At the peak of its power during the 1920s, eugenists advocated forced sterilization and called for strict laws about who would be permitted to marry. Thought to be scientific and quite popular among progressives, eugenics had few critics among writers and scientists. The most vocal of them was the British journalist, G. K. Chesterton in this 1922 book, now back in print with additional appendices containing articles by his eugenic opponents. A must-read book for understanding ...
At the peak of its power during the 1920s, eugenists advocated forced sterilization and called for strict laws about who would be permitted to marry. Thought to be scientific and quite popular among progressives, eugenics had few critics among writers and scientists. The most vocal of them was the British journalist, G. K. Chesterton in this 1922 book, now back in print with additional appendices containing articles by his eugenic opponents. A must-read book for understanding the eugenic debate.
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"There exists to-day a scheme of action, a school thought, as collective and unmistakable as any of those by whose grouping alone we can make any outline of history. . . . I know that it numbers many disciples whose intentions are entirely innocent and humane; and who would be sincerely astonished at my describing it as I do. But that is only because evil always wins through the strength of its splendid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal innocence and abnormal sin. . . . But Eugenics itself does exist for those who have sense enough to see that ideas exist; and Eugenics itself, in large quantities or small, coming quickly or coming slowly, urged from good motives or bad, applied to a thousand people or applied to three, Eugenics itself is a thing no more to be bargained about than poisoning."
Institutionalizing the Unfit
"I will call it the Feeble-Minded Bill, both for brevity and because the description is strictly accurate. It is, quite simply and literally, a Bill for incarcerating as madmen those whom no doctor will consent to call mad. It is enough if some doctor or other may happen to call them weak-minded."
"Indeed one Eugenist, Mr. A. H. Huth, actually had a sense of humour, and admitted this. He thinks a great deal of good could be done with a surgical knife, if we would only turn him loose with one. And this may be true. A great deal of good could be done with a loaded revolver, in the hands of a judicious student of human nature."
The Tyranny of Science
"The thing that really is trying to tyrannise through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemenÑthat creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics."
"There is no reason in Eugenics, but there is plenty of motive. Its supporters are highly vague about its theory, but they will be painfully practical about its practice. And while I reiterate that many of its more eloquent agents are probably quite innocent instruments, there are some, even among Eugenists, who by this time know what they are doing."
The Poor Man and his Child
"There is one human thing left it is much harder to take from him. Debased by him and his betters, it is still something brought out of Eden, where God made him a demigod: it does not depend on money and but little on time. He can create in his own image. The terrible truth is in the heart of a hundred legends and mysteries. As Jupiter could be hidden from all-devouring Time, as the Christ Child could be hidden from HerodÑso the child unborn is still hidden from the omniscient oppressor. He who lives not yet, he and he alone is left; and they seek his life to take it away."
The Rich Begin To Fear the Poor
"So at least it seemed, doubtless in a great degree subconsciously, to the man who had wagered all his wealth on the usefulness of the poor to the rich and the dependence of the rich on the poor. The time came at last when the rather reckless breeding in the abyss below ceased to be a supply, and began to be something like a wastage; ceased to be something like keeping foxhounds, and began alarmingly to resemble a necessity of shooting foxes."
"That is the problem, and that is why there is now no protection against Eugenic or any other experiments. If the men who took away beer as an unlawful pleasure had paused for a moment to define the lawful pleasures, there might be a different situation. If the men who had denied one liberty had taken the opportunity to affirm other liberties, there might be some defence for them. But it never occurs to them to admit any liberties at all. It never so much as crosses their minds. Hence the excuse for the last oppression will always serve as well for the next oppression; and to that tyranny there can be no end."
"In short, people decided that it was impossible to achieve any of the good of Socialism, but they comforted themselves by achieving all the bad. All that official discipline, about which the Socialists themselves were in doubt or at least on the defensive, was taken over bodily by the Capitalists. They have now added all the bureaucratic tyrannies of a Socialist state to the old plutocratic tyrannies of a Capitalist State."
The Working Classes
"The working classes have no reserves of property with which to defend their relics of religion. They have no religion with which to sanctify and dignify their property. Above all, they are under the enormous disadvantage of being right without knowing it. They hold their sound principles as if they were sullen prejudices. They almost secrete their small property as if it were stolen property. Often a poor woman will tell a magistrate that she sticks to her husband, with the defiant and desperate air of a wanton resolved to run away from her husband. Often she will cry as hopelessly, and as it were helplessly, when deprived of her child as if she were a child deprived of her doll."
To the Reader
1. What Is Eugenics?
2. The First Obstacles
3. The Anarchy from Above
4. The Lunatic and the Law
5. The Flying Authority
6. The Unanswered Challenge
7. The Established Church of Doubt
8. A Summary of a False Theory
9. The Impotence of Impenitence
10. The History of a Tramp
11. The History of a Eugenist
12. The Vengeance of the Flesh
13. The Meanness of the Motive
14. The Eclipse of Liberty
15. The Transformation of Socialism
16. The End of Household Goods
17. A Short Chapter
A. "Hereditary Talent and Character" by Francis Galton
B. "Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims" by Francis Galton
C. The Progress of Eugenics by C. W. Saleeby
D. "Two Decades of Eugenics" by C. W. Saleeby
E. Eugenics Review
F. Eugenics Review and the Mental Deficiency Act
G. Birth Control News and Forced Sterilization
H. Birth Control News and the 'Unfit'
I. Birth Control News and Eugenics