is made clear in the writings of the Nazi ideologues, by the Marxist left.

The most vociferous and outspoken of the socialist eugenicists was the novelist HG Wells, author of The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. He argued in best-selling books such as Anticipations and A Modern Utopia that the world would collapse and from this collapse a new order should and would emerge.

“People throughout the world whose minds were adapted to the big-scale conditions of the new time. A naturally and informally organised educated class, an unprecedented sort of people.” A strict social order would be formed. At the bottom of it were the base. These were “people who had given evidence of a strong anti-social disposition”, including “the black, the brown, the swarthy, the yellow.” Christians would also “have to go” as well as the handicapped. Wells devoted entire pamphlets to the need of “preventing the birth, preventing the procreation or preventing the existence” of the mentally and physically handicapped. “This thing, this euthanasia of the weak and the sensual is possible. I have little or no doubt that in the future it will be planned and achieved.”

The people of Africa and Asia, he said, simply could never find a place in a modern world controlled by science. Better to do away with the lot. “I take it they will have to go” he said of them. Marriage as it is known would have to end but couples could form mutually agreed unions. They would list their “desires, diseases, needs” on little cards and a central authority would decide who was fitted for whom.

Population would be rigidly controlled, with forced abortion for those who were not of the right class and race. Religion would be banned, children would be raised in communes and all would be well. The old and the ill would, naturally, have to be done away with and doctors would be given the authority to decide who had a right to live, who had a duty to die.

In the United States socialist writer Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and the mother of the abortion movement, called for a radical eugenics approach as early as the first years of the 20th century. She wrote of the need for “a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring. It is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide for them. Herein lies the key of civilization.”

The key of civilization. Unlocking the doors of a hell once unimaginable but now, after the Holocaust, the Ukrainian genocide, Pol Pot and Mao’s mass slaughter, entirely within the grasp of contemporary sensibilities. History is often clouded by fashion and the whims of the victorious. Because some of the most pernicious intellectual criminals of the past century wore red they have escaped condemnation. It is time for the clouds to clear and the fashions to change.

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12 Responses to “Don’t blame right-wing thugs for eugenics – Socialists made it fashionable”

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