May 14, 2014

Source: Shutterstock

To take a mundane (and thus representative) example, neoconservative columnist Ben Wattenberg wrote in Rev. Moon’s Washington Times in 2000:

Eugenics theory helped slam shut the doors of immigration in the 1920s, but such pseudoscience is in the trash can now. In 1965, Americans reopened the immigration flow, this time allowing persons from around the world to share and shape our liberty.

Meanwhile, Glad points out, Jews, both religious and secular, remain at the forefront of implementing eugenic techniques and technologies (although they don”€™t use the e-word anymore). For example, Dor Yeshorim, the Committee for Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases, was founded in the 1980s by Rabbi Eckstein after he lost four children to hereditary Tay-Sachs disease. Rabbi Eckstein’s system of premarital genetic testing has succeeded in largely eliminating this terrible tragedy from New York’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Likewise, Israel is a magnet for eugenics technology start-ups because Israel’s government and society are much more pro-eugenics”€”in part, to help win the War of the Cradle with the Palestinians”€”than are European regulators and cultures. For instance, in a 1993 survey of geneticists, 68 percent of the Israeli scientists agreed with the classic eugenic notion that “€œIt is socially irresponsible knowingly to bring an infant with a serious genetic disorder into the world in an era of prenatal diagnosis”€ versus only 8 percent of German geneticists.

Gould’s campaign to rewrite history has been so successful that the entire topic of eugenics is now covered with intellectual cooties. So, let me try to explain the essential nature of eugenics, a concept that has always been fuzzy due to both the efforts of pro-eugenics propagandists to describe it as a “€œscience”€ and those of its enemies to label it a “€œpseudoscience.”€

First, though, let me point out that I”€™ve always found most of the proposed eugenic techniques to fall somewhere between icky and awful. Rabbi Eckstein, for example, strikes me as a great man who has done a tremendous service to his community. Yet the rapid success of his eugenic program was highly dependent upon the prevalence of arranged marriages among the ultra-Orthodox.

I”€™ve always agreed with Shakespeare (e.g., Romeo and Juliet) that the triumph of the love match is perhaps the central glory of northwestern European culture. As Chesterton argued in 1922, if eugenic arranged marriages actually succeed in breeding stronger, healthier men, the first thing these new, better men would do would be to tell the busybodies to butt out and let them marry the women they love.

By the way, this criticism doesn”€™t apply as strongly to the meritocratic and kindhearted Galton, whose main suggestion was that society should bring together the most promising young men and women for socializing and encourage nature to take its course. I suspect that Galton would look favorably upon modern elite coeducation as a system of “€œpositive eugenics.”€ For example, Bill and Hillary Clinton met at Yale Law School and Barack and Michelle Obama were introduced due to their connections to Harvard Law School. Galton, though, would probably have been distressed that these two first couples have only three children amongst them.

Similarly, more high-tech eugenic techniques such as selective abortion, discarding fertilized loser embryos, and sterilization all strike me as distasteful, at the least.

Finally, none of this works particularly fast or well. As Galton was the first person in history to put in writing, humans regress toward the mean.

So, with that out of the way, let’s consider the central question: Was eugenics science or pseudoscience?

The answer is: Neither. It was an attempt at engineering. Let me take some time to compare eugenics to another great engineering obsession of the 20th century: space rockets.

We look back fondly upon the Space Age, but the conquest of space has far deeper roots in Nazi Germany than eugenics does. Hitler paid for the development of the first ballistic missile, the V-2. In 1945, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union rounded up all the German rocket scientists they could get their hands on, with the U.S. getting the cream of the crop, most famously von Braun, an SS officer who went on to lead America to the moon in 1969.

Meanwhile, a heavily Jewish effort was inventing the perfect weapons for the ballistic missile: atomic and thermonuclear bombs. With its conventional payload, Hitler’s V2 had been merely an extremely expensive way to blow up random houses in London. But when the German ballistic missile was married to the Jewish city-vaporizing nuclear weapon, humanity had on its hands the most terrifying threat to its survival ever.

The phenomenal accomplishments of the Space Race (sometimes it doesn”€™t seem possible that man walked on the moon 45 years ago) were intertwined with the Cold War’s escalation to mutually assured destruction. Tom Wolfe argued in The Right Stuff that the astronauts and cosmonauts served as single-combat warriors like David and Goliath. Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn risked their necks demonstrating to the world what their country’s rockets could do, thus freeing America and Russia from fighting an actual ICBM war under the misconception that the other guy was just boasting.

Then, after Neil Armstrong demonstrated America’s technological superiority, America tended to attract a higher quality of new Cold War allies, such as Zhou Enlai and Anwar Sadat, while the Soviets were stuck with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and others of that ilk.

Ultimately, it doesn”€™t make a lot of sense to blame Jews and Germans for nuclear ICBMs. Nor is it admirable for Gould’s disciples to demonize Galton and the scientists who succeeded him out of a desire to undermine the confidence of a competing ethnicity.



Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!