One of the pervasive problems surrounding eugenics is that many people believe eugenics programs have completely disappeared. If there are similarities today to past eugenics goals and aims, it is purely coincidental, and certainly people who make similar proposals do not have the same eugenic reasons for their proposals–or, so the sentiment goes. Part of this is because most people are unfamiliar with just what eugenicists really, fully believed. The other part is that eugenicists themselves saw, shortly after the fall-out of World War Two became evident, the need to re-shape and re-package their eugenics programs. Certainly, avoiding the use of the word is an obvious first step! This is not conspiracy-mongering. In the quotes below, you will hear in their own words precisely this.
In 1957, C.P. Blacker was the Honorary Secretary of the Eugenics Society. He distributed a memo entitled “The Eugenics Society’s Future.” According to a record of events that followed:
Dr. Blacker went on to discuss three possible policies for the future:
(a) that the Society should pursue ends by less obvious means, that is by a policy of crypto-eugenics, which was apparently proving successful with the US Eugenics Society;
(b) that the Society should concentrate on the eugenic aspects of current problems and should campaign for the control of immigration, and for a reduction in the total population of Great Britain;
(c) that the Society should change its constitution and adapt itself to a diminishing membership and the possession of substantial resources by becoming a Trust, Council or Foundation, which would be able to do most of what the Society was already doing but more effectively.
The result of this was an agreement to alter the Society along the following lines:
The Society’s activities in crypto-eugenics should be pursued vigorously, and specifically that the Society should increase its monetary support of the FPA [Family Planning Association, the English branch of Planned Parenthood] and the IPPF [International Planned Parenthood Federation] and should make contact with the Society for the Study of Human Biology, which already has a strong and active membership, to find out if any relevant projects are contemplated with which the Eugenics Society could assist.
In his 1968 book The Future of Human Heredity:An Introduction to Eugenics in Modern Society, eugenicist Frederick Osborn said on page 104 that
“Measures for improving the hereditary base of intelligence and character can be made effective on a voluntary basis without arousing in the individual any conscious concern for eugenics results. It is well that this is so. Eugenic goals are most likely to be attained under a name other than eugenics.”
For Osborn, future eugenics would be implemented by individuals themselves, upon themselves, not knowing that they were furthering a eugenic agenda, and moreover, thinking it was their own idea.
In March 1973, two months after Roe was handed down, Osborn’s American Eugenics Society changed its name to the “Society for the Study of Social Biology.” The announcement said: “The change of name of the Society does not coincide with any change of its interests or policies.”
Osborn explained the reason: “The name was changed because it became evident that changes of a eugenic nature would be made for reasons other than eugenics, and that tying a eugenic label on them would more often hinder than help their adoption. Birth control and abortion are turning out to be great eugenic advances of our time. If they had been advanced for eugenic reasons it would have retarded or stopped their acceptance.” [Source]
In 1956, he delivered the annual “Galton” speech for the Eugenics Society. Galton was the man who coined the word ‘eugenics.’ Here are the closing words:
Galton and Mid-Century Eugenics
It is eighty-six years since Galton published his Hereditary Genius, eighty-six years since he gave us the hope that the average of human intelligence and character could be raised to the level of the upper five or ten per cent to-day; since he envisaged the eugenic movement as something that would sweep the world and make man at last the master of his own destiny on earth. It has not happened. The eugenic movement is nothing but a few small handfuls of men in various countries; here in England, in the United States, in India, in France. They are not influencing public opinion. The very word eugenics is in disrepute in some quarters. Yet I still believe in Galton’s dream. Probably most of you do. We must ask ourselves, what have we done wrong?
I think we have failed to take into account a trait which is almost universal and is very deep in human nature. People simply are not willing to accept the idea that the genetic base on which their character is formed is inferior and should not be repeated in the next generation. We have asked whole groups of people to accept this idea and we have asked individuals to accept it. They have constantly refused, and we have all but killed the eugenic movement.
People will accept the idea of a specific hereditary defect. They will go to a heredity clinic and ask what is the risk of our having a defective child. They balance that risk against the chance of their having a sound child, and they usually come up with a pretty sound decision. But they won’t accept the idea that they are in general second rate. We must rely on other motivation.
Given the right circumstances, people will have children in proportion to their ability to care for them. If they feel financially secure, if they enjoy accepting responsibility, if they have warm affectional responses, if they are physically strong and competent, they are likely to have large families, provided they have a reasonable psychological conditioning to this end. If they are unable to feed the children they have, if they are afraid of responsibility, if their affectional responses are weak, people don’t want many children. If they have effective means of family planning, they won’t have many. Our studies have shown this to be true all over the world. On such a base it is surely possible to build a system of voluntary unconscious selection. But the reasons advanced must be generally acceptable reasons. Let’s stop telling anyone that they have a generally inferior genetic quality, for they will never agree. Let’s base our proposals on the desirability of having children born in homes where they will get affectionate and responsible care, and perhaps our proposals will be accepted.
It seems to me that if it is to progress as it should, eugenics must follow new policies and state its case anew, and that from this rebirth we may, even in our own lifetime, see it moving at last towards the high goals which Galton set for it.
Sheldon C. Reed
More about Sheldon Reed. In an essay titled “The Local Eugenics Society” published in “The American Journal of Human Genetics” (Vol 9, No. 1, March 1957) he wrote:
… there is no important distinction between research in “pure” genetics and the research in “applied” genetics such as eugenics. Our present day use of the term “human genetics” instead of “eugenics” may be financially and politically expedient but there is no great philosophical difference between them.