Ghosts of the past: the Left’s flirtation with eugenics

Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian on what was once popular Leftist thought: eugenics.

Such talk repels us now, but in the prewar era it was the common sense of the age. Most alarming, many of its leading advocates were found among the luminaries of the Fabian and socialist left, men and women revered to this day. Thus George Bernard Shaw could insist that “the only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man”, even suggesting, in a phrase that chills the blood, that defectives be dealt with by means of a “lethal chamber”.

Such thinking was not alien to the great Liberal titan and mastermind of the welfare state, William Beveridge, who argued that those with “general defects” should be denied not only the vote, but “civil freedom and fatherhood”. Indeed, a desire to limit the numbers of the inferior was written into modern notions of birth control from the start. That great pioneer of contraception, Marie Stopes – honoured with a postage stamp in 2008 – was a hardline eugenicist, determined that the “hordes of defectives” be reduced in number, thereby placing less of a burden on “the fit”. Stopes later disinherited her son because he had married a short-sighted woman, thereby risking a less-than-perfect grandchild.

Everyone’s favourite Leftist economist John Maynard Keynes was most gung-ho for a eugenics program implemented on the poor who were ‘too “drunken and ignorant” to keep its numbers down.’

Freedland goes on to explain why we shouldn’t merely accept modern-day Leftists when they argue this was but an abberration. Freedland argues what could be more progressive and socialist than big government social planning considering the big buzz at the time was that Man could finally control its own evolution?

Of course, one of the great Socialists of the 20th century (and yes, he was a Socialist), Adolf Hitler, actually went ahead and practised eugenics on a “grand” scale.

This never sat well with anyone after the images of gaunt Jews were splashed across the newspapers and movie screens.

And thus, the Left quietly backed away and disowned one of its key pet projects.

Well, most of the Left, that is.

Yet even today, the idea hasn’t been completely rubbed out.

Take Obama’s science czar, John Holdren who in his book called for mass sterilisations and forced abortions to er, save the planet.

Is it really “most” of the Left?

There’s still a reasonably strong push among many Leftists highlighting their perceived danger of global overpopulation. But their talk of “sustainability” doesn’t sound so caring any more, does it, when looked at in the context of the greater Leftist argument  – eugenics – that has persisted in some form or another for almost a century now.

Video link from: The Dangerous Myth Of Overpopulation


Click for more xkcd by Randall Monroe

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