The Eugenics Taboo

The following is adapted from my Foreword to a new annotated edition of Madison Grant’s Conquest of a Continent, which has recently been released by Wermod & Wermod.

In the popular imagination, the word “eugenics” conjures up images of death panels, concentration camps, and piles of bodies. Or alternatively a faustian “super villain” who seeks to wipe out humanity and breed a Master Race in space (a scheme that was thwarted by James Bond in the campy adventure Moonraker (1979).) For those who love to hate it, eugenics amounts to little more than rhetorical bogeyman or scarecrow—something to point at in horror.

Interestingly, in these depictions, eugenics alternates between being, on the one hand, a “pseudo-science”—that is, ineffective, ungrounded, fraudulent, and bizarre—and, on the other, all-too scientific—that is, marking the point at which religious or governmental authorities must intervene to prevent science from “going too far.”

Ultimately, the “totalitarian” connection to eugenics has never held much water. For instance, the eugenics programs in Nazi Germany were, historically speaking, quite unremarkable: they were begun during the Weimar Republic and were no more advanced than those of Sweden or the State of California. Furthermore, the Nazis’ brutality against Jews, in what has come to be known the Holocaust, and Slavs, during campaigns on the Eastern Front, were not eugenic in any real sense of the word and should be criticized in other contexts.[1]

It is worth pointing out that state science during the other reviled totalitarian regimes of the 20th century was based on the very opposite of Darwinism. The head of Soviet Biology during Stalin’s regime (and beyond), Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898–1976), believed, quite literally, that a plant could be genetically altered by its pot—and that these acquired characteristics would be passed down to its offspring. “Lysenkoism” was applied as both agricultural policy during collectivization as well as “political science,” with equally disastrous results. The philosophy of “environmentalism”[2]—the ideal of the “Blank Slate” that can be written upon by progressive leaders—justifies, much more so than Darwinism, the treatment of people as “material,” whose nature can be altered at will, with the “reactionary” parts simply cut off and discarded.[3]

Moreover, historically, Darwinism has been—much more frequently than liberalism or leftism—the ideology of those who seek to conserve the natural world. The 20th-century eugenics movement was, in fact, an outgrowth of the natural-conservation movement. Before taking up immigration restriction and eugenics, Madison Grant had dedicated himself to, among other things, the conservation of the American Bison and the California Red Woods and the creation of the Bronx Zoo and Glacier National Park. Among today’s elite, “environmentalism” (qua natural conservation) has never been more popular and White racialism, never more reviled. And yet, as Grant’s recent critical biographer, Jonathan Peter Spiro, writes, “There was no duality to Madison Grant’s life, no basic conflict between his espousal of conservation and his preaching on behalf of Eugenics and immigration restriction.[4]

It is important to remember that Grant never sought to create a “New Man.” He sought, instead, to conserve the results of natural selection, as he sought to conserve the natural world.[5] Moreover, eugenic thinking is a logical implication of the Darwinian and the Mendelian (i.e., genetic) scientific revolutions, . The first chapter of Charles Darwin’s (1809–1882) On the Origin of Species (1859), “Variation under Domestication,” is an extended analogy between evolution through natural selection, Darwin’s thesis, and evolution through artificial selection, which was well known to his readers as the breeding and domestication of birds, dogs, livestock, and the like. As Darwin notes, “the great power of this principle of selection is not hypothetical.” Francis Galton (1822–1911), Darwin’s cousin and originator of the theory of eugenics, was likely thinking of that passage when he quipped, “If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create!”[6]

Whatever the case, it is eugenics, and Darwinism generally, that is forever associated with mass-murder, whereas the Blank Slate is let off scot-free. (For instance, whenever a public figure denies the reality of race, he rarely get scolded by journalists—“What are you saying!? We know where that kind of thinking leads!”)

Franz Boas—whose scraggly visage appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1936 announcing the triumph of “environmentalism”[7]—actually theorized that as Italian immigrants entered the United States, their head shapes would mutate according to the environment, with the second generation having a shape closer to that of the American majority than their parents.[8] This marked Boas’s frontal assault on Grant, in particular, his distinction between Dolichocephalic (long-headed) Nordics and Brachycephalic (round-headed) Eastern and Southern Europeans (i.e., “Second Great Wave” immigrants).

The problem for the legions of egalitarian anthropologists who followed Boas is that their Master’s study is utter bunk.[9] Boas “fudged” his data for a good cause (in this case, the myth of the American “Melting Pot,” in which democracy dissolves heredity). More importantly, Boas’s thesis is preposterous and risible on its face from the standpoint of Darwinian evolution, that is, from the standpoint of accepted biological science in the 21st century. Boasianism is, at its core, little different than Lysencoism or various other experiments in Marxian biology. Madison Grant’s oeuvre, on the other hand—however we might want to revise Nordicism—remains scientifically and rationally defensible.

One of the primary lessons racial idealists can draw from studying Grant’s career is that science (or at least what is perceived to have scientific authority) matters; it is no coincidence that the most successful effort in racial idealism in modern American history was grounded in Darwinism, or that egalitarians and globalists must constantly slander their opponents as purveyors of “pseudo-science.”

Of course, as good science, Darwinism can be revised, expanded upon, and, potentially, falsified. Also, as good science, Darwinism does not favor or justify any one group or desired outcome. Indeed, as the 2005 science-fiction comedy Idiocracy points out, natural selection does not even favor what one might call the strongest, most beautiful, and most intelligent.[10]

That said, Darwinism offers a compelling and rational justification for Whites to act on behalf of their ancestors and progeny and feel a shared since of destiny with their extended kin group. As Kevin MacDonald correctly points out, “rational, scientific discourse” is granted pride of place in advanced Western societies; and one shouldn’t underestimate the “emotional commitment” that Darwinism can instill in Whites—as it raises politics to the level of collective survival, above claims to fairness that dominate the language of liberalism. Darwinism is seemingly more “effective in rallying Whites, especially elite Whites, than religious feelings.”

The story of religious feeling in the modern age has been to either sink into irrelevance for secular Whites (who are likely to be more educated) or be diverted into causes that are suicidal for religious Whites.”[11]

Viewed from another angle, Madison Grant had become relevant for contemporary racial idealists due to the increasing irrelevancy of what might be called “respectable” or “patriotic” immigration reform, that is, restriction on the basis of legality or concerns about assimilation (which are the only restrictionist arguments that are granted a hearing in the mainstream media.[12])

According to the U.S. Census Department, by the summer of 2011, the majority of births in the United States were non-White infants. This means that if all immigration, legal and illegal, were (quite miraculously) halted immediately, nothing of significance demographically would change. The proverbial 2050 “tipping point”—when America reaches “majority-minority” status, with no single racial or ethnic groups defining the national character—will merely be delayed by a decade or two. Moreover, “assimilation” has become a deceptive and misleading term, as it begs the question “To What?” Hispanic immigrants have been assimilating downward across generations towards the culture and behavior of African-Americans.[13] Indeed, one possible outcome of the ongoing demographic transformation is a thoroughly miscegenated, and thus homogenous and “assimilated,” nation, which would have little resemblance to the White America that came before it.

Put simply, the discourse that has predominated for the past 60 years on the Immigration and National Questions is increasingly disconnected from reality; for the racial idealist, it has become useless. To even understand the phenomenon of mass immigration—and the globalized world that underlies it—one must, following Grant, think racially. And for the racial idealist, the point is not just to understand …

  1. For a discussion of this issue, see John Glad, Future Human Evolution: Eugenics in the Twenty-First Century (Schuylkill Haven, PA: Hermitage Publishers).  ↩

  2. The distinction should be made between Boasian “environmentalism,” outlined above, and the contemporary meaning of the term qua natural conservationism.  ↩

  3. See Steve Pinker, The Blank Slate (Viking, 2002).  ↩

  4. Jonathan Peter Spiro, Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant (Vermont University Press, 2009), p. 136.  ↩

  5. Moreover, though it will not likely win him any PC points today, Grant actually supported maintaining the integrity of all races, not just Nordics. Through his Southern colleague Ernest Seveir Cox and others, Grant proposed an alliance with Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born Black Nationalist, whose “Back To Africa” movement envisioned a radically traditionalist destiny for Black Americans. In Conquest, Grant lamented the fact that the “religious world, the political world, and the educational world alike seem to have conspired” to promote Mulattos as the “talented 10th” stand-ins for the Black race, as well as race-mixing in general. Grant clearly favored returning Africans to their homeland; however, by 1933, he saw prospects for this as quite unlikely, and thus favored the unsatisfactory tactics of strict segregation, anti-miscegenation laws, and the promotion of birth control among Blacks.  ↩

  6. Galton, “Hereditary Talent and Character”.  ↩

  7. Time, 11 May, 1936.  ↩

  8. Franz Boas and Helene M. Boas, “The Head-Forms of the Italians as Influenced by Heredity and Environment,” American Anthropologist, April-June 1913.  ↩

  9. Corey S. Sparks and Richard L. Jantz, “A Reassessment of human Cranial Plasticity: Boas Revisited,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 8 October 2002. See also, Nicholas Wade, “A New Look at Old Data May Discredit a Theory on Race”, New York Times, 8 October 2002.  ↩

  10. In film’s opening scenes, a stereotypical high-IQ WASP and Jewish couple is depicted as a continually forego child-rearing (“Not now, not with the market as it is…”), while a stereotypical low-IQ redneck family breeds with passionate intensity. The ultimate outcome, by 2050, is a collapsing, exceedingly vulgar world in which the average IQ of the population is at retardation levels.  ↩

  11. Kevin MacDonald, “The Dispossessed Elite,” Radix I: The Great Erasure: The Deconstruction of White Identity (Washington Summit Publishers, 2012).  ↩

  12. As Byron Roth observes, the “debate” on immigration in the Western world throughout the 2000s was over whether Third World immigrants should or should not assimilate to the dominate culture, not whether this is possible or desirable. Roth, The Perils of Diversity, Chapter 1. 35 See Richard Spencer, “Who’s Taking Over?” American Renaissance, Vol. 21, no. 4, April 2010.  ↩

  13. See Richard Spencer, “Who’s Taking Over?” American Renaissance, Vol. 21, no. 4, April 2010.  ↩