Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain

Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain

Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain

Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain

Synopsis

Before the First World War there existed an intellectual turmoil in Britain as great as any in Germany, France or Russia, as the debates over Nietzsche and eugenics in the context of early modernism reveal. With the rise of fascism after 1918, these debates became more ideologically driven, with science and vitalist philosophy being hailed in some quarters as saviors from bourgeois decadence, vituperated in others as heralding the onset of barbarism. Breeding Superman looks at several of the leading Nietzscheans and eugenicists, and challenges the long-cherished belief that British intellectuals were fundamentally uninterested in race. The result is a study of radical ideas which are conventionally written out of histories of the politics and culture of the period.

Excerpt

To Sir Francis Galton belongs the honour of founding the Science of Eugenics. To Friedrich Nietzsche belongs the honour of founding the Religion of Eugenics … Both aim at a Superman, not a Napoleonic individual, but an ideal of a race of supermen, as superior to the present mankind – many of whom, alas! have not even completed the stage of transition from animal to man – as man is superior to the worm.

Maximilian Mügge, ‘Eugenics and the Superman’, Eugenics Review, 1.3, 1909, p. 191.

Nietzsche is the spiritual father and forerunner of the Eugenists.

Charles Sarolea, German Problems and Personalities, 1917, p. 92.

‘The old tablets of morality are broken, and the new ones are only halfwritten.’ With these words Alexander Tille ended his book, Von Darwin bis Nietzsche (1895), ushering in a process, which still continues, of making use of Nietzsche both to diagnose a modern condition of godlessness, and to find something to fill the gap left by God's death. It would probably be true to say that the new tablets of the law are still only half written, if they are even that much written (and perhaps postmodernism means accepting, even celebrating that fact), but in the first decades of the twentieth century interpretations of Nietzsche combined with the new science of eugenics to form a potent attempt to formulate a new code of morals. Why this combination came about, how it was articulated, and what were its results, are the subjects of this chapter.

In his book on Nietzsche, for the second edition of which Oscar Levy wrote a glowing preface, George Chatterton-Hill, the Geneva-based sociologist . . .

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