Science & Intellectuals Fueled Nazism
Eugenics of old and its modern face
“Eugenics is the study of the agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally.”
Sir Francis Galton, 1904
Humanity is no stranger to selective breeding. The modern dog you walk to the park every day is a creation of man. Its ancestors still exist to this day, hunting in the wild and howling at the moon. Your current puppy will show these ancient traits when it howls when a fire engine passes or chews on your sneakers.
Humans have also engaged in selective breeding intentionally with their own species. It’s common knowledge that the Romans and Spartans would leave children to die of exposure who weren’t seen of as fit. The ancient Egyptian pharaohs only married within the royal family to keep the bloodline pure.
However, this practice gained a new acceptance by the modern scientific community with the findings of natural selection by Charles Darwin. After his release of the “Origin Of Species” in 1859, his cousin, polymath Sir Francis Galton, would create a theory that would take natural selection to the next logical step — applying it to the human race.
His ideas would lead to mass sterilization of those thought to be mentally deficient or of bad stock. The Nazis would take his ideas even further and just exterminate those people they believed that would diminish their race. After the war and Nuremberg trials, this science called eugenics would be abandoned.
Although the science named eugenics would be ended, the ideas behind it haven’t gone away. Modern genetic engineering is walking a fine line between the old Galtonian eugenics and modern science. As you’ll see, it wouldn’t take much of a push to turn genetic engineering into creating a master race the Nazis would have dreamed of.
Birth Of Eugenics
Gregor Mendel an Augustinian friar and scientist studied physics, chemistry, and zoology at the University of Vienna. Upon his return, he talked the superiors within his abbey into letting him conduct experiments in hybridization.
According to Jamie Metzl’s book Hacking Darwin, Mendel conducted experiments with 10,000 pea plants between 1856 and 1863. His research created the modern rules for heredity, now referred to as Mendelian Inheritance. He published these finding in an obscure publication and they were lost.
His research was discovered again around the 1900s and combined with Darwin’s work. Sir Francis Galton would firmly agree with both scientists’ findings and advocate they be applied to humanity. He had previously written the book Hereditary Genius in 1869. He had analyzed the English upper class and believed their superior intelligence was inherited. In his book he’d suggest a breeding program for certain humans of stature.
“Consequently, as it is easy, ….. to obtain by careful selection a permanent breed of dogs or horses gifted with peculiar powers of running, or of doing anything else, so it would be quite practicable to produce a highly-gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations.”
— Hereditary Genius via America’s Hidden History: The Eugenics Movement
Metzl explains that Galton created his own eugenics journal in 1909 called Eugenics Review. In its first edition, it would recommend that people with prenatal conditions should be reduced by sterilization and selective breeding.
Eugenics In America
Galton’s ideas spread across the world, but gained a particular foothold in the United States. American progressives believed that humanity could be made better through science — eugenics would be the driver of this science. Society could be improved by stopping defectives from being born.
“We know enough about eugenics, so that if that knowledge were applied the defective classes would disappear within a decade.”
— University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Heis — Hacking Darwin
According to Edwin Black’s article “The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics”, the Carnegie Institution created a lab in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island dedicated to eugenics. This lab would keep index cards on millions of Americans. They’d advocate the removal of entire bloodlines and petition the government to make this a reality.
Indiana would pass the first eugenics law in 1907 making sterilization mandatory for certain individuals that were wards of the state. Eventually 30 other states would follow suit. Black’s article would explain that California was a major driver of the eugenics push. Eventually 60,000 Americans would be sterilized — about half of them done in California.
These sterilizations would be challenged in court, however in the 1927 case Buck vs Bell, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the sterilization laws saying they were legal and forcing a women deemed mentally deficient to be sterilized. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes would go on to give one of the cruelest comments in court history:
“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Many famous English and Americans agreed with these procedures. Alexander Graham Bell, Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Bernard Shaw all agreed with eugenics. Shaw took his support to a whole new level.
Certain members of the eugenics movement had suggested euthanasia as a means to get rid of undesirables. According to Black’s article, Dr. Paul Popenoe wrote the textbook Applied Eugenics, which had a chapter called “Lethal Selection” and recommended execution. The most recommended humane method of killing by the eugenics community was a gas chamber. However, Americans didn’t seem to have the stomach for that, although a certain European power would be more welcoming.
Eugenics In Germany
Metzl’s book states that in 1905, after being exposed to Galton’s theories, Germany created the Society For Racial Hygiene in Berlin. Its goal was to create racial purity by sterilization and selective breeding. An institute was open in Frankfurt not long after by Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer. Verschuer would have an assistant who would become infamous named Josef Mengele.
One of the Nazi’s first laws passed in 1933 was the Law For The Prevention Of Hereditary Defective Offspring. This enabled the government to involuntarily sterilize people with mental or physical disabilities. Metzl explains that this law was based partly on language used in California’s sterilization law.
According to Metzl, over the next 4 years or so 400,000 Germans would be sterilized. However, in the Nazi’s opinion this wasn’t enough. The Nazis would start a secret program to kill children with disabilities up to the age of 3 in 1939. They would eventually increase the age of the children, finally killing off disabled adults as well. Gas chambers would begin to be used.
“While we were pussy-footing around…the Germans were calling a spade a spade.”
— Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society
Black’s article goes into detail showing how American eugenics organizations funded German research into the subject prior to World War II. It also documents German approval and study of American eugenic techniques.
Eventually when the atrocities were discovered after the war, most of the eugenic laws and societies would disappear. The fact that some of the Nazis being prosecuted for war crimes cited California laws in their defense didn’t help either.
Modern Genetic Engineering & Parallels to Eugenics
In Jamie Metzl’s book Hacking Darwin he delves into the fantastic and scary science of modern genetic engineering. In particular he speaks about a technology called “induced stem cells”. By this technology, a normal cell can be reverted back to a stem cell, which can in turn be converted to just about any other type of cell.
He examines research done with this type of cell whereby these induced stem cells can be converted into either eggs or sperm cells. If this technology is mastered, a mother and father wouldn’t be necessary to create a child. Cells from two people of the same sex could be converted into either sperm or egg cells and fertilized, then implanted.
This technology also gives the ability to take cells from embryos and convert them into sperm or eggs, then create other embryos.
Metzl refers to a scientific paper, Embryo Selection for Cognitive Enhancement, by Oxford professors Nick Bostrom and Carl Shulman. In this paper both professors examine the possibility to use the induced stem cell technology to increase human intelligence by selecting and creating embryos for desired traits.
With current technology, only about 15 embryos can be created as a group to choose from. They believe that by picking one out of the 15 for the desired trait of IQ, you can get a gain of 12 points.
However, if you can use induced stem cells from embryos to create more embryos and reach a sample size of 100, then you can do much better. The professors think you can boost the IQ of a child by about 20 points by doing this. They believe if you get the sample size to 1000, you can hit 25 points.
What can 25 IQ points do? Metzl explains that Arnold Schwarzenegger has an IQ of 135. Albert Einstein had an estimated IQ of 160. So, a jump of this type can turn a relatively smart person into a genius.
Bostrom and Shulman believe that if you can keep this cycle of embryo selection going for 5 generations, you can get to 65 IQ points. Within 10 generations, they think they can hit 130 IQ points.
“Renegade scientists and totalitarian loonies are not the folks most likely to abuse genetic engineering. You and I are — not because we are bad but because we want to do good. In a world dominated by competition, parents understandably want to give their kids every advantage. … The most likely way for eugenics to enter into our lives is through the front door as nervous parents … will fall over one another to be first to give Junior a better set of genes.” — Arthur Caplan
Who wouldn’t want the smartest child possible? Why not have the tallest, best looking, most creative, and best mannered child possible? Wouldn’t it be nice if your daughter or son had blue eyes? Why not do something unique like indigo? Promises such as this might drive parents into the arms of genetic modification of their future children.
But in this innocent drive for the best child possible, do we create our own master race? Technology such as this would most likely be expensive. Those who could afford it could birth a race of children dramatically smarter, stronger, longer living, and more disease resistant than normal children.
What would this new modified elite human race think of those who are so much lesser than themselves? Would they look upon us ‘normals’ as the eugenicist would look upon the mentally deficient?
In the end, genetic engineering will create wonders for the human race. Diseases that plagued us forever may be finally defeated. Life may be extended further than we can ever imagine. However, we may inadvertently also create the master race Hitler would have dreamed of.
These things may be far off in the future, but the ethics of creating modified people should be examined now. As you can see, our past attempts at science like this didn’t go very well. Scientists, academics, and intellectuals shouldn’t be left to figure it out for us in the future. It would be better to sort this out now than to wait until a race of super people begin to take their place in our world.