This article was written by Michael Cook and published by Bioedge on January 23.
By Michael Cook
The dark history of government-sponsored eugenics before World War II has largely been forgotten, although it is well documented. A new book, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era(Princeton UP, 2016), by Thomas C. Leonard, is a painful reminder that some of the best minds in the United States and Britain were in favour of purging the “race” of “defectives”.
The heyday of the eugenics movement was during World War I and the 1920s. Some geneticists distanced themselves from eugenics, but usually because it had been tainted by racism and anti-Semitism.
Eugenics was literally regarded as a religion by leading economists. In 1915 Irving Fisher, one of the greatest of the early 20th century, told a Race Betterment Conference organised by cornflakes inventor and eugenicist John Henry Kellogg, that eugenics was “the foremost plan of human redemption”. Religious opponents (notably the Catholic Church) were a shrinking minority which had also opposed Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin.
It all seemed very scientific. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, the central character complains that civilization is spinning apart and that “ if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”