Julian Huxley: Population Control, Eugenics, and Birth Control all part of the same Program

Contemporary advocates for birth control exhibit no awareness whatsoever that birth control was always conceived in the context of ‘eliminating the unfit,’ ie., eugenics.  Eugenics, in turn, was considered a straight-forward logical extension of Darwinism.  Eugenics was seen as human control of human evolution, and was always tied into discussions on ‘population control.’  These are the facts, of which moderns are ignorant.  This excerpt from Julian Huxley’s 1962 “Galton Lecture” delivered to the American Eugenics Society, as found in the 1992 collection of Huxley’s essays titled Evolutionary Humanism.  As found in this book, the title of the address is “Eugenics in Evolutionary Perspective.” Italics in original, bold added. From pages 265-269:

[“Organisms are not significant–in plain words, are meaningless–except in relation to their environment. … Man, however, is in a unique situation.  He must live not only in relation with” his ‘nature’ but also his ‘nurture,’ which “he has himself created.”]

Man’s psychosocial environment includes his beliefs and purposes, his ideals and aims: these are concerned with what we may call the habitat of the future, and help to determine the direction of his further evolution.  All evolution is directional and therefore relative.  But whereas the direction of biological evolution is related to the improvement of the entire psychosocial process, including the human organism, in relation to man’s purposes and beliefs, long-term as well as short-term.  Only in so far as those purposes and beliefs are grounded on scientific and tested knowledge, will they serve to steer human evolution in a desirable direction.  In brief, biological evolution is given direction by the blind and automatic agency of natural selection operating through material mechanisms, human evolution by the agency of psychosocial guidance operating with the aid of mental awareness, notably the mechanisms of reason and imagination.

To be effective, such awareness must clearly be concerned with man’s environmental situation as well as his genetic equipment.  Twenty-five years ago, in my first Galton Lecture, I pointed out the desirability of eugenicists relating their policies to the social environment.  Today I would go further, and stress the need for planning the environment in such a way as will promote our eugenic aims.  By 1936, it was already clear that the net effect of present-day social policies could not be eugenic, and was in all probability dysgenic. But, as Muller has demonstrated, this was not always so.  In that long period of human history during which our evolving and expanding hominid ancestors lived in small and tightly knit groups competing for territorial and technological success, the social organization, promoted selection for intelligent exploration of possibilities, devotion and cooperative altruism: the cultural and the genetic systems reinforced each other.  It was only much later, with the growth of bigger social units of highly organized civilizations based on status and class differentials, that the two became antagonistic; the sign of genetic transformation changed from positive to negative and definite improvement and advance began to halt, giving way to the possibility and later the probability of genetic regression and degeneration.

This probability has been very much heightened during the last century, partly by the differential multiplication of economically less favoured classes and groups in many parts of the world, partly by the progress of medicine and public health, which has permitted numbers of genetically defective human beings to survive and reproduce; and today it has been converted into a certainty by the series of atomic and nuclear explosions which have been set off since the end of the last war.  There is still dispute as to the degree of damage this has done to man’s genetic equipment. There can be no dispute as to the fact of damage: any addition to man’s load of mutations can only be deleterious, even if a few of them may possibly come to be utilized in neutral or even favourable new gene-combinations. 

 Now that we have realized these portentous facts, it is up to us to reverse the process and to plan a society which will favour the increase instead of the decrease of man’s desirable genetic capacities for intelligence and imagination, empathy and co-operation, and a sense of discipline and duty.

The first step must be to frame and put into operation a policy designed to reduce the rate of human increase before the quantitative claims of mere numbers override those of quality and prevent any real improvement, social and economic as much as eugenic.  I would prophesy that within a quite short time, historically speaking, we shall find ourselves aiming at an absolute reduction of the population in the world in general, and in overcrowded countries like Britain, India and China, Japan, Java and Jamaica in particular; the quantitative control of population is a necessary prerequisite for qualitative improvement, whether psychosocial or genetic.

Science seems to be nearing a breakthrough to cheap and simple methods of birth-control, or reproduction-control as it should more properly be called.  The immediate needs are for much-increased finance for research, testing, pilot projects, motivation studies and the education of public opinion, and an organized campaign against the irrational attitudes and illiberal policies of various religious and political organizations.  Simultaneously responsible opinion must begin to think out ways in which social and economic measures can be made to promote desirable genetic trends and reproductive habits.

Many countries have instituted family allowance systems which are not graded according to number of children, and some, like France, even provide financial inducements which encourage undesirably large families.  It should be easy to devise graded family allowance systems in which the allowances for the first two or three children would be really generous, but those for further children would rapidly taper off.  In India, there have even been proposals to tax parents for children above a certain number, and in some provinces, men fulfilling certain conditions are paid to be vasectomized.

A powerful weapon for adequate population-control is ready to the hand of the great grant-giving and aid-providing agencies of the modern world–international agencies such as the U.N. and its Technical Assistance Board representing its various Specialized Agencies like F.A.O. and Unesco, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation Administration; national agencies like the Colombo Plan and the Inter-American Development Fund; and the great private Foundations (wittily categorized as philanthropoid by that remarkable man, Frederick Keppel) like Rockefeller and Ford, Gulbenkian, Nuffield and Carnegie.

At the moment, much of the financial and technical aid provided by these admirable bodies is being wasted by being flushed down the drain of excess population instead of into the channels of positive economic and cultural development, or is even defeating its own ends by promoting excessive and over-rapid population increase.  Bankers do not make loans unless they are satisfied of the borrower’s credit-worthiness.  Surely these powerful agencies, public or private, should not provide loans or grants or other aid unless they are satisfied of the recipient nation’s demographic credit-worthiness.

At last I reach my specific subject–eugenics, with its two aspects, negative and positive.  Negative eugenics aims at preventing the spread and especially the increase of defective or human genes or gene-combinations, positive eugenics at securing the reproduction and especially the increase of favourable or desirable ones.*

Negative eugenics has become increasingly urgent with the increase of mutations due to atomic fallout, and with the increased survival of genetically defective human beings, brought about by advances in medicine, public health, and social welfare.  But it must, of course, attempt to reduce the incidence, or the manifestation, of every kind of genetic defect.  Such defects include high genetic proneness to diseases such as diabetes, schizophrenia (which affects 1 per cent. of the entire human population), other insanities, myopia, mental defect and very low I.Q., as well as more clear-cut defects like colour-blindness or haemophilia.


In addition, the marked differential increase of lower-income groups, classes and communities during the last hundred years cannot possibly be eugenic in its effects.  The extremely high fertility of the so-called social problem group in the slums of industrial cities is certainly anti-eugenic.

As Muller and others have emphasized, unless these trends can be checked or reversed, the human species is threatened with genetic deterioration, and unless this load of defects is reduced, positive eugenics cannot be successfully implemented.  For this we must reduce the reproduction rate of genetically defective individuals: that is negative eugenics.

The implementation of negative eugenics can only be successful if family planning and eugenic aims are incorporated into medicine in general and into public health and other social services in particular.  Its implementation in practice will depend on the use of methods of contraception or sterilization, combined where possible with A.I.D. (artificial insemination by donor) or other methods of vicarious parenthood. In any case, negative eugenics is of minor evolutionary importance and the need for it will gradually be superseded by efficient measures of positive eugenics.

In case of specific genetic defect, voluntary sterilization is the best answer.** In defective married male, it should be coupled with artificial parenthood (A.P.) by donor insemination (A.I.D.) as the source of children.  In the defective female, the fulfilments of child-rearing and family life will have to be secured by adoption until such time–which may not be very distant–as improved technique makes possible artificial parenthood by transfer of fertilized ova, which we may call A.I.D. In both cases, it must be remembered that sterilization does not prevent normal healthy and happy sexual intercourse.

Certified patients are now prevented from reproducing themselves by being confined in mental hospitals.  If sterilized, they might be allowed to marry if this were considered likely to ameliorate their condition.

In the case of the so-called social problem group, somewhat different methods will be needed. By social problem group I mean the people, all too familiar to social workers in large cities, who seem to have ceased to care, and just carry on the business of bare existence int he midst of extreme poverty and squalor.  All too frequently they have to be supported out of public funds, and become a burden to the community.  Unfortunately they are not deterred by the conditions of existence from carrying on with the business of reproduction: and their mean family size is very high, much higher than the average for the whole country.

Intelligence and other tests have revealed that they have a very low average I.Q.; and the indications are that they are genetically subnormal in many other qualities, such as initiative, pertinacity, general exploratory urge and interest, energy, emotional intensity, and will-power.  In the main, their misery and improvidence is not their fault but their misfortune: our social system provides the soil on which they can grow and multiply, but with no prospects save poverty and squalor.

Here again, voluntary sterilization could be useful.  But our best hope, I think, must lie in the perfection of new, simple and acceptable methods of birth-control, whether by an oral contraceptive or perhaps preferably by immunological methods involving injections.  Compulsory or semi-compulsory vaccination, inoculation and isolation are used in respect of many public health risks:  I see no reason why similar measures should not be used in respect of this grave problem, grave both for society and for the unfortunate people whose increase has been actually encouraged by our system.

* In the past, these aims have been generally expressed in terms of defective or desirable stocks or strains.  With the progress of genetics, it is better to reformulate them in terms of genes and gene-combinations.

** It will be even more satisfactory if, as now appears likely, reversible male sterilization (vasectomy) becomes practicable.

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