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What Was The Eugenics Movement?

By Antonia Čirjak January 24 2020

Ideology danger and destructive thinking.
Ideology danger and destructive thinking.

The Eugenics Movement, or eugenics, is an ideology that wishes to improve the humankind by selecting appropriate characteristics from the populations’ gene pool. The eugenics gave birth not only to social Darwinism in the late 19th century but also fueled various extreme-rightwing movements in Europe, like Nazi Germany, who used the eugenics to create the Holocaust and kill millions of people during World War II. 

The Rise Of Social Darwinism

The term ‘’eugenics’’ was coined as late as 1883 by Francis Galton, who was a British scientist, heavily influenced by Charles Darwin. The idea that was appealing the most was the one found in Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In short, Darwin postulated how, when it comes to survival, the more suitable races will prevail. This kind of approach quickly rose in popularity, and social Darwinism made its way into scientific fields in the 1900s. 

However, do not think that this thinking about creating a perfect society with the help of eugenics is an idea only that old. When Plato wrote his famous piece about the Republic, he saw it as a state where people will partake in improving their well-being with the help of selective breeding. Remember, this is 378 BCE we are talking about. Close to two thousand years after Plato’s Republic, a philosopher from Italy called Tomasso Campanella wrote a book he named the ‘’City of the Sun’’. Campanella published this in 1623, and in the book, he described his utopia as a system where only the social elite is allowed to reproduce. 

The idea of eugenics goes all the way back to Plato.
The idea of eugenics goes all the way back to Plato.

The way Galton used all of this to give birth to eugenics does not surprise. In his book, Hereditary Genius, which came out in 1869, Francis Galton suggested that the future society should pick who gets to reproduce based on their wealth. For Galton, that process would eventually create a more advanced, gifted race of people. Eugenics, the way Galton set it up, wanted to control the evolution. Unfortunately, this way of thinking quickly spread throughout the scientific community, and it did not remain as a concept solely on European ground.

Eugenics Movement Spread Globally

Eugenics strayed away from its experimental nature, and it became something that influenced societies across the world on a cultural level. Many politicians and prominent figures of the early 20th century adopted eugenics as an ideology. In the US, even president Theodore Roosevelt promoted the eugenics movement. In Great Britain, the most known scientists to include eugenics into their work were J. Haldane and J. Huxley. In Russia, eugenics was embraced by Nikolay Koltsov and Yury Filipchenko.   

Eugenics became hugely popular in the United States during the 1930s. At one of the conventions held in Chicago, the examples for this went so far that the eugenics proponents displayed differences between the family of president Roosevelt and a socially inadequate one, which was codenamed ‘’Ishmael’’ for the sake of the presentations. These kinds of events set the ground for creating more social groups that are either pro or contra eugenics as a principle. By the end of it, Nazi Germany has implemented similar methods and ways of thinking about eugenics to the ones that appeared on American ground. Hitler, however, had an idea that was brought a radical way of dealing with people who were, by his definition, socially inferior to the Aryan race. After seeing what horrors were about to happen with the rise of the Third Reich, the eugenics organizations across the US were either banned or closed. 

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