Review and Extension of Heredity and Humanity

By Miller, Edward M. | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Review and Extension of Heredity and Humanity


Miller, Edward M., The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


Heredity and Humanity: Race, Eugenics and Modern Science by Roger Pearson

Scott-Townsend Publishers, Washington D.C. 1996

Pearson's book attempts to cover a vast amount of material, trying to summarize in one place the history of race, heredity, and eugenics. As a result it is an introduction to a whole series of interesting topics.

To this reviewer, some of the most interesting material is in the later chapters which cover contemporary developments in relation to the study of heredity and the potential for eugenic action to combat the dysgenic trends inherent in modern society, but this review will proceed chronologically. The first chapter, entitled "The Concept of heredity in the Ancient World," documents that from classical times until relatively modern times, Western scholars took it for granted that human character was influenced by heredity. The second chapter, which outlines the hereditarian interests of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century founders of modern science, describes the growing scientific basis for the idea that heredity matters, and its logical implication that who the parents of the next generation are affects the nature of that generation. Names such as Earnest A. Hooton, Ellsworth Huntington, R. H. Jennings, William McDougall, Lewis Terman, F. Giddings, Edward A. Ross, Robert M. McIver, Emory S. Bogardus, all pioneers in the founding of the social sciences, are mentioned.

This chapter shows that eugenics and heredity were mainstream ideas until the advent of World War II, and demonstrates the fallacy of the idea conveyed by the media that the ideas of that period were some kind of pseudo-science. They were mainstream ideas, which modern science is currently validating. In other fields, even when the ideas held by earlier scientists are found to need revision, we do not describe the early writers as pseudo-scientists, but regard them as pioneers (D'Souza, 1995). Only the prevailing media bias against the findings of behavior genetics can explain the distorted views as to the importance of genetics in shaping human behavioral tendencies.

Pearson's third chapter, entitled "Eugenicists as Conservationists," reveals how many of the early eugenicists were also conservationists, concerned about the preservation of the natural environment. The American Redwoods and Yellowstone Park were saved by people like Gifford Pinchot, Madison Grant, Henry Fairfield Osborn and John Campbell Merriam, and Francis B. Sumner. This is not so surprising since both viewpoints represent a concern by today's generations about problems that will predominantly affect the distant future, and unborn generations.

The fourth chapter, entitled "Race as a Nation-Building Ideal," traces the views of eminent figures from the first half of the present century who saw nations as breeding populations, and used such phrases as "race suicide" to refer to dysgenic trends affecting the quality of a nation's population. Pearson documents the views of authorities such as Sir Arthur Keith, Margaret Sanger, Sir Charles Galton Darwin, Dean Inge of St Paul's Cathedral, London, G. Stanley Hall, the president of Clark University, David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University, and Theodore Roosevelt. These and many other notable names were deeply concerned about maintaining the genetic quality of the nation. It is interesting to see how eugenic laws, which many writers now dismiss with horror, were adopted by many European countries and U.S. states in the 1930s. The discussion here does not differ radically from that of other authors, except that Pearson shows how broad the support for eugenic policies was among leading academics at that time. He himself is obviously sympathetic to eugenics, while other writers openly display their antagonism.

After reaching a high point in the 20s and 30s, eugenics and the idea of heredity went into decline. Pearson attributes (in Chapter Five, entitled "Radical Egalitarianism Penetrates Academe") much of this to the extensive influence of the anthropologist Franz Boas and his disciples, followed by the impact of Stalinist Marxism. …

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