Eugenics Is Born
According to Spiro, Grant drew three lessons from Gobineau’s race theory: first, to apply zoological concepts (e.g. dangerous crossbreeding) to Man; second, that class struggle explains all of human history; and third, that mental traits and abilities are vary by race.
Together they formed a vile cocktail: Eugenics (“well-born” in Greek), the pseudoscience of promoting a healthy human gene pool. If traits like eye color and nose shape were heritable, why not intelligence and ability? Scientists like Darwin’s own cousin, Francis Galton, the brilliant statistician who coined the term, certainly thought they were. It was time that Man recognized this fact and took control of his destiny. As the logo of the Second International Eugenics Congress declared, “Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution.”
Perversely, that meant grappling with modern medicine and abundant food supplies which were interfering with the laws of natural selection, leading the “unfit” to reproduce instead of dying off as they used to. The result—echoing Gobineau—was obvious: European civilization would breed itself into oblivion if left unchecked.
What followed this revelation was an amazing explosion of eugenics leagues across Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. “If religion was the opium of the people,” Spiro notes, “eugenics was the religion of the aristocrats.”
Their ideas varied greatly, though. For example, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill both expressed mild eugenic ideas, but devotees like Clarence Gamble (heir to the Procter & Gamble soap fortune) and Margaret Sanger wanted to establish a federal population bureau to license would-be parents. This was the height of social engineering: Remaking the entire world’s population by controlling who has children.
Spiro theorizes that eugenics especially appealed to Grant’s Northeastern sensibility that old America was in decline and could only be saved by a firm patrician hand. Less convincing is how Spiro attributes so much of eugenics’ appeal to latent Puritanism and postmillennial eschatology, since so many of its prominent adherents were New Englanders. To be sure, there’s a nugget of truth in this claim. But this writer would point to eugenicists’ universal characteristic: A trust in designated experts to solve the world’s most pressing concerns, a belief incompatible with any notion of original sin. Eugenics is gone in 2022, but social engineering and a dogmatic belief in Scientism is as strong as ever—and its most faithful disciples are Silicon Valley tech elites.
Regardless, Grant took to his new religion with a zeal, founding the Galton Society to propagate the works of Darwin, Galton, and other early eugenicists.
As a conservationist, Grant wanted to separate people into the “producing classes” and the “worthless types” in order to preserve the entire Nordic race. Alcoholism, insanity, idiotism, poverty, and even criminal behavior could be eradicated through selective breeding—with help from an activist government.
By the early 1920s there were three major eugenics organizations in the country working towards this goal. Grant was involved in all three. In 1922 he founded the Eugenics Committee of the United States, a lobbying group with board members drawn from influential groups such as Sanger’s American Birth Control League, the direct predecessor of Planned Parenthood. The committee aimed high: Saving America from “race suicide” by “indiscriminate immigration, criminal degenerates,” and other “unfit” individuals. One of its first acts was to circulate literature proving that eugenics was perfectly compatible with Scripture. It even rewarded pastors who encouraged the fittest members of their flocks to outbreed the rest.
One of Grant’s staunchest allies was Charles Davenport, a zoologist-turned-eugenicist and founder of the infamous Eugenics Record Office on Long Island, itself bankrolled by the Rockefellers and Carnegie Institute. Few individuals deserve greater credit for spreading eugenics worldwide. One of his top employees was Harry H. Laughlin, future president of the American Eugenics Society and a close friend of Margaret Sanger. Amazingly, Laughlin proposed legislation enacting forced sterilization that formed the basis of the Nazis’ 1934 sterilization law, which sterilized 400,000 people by 1945 to the approval of numerous eugenicists, Sanger among them.
Grant was a board member of a Davenport spin-off group, the Eugenics Research Association, which brought together eugenicists in an annual conference. Davenport helped Grant write the latter’s magnum opus, The Passing of the Great Race (1916), a popular examination of Bronze Age immigration and theoretical Aryan anthropology through the ages that formed a new “racial history of Europe.”
As mentioned before, race was the lens that could explain everything from the collapse of Alexander the Great’s empire (mixing pure Macedonian and corrupt Asiatic blood) to Mexico’s interminable problems with effective governing (Spanish interbreeding with Indians). Grant theorized that harsh European winters made the Nordic race hardy and powerful, equipping them to conquer their swarthy, “stunted” southern neighbors to form the best of modern European aristocracy.
But now Nordic America was being swarmed with “worthless races” who could never be properly assimilated because of their inferior genes. Black Americans were the proof: “It has taken us fifty years to learn that speaking English, wearing good clothes, and going to school and to church, does not transform a negro into a white man,” Grant wrote.
The book was a smash hit among critics, though it only sold modestly. It proved extremely useful in advocating for race-based immigration restrictions. The book also paved the way for eugenics to become mainstream in American universities, 75 percent of which offered eugenics courses by the late 1920s.
Unsurprisingly, The Passing of the Great Race also struck a chord with the leaders of the Third Reich, who agreed with Grant that “force and not sentiment” were the true basis of government and were prepared to do something awful about it. At the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, Waffen-SS Major General Karl Brandt actually cited Grant’s book as part of his defense for torturing, mutilating, and euthanizing concentration camp victims—an American, after all, had come up with the idea first and called it “science.” Brandt was merely putting it into practice!
(Damningly, later revised editions removed embarrassing references to power and dropped from the bibliography Chamberlain and Gobineau, who’d become liabilities after the U.S. declared war on Nordic, Aryan Germany in 1917.)
Grant’s book had a tremendous effect on another rising eugenics popularizer, Theodore Lathrop Stoddard, who term “under-man” (in German, Untermensch) in books such as The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy (1920) and other pseudo-scientific/historical books.
In the next installment, eugenicists’ fear of racial intermixing made them natural allies with the feminists of the powerful birth control movement.