How many times have you heard that Social Darwinism and eugenics are “far right” and that Capitalism is “the law of the jungle” in a ruthless right wing Darwinian struggle for survival? Probably so many times that you cannot enumerate them. However, there is something fishy about those claims.
When Darwin first proposed his theory of evolution by natural selection in the middle of the 19th century, conservatives vigorously opposed the idea, as many even do today. They stuck to a literal interpretation of the Bible and remained loyal to Creationism.
How then can it be that the people who were staunchly against Darwin’s theory somehow enthusiastically embraced the ideas of Darwinism applied to society and eugenics? That makes no sense.
It turns out that after the atrocities of the National Socialists in World War II were revealed to the world, the communist historian Richard Hofstadter wrote what became the epitomized history of the United States, the book “Social Darwinism in American Thought,” which completely rewrote the history of eugenics.
So what is the truth that Hofstadter and the left didn’t want the world to know? Those who were most enamored with eugenics and pushed it as public policy were the progressives of the Progressive Era. Most of them were atheists and socialists.
Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, was the inventor of the term eugenics, which is Greek for “well-born.” Inspired by the work of his cousin on heritability, he argued that both individuals and society would benefit from those who had the best genes having more children than those with bad genes. He proposed encouraging eugenic marriages by supplying able couples with incentives to have children. Being a classical liberal like his cousin Charles Darwin, he also strongly warned against the use of compulsion.
However, an entirely different breed of people did not heed his warning. They were collectivists, socialists and big government advocates. For them, compulsion was not a bad word. In the Progressive Era, these early leftists won the battle of ideas with their notion of the welfare state and compulsory eugenic policies such as forced sterilization.
One of these champions of mandatory eugenics was the famous playwright and Nobel laureate, George Bernard Shaw. He was a Fabian socialist, which favored slow transformation over revolution. The Fabian society has sported many famous socialist members such as H.G. Wells and Tony Blair.
Like so many socialists during the 1920s and 1930s, Shaw praised Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler, which he saw as progressive fellowmen. For a full insight into his praise of the dictators, which is beyond the scope of this essay, we recommend this transcript of a 1933 newspaper article.
Shaw produced a movie in which he advocated eugenic extermination for people of bad stock. In the film, he says:
You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. […] Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?
If you can’t justify your existence, […] if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.
If you think these ideas are disturbingly close to what happened in Germany, you would be right. Shaw was not alone in thinking along these lines. Many Western countries introduced forced sterilization laws in the 1930s, and social democratic Sweden continued the practice until the 1970s.
The truth is that the eugenics movement was almost entirely a creature of the left. When it was morally discredited after World War II, history was rewritten to make it look like this was always an idea of the right.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Most classical liberals were champions of laissez-faire capitalism, not because it was a ruthless dog-eat-dog competition, but because it uplifted everyone, including those of lesser abilities. Capitalism was hated by the wealthy elite for precisely that reason because it removed their privileged status and access to wealth.
This is the dark secret of the left, and yet they engage in its subtle practices even today.
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