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The Rise and Fall of the Eugenics Empire: Recent Perspectives on the Impact of Biomedical Thought in Modern Society Author(s): Robert A. Nye Reviewed work(s): Source: The Historical Journal, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Sep., 1993), pp. 687-700 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2639784 . Accessed: 26/03/2012 19:01 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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The HistoricalJournal,36, 3 (I 993), pp. 687-700 Copyright ( 1993 Cambridge University Press

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THE RISE AND FALL OF THE EUGENICS EMPIRE: RECENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE IMPACT OF BIOMEDICAL THOUGHT IN MODERN SOCIETY ROBERT A. NYE University of Oklahoma

In the last decade or so scholars have begun to develop a series of new strategies for understanding and explaining the creation and popularity of biomedical modes of thinking in modern European societies. In a certain sense these strategies are designed to supplement, if not replace, an older form of intellectual history that was content to trace the spread of racist ideas and theories of biological determinismfrom the founding fathers (Count Arthur de Gobineau, H. S. Chamberlain, and Paul de Lagarde among many others) to the anti-semitic or racist movements they inspired, culminating in the holocaust and the genocide of the I930S and I940s.1 There was a kind of cosmopolitan quality to this history of ideas approach that treated racial ideas as so many interchangeable parts and racists as fanatical but politically effective propagandists. Because their focus was fixed on the pseudoscientific and ideological aspects of their subject, few of these older histories tried to assess mainstream science and medicine for evidence of collusion or resistance to racist ideas; if they did discuss the science of their day it was to document support for aryanism or anti-Semitism in one or another of their nationalist manifestations in pre-war and wartime Europe. Though echoes of the murderous racism of the World War II era are not absent from the work under review, genocide no longer dominates the research agenda of the history of biomedical thought. Historians are now more willing to explore aspects of biological and racial thought that did not end in holocaust, to follow the variations biomedical concepts have taken in different national settings, and to consider the relationship of mainstream science and scientists with pseudoscience and with the zealots who have until recently received the lion's share of attention. As some of these authors wish to demonstrate, a passionate concern with race hygiene and the identification of dangerous human pathologies did not, accordingly, end in I945, but has been subsumed into the logic and practices of the modern welfare state, though in forms more compatible with contemporary sensibility on these matters. Despite the fact that these books are mostly concerned with Great Britain and France in the period I880-I945, there is enough discussion of the United States and Italy to illustrate fully the point that biomedical thinking about the human population and its pathologies flowed in channels dictated by the situation of particular nationstates. There was wide medical and scientific agreement, for instance, about the threat of an inheritable and worsening biological degeneration, but this notion was interpreted uniquely in each national setting, so that, depending on local conditions, experts ' For example, Fritz Stern, Thepoliticsof culturaldespair.A studyin theriseof theGermanic ideology (New York, I965); Leon Poliakov, The historyof anti-semitism(New York, I965).

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believed different parts of the population to be at risk, predicted various outcomes for the syndrome, and developed appropriate hygienic strategies to deal with them. Moreover, the authors of these books do not stress the distinction between 'good' science and 'bad' science so much as try to present scientific activity as a kind of continuum embracing all kinds of healers and workersin the vineyards of science, warts and all. This approach allows the best of these books to present the history of science and medicine in this era as cultural history, where biomedical ideas of various provenance are mediated by the social influences of institutions, political power and public opinion, the peculiarities of individual personalities, and by the inexorable logic of geopolitics. The results are less emotionally satisfying and more complicated than the old history of racism, with its villains and noble seekers after truth and its narrative tropes of tragedy and ultimate redemption; few unambiguous heroes emerge in these accounts, and the road to 'true' science is rutted with obstacles that delay and pervert its triumph.

For all the vast explanatory power the idea of race possessed in the lexicon of nineteenth-century science, the most persistent biological theme of the period explores the I850-1914 was probably degeneration. Daniel Pick's Facesof degeneration ways this synthetic medical concept spread from its invention in a book by an obscure French asylum doctor, Benedict-Augustin Morel, to exalted scientific status in the medical establishments of France, Italy and Great Britain. As Pick relates it, the timing for this development is a crucial aspect of its meaning. The I 848 revolutions had aroused great expectations in the new-rich and professional middle classes of Europe for more popular sovereignty, liberation from foreign rule, and national resurgence. For the bourgeoisie, the temporary or minimal gains made by liberal and nationalist movements were more than offset by the effects of counter-revolution, and, worse, by the sudden and tumultuous invasion of the public sphere by the unwashed masses. Thus, the momentous events of I848-5I, which encouraged revolutionaries like Marx to think about the common people as a disenfranchised and oppressed class, made bourgeois intellectuals think about them as a biological subspecies, horrible to contemplate and malign in intent. Biology suddenly became useful for thinking about politics, and a medical model of diagnosis and cure became a fashionable way of analysing problems of poverty, education and labour. The appeal of a biomedical mode of thinking lay in its ability to express social similitude and difference with a high degree of determinism, and in its ability to account for historical change by invoking the mechanisms of heredity, displacing, as Pick says, 'the problems of history' into 'problems of inheritance'.2 With the help of thinkers like Morel, who described in his Traite'desdege'ne'rescences (I857) the prospect of worsening hereditary pathologies, it became possible to explain transgenerational advance or decline in every conceivable category of analysis: individual, family, class, nation, and, of course, race. In its emphasis on the negative qualities in modern civilization, degeneration theory thus provided a kind of pessimistic counter-ideology to Marxist and liberal optimism for the next hundred years, including, not incidentally, a powerful justification for policy measures that favoured the 'natural' superiority of the rich and best-educated classes in society. In Pick's words, what Marx took to be a 'social condition of the poor', degeneration theorists saw as 'a self-reproducingforce; not the effect but the cause of crime, destitution and disease'.3 2 Daniel Pick, Facesof degeneration. A Europeandisorder,c. 1848-c. 1918 (Cambridge, 1989), p. 59. ' Ibid. p. 22I.


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The great merit of Pick's book is to show how this core biological argument was transformed, according to the circumstances, into a medical and scientific discourse that proliferated in learned, literary, and popular milieux. In Italy, especially in the hands of Cesare Lombroso and the Italian school of criminology, degeneration theory was applied to the task of amalgamating a dynamic and progressive North with a retrograde South to make a modern nation. The problem of national integration thus became, tout court, a problem of crime in general and regional disorder in particular. Lombroso invented a system to identify physically 'born criminals' and sort them out from the 'occasional' kind who could be reformed. By incarcerating and segregating these biological misfits, the authorities would at once eliminate the chief source of domestic lawlessness and prevent the nation's most 'primitive' types from spreading their tainted inheritance, thereby thrusting Italy into a higher plane of historical evolution. Many of Lombroso's allies, like Enrico Ferri, were socialists who also hoped to find the cure for Italy's endemic poverty by distinguishing the 'honest' from the 'criminal' poor, but, on the whole, the general effect of degeneration theory in Italy was to strengthen the hand of the central government by establishingjustifications for repressing dissent and disorder. In England, degeneration theory was also applied to the crime problem, but the Lombrosian problematic of a regressive and primitive region became in England one of decaying and dysfunctional cities. The working classes in industrial centres and the urban residuum in London were held responsible for spawning crime, mental defectiveness, and a growing and permanent population on poor relief. Though degenerational discourses proliferated in various social science and popular writings, Pick singles out the eminent psychiatrist Henry Maudsley as an exemplar of degeneration theory in England. He makes a convincing case, I think, for the importance of Maudsley's expertise as a student of the relations of mental disorder, inheritance, and urbanization in laying the foundations for what would become, after I908, the British eugenics movement. Though Maudsley discussed the problems of decaying urban centres as a product of an inbred, and defective class of the population, he made it clear that, in Pick's works, ' Degeneration was no longer cast as a subsidiary stream leading nowhere, but a major current threatening to carry all before it. ' The differential breeding rates of the 'descendant' and 'ascendant' classes were not the only problem, because progressive evolution was itself a fragile enterprise, as Spencer and Darwin themselves acknowledged, which could lose its momentum and regress depending on a variety of environmental influences. For Pick, the importance of a degenerational discourse did not so much reside in its ability to influence particular legislation, nor in the authority it gave to medical and scientific elites, as in its power to make ' the notion of society as an organism' a 'dead metaphor', that is, to make its images 'real' in the minds of contemporaries and therefore constitute bodies as the epistemological ground of all thinking about social pathologies.5 This was nowhere more true than in France, the birthplace of degeneration theory, where a biomedical language of decline formed an inextricable part of all discussions about the health and well-being of the nation. The French were unusually susceptible to thinking in biological terms for two primary reasons and many secondary ones. First, their birth-rate had begun to level off before any of the other European powers; by the I 88os there was only a slightly larger number of births than deaths, putting the French in an inferiorposition in the long run relative to the far more fertile Germans. Second, the defeat of France by Prussia and her allies in I870 confirmed what many pessimistshad long believed, that the nation's biological capital 4 Ibid. p. 24

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had been in irremediable decline since the days when French military power was paramount in Europe. France was also troubled by the same set of problems - crime, insanity, alcoholism, venereal disease - as other European nations, but in the perspective of degeneration theory these were only symptoms and complications of the 'master-pathology' of population decline.6 Pick clearly demonstrates that the French, for all their concern about the particular forms that degeneracy took, and the vigorous effortsof their public health establishment to combat them, were most fundamentally worried about degeneratiQnas a national syndrome. Though some were more likely than others to carry and reproduce degeneration, the degradation of the human capital of France was not driven by the migration of a regional population, as in Italy, or the dregs of the cities, as in the case of England, but by an autonomous disease that might infect all French men and women alike. Thus, any and all departures from traditional 'norms' were potential pathogens: revolutionary crowds, women's rights movements, the ' new' sexuality, and urban cosmopolitanism.7As in his sections on England and Italy, Pick hits the high points of these developments, concentrating in particular on the most renowned figures and texts, where he is able to find ample evidence for anxiety about national decline. The comparative format of this book and its vivid and readable style makes Facesof degenerationa particularly good introduction to the historical literature on this important phenomenon. II Three of these books deal exclusively with France. Though they deal with markedly different aspects of the history of medicine, taken together they present a remarkably full picture of the medicalization of French society in the period i8oo- 945, considering that term in its two senses. In the older meaning of the term, French historians have referred to medicalization as the process by which modern medicine (usually contrasted with folk medicine or charlatanry) has been introduced to areas innocent of contact with trained and licensed medical practitioners. Typically, such analyses have included changes in doctor-patient ratios, the introduction and impact of new medical techniques (vaccination, for example), some assessment of the consequent changes in vital statistics related to health, and perhaps the quality of training of medical practitioners. A more recent sense of the term medicalization has been championed by American and British historians of France, despite the fact that, ironically, a Frenchman, Michel Foucault, introduced the basic elements of the new meaning in a variety of important works in the I970s, including Disciplineandpunish and The historyof sexuality.This meaning of the term stresses the way in which a medical model of analysis, a medical lexicon, and medical techniques invade established intellectual fields or disciplines previously organized along non-medical lines. An example Foucault himself uses is penology, which changed between the I 790s and I 850 from ajuridical activity engaged in establishing a calculus of punishment that would inhibit crime, into a criminological 6 On the fear of population decline see Herve LeBras, Marianneet les lapins. L'Obsession demographique (Paris, i99i). 7 Many of these themes have been explored in Ruth Harris, Murderand madness:medicine, law andsocietyin theFin de Siecle(Oxford, I989). For the way that the medical outlook was refracted through literature in the nineteenth century see Lawrence Rothfield, Vitalsigns.Medicalrealismin nineteenth-centuryfiction (Princeton, N.J., I992); Sander Gilman, Difference andpathology. Stereotypes of sexuality,race,and madness(Ithaca, N.Y., I985); Debora L. Silverman, Art nouveauin Fin-de-Siecle France.Politics,psychologyandstyle (Berkeley, I989), pp. 63-I08.


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and medical study of the authors of those crimes. Employing this generally cultural and intellectual mode of analysis, historical studies have been written recently on criminality, the history of psychiatry and madness, the family, and various aspects of the welfare state that reveal the extent to which a medical outlook based on modern biological knowledge has influenced the nature and practice of work in these fields.8 Using medicalization in this latter sense, William H. Schneider has written in Quality andquantityan unusually clear historical account of the medicalization of demography and the 'sciences' of human reproduction and child development in France in the twentieth century. As Schneider explains it, he set out to write a history of the French eugenics movement, but quickly found that the eugenical effort to improve the quality of the human stock could not be extricated from the general and very insistent public concern with increasing the quantity of births in France. Confronted with a large and vocal natalist movement committed to enlarging the size of families in general, and strong opposition by their Catholic allies to any form of sterilization, French eugenicists could not, as a result, campaign effectively for the kinds of measures designed to limit the reproduction of 'inferior' stock that were advanced elsewhere in Europe and America. Indeed, after I 920 it was made illegal in France to sell or advertise contraceptive devices, so that birth control in virtually any form could not be made an open part of a eugenics agenda. Schneider therefore opted for considering all the activities that could be grouped under a biomedical rubric and which addressedimproving the quality andthe quantity of the population. This includes analysing the varying fortunes of the tiny Eugenics Society, founded in I 9 I 2, together with a number of natalist organizations, the French neo-Malthusian movement, and the National Office of Social Hygiene, created in I 924, which conducted research and engaged in educational efforts to promote various government initiatives in public health. The most important action taken in this era, however, and certainly the most characteristic, owing to the fact that both natalists and eugenicists approved of it, was the puericulture movement. This uniquely French undertaking was spearheaded by an extraordinary clinician and medical writer, Adolphe Pinard, who headed an important Parisian maternity clinic and taught obstetrics at the Paris Medical School. From the I89os until his death in I935, Pinard doggedly agitated for improvements in the quality of child care, including breast feeding, better diet and proper rest for prospective mothers, and improved hygienic measures in childbirth itself. Pinard was fond of saying that 'the mother's milk belongs to the child', a sentiment that nicely summarizes a medical point of view in which mothers were regarded more as bearers of the next generation of healthy children than as worthy in their own right of improved care. Indeed, for Pinard puericulture properly began well before birth, when the mother's diet, activities and emotional condition could influence the health of her offspring. As Schneider argues, it was this notion of the importance of the intrauterine environment that provided the opening wedge for eugenic interest in puericulture, because, as Pinard himself came to argue in the interwar period, if the mother's general health is an acknowledged factor in her child's health, then why not 8 For example, Robert A. Nye, Crime,madnessandpoliticsin modern France.The medicalconceptof nationaldecline(Princeton, NJ., I984); Jacques Donzelot, Thepolicingoffamilies, trans. Robert for survivalin the Hurley (New York, I979); Rachel Fuchs, Poor andpregnantin Paris. Strategies nineteenth century(New Brunswick, N.J., I992); Ruth Harris, Murderandmadness.On the influence and of degeneration theory on psychiatry see Ian Dowbiggin, Inheritingmadness.Professionalization France(Berkeley, i99i). psychiatricknowledgein nineteenth-century 24-2


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her husband's as well, and, for that matter, the health and hereditary fitness of their antecedents? Schneider rightly makes much of the influence that French neo-Lamarckian ideas on heredity played in these considerations. The improvement of the intrauterine environment was in fact the very model for how neo-Lamarckians believed physical factors operated to shape the developing organism, by influencing both its nature and its viability. Pinard himself did numerous experiments with his prospective mothers to try to improve birth weights and neo-natal health, and he became progressively more interested in supplementing such measureswith ways of discouraging from parenthood individuals whose bad health (syphilis, tuberculosis, mental defects) or habits (alcoholism, sexual abnormality, moral depravity) might be transmitted to their children. To this end, Pinard and many French eugenicists agitated throughout the twenties and thirties for a premarital examination law that might prohibit precisely such dysgenic unions. The failure of even this modest legislation until the advent of the Vichy regime bears eloquent witness to the power of the unholy alliance (from the eugenicist's point of view) of libertarians wary of government intrusions on personal privacy and Catholic conservatives suspicious of any limitation on the sacrament of marriage.

Though some sentiment for American-style experiments in sterilization existed in France, Schneider argues that the geopolitics of the French situation made it unlikely that the quantitative side of the equation articulated by the natalists could be overcome by exponents of qualitatively limiting births from even the dregs of French society. Though this virtual stalemate continued through much of the interwar period, by the 1930s, with natalism in decline, issues that were perennial concerns elsewhere became more immediate in France. A rapid increase in foreign immigration stimulated interest in new definitions of racial 'types' and brought about a surge of proposals to erect barriers against immigration by individuals of racial stock different from the French. Inspired in part by such concerns, new medical researchon the 'racial' aspects of blood groups, and the related speculations of Rene Martial on 'interracial grafting' encouraged sympathy for biological solutions to what were regarded as biological problems; this in turn helped set the stage for the notorious racial and anti-semitic policies of Vichy. As Schneider's book very amply illustrates, the medical perspective maintained a constant if not always effective presence in public discourseon population and public health matters for the fifty years prior to World War II, at least until the counter-revolution represented by Petain and Vichy. Jack D. Ellis's book, The physician-legislators of France, which covers the period I870-1914, helps explain why, despite the considerable support for medical intervention by important segments of the medical and intellectual elite, actual legislative accomplishments were unimpressive. Ellis limits his study to the parliaments of the early Third Republic, considering medicalization only when it impinges directly on his relatively narrow field of focus.9He has found that at any time as much as twelve or thirteen per cent of the legislators were doctors, many of whom served at ministerial rank, including three premiers, Georges Clemenceau, Emile Combes, and Paul Bert. Despite their impressive electoral success, doctors found it difficult to defend the interestsof their profession,much less advance the cause of medicalization. The reasons for this, as Ellis's account makes clear, clarify some of the reasons for the general failure 9 For an account of the politics of medicine that includes the notion of medicalization in the Foucauldian sense seeJacques Leonard, La Medecineentrelespouvoirs et lessavoirs.Histoireintellectuelle et politiquede la me'decine franfaise au XIXe siecle (Paris, I98I).


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of radical medical interventionism in Europe until the advent of authoritarian regimes like Nazi Germany and French Vichy. The political authority of physician-legislatorsdid not, to begin with, rest on a secure electoral foundation. Unlike working-class or farmer deputies the majority of whose supporters often constituted coherent interest-group voting blocs, doctors did not have a 'natural' constituency of voters who would back medical initiatives through thick and thin. On the contrary, since both the incomes and local reputation of doctors originated in their own politically heterogeneous clientele, they were ever mindful of declaring themselves for legislation that might alienate the conservativesor the radicals among them. Thus, doctors often found themselves speaking in the voice of their arrondissement rather than that of their medical conscience. The very qualities that made them electable to begin with - their status as scientifically-educated and articulate spokesmen for 'progressive' causes - were drawbacks in the arena of interest-group politics, particularly if schemes to promote general health and well-being carried with them a substantial price tag. Doctors were also divided among themselves. The 'princes' of medicine who taught at the great medical schools or served on the advisory commissionsin the public health establishment held very different opinions on issues of medical welfare, professional qualifications, and medical unions from impecunious country doctors who were suspicious of state intervention in the medical free market. The relative surfeit of medical practitioners at the end of the century made physician-legislatorsfrom poor districts wary about supporting any government reimbursement scheme for impoverished patients which increased their responsibilities but set rates for standard treatments below prevailing market levels. The wealthier and more secure physicians from Paris or other urban centres, on the other hand, were disdainful of the network of medical unions that sprang up during the i 88os because they seemed to diminish the professionalstatus of medicine and to work against the delivery of modern medical care by restraining competition in the marketplace. In the end, a kind of trade-off was arranged between the two groups: medical syndicates were legally recognized, a law of I898 set in place a modest system for financing medical support for the poor, and the minimally trained officiersde sante',who were competitors for physicians in rural areas, were eliminated.10 Even if they could have agreed on a medical agenda to improve the health, not to mention the eugenic quality, of the population, French doctors were inhibited by the nature of the politics of health from undertaking initiatives that might disturb the prevailing conventions of medical practice. These truths are amply illustrated by Evelyn Ackerman's fine local study of the medicalization of a single French department - the Seine et Oise - between I 8oo and On the evidence from this gradually urbanizing department ringing the city of I914. Paris, the process of converting the peasantry to the virtues of modern medicine was both slow and incomplete. Despite the fact that medical densities increased impressively over the century, rural people continued to rely on empirics, charlatans, and local dispensers of folk medicine for advice and therapies, though in lessening degrees. Official and unlicensed midwives delivered the majority of the babies in the department until late in the century, and there was no effective way to prevent priests, nuns, grocers, or pharmacistsfrom dispensing medicines in competition with physicians. As Ackerman explains it, the failure of modern medicine suddenly to vanquish its competitors and usher in an era of hygienic enlightenment is best understood as the 10 Martha Hildreth has written about this aspect in the history of medical organization in Doctors,bureaucrats andpublichealthin France,I888-I902 (New York, I987).


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remarkable persistence and success of an archaic peasant mentality. She expertly sketches the fatalistic set of cultural beliefs which encouraged the peasant to regard disease and epidemic as inherent in the vagaries of terrain and weather and to think of life as a fragile thing easily overwhelmed by natural forces. Rural folk saw no virtue in submitting to hygienic innovation if it did not bring some clear and immediate benefit; until the Pasteurian revolution, it could not be said that medical treatments were demonstrably more efficaciousthan many of the folk remedies they were designed to supplant. The helplessnessof the medical corps in the face of the numerous cholera epidemics that swept through the department symbolized this therapeutic impotence to doctors and patients alike.1" Some of this pessimismwas dispelled when the state undertook to spread the benefits of newly developed vaccine treatments for immunizing children against killers such as rabies and diphtheria, particularly in the last decade of the century. The growth in literacy also played its part by introducing popularized accounts of the benefits of the new cures to a new generation of readers. But, in Ackerman's view, if the rural populations gradually came to think of the doctor more as a representativeof the state than as an isolated individual, it does not permit us to conclude that the hygienic outlook and interventionist tactics of the medical establishment were all-victorious. Ackerman concedes that the leaders of the Third republic were obsessed with the issue of national decline and saw the promotion of public health as a way to allay their own fears, but she insists that 'a canny peasant could take from this what he wanted. Peasants, after all, had been managing authority for a long, long time.'12 Unfortunately this passage is emblematic of the way that social and cultural historianscaricature the significance of one another's claims. Because she rightly doubts the ability of the medical elite to impose its own fears and ambitious schemes on country doctors and their recalcitrant patients, she feels justified in doubting, willynilly, the cognitive power and influence of a medical discourse of degeneration in general. No doubt, as her account reminds us, the doctors of the Seine-et-Oise who were called upon to implement the medical regeneration of the population played no small role in vitiating and delaying the schemes of the medical elite: resisting some of the government's vaccination campaigns, organizing in syndicates to protect their client'ele from medical newcomers, and insisting that a patient's right to choose his physician was the first of his civic freedoms.But it is a mistake to dismissthe significance of medical ideology on the grounds that it failed to attain its essentially totalitarian aims. All three of these books serve to remind us in various ways that there was a huge gap in France between discursive ambitions and actual accomplishments.But practical shortcomings did not prevent biomedical concepts of degeneration and regeneration from becoming part of a cognitive heuristic for the whole culture by the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, it might be argued that the conspicuous failure thoroughly to implement these medical schemata further increased the anxiety of the nation's cultural, scientific, and political elites, making them more dependent than ever on " For a view of the cholera epidemics that emphasizesthe Foucauldian notion of medicalization see Francois Delaporte, Diseaseandcivilization:thecholerain Paris, I832, trans, Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, Mass., I986); a similar point of view informs Patrice Bourdelais and Jean-Yves Raulot, UnePeurbleue:Histoiredu choleraen France,i83--i854 (Paris, I 987). On the vexed issue of the nature of the Pasteurian revolution and the reasons for its success see Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France,trans. Alan Sheridan and John Law (Cambridge, Mass., I988); and Claire Solomon-Bayet, ed., Pasteuret la Re'volution Pastorienne(Paris, I986). 12 Evelyn Ackerman, Health care in the Parisian countryside, (New Brunswick, NJ., I800-I9I4 I 990),

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biological 'ways of seeing'. I think we are only now beginning to understand the full implications of this discourse of pathologies and norms for human sexuality, gender roles and work, racism, the treatment of criminals and the insane, and the whole outlook of the modern welfare state.13 III While stressing the variations peculiar to England in the development of a biomedical concept of race improvement, the remaining three books under review reinforce many of these same themes.14 There was in England an equally large gap between the ambitions of the eugenicists and their real achievements in legal and institutional reform. Obstacles to the plans adumbrated to improve Britain's racial stock emerged from the political process itself, from traditional sources of cultural authority, and from an important segment of the scientific community. But, as was the case in France, the long-term importance of a eugenics discourse in England was the way it transformed a narrow class outlook into a matrix of biomedical concepts claiming to represent the interests of the whole society, and which became an irresistible perspective for generations of educated Britons.15 As we have already seen in Pick's account of degeneration theory, the situation in Britain was different enough from France (and the United States) in that the eugenics movement there focused on a distinctive though related set of issues. Pauline M. H. Mazumdar's Eugenics,humangeneticsand humanfailings and Richard A. Soloway's Demography anddegeneration address these uniquely British concerns in a complementary way. Mazumdar's book is more narrowly concerned with the activities and debates within the Eugenics Society, which was founded in 1907 to implement the conviction of Francis Galton that intelligence and moral character were distributed differentially by social class throughout the population. In Galton's view, the vast majority of material and intellectual accomplishments in modern society were produced by successive generations of highly talented individuals from upper-class British families. Galton and his sympathizers in the Eugenics Society hoped to preserve the talents and energy of such individuals through policies designed to increase their numbers while simultaneously decreasing the reproduction of the dreaded 'residuum' which constituted the vast majority of Britain's urban population. To this end the Eugenics Society undertook to sponsor research to prove the truth of this assertion and propagandize for measures that would bring it about. Soloway considers these same issues in both a longer time frame and from a broader perspective that includes the general problem of the implications of general population 13 For a survey of the European implications of biological models in this era see Anson Rabinbach, The humanmotor.Energy,fatigue, andtheoriginsof modernity (New York, I990). On the gendering of work in France see Mary Lynn Stewert, Women,workand the Frenchstate, labour protection andsocialpatriarchy,i879-igig (Montreal, I 989). The implications of degeneration theory for sexuality are discussedin Robert A. Nye, Masculinityandmalecodesof honorin modern France(New York, I993), pp. 72-I26. 14 An excellent survey of many of these ideas and their impact on public policy may be found in Frank Mort, Dangeroussexualities.Medico-moral politicsin EnglandsinceI830 (London, i987). On sexuality in particular see Jeffrey Weeks, Sex,politicsandsociety.Theregulation of sexualitysinceI8oo, 2nd edn (London, I989); Cynthia Eagle Russet, Sexual science. The Victorianconstruction of womanhood (Cambridge, Mass., i989); Bram Dijkstra, Idols of perversity.Fantasiesoffeminineevil in Fin-de-Siecleculture(New York, I986). 1 For a recent comparative evaluation of the eugenics movement see Mark B. Adams, ed., the wellbornscience:eugenicsin Germany,France,Brazil andRussia (New York, i990).


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decline for the national welfare. As in William Schneider's book on France, Soloway is particularly interested in the way the debates between scientists and intellectuals on the relative merits of improving the quality or the quantity of the population often put them at odds with one another and thereby narrowed the grounds for agreement on policy initiatives. On their different levels of analysis, however, both Soloway and Mazumdar stress the sheer complexity of the scientific and political issues at the heart of the eugenics movement. This allows them to reveal, in a way that much of the older literature on eugenics did not, the multiplicity of personal motives in the movement, and the way the often contradictory findings of biologists and medical experts seemed to create a scientific muddle with no clearly demarcated policy orientations. Pauline Mazumdar's study of the Eugenics Society makes more extensive use of the papers of the society than any previous history of eugenics. She presents a view of the internal debates of the early years of the Society that emphasizes the generally unified outlook of its membership on the problems facing British society, but she shows that the 'scientific' basis for these views was made up of many parts and was not able, as a consequence, to provide a stable foundation for the Society's policy initiatives over the long run. Therefore, despite the conviction of the essentially upper-middle-class professionalswho constituted the heart of the leadership group that social classes could be represented in a hierarchy of essentially self-contained breeding populations, there was no unanimity about the nature and mode of transmissions of hereditary characteristics.Some favoured the notion of blended inheritance championed by Karl Pearson and the biometricians, which had the virtue of being in accord with Galton's conception of inheritance, and, not incidentally, Charles Darwin's. Others wanted to incorporate the new Mendelian ideas that hereditary characters were transmitted in discrete (and immiscible) units, a kind of analysis which required a sophisticated mathematical analysis of breeding populations. There was also disagreement about how much weight to accord to the environment in shaping human germ plasm. There was a remarkable amount of support for a neo-Lamarckian conception of this process, and even those who accepted Weissmann's idea that germ cells were isolated from outside influences conceded the possible effect of intrauterine contamination by alcohol, drugs, or even maternal emotions. In view of these contradictions, many of which deepened in the 2os and 30s, the one thing on which all eugenicists of good will could agree was that 'like produces like'. Until well after World War I, therefore, the chief activity of eugenicist propaganda was implementation of the Pauper Pedigree Project, the aim of which was to compile family trees of typical ' pauper' families with their endlessly ramifying production of mental defectives, prostitutes, and criminals. These graphic representations of hereditary degeneration were discreetly silent on the precise nature of inheritance, but were for a long time the sole evidentiary basis for the various schemes devised by eugenicists to limit breeding in the so-called 'residuum', later the 'social problems group' in the more decorous language of the interwar period. Most significantly, however, as Mazumdar clearly demonstrates, even after a modern understanding of Mendelian population genetics was developed by the eugenicist R. A. Fisher, the essential problematic of the pauper pedigrees continued to shape the entire direction of scientific inquiry in human inheritance. As Fisher wrote in I 924, 'Mating is very largely controlled by social class, and the feeble-minded undoubtedly gravitate to the lowest social stratum.'16 The mathematical conclusions he then drew from the notion that 16 As quoted in Pauline M. H. Mazumdar, Eugenics,humangeneticsand humanfailings. The EugenicsSociety,its sourcesand its criticsin Britain (London, I992), p. I29.


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human breeding took place in self-contained populations permitted Fisher to underline the overall eugenic benefit that would accrue to segregating or sterilizing members of the poorer classes. Because she follows up on epistemological points of this kind, Mazumdar's account of the scientific evolution of genetics after I920 is far more technically detailed than Barkan's or Soloway's, and may therefore be of particular interest to those interested in the fine grain of the scientific debate. However, all three authors appear to come to similar conclusions about the general relationship of the science of inheritance to the politics of eugenics in the period before World War II. In the first place, they all agree that it was the politics - an ideology of class bias - that drove the science, not the other way around. The whole range of schemes to identify, measure, and select 'defectives' and those from 'superior' stock rested both on a nineteenth-century conception of class and on a set of equally old-fashioned scientific ideas about like begetting like that also entailed the inheritance of moral characteristics. Ironically, however, in the relentless effort to establish the truth or the limits of these presumptions, much good science was done that, in the end, helped overturn these presumptions. I say 'helped' because if it was the case that 'politics', broadly conceived, was the engine for the rise of a eugenical doctrine that biology was all, it was politics more than science that overturned, or at least modified, that conclusion. This did not occur until the I 930s, by which time the rise of fascism and Nazism had dramatically increased the stock of left-wing theories of economic and social determinism and lowered that of theories of biological determinism. The intervention in the debate on eugenics of several biologists of a leftist bent - Lancelot Hogben, J. B. S. Haldane, Julian Huxley - helped separate eugenics definitively from genetics by demonstrating the incompatibility of eugenic assumptionswith the mathematical models of gene frequencies in random mating populations, but also because they affirmed in various ways, as Lancelot Hogben did in I 93 I, that 'increasing complexity of cultural achievement may proceed in human society independently of any change in man's inborn equipment'."7 It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of Hogben's simple characterization for the history of science or politics in the twentieth century. Until the I930s, whenever environment was invoked by both progressives or conservatives to explain human or social evolution, it was to explain some pathology in the individual or social organism. Human genetic stock was treated as, at best, a kind of natural constant that the physical milieu could only degrade, whether by bad nutrition, environmental poisons, or disease entities. This was the understanding of both neo-Lamarckians, who directly acknowledged this influence, and Mendelians, who often admitted the sensitivity of the sex cells to noxious influences in the soma, despite their commitment in theory to a rigid separation between them. It took thirty years after the re-emergence and refashioning of Mendelian theory for its lessons to sink in, eventually creating a situation in which environment and heredity could be conceived as fully independent variables. By emancipating it from the thrall of degenerate heredity to which it had been yoked since the mid-nineteenth century, this development finally permitted contemporaries to imagine the environment as a positive and progressive influence in human change. Richard Soloway shows convincingly in his book how the rising concern about the numbers and health of British citizens reinforced this insight by focusing attention on the ways that the whole population might be improved. Even die-hard eugenicists 17

As quoted in ibid. p. i6i.


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found themselves endorsing schemes to support improvements in birth weights, better nutrition for expectant mothers, and free milk to growing children of all social milieux. It was but a short step from programmes to improve general health to Sir William Beveridge's proposal to give a flat-rate family allowance to the needy, and from there to the full-blown welfare state. Old-line eugenicists dug in their heels at both the fiscal and biological implications of family allowances, but a generation of rhetoric about 'race suicide', to which they had readily added their voices, helped prepare politicians and the general public for this outcome. From our vantage point in a post-UNESCO world of cultural and racial egalitarianism, we are tempted to look back upon the demise of classical eugenical thinking and of doctrines of biological racism in France, Britain and the U.S. as an inevitable consequence of the advance of scientific truth. These studies, in particular Elazar Barkan's highly original The retreatofscientific racism, oblige us to reconsider both

the inevitability of this demise and the nature of the relationship of social philosophies like racism with their evidentiary foundations in race science. As Barkan argues, on the whole science is better equipped for critical attack than for defending the ramparts of knowledge; this is particularly the case in the human sciences where it is far easier to think of ways to falsify or find exceptions to a scientific certainty than to devise some experimentumcrucisthat will establish its truth for all time. There is the corollary problem

that with the twentieth-century proliferation of social science sub-disciplines and the balkanization of knowledge that resulted, one hand was often unaware of what the other hand was discovering, or, perhaps more typically, new disciplines anxious to establish the autonomous scientific credentials of their own methods ignored or slighted the work of scientists in neighbouring research fields. Both these factors were at work in the rise of social and cultural anthropology in Britain and the U.S. after the turn of the twentieth century. At the beginning of the century anthropologists like Franz Boas paid homage to the biological underpinnings of their discipline by buttressing their findings about the variations in human culture with evidence drawn from physical measurements of human populations. But Boas, who was originally a GermanJew, and many of the other ethnic outsiders and women who were attracted to the new cultural anthropology in the American melting pot found the old physicalistic foundations of their science to be not so much wrong (although that could often be shown) as irrelevant to their work. By the same token, the ideals of empathetic fieldwork being laid down by the new schools of British social anthropology worked to undermine the notion of a hierarchy of races by cultivating in anthropologists a deep appreciation for the adaptive fit in non-western societies between environment and culture. As the anthropologist A. C. Haddon wrote about the so-called laziness of the South Sea Islanders, 'The truth is, we call them lazy because they won't work for the white man more than they care to. Why should they? '18 Barkan also underlines the now-familiar point that the cultural tasks assigned racial and biomedical thought were set by national agenda. American race theorists sought to portray the inferiority of black Americans by proving the biological dangers of race mixing. Eugenicists lobbied mightily at the federal level for legislation prohibiting the immigration of inferiorstock, and on the state level for laws permitting the sterilization or segregation of so-called 'defectives'. In Britain, as we have seen, biology served class and anti-urban perspectives; with the exception of racist portrayals of east European 18 As quoted in Elazar Barkan, Theretreat of scientificracism.Changingconcepts of racein Britainand the UnitedStatesbetweenthe WorldWars (Cambridge, I992), p. 28.


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Jews, the underclass was not black, Italian or Slavic as in America, but simply poor. The one common 'biological' denominator for race theorists in both countries was the effort to establish intelligence as an inherited characteristic, which gave rise to a minor industry devoted to measuring and genetically tracking this elusive human trait. There were, of course, some legislative successes in various American states, and at the national level in Britain with the passage of the rather mild Mental Deficiency Act of I9I3, but it is Barkan's point that on this matter, as in most other debates on inheritance and biological capacity, there was no decisive scientific evidence that could establish the truth of either racist or egalitarian ideas; the most useful thing scientists could do for their own cause was discredit their opponent's best scientific case. To further muddle the issue, some scientistswere divided against themselves. R. A. Fisher's important work on population genetics in fact undermined his own fiercely eugenic outlook, and the distinguished American biologist Raymond Pearl, who did not believe genetics supported eugenic assumptions, held rather crude views on class and race issues in his own country. Inversely, although Julian Huxley remained a member of the eugenics society in the interwar period and acknowledged the biological foundations of much of the inequality in human society, he was also the most eloquent and effective spokesman for the egalitarian cause in the I 930S. He spoke out against racism in the British empire, and We Europeans, which he co-edited in I 935 with A. C. Haddon, was perhaps the most important public document to make the scientific case against Nazi race theories. By the same token, the population geneticist J. B. S. Haldane spoke out forcefully from his position on the British left on the scientific and logical absurdity of racism, but he too never put his own eugenic ideals entirely to rest. Barkan'sjudgement about this thoroughly confused and contentious situation is that the rejection of scientific racism by a majority of British and American scientists came only in the late 30s, and then more for political than scientific reasons. Provoked by the mounting world political crisis and the horrendous implications of Nazi race policies, many of them nonetheless continued to harbour, both as scientists and as citizens, doubts about the workability of egalitarian social philosophy. The political apotheosis of this scientific discretion was the UNESCO proclamation in I 950, which built a case for human equality on the rhetoric of the relatively new field of cultural anthropology. A similar kind of ideological conversion process seems to have been at work in France in the aftermath of the shocking revelations of Vichy's collaboration with German racial policies. But is it enough to do the right thing if you do not also believe in it as a matter of fact? Could it not be argued that the twin demons of race and eugenics were politically but not scientifically exorcized in the wake of World War II, and that the ideal of genetic engineering based on assessmentsof biological worthiness is ticking along like a time bomb ready to explode when political conditions are again ripe? As Daniel Kevles has demonstrated in In thenameof eugenics,new scientific techniques of all kinds stand ready to assist medical science in the selection, termination, or reconstruction of human offspring."9If ethicists and policymakers are struggling to understand the complicated legal and social implications of reproductive science and genetic engineering, how much of this is grasped by the general public? As these important books demonstrate, Western elites have previously had the opportunity to consider the meaning of biological knowledge about inheritance and reproduction for practical policymaking, but have not shown themselves capable of deciding what was good and 19 Daniel J. Kevles, In thenameof eugenics.Genetics andtheusesof humanheredity(Berkeley, I 985).


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what was bad science. As a result, in most cases policy has been shaped by political not scientific imperatives, a point which applies equally to the rise and the fall of racist and eugenic influence. One might conclude that only a greater civic awareness of the practical and moral dangers attending to biological intervention in human generation will be efficaciousin preventing holocausts in the twenty-firstcentury, but I think these books also teach us that an equally strong case can be made for the prophylactic virtues of greater scientific literacy.

rise and fall of the eugenics  

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