The End of an Era
Yet for all its might it was clear by the mid-1920s that eugenics was losing its powerful influence in government and the scientific community. It’d taken decades to build—only to collapse in a scant few years.
One cause was the scientific community’s shift from attributing behavior and culture to nurture, rather than biology. Spiro also points out major demographic changes—black Americans’ mass migration to northern cities, the growth in Jewish scientists and scholars, even the Great Depression’s equalizing effects in the bread line—that undermined the eugenicists’ vision of strict, unequal social strata. By the 1930s, many of the supposedly unassimilable groups (Italians, Greeks, Poles) considered themselves as white as anyone of German or British stock, and few could seriously disagree.
But the silver bullet that slew eugenics was, of course, the Third Reich, where sterilization measures reached their high-water mark. Britain and the United States may have originated the idea, but the Nazis took eugenics and Darwinism to their natural conclusions. “National socialism is nothing but applied biology” was a slogan among Nazi leadership, Spiro rightly reminds us.
To go further, Hitler’s empire should be seen as the ultimate experiment in eugenics, state-sanctioned anti-Semitism, and racial pseudoscience, never to repeated in a God-governed world. Even in Grant’s day there were some who attributed much of Hitler’s obsession with “cleansing” and “purity” to The Passing of the Great Race, which is probably only a modest exaggeration—though Hitler was also an avid vegetarian and conservationist who shunned alcohol and cigarettes. Eerily, Grant’s last major endeavor was to co-organize an International Hunting Exposition in Berlin to foster goodwill among hunters, the brainchild of Luftwaffe chief and Reichstag president Hermann Goering. It was a fitting end for the complex man who both saved the redwoods and empowered National Socialism.
After 1945 Americans couldn’t separate the image of the concentration camps from eugenics. But the death of Nazism was hardly the end of sterilization.
Many of the eugenicists’ underlying assumptions were absorbed by the population control movement in the 1950s, with its theory of “race betterment” through contraception and sterilization (now “family planning,” a term coined by Margaret Sanger to sell her theory of women’s liberation through birth control). After 1945, eugenics merely dropped the lab coat for a tuxedo and rebranded itself “philanthropy.”
I’ve documented how so-called philanthropists representing the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations encouraged India’s socialist government to forcibly sterilize millions of men and women in the 1950s and ‘60s. Those who resisted had food and employment withheld. Others were beaten or even shot. It got so bad that the country’s northern provinces were colloquially known as the “vasectomy belt.” At one point President Lyndon Johnson refused to provide food to the famished country until it agreed to incentivize sterilization. The World Bank even loaned India $66 million for sterilization efforts in the 1970s before the idea (thankfully) petered out.
(Don’t think these philanthropoids have changed—Ford, Rockefeller, and others still fund a frightening array of anti-human causes, from (often illegal) abortions in Africa, to second- and third-trimester abortifacients, and “green” apocalypse fanatics.)
Madison Grant didn’t live to see even any of this. He died in 1937, two years before the outbreak of World War II and eight years before most of the West discovered the horrors of the Holocaust. We’ll never know how he would’ve reacted to his theory put into bloody practice.
But like so many so-called progressives, Grant never had to live with the consequences of his own ideology. Only “lesser” people did.