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Sir Francis Galton: The Father of Eugenics, Part 2

Richard Hoste

November 4, 2009

Sir Francis Galton first brought his concerns about the future of humanity to the public in an 1865 two-part article in MacMillan’s Magazine entitled “Hereditary Character and Talent.” Part one begins by simply making many of the points and presenting the data that would be expanded and elaborated on a few years later in Hereditary Genius: We can see talent is hereditary by the number of prominent men who have talented relatives. Just as we have bred animals, it would be possible to create a better race of humans. 

Galton then goes on to have us imagine what a Utopia would look like.  The state would set up competitions between young men for the chance to marry women selected for “grace, beauty, health, good temper, accomplished housewifery, and disengaged affections, in addition to noble qualities of heart and brain.”  If these unions are agreed upon, the state would give the happy couples money to begin their lives and raise the children they’d be expected to have.  Near the end of the first part, the author exclaims, “If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create!

Galton at age 66

In part two, he points out how remarkable is the fact that so many eminent men produce eminent sons considering that usually nothing is known about the mother in the relationships.  Now just think how much smarter the geniuses could’ve been if the prominent fathers had all married women close to them in intellect.  They may very well have, but there was no way to verify it.  Later, the author tries to argue for the existence of racial peculiarities by going into a discussion about the consistencies in the behavior of Native Americans under different political and economic conditions.  While having a great sense of honor, the Indian is cold and indifferent, even to family members.  The Spanish had to create positive laws in order to force them to carry out basic human duties.  The polar opposite is the West African, who is affectionate and gregarious but without a sense of dignity.

The races pass on their personality traits as surely as they do their physical features.  Just as we can undoubtedly breed animals that have a certain feature and amplify it, we can select for any mental trait we find desirable. 

It wasn’t until 18 years later in his book Inquiries into Human Faculties and Development that Galton would introduce the word eugenics into the English language.  He defined the word in a long footnote thus:

That is, with questions bearing on what is termed in Greek, eugenes, namely, good in stock, hereditarily endowed with noble qualities. This, and the allied words, eugeneia, etc., are equally applicable to men, brutes, and plants. We greatly want a brief word to express the science of improving stock, which is by no means confined to questions of judicious mating, but which, especially in the case of man, takes cognisance of all influences that tend in however remote a degree to give to the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had. The word would sufficiently express the idea; it is at least a neater word and a more generalised one than viriculture which I once ventured to use.

In the opening to Inquiry, Galton opined that European man shouldn’t seek to make the whole world into one ideal.  But writing in the July 1904 issue of The American Journal of Sociology, he tried to make clear through a metaphorical tale what qualities all humans would agree are valuable. 

Let the scene be the zoological gardens in the quiet hours of the night, and suppose that, as in old fables, the animals are able to converse, and that some very wise creature who had easy access to all the cages, say a philosophic sparrow or rat, was engaged in collecting the opinions of all sorts of animals with a view of elaborating a system of absolute morality. It is needless to enlarge on the contrariety of ideals between the beasts that prey and those they prey upon, between those of the animals that have to work hard for their food and the sedentary parasites that cling to their bodies and suck their blood, and so forth. A large number of suffrages in favor of maternal affection would be obtained, but most species of fish would repudiate it, while among the voices of birds would be heard the musical protest of the cuckoo. Though no agreement could be reached as to absolute morality, the essentials of eugenics may be easily defined. All creatures would agree that it was better to be healthy than sick, vigorous than weak, well-fitted than ill-fitted for their part in life; in short, that it was better to be good rather than bad specimens of their kind, whatever that kind might be. So with men. There are a vast number of conflicting ideals, of alternative characters, of incompatible civilizations; but they are wanted to give fullness and interest to life. Society would be very dull if every man resembled the highly estimable Marcus Aurelius or Adam Bede. The aim of eugenics is to represent each class or sect by its best specimens; that done, to leave them to work out their common civilization in their own way.

Everybody but “cranks” would agree that “health, energy, ability, manliness, and courteous disposition” are traits to be selected for. 

He made five suggestions to push humanity towards a eugenic future.

  1. Educate the public on the laws of heredity. 

  2. Scholars should undertake historical research into what classes of society have traditionally contributed more or less of their fair share to future generations.  See if the rise and fall of nations and civilizations can be traced to changes in the inherent quality of populations and which races become more prolific and which less so when acquiring a higher standard of living. 

  3. Researchers should look into under what conditions large families of good stock have flourished. 

  4. Discourage marriages that would be likely to result in inferior offspring.  Social pressures should overpower love in these situations.

  5. Make eugenics a national priority.  This should be done in three steps:

I. Establish eugenics as an academic area of study, until its necessity is accepted as fact.

II.  Make sure that the importance of the practical development of the field is recognized.

III. Introduce eugenics “into the national consciousness, like a new religion.”

Galton made clear that all steps were important.  Eugenics must be established in theory before it’s put into practice.  “Overzeal leading to hasty action would do harm, by holding out expectations of a near golden age, which will certainly be falsified and cause the science to be discredited.” 

George Bernard Shaw replied in the same journal that he agreed with Galton, and said that he would even take things a step further.  Humanity must be courageous enough to face the fact that nothing short of a “eugenic religion” will save us.  H. G.  Wells concurred and warned against the evils of race mixing.  

In the autobiographical Memories of My Life (1909), Galton penned a chapter entitled “Race Improvement.”  He acknowledges that at the time he wrote his 1865 article in Macmillan’s that the world wasn’t ready to hear the truth about heredity.  There were too many misconceptions about what a program of eugenics would entail.  The public must be made to know that compulsory unions would be unnecessary.  Forceable restrictions on breeding should only apply to those suffering from “lunacy, feeble-mindedness, habitual criminality, and pauperism.”  For the general population, what is needed is a cultural change.  The quality of potential offspring should become one concern of many when choosing a partner, alongside compatibility in religious doctrine and social rank.

Poster from the National Socialist period showing the consequences after 4 generations if feeble-minded people have 4 children each generation and normal people 2.

Galton also returns to the idea of eugenics as a religion:

I take Eugenics very seriously, feeling that its principles ought to become one of the dominant motives in a civilised nation, much as if they were one of its religious tenets.

In Genius, Galton was restricted to making his point from the history books.  By 1875 he was looking at twins.  In an article entitled “The History of Twins, as a Criterion of the Relative Powers of Nature and Nurture,” he explains that he had sent letters out to twins and relatives of twins to see how close the siblings ended up being in looks and personality.  He had expected to find that twins tended to differ by x amount and those pairs that varied from the mean did so in some kind of normal distribution.  Surprisingly, sometimes twins were so alike in looks and personality that close relatives often couldn’t tell them apart, while at other times they seemed to be no more alike than any pair of relatives! 

To the modern day reader, it’s obvious that Galton had discovered identical and fraternal twins.  His conclusion in the article was that inheritance mattered more than environment, because when twins turned out differently families weren’t able to point to any difference in nurture that caused it.  Twins either were inherently the same or not, and their life trajectories would reflect that.  Of course, we now know that twins are either born with 100% of the same DNA or an average of 50% and that that explains Galton’s findings.  

Mutual Admiration

Though related, Galton and Darwin didn’t begin corresponding regularly until well into their respective scientific careers.  Darwin read Galton’s 1853 Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa and initiated contact.  Galton would later read and be heavily influenced by The Origin of Species.  They wrote back and forth until Darwin’s death in 1882. 

On Origin, Galton wrote to his cousin, 

I have laid it down in the full enjoyment of a feeling that one rarely experiences after boyish days, of having been initiated into an entirely new province of knowledge, which, nevertheless, connects itself with other things in a thousand ways. 

Darwin was just as excited after reading Hereditary Genius: 

I have only read about 50 pages of your book, but I must exhale myself, else something will go wrong in my inside. I do not think I ever in all my life read anything more interesting and original — and how well and clearly you put every point! ...  You have made a convert of an opponent in one sense, for I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work. ... I look forward with intense interest to each reading, but it sets me thinking so much that I find it very hard work; but that is wholly the fault of my brain and not of your beautifully clear style.

The relationship would be strained when Galton disproved Darwin’s theory of pangenesis, which stated that heredity is due to blood containing little particles called gemmules that the body gathers in the reproductive organs before fertilization.  Galton tested the theory by transfusing blood between different breeds of rabbit.  If rabbit A’s blood was given to rabbit B, then according to the theory of pangenesis rabbit B’s offspring should show traits belonging to A’s breed.  That didn’t happen.  Apparently, Darwin took it hard.  According to correspondence available at Galton.org, Galton tried to assuage Darwin and may have been diverted by him from independently discovering Mendel’s law of heredity.

Darwin and Galton continued to write and the author of Origins came to share his cousin’s worldview.  According to biologist Alfred Russell Wallace, Darwin near the end of his life became very pessimistic about the future of humanity on the grounds that the lower classes were having the most children.  One would have to believe that the heads of Galton and Darwin would explode if they knew that a century and a half after their time, not only would the worst of the British stock still be breeding at will, but they would have been joined at the bottom in their own country by those from Africa and the Middle East. 

Racial Displacement

Galton took racial displacement as a given.  Part of eugenics to him was making sure it was done humanely and in a positive direction.  In 1874 Galton sent a letter to The Times that was published under the heading “Africa for the Chinese.”  In it, he recommended that the Chinese be encouraged to settle in East Africa and outbreed the natives.  The Chinaman was naturally intelligent and industrious but was held back by a culture that deemed innovation a crime. 

He took a moderate position for his time on Blacks.  On one hand, they were not as advanced as the egalitarians of the time suggested.  Some said that all of Africa’s woes could be tied to the slave trade, but Galton pointed out that those on the continent that were untouched by it did just as poorly.  The other extreme, which claimed that no Blacks were suited for high culture, was just as wrong.  Even at that time there had been some Negroes who did well as merchants and in other areas of life.  Still, overall the race was less fitted for civilization. 

The history of the world tells a tale of the continual displacement of populations, each by a worthier successor, and humanity gains thereby. We ourselves are no descendants of the aborigines of Britain, and our colonists were invaders of the regions they now occupy as their lawful home.

Why not Africa for the Anglo-Saxon?  Galton thought that they were only fit for temperate climates.  Why this is so is never stated.  The claim seems strange considering that Northern Europeans were already living in Africa and India at the time.  Nonetheless, the Chinese being able to make good use of the land while escaping the smothering homeland would be a net benefit for the world.  The other races who might displace Africans were seen as nothing to write home about.  The Hindu was written off as a grade below the Chinaman, and the Arab as a “destroyer rather than a creator.”

Galton makes the point again and again that we shouldn’t let sentiment get in the way of building a better world.  It seemed almost self-evident to him at the time that the civilized races would displace most of the rest of the world’s people.  The last few decades have seen the opposite. 

In 1910 Galton was 89 years old and in the last year of his life.  He granted an interview to The Jewish Chronicle.  In the preface to it, the paper gushed about the history of eugenics amongst the Jews:

It may be said that from the days of Moses Jews have been “eugenists,” apart from the hygienic laws enjoined in the Mosaic code, which affect the individual rather than the race.  The intense love of children, and the idealisation of home-life have contributed in a notable degree to the production of a race that has withstood greater trials and tribulations than have befallen any other race in history.

Asked whether the Mosaic code may have contributed to the advancement of the Jewish race, Galton replied that he believed it certainly had.  Not only that, but persecution had weeded out the unfit and built a stronger race. 

Unfortunately, in prizing IQ so highly, Galton seems to have not thought about the consequences of Jews as a high-IQ group with different interests from Europeans in areas such as the construction of culture, as well as a deep sense of historical grievance against them.  Indeed, too many Jews would spend the next century obscuring the truth about heredity and racial differences. In attempting to thwart White ethnonationalism, they ended up denying their own biohistory and much of what makes they themselves unique. 

While Galton was fond of his own Anglo-Saxon ethny, he didn’t have a sense that other races doing well was necessarily a bad thing, an assumption that other early eugenicists with a sense of racial identity had.  Kevin MacDonald in the preface to The Culture of Critique wrote that Charles Lindbergh hoped a strong Russia would be a bulwark against the Chinese.  He probably would’ve been horrified by a man of the West suggesting that the latter be encouraged to colonize parts of the world and gain power. 

To Galton, the English and other Europeans needn’t worry if other intelligent races prosper in their own sphere.  He was probably correct.  Westerners aren’t worse off due to a strong South Korea or Japan and we won’t suffer due to the rise of the Chinese in and of itself (Of course we could suffer if that growth is partly based on interest from American debt, which it is, or if Richard Lynn’s predictions come true and they end up using biotechnology to give themselves an average IQ of 200).  It was the zero-sum mentality that would make the British desperate to keep the Germans weak and lead to the disastrous and dysgenic two World Wars. 

In Genius, Galton wrote that part of the reason that the population of classical Athens was so accomplished was because of the migrants that the city’s intellectual life attracted.  European immigrants were fine as long as they were of good quality.  Since it wasn’t an issue at the time, it’s hard to be sure what Galton would say about a White nation admitting intelligent Indians or Chinese immigrants, although I’d suppose he’d think that the nature of non-Whites would prevent them from being assimilable and that that applies even to ones with high IQs. 

The World’s Loss

When Galton died in 1911 he would have had every right to be optimistic that his ideas would become implemented.  He had already made a case for the importance of nature and helped eugenics gain wide acceptance among Western elites.   Cross-adoption studies, psychometrics, craniology and neurobiology would eventually prove that he was spot on.  Unfortunately, while all this science was being done Western culture would take a horrible turn in the 20th century. 

It remains to be seen whether the world will ever awaken and accept the desirability of eugenics.  If not, Galton’s ideas falling out of favor among Western intellectuals may have to be considered the greatest disaster in the history of the world.  But if we eventually do realize what folly egalitarianism is, Sir Francis Galton will be recognized as the man who laid out the path to a better future, in addition to being a remarkable statistician and inventor.  

Sir Francis Galton's books along with many of his articles and letters can be read at Galton.org.

Richard Hoste writes on race, politics and other topics at HBD Books. 

Permanent URL: http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/authors/Hoste-GaltonII.html




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