Eugenics and Other Evils : An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State|
by G. K. Chesterton (Author), Michael W. Perry (Editor)
In the second decade of the twentieth century, an idea became all too
fashionable among those who feel it is their right to set social trends. Wealthy
families took it on as a pet cause, generously bankrolling its research. The New
York Times praised it as a wonderful "new science." Scientists, such as the
brilliant plant biologist, Luther Burbank, praised it unashamedly. Educators as
prominent as Charles Elliot, President of Harvard University, promoted it as a
solution to social ills. America's public schools did their part. In the 1920s,
almost three-fourths of high school social science textbooks taught its
principles. Not to be outdone, judges and physicians called for those principles
to be enshrined into law. Congress agree, passing the 1924 immigration law to
exclude from American shores the people of Eastern and Southern Europe that the
idea branded as inferior. In 1927, the U. S. Supreme Court joined the chorus,
ruling by a lopsided vote of 8 to 1 that the sterilization of unwilling men and
women was constitutional.
That idea was eugenics and in the English-speaking world it had virtually no
critics among the "chattering classes." When he wrote this book, Chesterton
stood virtually alone against the intellectual world of his day. Yet to his
eternal credit, he showed no sign of being intimidated by the prestige of his
foes. On the contrary, he thunders against eugenics, ranking it one of the great
evils of modern society. And, in perhaps one of the most chillingly accurate
prophecies of the century, he warns that the ideas that eugenics had unleashed
were likely to bear bitter fruit in another nation. That nation was Germany, the
"very land of scientific culture from which the ideal of a Superman had come."
In fact, the very group that Nazism tried to exterminate, Eastern European Jews,
and the group it targeted for later extermination, the Slavs, were two of those
whose biological unfitness eugenists sought so eagerly to confirm.
What are sometimes called the "excesses" of Nazism drove the open advocacy of
eugenics underground. But there's little evidence that the elements of society
who once trumpeted the idea have changed their mind. Dr. Alan Guttmacher
provides a good example. The fact that he had been Vice-President of the
American Eugenics Association was no hindrance to his assuming the Presidency of
Planned ParenthoodWorld Population in 1962. And his seedy past did not keep
Congress from providing millions of dollars in federal funds to Planned
Parenthood. Nor did it stop the Supreme Court from carrying out the central item
in Dr. Guttmacher's political agenda‹legalized abortion. Many of those who now
admit that eugenics was evil have trouble explaining why so few of its advocates
were every exposed and why so many are still honored.
As the title suggests, eugenics is not the only evil that Chesterton blasts.
Socialism gets some brilliantly worded broadsides and Chesterton, in complete
fairness, does not spare capitalism. He also attacks the scientifically
justified regimentation that others call the "health police." The same
rationalizations that justified eugenics, he notes, can also be used to deprive
a working man of his beer or any man of his pipe. Although it was first
published in 1922, there's a startling relevance to what Chesterton had to say
about mettlesome bureaucrats who deprive life of its little pleasures and
freedoms. His tale about an unfortunate man fired because "his old cherry-briar"
"might set the water-works on fire" is priceless.
That tale illustrates Chesterton's brilliant use of humor, a knack his foes were
quick to realize. In their review of his book, Birth Control News griped, "His
tendency is reactionary, and as he succeeds in making most people laugh, his
influence in the wrong direction is considerable. Eugenics Review was even
blunter. "The only interest in this book," they said, "is pathological. It is a
revelation of the ineptitude to which ignorance and blind prejudice may reduce
an intelligent man."
History has been far kinder to Chesterton than to his critics. It's now
generally agree that eugenics was born of evolution and the "ignorance and blind
prejudice" of social elites. But never forget that Chesterton was the first to
say so, condemning what many of his peers praised.
The completely new edition of Chesterton's classic includes almost fifty pages
from the writings of Chesterton's opponents. They illustrate just how accurate
his attacks on eugenists were. For researchers, it also includes a detailed,
Excerpted from Eugenics and Other Evils : An Argument Against the Scientifically
Organized State by G. K. Chesterton.
"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 policemen‹that 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 Herod‹so 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."
Paperback: 179 pages
Publisher: Inkling Books; 1st ed edition (December 2000)