Friday, April 8, 2016

When racism was Progressive

"Harvard's eugenics era," in Harvard Magazine is about the promotion of the theory of eugenics by scientists associated with that school. Harvard was hardly unique. As the article notes, "Eugenics attracted considerable support from progressives, reformers, and educated elites as a way of using science to make a better world." Eugenics "insisted that human progress depended on promoting reproduction by the best people in the best combinations, and preventing the unworthy from having children." The excerpts below show the application of the theory to race and ethnicity, although the article deals with many of the other aspects of the theory as argued by its proponents.
.... Harvard’s geneticists gave important support to Galton’s fledgling would-be science. Botanist Edward M. East, who taught at Harvard’s Bussey Institution, propounded a particularly racial version of eugenics. In his 1919 book Inbreeding and Outbreeding: Their Genetic and Sociological Significance, East warned that race mixing would diminish the white race, writing: “Races have arisen which are as distinct in mental capacity as in physical traits.” The simple fact, he said, was that “the negro is inferior to the white.”

East also sounded a biological alarm about the Jews, Italians, Asians, and other foreigners who were arriving in large numbers. “The early settlers came from stock which had made notable contributions to civilization,” he asserted, whereas the new immigrants were coming “in increasing numbers from peoples who have impressed modern civilization but lightly.” There was a distinct possibility, he warned, that a “considerable part of these people are genetically undesirable.” ....

East’s Bussey Institution colleague William Ernest Castle taught a course on “Genetics and Eugenics,” one of a number of eugenics courses across the University. He also published a leading textbook by the same name that shaped the views of a generation of students nationwide. Genetics and Eugenics not only identified its author as “Professor of Zoology in Harvard University,” but was published by Harvard University Press and bore the “Veritas” seal on its title page, lending the appearance of an imprimatur to his strongly stated views.

In Genetics and Eugenics, Castle explained that race mixing, whether in animals or humans, produced inferior offspring. He believed there were superior and inferior races, and that “racial crossing” benefited neither. “From the viewpoint of a superior race there is nothing to be gained by crossing with an inferior race,” he wrote. “From the viewpoint of the inferior race also the cross is undesirable if the two races live side by side, because each race will despise individuals of mixed race and this will lead to endless friction.” ....

One of Harvard’s most prominent psychology professors was a eugenicist who pioneered the use of questionable intelligence testing. Robert M. Yerkes, A.B. 1898, Ph.D. ’02, published an introductory psychology textbook in 1911 that included a chapter on “Eugenics and Mental Life.” In it, he explained that “the cure for race deterioration is the selection of the fit as parents.” ....

Another eugenicist in a key position was William McDougall, who held the psychology professorship William James had formerly held. His 1920 book The Group Mind explained that the “negro” race had “never produced any individuals of really high mental and moral endowments” and was apparently “incapable” of doing so. His next book, Is America Safe for Democracy (1921), argued that civilizations declined because of “the inadequacy of the qualities of the people who are the bearers of it”—and advocated eugenic sterilization. .... [more]
Eugenics gave "scientific" justification for racism and bigotry. These academics thought themselves "on the right side of history" and undoubtedly despised benighted souls who resisted the "consensus" of science.

G.K. Chesterton, in the same times:
“The thing that really is trying to tyrannize through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen—that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the government will really help it to persecute its heretics…I am not frightened of the word ‘persecution’…It is a term of legal fact. If it means the imposition by the police of a widely disputed theory, incapable of final proof—then our priests are not now persecuting, but our doctors are.”
Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State,
1922.