THE IDEOLOGY OF ELIMINATION
American and German Eugenics, 1900–1945
Garland E. Allen
RECENT THEOLOGICAL METAPHORS of the Human Genome Project as the “Holy Grail” of modern biology and literary references to our “fate being no longer in the stars but in our genes” reveal a pervasive belief, widespread in our high tech society, that much of who we are and what we do as human beings is controlled by the genes we inherit from our parents. In the past fifteen years our understanding of the genetic and molecular basis of many clinically definable physiological traits—cystic fibrosis, the various thalassemias, lipid and carbohydrate storage diseases, chronic granulomatous disease, and more than eight hundred others—has increased exponentially. In that same time period the Human Genome Project has been put in place, amid claims that the new knowledge of our genetic “blueprint” will revolutionize our future and provide solutions to myriads of previously intractable medical and social problems. Techniques involving somatic gene therapy and germline gene replacement, or claims that genetic engineering can lead to the design of molecules that substitute for the products of defective genes, all lead to the belief that in genetics lies the answer to many of our society’s woes.
Nowhere have genetic claims been more prominent, or received more sensational treatment, than in the area of human mental, personality, and social traits. Whether in the guise of sociobiology twenty years ago, human behavior genetics in the past ten years, or “evolutionary psychology” in the last five, we have all been treated to a continuing barrage of reports on research purporting to show a genetic basis for a wide variety of social behaviors. Headlines on the covers of all our national