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

By Dan Stone | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Race and Eugenics

Eugenics in Britain is a much-explored field. Since the pioneering studies of George Mosse, Daniel Kevles and others, the opinions of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, Caleb Saleeby and Leonard Darwin, R. A. Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane have become widely known. With the exception of the USA, which is often examined along with Britain, the impact of eugenics in other European countries and on other continents is only now becoming clear, as a recent reviewer points out. 1 That fact does not, however, mean that only an international approach, desirable as that undoubtedly is, remains the sole task for scholars. 2 There is as yet confusion about eugenics in Britain.

The most pressing problem in the historiography of eugenics, though one which most scholars assume to have been settled, concerns the relative stress laid by eugenicists on class and race. The latter, ostensibly more pernicious emphasis, is usually associated with the strict hereditarianism and its ‘perversion’ into blood and soil ideology in certain strands of Rassenhygiene of Weimar Germany and the racially motivated genocide of the Third Reich. 3 The former, by contrast, is associated with the class-ridden societies of Britain and, to a lesser extent, the USA. The middle classes in Britain, so the assessment goes, felt trapped between a still dominant old élite and an emerging working class clamouring for rights. The differential birth-rate between the professional classes and the fast-breeding lower orders, especially the ‘submerged’ (the lumpenproletariat) and those labelled ‘feebleminded’, was supposedly at the root of the eugenics movement, which was just one movement among many through which the middle classes could articulate their fears and aspirations. 4 Typical of this position was the statement made by the Oxford philosopher and eugenicist Ferdinand Schiller: ‘We must get rid, therefore, of our unproductive and parasitic classes, alike

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