Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State Paperback – 1 Oct 2000
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About the Author
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936) was an English writer. He wrote on philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction. Chesterton is often referred to as the "prince of paradox". Whenever possible, Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, and allegories—first carefully turning them inside out. Chesterton is well known for his reasoned apologetics and even some of those who disagree with him have recognized the universal appeal of such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. Chesterton, as a political thinker, cast aspersions on both progressivism and conservatism, saying, "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an "orthodox" Christian, and came to identify such a position more and more with Catholicism, eventually converting to Roman Catholicism from High Church Anglicanism. George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton's "friendly enemy" said of him, "He was a man of colossal genius". --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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In essence Chesterton argues that old-style capitalists/individualists such as Cobden and Bright had believed that the capitalist system would in time uplift the condition of the poor through increased prosperity. As time went on it became apparent that the condition of the mass of the population was not improving. The wealthy members of society became alarmed by what they saw as the deteriation in the quality of the population and the stubborn problem of pauperism so became receptive to the arguments of the advocates of eugenics. Likewise many on the left embraced eugenic measures out of a belief that social planning of which eugenics should form an integral part could improve the condition of the working classes.
While Chesterton rejected capitalism as it existed at the time of writing he was no fan of socialism either. He saw both systems as seeking to control people. In his view capitalism denyed the poor property by paying them insufficient wages thereby preventing the accumulation of property. Socialism on the other hand saw property as the cause of social evils and actively saught to limit or prevent it's accumulation. Chesterton advocates a middle course in which property is widely distributed thereby enhancing the independence of the population and uplifting the condition of the poor. Widely distributed property rather than eugenic measures are, in Chesterton's view the answer to the widespread pauperism which he condemns in Eugenics and other Evils.
So what where the eugenic measures which Chesterton attacks?
In 1912 the British Parliament passed a bill allowing for the separation of "the feeble minded" from the rest of the population. The term feeble minded was not well defined and led to the confinement in institutions of everyone from the genuinely mentally ill to those with minor learning difficulties and unmarried mothers. Pauperism was seen by many eugenicists as a disease the cure for which was to prevent so far as was possible the breeding of those afflicted by it.
In the UK there was no mass sterilisation programme despite it's advocacy by many eugenicists. However in the United States organisations such as the Eugenics Records Office under the leadership of Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin played a leading role in persuading American states to introduce sterilisation programmes under which those with various forms of disabilities and unmarried mothers (among others) where sterilised. Nazi eugenicists modelled the German eugenics law on the law drawn up by Laughlin although in Germany, unlike America sterilisation lead on to mass killing of disabled people under the Action T4 Programme.
After World War II eugenics fell out of fashion as a consequence of the atrocities committed under the Nazis but also due to advances in science which showed flaws in eugenics (E.G. few now believe that the poor are poor due to genetic defects).
Chesterton wrote Eugenics and other Evils in 1922. Given the abuses committed in the name of eugenics his book was remarkably prescient.
Written in 1922, when 'blood and breeding' were much more valued, but far less understood than in today's world; he wrote 'Eugenics and Other Evils' as a warning against the 'Eugenics' craze then sweeping the European and American upper classes; making clear that in the wrong hands these ideas could be very dangerous:- "Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions". He was far from opposed to scientific advance however, clearly understanding the benefits of electrification, radio, telephones etc... which were cutting edge technologies in his day.
When speaking from a 20/21'st Century viewpoint many today find it easy to ridicule the Bible based lifestyle of our forfathers, but it should be remembered that in their time these idea's were far more deeply rooted and widely accepted than liberal/socialism, racial equality etc..... are in today's world, because they had firmly underpinned a socially stable and highly successful European culture for generations. Thus it was not backward looking bigotry but logical concern for their inherently destablising effects, which caused so many to oppose theories such as 'Natural Selection' and 'Scientific Marxism'; ironically the very ideas most today accept as unchallengable orthodox truth.
The world moves ever onward however, and whilst reading the potential horrors G K Chesterton warned of in vain during the 1920/30's; I suggest you also view Darwin's Dangerous Idea [DVD]. In particular Episode 2:- Born Equal? This excellent, highly informative programme is written and presented by Andrew Marr, a TV 'insider' whose egalitarian liberal/socialist credentials are impeccable. Co-produced by the Open University, itself a bastion of egalitarian opinion, the programme begins with a graphic denounciation of Nazi eugenics which G K Chesterton would have fully approved, but then moves on to introduce Nazi concentration camp inmate Rabbi Joseph Eckstein who, having fled to America upon his liberation later established 'Dor Yeshorim'; a "charity dedicated to the erradication of genetic diseases within the Jewish community". In less than thirty years, this sensitively run but highly efficent organisation has all but erradicated Tay Sachs Disease, a ghastly genetic curse which had plagued Brooklin's Jewish community for generations.
Following this splendid example of genetic medicine at it's best, Andrew Marr then introduces Bruce Lahn; a young genetics student who fled his Chinese homeland for America following the 1989 Tiananman Square massacre. On Friday 9'th September 2005 Dr Lahn of Chicago University shocked the world when he announced his discovery of gene varient's ASPM & MCPH 1, which bless their bearers with 'bigger and smarter brains'. A horrified commentator said of this momentous revelation that it's:- "the moment the anti-racists and egalitarians have been dreading!" Why? Because the MCPH 1 gene originated amongst Europeans 'only' 225 generations (approx 6,000yrs) ago, and although widespread amongst those of European descent, is far rarer in non-Europeans, and almost totally absent from the sub-Saharan African gene pool. Thus modern scientific research now incontrovertibly links intelligence levels to racial inheritance. (You can obviously verify the scientific detail on numerous websites such as Wikipedia.) In the face of such indisputable genetic facts however, Andrew Marr is asking us all a simple question. Do we follow the historical precidents given by the Spanish Inquisition, the Victorian Establishment, the Nazi Gestapo and/or the Bolshevik KGB, and ignore/suppress such politically volatile knowledge from fear of social destabization, or do we follow the wiser guidance of Rabbi Eckstein; accept the truth of racial difference, but use it to aid those afflicted/disadvantaged?
In concluding this review, I cannot recommend 'Eugenics and Other Evils' highly enough. Although written ninety years ago to warn against Nazi Eugenics, it's content is still highly relevent today. Genetic science is now widely, but still by no means fully understood. Applied wisely it offers humanity virtual freedom from ill health and sickness, but the potential is also clearly there to creat the hideous 'Brave New World of Aldous Huxley. At present the choice of future WE want is still ours to make; but for how long???
The book is thin, but the text is printed small (in what looks like Times New Roman) and with quite wide lines, so it is hard to read in this format. If buying again, I would look into a different printing of it.
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