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THE LEGACY OF SOCIAL DARWINISM
Judeo-Christian philosophy, as well as Platonic and Aristotelian virtue ethics, traditionally held that human nature consists of two dimensions, one material and the other immaterial, or more simply, the physical body and the metaphysical mind/soul. In other words, it classified a human being as not merely an animal but a very special kind of animal, one that in the Christian tradition is "created in the image and likeness of God," or in polytheistic cultures is molded by the gods. Such philosophies that focused upon our shared characteristics and qualities were the basis for the Enlightenment view that every human being, regardless of wealth or station, possesses an inherent dignity and certain "inalienable rights."
Then came Charles Darwin, who published On the Origin of Species in 1859, proposing that all species derive from a common ancestor through a process of natural selection in which the fit adapt to their environments and survive while the unfit perish. In this view, man was not divinely created but instead evolved from lower animal species. For some, human nature was seen as biological only—more advanced, to be sure, but not "higher." The implication, though not fully recognized in Darwin's day, was that humans possess no inherent dignity and no inalienable rights.
Darwinists regarded natural selection as having its own pace and progression and, therefore, needing no assistance from people, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. Social Darwinists, however, took a different view. This rather perverse adaptation of Darwin's views as applied to social existence held that unrestrained competition among social groups would lead to success for the more capable and imaginative while those less adept would and should fail. It was the natural order of things for the more intelligent, creative, and inventive individuals and groups to be rewarded financially and socially while those with less capability were destined to be laborers or survive by the charity of others.
Though these social Darwinists accepted in theory the idea that interfering with natural selection—for example, by helping the unfit through charity—was a mistake, in practice they were not content to wait, and so they sought ways to accelerate the process. Three distinct but overlapping forms of social Darwinism developed: Hereditarianism, Progressivism, and the Eugenics movement. All three forms had a powerful impact in the early twentieth century, but Hereditarianism was the most significant, not only in the scope and depth of its influence, but also in providing the rationale and the foundation for the other two.
The discipline of psychology began in the late 1800s. Its pioneers were influenced by the research of physical anthropologists who believed that intelligence is inherited rather than acquired. The most influential of these individuals were Francis Galton, who published Hereditary Genius in 1869; Paul Broca, who argued that the size and weight of the brain were a true measure of the degree of a person's intelligence; and Cesare Lombroso, who theorized that criminals are a throwback to savage apes and that certain physical characteristics, notably skull shape, are positively correlated with criminality.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, France, like the United States, was wrestling with the challenge of providing mass education. In 1904 the Education Ministry commissioned Alfred Binet to devise a way to identify slow learners. Binet had been a disciple of Paul Broca and earlier had embraced Broca's theory of the correlation between head size and intelligence. By 1904, however, Binet had come to question that theory. He took a different approach and created what has since come to be known as the IQ test. Binet warned that the test "[did] not permit the measure of the intelligence," and he worried that IQ scores could "give place to illusions" and cause teachers to give up on students with low scores. Moreover, he denounced the Hereditarian perspective that already was becoming influential in educational psychology. "Some recent thinkers," he wrote, "seem to ... [affirm] that an individual's intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we must try to demonstrate that it is founded upon nothing."
Despite Binet's warning, a group of psychologists in the United States saw in his test a way both to prove and to disseminate their Hereditarian beliefs. One of the leaders of this group, H. H. Goddard, believed that "the intellectual level for each individual is determined by the kind of chromosomes that come together ... [and] that it is but little affected by any later influences except such serious accidents as may destroy part of the mechanism." Goddard made no secret of his pessimistic view of the masses, writing: "There are great groups of men, laborers, who are but little above the child, who must be told what to do and shown how to do it; and who, if we would avoid disaster, must not be put into positions where they will have to act upon their own initiative or their own judgment.... There are only a few leaders, most must be followers." Goddard's view of government reflected the same pessimism: "Democracy means that the people rule by selecting the wisest, most intelligent and most human to tell them what to do [emphasis added] to be happy."
Lewis Terman shared Goddard's Hereditarian views and activist inclinations. He affirmed that "the children of successful and cultured parents test higher than children from wretched and ignorant homes for the simple reason that their heredity is better [emphasis added]." Speaking of children with low IQs, Terman wrote:
These boys are ineducable beyond the merest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens.... They represent the level of intelligence which is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes.... Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master abstractions [emphasis added], but they can often be made efficient workers, able to look out for themselves.
A third Hereditarian psychologist, Edward Thorndike, argued that "if the mental and moral changes made in one generation are not transmitted by heredity to the next generation, the improvement of the race by direct transfer of acquisitions is a foolish, ... futile aim." A year later, he offered these thoughts on the nature of human intelligence:
Nowhere more truly than in his mental capacities is man a part of nature. His instincts, that is, his inborn tendencies to feel and act in certain ways, show throughout marks of kinship with the lower animals, especially with our nearest relatives physically, the monkeys. His sense-powers show no new creation. His intellect we have seen to be a simple though extended variation from the general animal sort.
Yet another Hereditarian, Harvard professor Robert Yerkes, invited Goddard, Terman, Thorndike, and others to join him in testing the intelligence of 1.75 million army recruits during World War I. The findings of these tests were that the average mental age of white American adults was 13 years and that, among immigrants, the average Russian's mental age was 11.34 years; the average Italian's, 11.01; the average Pole's, 10.74; and the average mental age of "Negroes," 10.41. To appreciate how alarming these conclusions were to the average American, note that at the time of the test a "moron" was defined as an adult whose mental age was 12 or lower.
Although many were shocked by the "evidence" that the majority of nonwhites were mentally deficient, others were reinforced in their beliefs. After all, the institution of slavery was not long gone and many people still regarded blacks as inherently inferior. Also, contempt for immigrants had long been customary. In 1891, for example, Francis Walker of the US Census Bureau had issued this warning:
So broad and straight now is the channel by which this immigration is being conducted to our shores, that there is no reason why every stagnant pool of European population, representing the utterest failures of civilization, the worst defeats in the struggle for existence, the lowest degradation of human nature, should not be completely drained off into the United States."
Walker then proceeded to identify some of the people he had in mind: "Huns, and Poles, and Bohemians, and Russian Jews, and South Italians."
Many years would pass before the public learned how outrageously deficient the army testing process had been. Test explanations and procedures varied among test locations, some test takers were sitting too far back in the room to hear the directions, illiterate individuals were given test forms requiring reading, and recruits who could not speak English were given instructions only in English. As if these deficiencies were not enough, the test was culturally biased.
The interpretations and conclusions drawn by Yerkes and his associates were similarly wanting. Instead of acknowledging the obvious correlation between education and test scores, Yerkes concluded that "native intelligence is one of the most important conditioning factors in continuance in school." In addition, Yerkes professed amazement that so many black recruits had not attended school. (It was almost as if he had never heard of slavery and its aftermath, segregation.)
How could individuals who claimed to be engaged in scientific investigation have failed to see the obvious correlations between the army recruits' poor performance and their lack of education and/or the inadequacies of the test? Stephen Jay Gould believes the explanation is that they were determined to make the data fit their Hereditarian biases. Whatever the reason, the consequences of Hereditarianism have been, as we will see, disastrous and persistent.
Progressivism may be defined in part as the belief that the US Constitution must be reconsidered in light of developments that the founding fathers could not have anticipated; or more specifically, that powers of government, particularly at the national level, must be expanded in order to deal with such developments. The rationale for Progressivism was that, "whereas the founders had posited what they held to be a permanent understanding of just government, based upon a permanent account of human nature ... the ends and scope of government [are] to be defined anew in each historical epoch." In the justice system, Progressivism promoted judicial activism in which decisions are based on sources other than the Constitution, including the legal traditions of other countries and various theories from psychology, sociology, and anthropology.
There were several reasons that Progressivism took root in the early twentieth century, particularly during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. One was that industrialization and immigration had swelled the size of many cities and caused housing and sanitation problems. Another was growing concern about child labor and unsafe working conditions for adults. Others were World War I, the depressions of 1920 and 1929, and World War II. Challenges of such magnitude were understandably seen as requiring the enlargement of government. Many of the safeguards we take for granted today were won by Progressive government officials, notably the Pure Food and Drug Act, laws restricting child labor, the regulation of business to protect consumers, the provision of workman's compensation, and requirements for safe working conditions.
A less positive impetus for Progressivism, however, was the Hereditarian belief that the masses are intellectually deficient and require either beneficent guidance from those who are better off, control by their intellectual superiors, or both. The publicizing of Yerkes's army-test findings intensified this Hereditarian view and prompted influential people to demand changes in America's immigration laws in order to keep out intellectually deficient people. Congress responded with the Immigration Act of 1917, which established a literacy test for immigrants and set minimum mental, moral, physical, and economic standards.
A quota system was added in 1921 and was made more restrictive several years later. As a result, northern Europe was favored over Russia (the home of many Jews), southern Europe, and Asia. The restrictions on Jewish immigration no doubt also reflected the historic bias against Jews. Historians believe that these restrictions, along with traditional anti-Semitism, played an important role in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to refuse entry to the hundreds of Jewish exiles who fled Nazi Germany on the steamship MS St. Louis in 1939. Some historians argue that Roosevelt's decision reflected political reality rather than his personal viewpoint: a 1938 Elmer Roper poll revealed that 70 to 80 percent of Americans opposed lifting the restriction on Jewish immigration. Given the impact of Yerkes's army tests and the subsequent denigration of southern and central Europeans, such widespread antipathy toward Jews (among others) was not surprising.
THE EUGENICS MOVEMENT
This movement was also spawned by Hereditarianism, but its program was much more ambitious than that of Progressivism. Eugenicists reasoned that the hordes of people who were deficient in intelligence posed a real and present danger to the human gene pool and should be institutionalized, sterilized, or both. Henry Goddard, one of the contributors to the army intelligence tests, expressed that fear in The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness and in The Menace of Mental Deficiency from the Standpoint of Heredity. In the latter book, he wrote, "We need to hunt them out in every possible place and take care of them, and see to it that they do not propagate and make the problem worse, and that those who are alive today do not entail loss of life and property and moral contagion in the community by the things they do because they are weak-minded."
Many notable individuals supported the Eugenics movement. Among the delegates and/or officials of the First International Congress of Eugenics (1912) were Charles Darwin's son Leonard, Winston Churchill, and Lord Balfour. The Second Congress (1921) included Herbert Hoover as a member of the sponsoring committee and Alexander Graham Bell as the honorary president. The chairman of the New York Zoological Society at the time, Madison Grant, called for a "rigid system of selection" for the sterilization of "an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased and the insane and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives and perhaps ultimately to worthless racial types." Theodore Roosevelt, an admirer of Grant, said that America should have "good breeders as well as good fighters." Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was an ardent proponent of eugenics and a critic of charitable institutions because, in her view, they enabled "defective" individuals to continue "breeding." Others who spoke favorably of eugenics included Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw (who proposed the use of gas chambers as early as 1910), and Woodrow Wilson. Respected families such as the Harrimans, Carnegies, and Rockefellers provided financial support for the Race Betterment Society and the Eugenics Records Office.
In the 1920s, even the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization of the US House of Representatives had a eugenics agent, H. H. Laughlin, who created the Model Eugenical Sterilization Law. Among those to be forcibly sterilized were the "feeble minded, insane, criminalistic (including the 'delinquent and wayward'), blind ('including those with seriously impaired vision'), deformed ('including the crippled') and dependent, including 'orphans,' 'ne'er do wells,' 'the homeless,' 'tramps' and 'paupers.'"
Eventually, a majority of the states adopted these laws. In Virginia, however, Carrie Buck challenged the order for her sterilization. In time, her case (Buck v. Bell) reached the US Supreme Court, where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that she should be sterilized, commenting: "It is better for all the world if ... society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.... Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
In the United States alone, the Eugenics movement was responsible for the "mercy killing" of defective infants, as well as 150,000 forced confinements and 66,000 forced sterilizations. As if that were not enough, the movement is well documented to have provided the model for the Nazi Holocaust that claimed the lives of six million Jews and three million other "undesirables." That tragic event removed any credibility the Eugenics movement had enjoyed. Although some of its programs continued to exist in the United States until the early years of the twenty-first century, and there are undoubtedly individuals who still cling to its premises, few dare express their support in public.
In contrast with the fading of the Eugenics movement, Progressivism has enjoyed a resurgence and is today more influential than it was a century ago. But the reasons for that resurgence are linked to the rise of Humanistic Psychology, which we will discuss in the next chapter. Before turning to that topic, however, it will be helpful to examine the impact of Hereditarianism on society.
Excerpted from CORRUPTED CULTURE by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. Copyright © 2013 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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1. The Legacy of Social Darwinism.................... 15
2. Enter Humanistic Psychology.................... 33
3. Meanings and Consequences.................... 65
4. The Fallacies Exposed.................... 95
5. More Vexing Questions.................... 127
6. A Wiser Perspective.................... 149
7. Human Nature Revisited.................... 161
8. Reorienting Ourselves.................... 179
9. Reforming the Culture.................... 209
Posted November 3, 2013