Over the course of human history, the sciences, and biology in particular, have often been manipulated to cause immense human suffering. For example, biology has been used to justify eugenic programs, forced sterilization, human experimentation, and death camps—all in an attempt to support notions of racial superiority. By investigating the past, the contributors to Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins hope to better prepare us to discern ideological abuse of science when it occurs in the future.
Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers bring together fourteen experts to examine the varied ways science has been used and abused for nonscientific purposes from the fifteenth century to the present day. Featuring an essay on eugenics from Edward J. Larson and an examination of the progress of evolution by Michael J. Ruse, Biology and Ideology examines uses both benign and sinister, ultimately reminding us that ideological extrapolation continues today. An accessible survey, this collection will enlighten historians of science, their students, practicing scientists, and anyone interested in the relationship between science and culture.
Most closely associated with the Nazis and World War II atrocities, eugenics is sometimes described as a government-orchestrated breeding program, other times as a pseudo-science, and often as the first step leading to genocide. Less frequently it is recognized as a movement having links to theUnited States. But eugenics does have a history in this country, and Mark A. Largent tells that story by exploring one of its most disturbing aspects, the compulsory sterilization of more than 64,000 Americans.
The book begins in the mid-nineteenth century, when American medical doctors began advocating the sterilization of citizens they deemed degenerate. By the turn of the twentieth century, physicians, biologists, and social scientists championed the cause, and lawmakers in two-thirds of the United States enacted laws that required the sterilization of various criminals, mental health patients, epileptics, and syphilitics. The movement lasted well into the latter half of the century, and Largent shows how even today the sentiments that motivated coerced sterilization persist as certain public figures advocate compulsory birth control—such as progesterone shots for male criminals or female welfare recipients—based on the same assumptions and motivations that had brought about thousands of coerced sterilizations decades ago.
Scientific breakthroughs have led us to a point where soon we will be able to make specific choices about the genetic makeup of our offspring. In fact, this reality has arrived—and it is only a matter of time before the technology becomes widespread.
Much like past arguments about stem-cell research, the coming debate over these reproductive genetic technologies (RGTs) will be both political and, for many people, religious. In order to understand how the debate will play out in the United States, John H. Evans conducted the first in-depth study of the claims made about RGTs by religious people from across the political spectrum, and Contested Reproduction is the stimulating result.
Some of the opinions Evans documents are familiar, but others—such as the idea that certain genetic conditions produce a “meaningful suffering” that is, ultimately, desirable—provide a fascinating glimpse of religious reactions to cutting-edge science. Not surprisingly, Evans discovers that for many people opinion on the issue closely relates to their feelings about abortion, but he also finds a shared moral language that offers a way around the unproductive polarization of the abortion debate and other culture-war concerns. Admirably evenhanded, Contested Reproduction is a prescient, profound look into the future of a hot-button issue.
Dana Seitler’s introduction provides historical context, revealing The Crux as an allegory for social and political anxieties—including the rampant insecurities over contagion and disease—in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Seitler highlights the importance of The Crux to understandings of Gilman’s body of work specifically and early feminism more generally. She shows how the novel complicates critical history by illustrating the biological argument undergirding Gilman’s feminism. Indeed, The Crux demonstrates how popular conceptions of eugenic science were attractive to feminist authors and intellectuals because they suggested that ideologies of national progress and U.S. expansionism depended as much on women and motherhood as on masculine contest.
When the Nazis assumed power in Germany in 1933, they wasted no time in implementing their radical policies, first by securing passage of the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases. Among those designated by this law as “congenitally disabled” were deaf people. Horst Biesold’s newly translated book examines this neglected aspect of Nazi “racial hygiene” through interviews with more than 1,000 deaf survivors of this brutal law that authorized forced sterilizations, abortions, and eventually murder.
Crying Hands meticulously delineates the antecedents of Nazi eugenics, beginning with Social Darwinism (postulated in the mid-nineteenth century) and tracing the various sterilization laws later initiated throughout the world, including many passed and practiced in the United States. This exceptional scholarship is movingly paralleled by the human faces fixed to the numbing statistics, as in story after story those affected recount their irretrievable loss, pain, and misplaced shame imposed upon them by the Nazi regime. Through their stories, told to Biesold in German Sign Language, they have given voice to the countless others who died from the specious science practiced by the Third Reich. And now their own trials have finally been acknowledged.
Inspired by the conference “Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933–1945,” hosted jointly by Gallaudet University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1998, this extraordinary collection, organized into three parts, integrates key presentations and important postconference research.
Henry Friedlander begins “Part I: Racial Hygiene” by analyzing the assault on deaf people and people with disabilities as an integral element in the Nazi attempt to implement their theories of racial hygiene. Robert Proctor documents the role of medical professionals in deciding who should be sterilized or forbidden to marry, and whom the Nazi authorities would murder. In an essay written especially for this volume, Patricia Heberer details how Nazi manipulation of eugenics theory and practice facilitated the justification for the murder of those considered socially undesirable.
“Part II: The German Experience” commences with Jochen Muhs’s interviews of deaf Berliners who lived under Nazi rule, both those who suffered abuse and those who, as members of the Nazi Party, persecuted others, especially deaf Jews. John S. Schuchman describes the remarkable 1932 film Misjudged People, which so successfully portrayed the German deaf community as a vibrant contributor to society that the Nazis banned its showing when they came to power. Horst Biesold’s contribution confirms the complicity of teachers who denounced their own students, labeling them hereditarily deaf and thus exposing them to compulsory sterilization. The section also includes the reprint of a chilling 1934 article entitled “The Place of the School for the Deaf in the New Reich,” in which author Kurt Lietz rued the expense of educating deaf students, who could not become soldiers or bear “healthy children.”
In “Part III: The Jewish Deaf Experience,” John S. Schuchman discusses the plight of deaf Jews in Hungary. His historical analysis is complemented by a chapter containing excerpts from the testimony of six deaf Jewish survivors who describe their personal ordeals. Peter Black’s reflections on the need for more research conclude this vital study of a little-known chapter of the Holocaust.
A little-known fact about the prominent US psychologist and educator Carl E. Seashore (1866–1949) is that he was deeply involved in the American eugenics movement. He was among the US academics to support eugenics long before German Nazis embraced it. A titan in a host of disciplines and a proponent of radical education reform, Seashore used his positional power to promote a constellation of education reforms consistent with central precepts of eugenics. Many of these reforms, including tracking, gifted and talented programs, and high-stakes standardized testing, were adopted and remain standard practice in the United States today. He promulgated the idea that musical talent is biologically inheritable, and he developed the first standardized tests of musical talent; these tests were used by early-twentieth-century researchers in their attempts to determine whether there are race differences in musical talent. Seashore’s ideas and work profoundly shaped music education’s research trajectory, as well as enduring “commonsense” beliefs about musical ability. An intersectional analysis, “Destined to Fail” focuses on the relationship between eugenics and Seashore’s views on ability, race, and gender. Koza concludes that Seashore promoted eugenics and its companion, euthenics, because he was a true believer. She also discusses the longstanding silences surrounding Seashore’s participation in eugenics. As a diagnosis and critique of the present, “Destined to Fail” identifies resemblances and connections between past and present that illustrate the continuing influence of eugenics—and the systems of reasoning that made early-twentieth-century eugenics imaginable and seem reasonable—on education discourse and practice today. It maps out discursive, citational, and funding connections between eugenicists of the early twentieth-century and contemporary White supremacists; this mapping leads to some of Donald Trump’s supporters and appointees.
Eugenics movements gained momentum throughout Eastern Europe between World Wars I and II. Maria Bucur demonstrates that the importance of the eugenics movement in Romania rests not so much in the contributions made to the study of science as in the realm of nationalist ideology and social policy making.
The notion that the quality and quantity of the human species could and should be controlled manifested itself through social engineering projects ranging from reshaping gender roles and isolating ethnic undesirables to introducing broad public health measures and educational reform. Romanian eugenicists sought to control such modernization processes as urbanization and industrialization without curbing them, yet they also embraced attitudes more typically identified with anti-modernists in Romanian politics and culture.
Bucur is the first historian to explore the role of eugenics as a response to the challenges of nation- and state-building in Eastern Europe. She presents a balanced assessment of the interwar eugenics movement’s success and failures and identifies connections and discontinuities between the movement and the post-war communist regime.
In 1997 Eugenics and the Welfare State caused an uproar with international repercussions. This edition contains a new introduction by Broberg and Roll-Hansen, addressing events that occurred following the original publication. The four essays in this book stand as a chilling indictment of mass sterilization practices, not only in Scandinavia but in other European countries and the United States--eugenics practices that remained largely hidden from the public view until recently. Eugenics and the Welfare State also provides an in-depth, critical examination of the history, politics, science, and economics that led to mass sterilization programs in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland; programs put in place for the "betterment of society" and based largely on the "junk science" of eugenics that was popular before the rise of Nazism in Germany. When the results of Broberg's and Roll-Hansen's book were widely publicized in August 1997, the London Observer reported, "Yesterday Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish Minister for Social Policy, issued a belated reaction to the revelations. She said: 'What went on is barbaric and a national disgrace.' She pledged to create a law ensuring that involuntary sterilisation would never again be used in Sweden, and promised compensation to victims." Ultimately, the Swedish government not only apologized to the many thousands who had been sterilized without their knowledge or against their will, but also put in place a program for the payment of reparations to these unfortunate victims.
Winner, Robert Motherwell Book Award, Outstanding Book on Modernism in the Arts, The Dedalus Foundation, 2019
As Latin American elites strove to modernize their cities at the turn of the twentieth century, they eagerly adopted the eugenic theory that improvements to the physical environment would lead to improvements in the human race. Based on Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theory of the “inheritance of acquired characteristics,” this strain of eugenics empowered a utopian project that made race, gender, class, and the built environment the critical instruments of modernity and progress.
Through a transnational and interdisciplinary lens, Eugenics in the Garden reveals how eugenics, fueled by a fear of social degeneration in France, spread from the realms of medical science to architecture and urban planning, becoming a critical instrument in the crafting of modernity in the new Latin world. Journeying back and forth between France, Brazil, and Argentina, Fabiola López-Durán uncovers the complicity of physicians and architects on both sides of the Atlantic, who participated in a global strategy of social engineering, legitimized by the authority of science. In doing so, she reveals the ideological trajectory of one of the most celebrated architects of the twentieth century, Le Corbusier, who deployed architecture in what he saw as the perfecting and whitening of man. The first in-depth interrogation of eugenics’ influence on the construction of the modern built environment, Eugenics in the Garden convincingly demonstrates that race was the main tool in the geopolitics of space, and that racism was, and remains, an ideology of progress.
In paperback for the first time, From Racism to Genocide is an explosive, richly detailed account of how Nazi anthropologists justified racism, developed practical applications of racist theory, and eventually participated in every phase of the Holocaust.
Using original sources and previously unpublished documentation, Gretchen E. Schafft shows the total range of anti-human activity from within the confines of a particular discipline. Based on seven years of archival research in the United States and abroad, the work includes many original photos and documents, most of which have never before been published. It uses primary data and original texts whenever possible, including correspondence written by perpetrators. The book also reveals that the United States was not merely a bystander in this research, but instead contributed professional and financial support to early racial research that continued through the first five years of Hitler’s regime.
The secrets locked in our genes are being revealed, and we find ourselves both enthused and frightened about what that portends. We look forward to curing disease and alleviating suffering—for our children as well as for ourselves—but we also worry about delving too deeply into the double helix. Abuses perpetrated by eugenicists—from involuntary sterilization to murder—continue to taint our feelings about genetic screening.Yet, as Ruth Schwartz Cowan reveals, modern genetic screening has been practiced since 1960, benefiting millions of women and children all over the world. She persuasively argues that new forms of screening—prenatal, newborn, and carrier testing—are both morally right and politically acceptable. Medical genetics, built on the desire of parents and physicians to reduce suffering and increase personal freedom, not on the desire to “improve the human race,” is in fact an entirely different enterprise from eugenics.Cowan’s narrative moves from an account of the interwoven histories of genetics and eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century, to the development of new forms of genetic screening after mid-century. It includes illuminating chapters on the often misunderstood testing programs for sickle cell anemia, and on the world’s only mandated premarital screening programs, both of them on the island of Cyprus.Neither minimizing the difficulty of the choices that modern genetics has created for us nor fearing them, Cowan bravely and compassionately argues that we can improve the quality of our own lives and the lives of our children by using the modern science and technology of genetic screening responsibly.
The intellectual history of race, one of the most pernicious and enduring ideas in American history, has remained segregated into studies of black or white traditions. Bruce Dain breaks this separatist pattern with an integrated account of the emergence of modern racial consciousness in the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War. A Hideous Monster of the Mind reveals that ideas on race crossed racial boundaries in a process that produced not only well-known theories of biological racism but also countertheories that were early expressions of cultural relativism, cultural pluralism, and latter-day Afrocentrism.From 1800 to 1830 in particular, race took on a new reality as Americans, black and white, reacted to postrevolutionary disillusionment, the events of the Haitian Revolution, the rise of cotton culture, and the entrenchment of slavery. Dain examines not only major white figures like Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Stanhope Smith, but also the first self-consciously "black" African-American writers. These various thinkers transformed late-eighteenth-century European environmentalist "natural history" into race theories that combined culture and biology and set the terms for later controversies over slavery and abolition. In those debates, the ethnology of Samuel George Morton and Josiah Nott intertwined conceptually with important writing by black authors who have been largely forgotten, like Hosea Easton and James McCune Smith. Scientific racism and the idea of races as cultural constructions were thus interrelated aspects of the same effort to explain human differences.In retrieving neglected African-American thinkers, reestablishing the European intellectual background to American racial theory, and demonstrating the deep confusion "race" caused for thinkers black and white, A Hideous Monster of the Mind offers an engaging and enlightening new perspective on modern American racial thought.
The Faustian bargain—in which an individual or group collaborates with an evil entity in order to obtain knowledge, power, or material gain—is perhaps best exemplified by the alliance between world-renowned human geneticists and the Nazi state. Under the swastika, German scientists descended into the moral abyss, perpetrating heinous medical crimes at Auschwitz and at euthanasia hospitals. But why did biomedical researchers accept such a bargain?
The Nazi Symbiosis offers a nuanced account of the myriad ways human heredity and Nazi politics reinforced each other before and during the Third Reich. Exploring the ethical and professional consequences for the scientists involved as well as the political ramifications for Nazi racial policies, Sheila Faith Weiss places genetics and eugenics in their larger international context. In questioning whether the motives that propelled German geneticists were different from the compromises that researchers from other countries and eras face, Weiss extends her argument into our modern moment, as we confront the promises and perils of genomic medicine today.
The Religion of Life examines the interconnections and relationship between Catholicism and eugenics in early twentieth-century Chile. Specifically, it demonstrates that the popularity of eugenic science was not diminished by the influence of Catholicism there. In fact, both eugenics and Catholicism worked together to construct the concept of a unique Chilean race, la raza chilena. A major factor that facilitated this conceptual overlap was a generalized belief among historical actors that male and female gender roles were biologically determined and therefore essential to a functioning society. As the first English-language study of eugenics in Chile, The Religion of Life surveys a wide variety of different materials (periodicals, newspapers, medical theses, and monographs) produced by Catholic and secular intellectuals from the first half of the twentieth century. What emerges from this examination is not only a more complex rendering of the relationship between religion and science but also the development of White supremacist logics in a Latin American context.
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