Acknowledgement I am grateful to the Council of the Eugenics Society for the help they have given me, and for permitting me to see and to quote from the Society's Minute Books. Introduction

НазваниеAcknowledgement I am grateful to the Council of the Eugenics Society for the help they have given me, and for permitting me to see and to quote from the Society's Minute Books. Introduction
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Attitudes to Class and Social Welfare

We have seen that eugenists feared that the population was deteriorating because of the differential birth-rate. In earlier generations the higher mortality among the poor would have reduced the gap in effective fertility to very modest proportions. But, especial­ly since 1891, the general death-rate had been falling steeply, presumably because of improved medical care, and this, eugenists gloomily observed, was permitting large numbers of the unfit to sur­vive and thus transmit their defects to their offspring. So bitterly did many eugenists bewail the suspension of natural selection that they seemed to be advocating a return to unrestricted competition. This laid them open to the crushing rejoinder that the premises of eugenics, if true, would lead one to search for the Superman in the slums of the big cities where competition worked in all its primitive fury among masses of unskilled labourers engaged in a desperate conflict for a bare subsistence wage.1 Moreover, as Sidney Webb observed, in human societies the question of who survived was 'determined by the conditions of the struggle, the rules of the ring'; 'where the rules of the ring favour a low type, the low type will survive, and vice-versa'.2 However misleading their rhetoric, intelligent eugenists were well aware of these considerations. They entirely took Webb's point, but whereas the latter drew attention to the dangers of slum life, they themselves were more worried by the existence of generous State aid and numerous ill-organized charities, which together (so they claimed) had created an environment in which a 'reversed selection' was taking place—in which diseased, parasitic, and incompetent per­sons of various kinds were assured of a comfortable existence at the


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expense of the 'efficient', who were being taxed to support them and their numerous offspring.3 This, in the eugenists' view, was the cause of physical deterioration and the multiplication of the unfit.

Unlike Spencerian Social Darwinists, eugenists did not favour a policy of minimum State intervention. They rather wished to replace natural selection by 'rational selection'. The teaching of biology was that man was a member of the animal kingdom; he had, however, to be converted from a 'wild' into a 'domesticated' animal, and this would involve an extension of State responsibility into hitherto un­regulated areas of social life, like the procreation and rearing of children. The environmentalist case was not completely ignored. Eugenists were simply working for different political and social changes from those favoured by socialists and radicals: changes that would enhance the well being and, hopefully, increase the birth-rate of the 'efficient' middle classes, while reducing the numbers of the 'socially dependent'.

But eugenists thought that environmental influences were only im­portant in so far as they encouraged or discouraged the spread of par­ticular human and social attributes and determined which of these would be 'selected'. They rejected the belief that environmental agen­cies could cause the human species to be modified in either a beneficial or a detrimental sense. That acquired characteristics were inherited was a theory which few biologists still held. The researches of August Weismann, and his views about the immutability of the germ-plasm, implied that while use, or accidents, or nourishment, or other kinds of stimuli might modify the somatic cells, they would not affect the germ-cells, so that whatever advantages an individual might have reaped in his own life-time would die with him; they could not be transmitted to his descendants. More than one practical deduction could be drawn from this scientific proposition.4 But eugenists ob­viously used it to throw cold water on educational effort and social reform generally. Not only could the species not be improved by these agencies, worse still, these agencies might have positively harmful consequences, since they would tend to 'mask' evidence of biological degeneration. Indeed, eugenists used this argument to explain why in­sufficient notice was being taken of national deterioration.

Thus, philanthropists, social workers, and educationalists had been


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busily fussing over the symptoms of a much more deep-seated problem, which derived from factors of genetic endowment. Eugenists mocked at Medical Officers of Health and schoolteachers who had started from the premise that, given a constant environment, all human beings could perform at an equally adequate level: this fallacious view had produced nothing but misery and heart-ache. Dedicated teachers had tragically wasted the best years of their lives on children who were congenitally incapable of responding to their efforts. Pearson produced a parable about a man trying to make a razor; although a good razor required tempering and setting before it could function efficiently, its cutting edge would only be sharp if the material were sound steel. Similarly with education. One could not produce brains by multiplying universities and technical colleges, although such institutions were useful to men and women of high in­born intelligence.5 Doctrinaire refusal to attend to the requirements of heredity had involved real hardship for dull children. Displaying for once a deep humanitarian concern, eugenists lamented the lot of a working-class child forced to undergo an educational process to which he was utterly unsuited.

Leonard Darwin was anxious that eugenists should not make enemies needlessly, and sometimes tried to discount the impression that eugenics was an alternative to social reform. The question of whether heredity or environment did more to mould the individual he likened to a debate between farmers as to which was the more impor­tant, manuring or ploughing; obviously both were important, and if eugenists concentrated upon the former this was because no other pressure-group existed which could agitate on behalf of the unborn and hold a watching brief for the well-being of the race.6 But in general, the whole tenor of eugenical literature was to demonstrate within what narrow limits the social reformers were operating. The work of Pearson and his colleagues at the Biometrics Laboratory was designed to measure the correlation between certain human attributes on the one hand, and environmental and hereditary factors on the other. The evidence satisfied these workers, if not everyone else, that in general the intensity of inheritance was some five to ten times greater than that of environment.7 Pearson could thus ascribe the social problems of contemporary Britain to one simple factor: 'we


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have placed our money on Environment, when Heredity wins in a canter'.8 In an often cited passage, the moral was drawn: 'the first thing is good stock, and the second thing is good stock, and the third thing is good stock, and when you have paid attention to these three things, fit environment will keep your material in good condition'.9

Environment only seemed to be so important because of the slip­shod methods of most social scientists. Medical Officers of Health, like Arthur Newsholme, produced statistics which apparently proved that child death-rates were higher among the residents of back-to-back houses than among those inhabiting a more salubrious neighbourhood. But correlation was not the same thing as causation. Pearson mocked at Newsholme's use of statistics by using an analogous method to 'prove' that the rise in the cancer figures had been 'caused' by an increase in the importation of foreign apples. All this ignored, so the eugenists contended, the important point that men made their environment, and were not simply moulded by it. In the words of Edgar Schuster: the eugenist had to 'find out what qualities lead different individuals into different environments. We must be careful not to assume that the environment is thrust haphazard on us, for it is largely moulded by our own characters'.10 At its extreme, this argument could be extended to show that the slums were themselves biological phenomena; they were created by a dis­tinctive biological type, the 'chronic slum dweller', and only when this undesirable type had been bred out of the race would it be possible to effect a lasting improvement in housing conditions. If, as Heron thought possible, 'the mentally and physically inferior parents gravitate to the inferior environment',11 then most social workers were clearly working along wrong lines.

Such conclusions would be unpalatable to many people, but eugenists warned of the dangers of being carried away by an unreflec­ting humanitarianism. Pity was an instinct that needed to be guided by reason and biological science. In Pearson's words, 'one factor—ab­solutely needful for race survival—sympathy, has been developed in such an exaggerated form that we are in danger, by suspending selec­tion, of lessening the effect of those other factors which automatically purge the state of the degenerates in body and mind'. He added, 'we cannot go backwards a single step in the evolution of human feeling!


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But I demand that all sympathy and charity should be organized and guided into paths where they will promote racial efficiency, and not lead us straight towards national shipwreck'.12 From this perspective much philanthropy could be dismissed as a cowardly escape from harsh reality; true courage required the disciplining of one's mere feelings and a deliberate subordination of short-term emotional satisfaction in the interests of the race as a whole.

The crippling financial burdens being imposed upon the 'efficient' members of society by thoughtless social reformers was another theme upon which eugenical writers were constantly harping. Major Darwin tried on several occasions to 'cost' the efforts being made by the community to keep the 'unfit' alive and comfortable. He concluded that the amount of money spent on law, justice, the police, the relief of the poor, infirmaries and lunatic asylums, 'all services which would be much less needed if the unfit were eliminated', came to approximately £48 million a year. This left out of account the cost of running special schools, expenditure on National Insurance, and the vast sums of ' money, perhaps £10 million a year, subscribed to charitable bodies.13 But the 'costs of degeneracy' did not end there. The one million paupers in daily receipt of relief were being looked after by 'a whole army of able-bodied officials and attendants'; in a Eugenical State most of these skilled men would be 'set free from their economically useless occupations' and 'employed instead on productive services'. Moreover, the elimination of the pauper and the wastrel would im­mensely increase the productivity of the work-force, as had been shown by the researches of Munsterburg and others on Industrial Efficiency.14 The whole community would benefit from this, including honest workers at present penalized by the presence in the ranks of the work-force of shirkers and weaklings.15

But, most important of all from the eugenic standpoint, a reduction in the numbers of the unfit would automatically lead to a reduction in taxation. This was seen as important, since many eugenists held the implausible view that it was the punitively high level of taxation which was preventing middle class couples from having large families. With the standard rate of income tax a mere Is. Id., even after the People's Budget, and the higher rate of surtax only 9d. in the pound, this argument bears little serious consideration. But it was


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customary, nevertheless, for eugenists to speak as though the country had already reached the limits of its taxable resources. Montague Crackanthorpe berated the Socialists for attempting to stir up class enmity; let them remember, he said, 'that the so-called "rich" are, in the majority of cases, saddled with such heavy obligations for the benefits of others that what is left over for themselves is but a very modest sum'.16 He, too, thought this was why middle-class parents were practising family limitation. There was an obvious political appeal in this line of argument at a time when the Liberal Govern­ment was embarking upon an expensive social reform programme, which, modest though it may appear in retrospect, did represent some kind of threat to the wealthy and privileged. A letter to the Sheffield Telegraph in March 1910 illustrates this point clearly enough; after protesting at length about the 'murder' of the best stocks in order to provide a suitable environment for the worst stocks, the writer con­cludes: 'Therefore, I say again—hands off the rates and hands off the taxes. What is needed is a complete reversal of the rotten Socialistic policy which has done, and is doing, so much mischief in the country .. ,'17

Frightened middle-class groups would also have been attracted to eugenics for the reason that it purported to give a scientific explana­tion, and hence a moral justification, of class divisions. Class stratification was portrayed by many eugenists as a necessary con­sequence of biological evolution, which had many parallels in the animal and plant world. No less an authority than the geneticist, William Bateson, was on record as saying: 'As the biologist knows, differentiation is indispensable to progress. If the population were homogeneous civilisation would stop'.18 The vulgarity and ignorance of nineteenth century educationalists and social reformers was nowhere more clearly seen than in their tirades against the ar­bitrariness and injustice of class distinctions. In fact, eugenists argued, classes were biological phenomena. Through isolation and inter-marriage, distinct human sub-groups had come into existence, with marked physical features and mental traits, which were inborn not acquired. When visiting a cattle market Bateson perceived as many types among the human beings as among the animals they were managing, the only difference being that men were the offspring of


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almost random mating, and so had not formed separate breeds.19 The Whethams went further, when they wrote: 'the variations of type among us, as indicated by the different social strata, show the existence of variations of innate physical and mental characteristics as real though infinitely more elusive than the differences between, for example, the Highland cattle and the Guernsey cow .. .20 Not only social classes in the broad sense, but even occupational sub-groups were often treated in this way. To quote Pearson: 'The differentiation of men in physique and mentality has led to the slow but still im­perfect development of occupational castes within all civilised com­munities'. He added that 'in a perfectly efficient society, there would always be castes suited to specialised careers—the engineer, the ploughman, the mathematician, the navvy, the statesman, the actor and the craftsman', and people would largely marry others of the same caste.21

But this assumption that the class system expressed differences of genetic endowment was precisely what infuriated the critics of "eugenics. What evidence, they complained, was there for supposing that wealth or social status were closely correlated with eugenic worth? In reply, eugenists usually admitted that it would be wrong to identify genetic factors with social status, and denied that this was what they were doing. However, the qualification once made, they in­variably forgot all about it, and blithely proceeded to make the very claim that their critics had rightly challenged. The fact remains that all but a small minority of 'reform eugenists' held the unshakeable conviction that, broadly speaking, the upper classes were superior to the lower orders in all those attributes to which humans attached value: health, sturdy physique, and intelligence.

Opponents were not convinced. Even if the existence of these differences of physique and intelligence could be demonstrated, they said, this would only indicate that the socially privileged enjoyed ad­vantages which working men lacked. If there were genuine equality of opportunity, the working classes, or many members of this class, would emerge as at least the equals of their social betters; so let there be reforms in education and the 'abolition' of poverty, before hasty judgments were made about the inborn qualities of particular social classes. This line of argument sometimes got home. Even a rigid


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hereditarian like E. J. Lidbetter could write: We must take steps to ensure that in no phase of our social life can it be truly said that the en­vironment of the people is so bad' that a question mark rested over the importance of genetic endowment.22

But the dominant theme was the one which Francis Galton himself had bequeathed to his followers. In Hereditary Genius, Galton argued that men who achieved eminence and those who were naturally capable were to a large extent identical.23 The highly gifted possessed a kind of nervous energy and capacity for sustained effort which carried them through whatever obstacles society might place in their way. And because he believed that the upper classes of Britain were being 'largely and continually recruited by selections from below', they had by far the lion's share of natural ability, while 'the lower classes [were], in truth, the "residuum"'.24

The provision of free elementary education, scholarship ladders, and the like seemed to have strengthened Galton's case. Edwardian eugenists believed, however mistakenly, that the social structure was now so fluid that any bright lad could rise out of the working class and make his way in the world. There was a continual 'sifting out' of abili­ty, with the able rising into the upper classes, to replace those whose lack of natural capacity had led to their social demotion. This process, they said, could not be taken much further. In McDougalTs opinion, 'we have now well-nigh perfected the social ladder'!25 It was in order to confirm this hunch that McDougall, then at Oxford University, en­couraged the young Cyril Burt to devise tests which could measure 'general intelligence'. These tests were first carried out on two groups of Oxford schoolchildren, one attending a 'high-class Preparatory School', the other a 'superior Elementary School'; they showed that those of higher social status did consistently better; thus Burt was able to conclude that 'the superior proficiency at Intelligence Tests, on the part of boys of superior parentage, was inborn'.26 British eugenists were slower than their American counterparts to grasp the relevance of intelligence testing to the Nature/Nurture controversy, but by 1914 they were beginning to play an important part in eugenical propaganda.27

But even without the aid of intelligence tests, most eugenists were satisfied that by and large people were in the social class to which


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their inborn qualities entitled them. This is evident from the frequent­ly made assertion that in general, wages provided an accurate measurement of individual efficiency. Leonard Darwin thought that both intelligence and scholastic tests were impractical for the general purposes of eugenical reform. But, he argued:

The qualities which make a man able to support his family are all of racial value; and the rate of wages . .. may be made to afford some indication of the value of the innate qualities of the wage-earner. The ill paid are, no doubt, very often superior to the well paid; but the correlation between wages and good qualities is likely to increase continually as time goes on. That such a correlation does exist is rendered highly probable rather than actually proved by several comparisons between social strata which have been made by means of intelligence tests.. .28

But on Darwin's own admission the coincidence between eugenic worth and income (hence social status) was by no means complete. Let the remaining 'anomalies' be swept away as soon as possible, he argued. But he added, let it not be supposed that advances made in the direction of equality of opportunity would lead in the long run to less inequality; the opposite was more likely to occur, because reform would simply reveal more starkly the vast differences in natural en­dowment with which human beings came into the world.29

To most eugenists the prospect of an unequal and hierarchically organized society held no alarm, provided that the differentiation was made on a eugenic basis. William Bateson believed that the feudal system approximated as closely as any man-made contrivance had yet done to the natural order. Society, he added, was returning to a similar sort of structure, although this time it would have a scientific foundation. Like most eugenists, Bateson was worried by the social turbulence and industrial agitation that marked the pre-war years. But he thought that his new feudal society would greatly reduce the tension, because in such a society the different grades of human being would all occupy their rightful place. 'At such a time as the present much of the intensity of discontent is due to the fact that some are at the bottom who should be higher, while some are high who should be lower'.30


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Thus, like Darwin, Bateson wanted there to be a revision of social status. But few eugenists seem to have supposed that this would en­tail a radical shake-up of the entire social system of their day. Indeed, many of them were opposed to even modest reforms that might in­crease social mobility. Perhaps we should summarily dismiss, for the nonsense that it was, Mudge's extraordinary assertion that the scholarship boy from a poor background carried, as it were, latent working-class genes and so would tend to produce offspring who would 'revert'.31 More rational were the fears of the Oxford philosopher, Schiller, that precisely because the working classes were being 'drained' of their ablest stocks by scholarship ladders and the like, there would be few if any men and women of transcendent ability who could come to the fore should there by a national catastrophe or a social upheaval similar to the industrial revolution. The more thoroughly ability was segregated into a ruling class, the greater the dangers to which the nation was exposed.32 A variation on this lament was Darwin's fear that the 'residuum', baffled at their own incapacity, might by sheer force of numbers eventually overwhelm the efficient, and that unless they were led by able people from their own ranks, who had at least some inkling of the value of science and the arts, the lower orders might one day lash out at the very fabric of civilization.33

In addition, there was the argument of the Whethams that the bright working-class child who went up in the world tended to marry either unsuitably, or too late, or perhaps not at all; in eugenic terms this was a grave evil, because it meant that stock of sound worth was being permitted to die out. 'Better that an able carpenter should develop slowly into a small builder, leaving six tall sons to play their part manfully, and, perchance, rise one step more, than that he should be converted by a County Council scholarship into a primary schoolmaster, or second-grade Civil Service clerk, and that there the usefulness to the race of the innate abilities of which he is the tem­porary trustee should cease for ever'.34 One would have thought that the difficulty being complained of was a social one, capable of being met by some appropriate social or political arrangement, but as the above extract clearly shows, the Whethams, like other eugenists, were strongly predisposed, for reasons that had nothing to do with biology, in favour of preserving the status quo, and so disliked an educational


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system which enabled some working class boys to escape from their due station in life. Other eugenists shared the Whethams' fears that modern education was to blame for much of the political unrest of the day. Significantly, Darwin wanted all those who could benefit from a good education to be given the chance, but he added that education should usually fit children for the way of life pursued by adults of the same class, and that parents should be told that 'the possibility of their children rising to a social station higher than their own' was 'a not improbable event, but one entirely out of the parents' control'.35 As J. F. Tocher succinctly put it: 'our object as reformers is to work towards a state of Society where the action of individual units, as a whole, shall produce stability in the community'.36

So far eugenics has been presented as a creed with highly conser­vative implications, as indeed it was. But there were features peculiar to eugenics which marked it off from other conservative ideologies. This will become clear if we examine the way in which eugenists treated the landed aristocracy and the peerage. A few eugenists went out of their way to support the traditional 'upper classes'. The Whethams' writings were all designed to justify, on biological grounds, 'our best families', and to help save them from the threat of 'extinction'. 'The old governing classes of England, as of other similar nations', they wrote, 'incorporate an instinctive sense of public duty and acquire a large share of the natural aptitude for administration'.37 It will be noted that the Whethams were perfectly prepared to invoke acquired aptitudes and family traditions when it suited their pur­poses, although they contemptuously dismissed such considerations as 'fallacious Lamarckianism' when employed by radical social reformers. Such was the anxiety of the Whethams to justify the special privileges and influence of the landed aristocracy, and its links with the church, the armed services, and the offices of State. 'In no department of knowledge', they wrote, 'was the self-satisfied in­dividualism of 1850 more positive or more at fault than in matters of genealogy and heredity. The aristocratic theory of the family, which even those who believed in and acted on hardly then ventured to sup­port openly, contains the root of the matter, and only wants restating in modern terms to take its place as a great scientific truth'.38 These sentiments were expressed in the Whethams' book, The Family and


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the Nation, published in 1909, the year of the People's Budget—the political significance of this hardly needs underlining.

The Whethams were not alone in employing eugenical argu­ments in support of the British landed classes and the peerage against their radical assailants. Rather unwisely, perhaps, Montague Crackanthorpe permitted himself some quite open political sallies in his 1910 Presidential Address. Along with other indiscretions, he praised the House of Lords as an assembly largely composed of men who had achieved distinction in one walk of life or another and of the descendants of such men, whom one would also expect to be well above average in ability: 'This is probably what Lord Cromer meant when he said the other day, speaking in his place in Parliament, "It is very easy to go too far in condemning the hereditary principle; there is something in Heredity".'39 But Galton and Pearson were most irritated at remarks like this which confused theories of heredity with the principle of primogeniture. Moreover, they had other reasons for doubting the worth of a second chamber such as Britain possessed. For a start, as Pearson pointed out, it was often forgotten that a man had 'sixteen grandparents, and, possibly, only one of them may be of distinction, the man who won the title'. The mathematical probability of this exceptional ability being passed down for several generations through the eldest son would obviously be quite small.40 Moreover, Pearson's statistical researches led him to the controversial conclu­sion that the first-born child ran a greater risk of coming into the world with such defects as tuberculosis and insanity than subsequent children. If true, this suggested that the deliberate restriction of births, and especially the growing prevalence of the one-child family, portended national disaster.41 But it also told very heavily, of course, against a hereditary chamber recruited by primogeniture. Galton, who agreed with Pearson on this issue, wrote a letter to The Times in March 1910, pointing out that 'the claims of heredity would be best satisfied if all the sons of peers were equally eligible to the peerage, and a selection made among them, late researches having shown that the eldest-born are, as a rule, inferior in natural gifts to the younger-born in a small but significant degree'.42 Pearson himself, one presumes, took a very real pleasure in 'debunking' the House of Lords and ridiculing its pretensions; he still retained a few attitudes from his


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socialist past which brought him satisfaction in iconoclastic attacks on the established social and political order.

The same cannot be said for the majority of eugenists. Yet, leaving aside the Whethams, most of them obviously viewed the landed aristocracy with mixed feelings. Even the Whethams were forced to admit that, once a man had achieved the social recognition conferred by a peerage, the pressures of selection relaxed, and there was a danger of the children of the successful man slipping backwards: 'When a family becomes firmly established among the upper classes, the pressure of selection becomes less acute. Places are found for the sons, whether their abilities deserve them or not; some of the daughters make good marriages, regardless of whether they possess their share of the family ability. Selection ceases to a great extent, and reversion to a lower level inevitably occurs'.43 But for this, they suggested, the human species would have become much more differentiated than it actually was. Obviously this was, from the con­servative viewpoint, a damaging admission.

Other eugenists went further. In eugenical literature there are often expressions of disapproval of inherited wealth; wages may often have been presented as an indicator of individual efficiency and merit, but only very rarely are similar claims made for wealth.44 A precursor of the eugenics movement, Dr Haycraft, produced the slogan, 'Property Holders Less Capable than Property Acquirers'.45 Socialists, indeed, were able to argue that property itself must be a dysgenic institution in so far as it interfered with natural selection. Without going that far, eugenists tended to look with some suspicion on the landed aristocracy. This class undoubtedly contained families where a strong sense of public service still ran strong; these men were the true aristocrats, as well as being so in title. But not even Hilaire Belloc had more scathing things to say about the way in which the existing ruling class was turning itself into that most despicable of social groups, a plutocracy. Luxury, so ran the argument, was physically and morally debilitating. What was worse, from the eugenic point of view, it led able men and women to make inappropriate marriages, because wealth was valued more highly than sound stock. Where there was a spirit of self-indulgence, people would neglect their racial respon­sibilities by limiting their families, the women through an ignoble


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shrinking from physical pain, the husbands because the expense of bringing up children might interfere with their creature comforts. This was a temptation constantly before an aristocracy, most of whose members had abandoned their old traditions of ascetic patriotism. In Schiller's caustic words: 'Satire has often noted that the sole merit of the grand seigneurs [sic] was merely de se donner la peine de naitre; and nowadays even this appears to be becoming too much trouble for them or for their parents ... it is precisely because these favourites of fortune already have what most desire, and have to work for, that they degenerate ... our present sham nobility ... has become a social institution that means nothing biologically'.46

In addition, eugenists had learned from Galton that peers who attempted to rehabilitate their family fortunes by marrying rich heiresses ran a significant risk of procuring a barren wife. Only the Whethams chose to suggest that perhaps the time had come for retur­ning to the old practice of combining a hereditary title with a grant of lands or a substantial sum of money so as to do away with the tempta­tion of peers marrying heiresses for their worldly goods.47

But there were less expensive ways of'purifying' people's attitude towards marriage. Bernard Shaw thought that the best way of im­proving the human race was to institute equality of incomes, so that, undeterred by arbitrary class distinctions, men and women could choose a marriage partner, without consideration of rank or wealth, in accordance with the promptings of instinct, alias love, that very effec­tive eugenic agency.48 Put less flamboyantly, this was the 'biological' justification for socialism which had long been urged by Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection.49 Saleeby announced that, though personally no socialist, this argument struck him as being 'incomparably the best argument for that creed; and if it were proved that only through socialism could the utmost be made of women's choice of husbands, then no argument against socialism could have any appreciable weight at all'.50 But Shaw and Wallace, as socialists, believed that the existing class system was a mere lottery, and not even Saleeby could accept a critique of society that went to these lengths. Eugenists usually contented themselves with advising their readers to abandon the ignoble search for wealth at all costs and set an example of austere living and family responsibility that others


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could follow. As Darwin put it: 'Example being better than precept, those parents who put aside both social ambition and all useless dis­plays of wealth, and who follow the sound rule of never making friends with persons they cannot respect, will be making households where their children when young will naturally absorb high ideals and when grown up will be likely to meet with youth of good stock'.51 Eugenists were fond of simple-minded moralizing of this kind.

But luxury and flamboyant displays of wealth were obviously not the prerogative of the landed aristocracy. Eugenists also had harsh observations to make on this score concerning the entrepreneurial and business classes. Speculators were particularly frowned upon, while B ateson told the British Association in 1914 that although capital was an 'eugenic institution', 'the rewards of commerce are grossly out of proportion to those attainable by intellect or industry. Even regarded as compensation for a dull life, they far exceed the value of the services rendered to the community .. ,'52

Who, then, were the heroes of the play? In a word, they were the professional middle classes and the intelligentsia, or at least that sec­tion of it not corrupted by an effete humanitarianism. Threatened from above by the frivolity and pretentiousness of 'high society' and from below by an ignorant unwashed populace, the intellectual middle classes saw themselves as those who did the really important work of the world, for inadequate recognition and reward. Typical of eugenists was Schiller, who denigrated both upper and working classes in order that the professional man might stand revealed for what he was, the most perfect specimen yet produced by human evolution.53 This bias had been present in eugenical literature from the very start. A famous passage in Galton's Hereditary Genius runs: 'The best form of civilization in respect to the improvement of the race, would be one in which society was not costly; where incomes were chiefly derived from professional sources, and not much through inheritance; where every lad had a chance of showing his abilities, and, if highly gifted, was enabled to achieve a first-class education and entrance into professional life, by the liberal help of the exhibitions and scholarships which he had gained in his early youth .. ,'54

That the eugenics movement was pre-eminently concerned with the welfare of the professional classes is shown not only by the


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literature it produced, but also by the membership it attracted. Of the 634 members of the E.E.S. in 1914, a high proportion consisted of scientists, medical men, university lecturers, and men of letters; these, at least, provided the active membership and gave the Society its par­ticular tone. It is noticeable, too, that nearly all the affiliated branches were located in university cities, and clearly depended very heavily on the participation of university faculty.

Between eugenists and the working-class population, on the other hand, a great gulf existed, and nothing in eugenical literature is so striking as the way in which working people are frequently discussed as though they were denizens of some other planet.55 But eugenists have been accused not only of being ignorant of and insensitive to the working-class community, but also of elaborating doctrines which 'amounted to a practice of culling the socially and economically deprived'.56 To this charge eugenists would have replied that they had no hostility to working-class people as such, and would also have readily conceded that the 'fit' members of this class possessed racial qualities of the highest value.

But they insisted upon the distinction between 'fit' and 'unfit', and often spoke as though this involved differences of kind rather than degree. E. J. Lidbetter argued that, next to the segregation of the feeble-minded, the most important eugenic problem was to prevent the crossing of the line between the 'fit' and 'unfit' sections of the working class; the prevention of this, he said, would 'check, and ul­timately bring an end to, that exchange between strength and defect which at once perpetuates the defective stocks, and vitiates the good stocks, by the marriage inter-change which is constantly going on'.57 During the period of the Great Labour Unrest immediately preceding and following the First World War, some eugenists conceived the idea of breaking the alarming cohesion and militancy of trade unionists by urging the 'artisans' not to be so foolish as to fight for privileges for the 'inefficient' members within their ranks; could not the working man of good physique and intelligence see that he would be the prime sufferer from a socialistic system in which loafers, wastrels and 'unemployables' were kept in comfort by support from public funds ?58

The 'unfit' were thus sometimes identified with the mass of un­skilled workers, but usually more narrowly with the socially depen-


5 Attitudes to Class and Social Welfare

dent, men whose distinguishing feature was their inability to main­tain an independent existence. Even the latter group, eugenists ad­mitted, contained many who were merely 'unlucky'; the community had a clear duty to help, in no patronizing spirit, such unfortunates as those thrown out of work by cyclical unemployment, or women and children thrown on to the poor law by the sudden death of the breadwinner.59 Having made this admission, eugenists went on to claim that in fact the bulk of the socially dependent were deficient in some way or another. These were the barbarians within the gates.

It must be remembered that the E.E.S. had been formed in late 1907, at a time when unemployment was moving sharply upwards, reaching a peak in September and October of the following year. The Labour Party's repeated introduction into the Commons of a 'Right to Work' Bill had drawn further attention to this grave social problem. After 1910 the level of unemployment dropped, until in April 1913 it comprised only 1 • 7 per cent of all trade unionists. But although un­employment largely disappeared from the headlines, the related problems of pauperism and destitution did not, thanks to the efforts of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, whose Reports came out in early 1909, and to the Webbs who kept up a lively campaign aimed at the abolition of the whole Poor Law system. It was into this debate that the eugenists eagerly plunged.

Eugenists viewed with contempt what they thought was the eva­sion of the real issues involved. William Dampier Whetham, ad­dressing students at Trinity College, Cambridge, in January 1910, observed: 'Complicated questions of economics and sociology are only confused when they are discussed in the political arena. Please clear your minds as far as possible of all you may have heard, read or said on these subjects during the past few months, and look with me at the facts'. Whetham's contention was that neither the Majority nor the Minority Report merited much respect, since neither gave con­sideration to the evidence that pauperism and unemployment were in large measure due to inherent defect.60 Incidentally, both Galton and Darwin had hoped that Pearson might be asked to offer 'hereditary' evidence before the Poor Law Commission, but Pearson waited in vain for a summons.61

The Eugenics Education Society subsequently attempted to fill the


5 Attitudes to Class and Social Welfare

gap, by carrying out its own enquiry into the problem of destitution, with the aid of relieving officers from three workhouses.62 The leading spirit in this investigation, Lidbetter, was himself a poor-law officer in the East End of London, who devoted much of his life to the laborious compilation of pauper pedigrees. In the most painstaking manner, Lidbetter built up evidence which pointed to the not surprising con­clusion that individuals in receipt of poor-law relief usually had relatives who were similarly circumstanced. His pedigrees were ac­tually quite compatible with an environmentalist theory of destitu­tion, but Lidbetter himself was confirmed in his belief that there existed a hereditary class of 'chronic paupers' and unemployables, whose members were being steadily increased by the short-sighted activities of philanthropists and politicians. For how could 'bad en­vironment' be to blame, when the environment had been continuously improved at great expense over the past fifty years, while the 'vast ar­my' of paupers had shown no real sign of diminution ?63

In Lidbetter's view, these pathetic creatures, drifting through life without purpose or any sense of social responsibility, were 'non-members' of society, a caste cut off from the world of independent men and women.64 Incapable of responding to the appropriate stimuli, these 'hereditary paupers' not only burdened civilization, but also menaced its very survival through their high fertility.

But what was to be done with this 'social problem group', to use the phrase which the Wood Committee succeeded in popularizing in the 1920s? The first difficulty was in identifying them and separating them off from the merely 'unlucky' paupers. Were these 'unfit' members of society to be defined in administrative terms as persons in receipt of public assistance, or did they have actual defects of a kind that doctors could diagnose ? Eugenists inclined to the second view, as can be seen from their habit of listing criminals and paupers with the insane, the tuberculous, and epileptics, when discussing the composi­tion of the 'unfit'. Of course, Lidbetter was quite correct when he pointed out that a high percentage, perhaps eighty per cent of indoor paupers, were suffering from some kind of illness that incapacitated them for work;65 in so far as those illnesses were of a hereditary kind, it could be argued that the reasons for these paupers' destitution were 'hereditary', although it was rather playing with the meaning of words


5 Attitudes to Class and Social Welfare

to go on and claim that therefore they were 'hereditary paupers'.

Another large category within the ranks of the socially dependent were the feeble-minded; the Royal Commission on the Feeble-Minded estimated that they comprised about five per cent of the habitual inmates of casual wards, cheap lodging houses and night shelters.66 Eugenists could quote the Commission itself in support of their demand for the segregation of the feeble-minded from the rest of the community. But they often went further, and implied that many 'unemployables' were border-line, feeble-minded people, of too low a mental type to earn an independent living, but not sufficiently retarded to be placed in custodial care. In Lidbetter's words, 'the danger arising from this condition of affairs is the more serious in that it is not recognised'.67 Similar sentiments were expressed by American eugenists, who perhaps showed even greater enthusiasm than their British counterparts in tracing back delinquency, crime, and pauperism to the root cause of feeble-mindedness. As Haller remarks, the fact that these dependent people were 'so close to normal that [they] would pass for normal if not discovered by the Binet tests, made [them] all the more dangerous to the community'.68

But defective intelligence did not of itself explain what was wrong with the habitual pauper or unemployable. In an attempt to formulate what they meant, eugenists fell back upon the language of moral con­demnation. There was something defective, they said, in the moral outlook of the 'unemployable'. Thus, Pearson spoke of the need to segregate those whose 'social inefficiency' stemmed not so much from mental inadequacy as from the fact that they took 'a view of life which [was] in distorted perspective' and were 'out of harmony with their economic or social surroundings'.69 And the Eugenics Review created some mirth among its critics when it characterized the 'hereditary pauper' as a person who 'was born without manly independence'.70 Edward Brabrook was even more severe: 'It is impossible to be entire­ly blind to the fact that large numbers of the chronically unemployed have brought their troubles upon themselves. There are the criminals and semi-criminal classes whose records keep them out of work. There are the drunkards, gamblers and incorrigible idlers. These are those not positively vicious, but who are incurable loafers'.71 These ne'er-do-wells often gave themselves away by their physical


5 Attitudes to Class and Social Welfare

appearance; 'a furtive glance and a low forehead', were often en­countered among this class.72 And yet, paradoxically, at the same time as showering the 'chronic pauper' with moralistic abuse, eugenists in­sisted that, coming as these people did from 'degenerate stocks', they could no more alter their behaviour than the leopard could change its spots. 'The charge of being improvident, often brought against this class, is a true charge, but it is so because of the people's incapacity to be otherwise', wrote none other than E. J. Lidbetter.73

The Webbs once observed of eugenics that it was 'in fact, just now the most fashionable kind of laissez-faire'.1* Although true in one sense, this assertion conceals the sharp disagreements that divided eugenists from many orthodox defenders of laissez-faire doctrines. The Charity Organization Society [hereafter C.O.S.], for example, viewed the new-fangled creed with suspicion, because of the eugenists' tendency to undervalue the ethical principles of 'co­operation' and 'social service'. C. S. Loch wrote: 'We have to rely on the efficacy of home education and control and the many educational means at our disposal—schools, bands of hope, clubs etc., etc., and "good surroundings". We have also to rely on an administration of assistance guided by principles that lead to self-reliance and self-support'.75 The C.O.S. were indignant at the suggestion that most paupers were congenitally incapable of responding to the stimulus of encouragement and incapable of improving themselves. Perhaps irked also by eugenists' contemptuous treatment of the Poor Law Majority Report, which some of their leading members had helped to draft, the C.O.S. defended the very poor from their new middle-class detractors, showing in the process a warmth of sympathy for which their Society was not exactly famous.76

Eugenists and the C.O.S. could agree, however, in attacking nearly all the social reforms introduced by the pre-war Liberal Governments. Old age pensions, for example, had few advocates in eugenical circles. The Whethams thought that the need for this form of State endowment had only arisen because of the declining birth­rate among respectable citizens. 'Now, as he grows old and past work, [the artisan's] maintenance becomes a well-nigh intolerable burden on the one or two children, who, possibly with families of their own to rear, suffer acutely, largely owing to the suppression of the brothers


5 Attitudes to Class and Social Welfare

and sisters, who would have shared the responsibility with them at this juncture'. Yet, in the Whethams' view, the increased taxation necessitated by old age pensions would depress the birth-rate still further, so that a vicious circle was being created.77 Karl Pearson employed a different argument: 'When we regard the present six or seven million pounds a year—soon to be ten or more millions—given to a mere environmental reform, which applied long after the reproductive age cannot possibly produce any permanent racial change, how deeply one must regret the want of knowledge and statesmanship, which overlooked the naturally disastrous policy of the factory acts, and did not seek its opportunity to endow parentage rather than senility with those annual millions'. Instead of this 'hasty vote-catching legislation', wrote Pearson, the government should have followed the German example, with benefits determined by eugenic considerations.78

Since the 1911 National Insurance Act equally failed to meet Pear­son's criteria, it is not surprising that eugenists should also have expressed their doubts about the advisability of this measure. But though Bradbury prodded the E.E.S. into setting up a working party on the subject in 1912,79 members seem to have had some difficulty in formulating an agreed position, and the Eugenics Review never carried a full feature on the National Insurance Act as it had done on the Poor Law problem. Saleeby was effusive in his praise for the Act in so far as it attempted 'to care for the last fortnight of expectant motherhood or ante-natal nurture'.80 In general, the principle of a maternity benefit was welcomed,81 although some eugenists felt it resembled too closely for comfort the Fabians' proposals for 'the en­dowment of motherhood'. But the sanitorium benefit was singled out for unfavourable mention by Mrs Gotto when addressing the Inter­national Congress of Health in Paris in 1912; the £1} million made available for this purpose, she said, was a tax on the fit, which 'in the present dysgenic state of public opinion, [would] allow a larger number of [the tuberculous] to reach maturity and reproduce their kind'.82 The £57,000 earmarked for research under the terms of the act met with approval, of course; in fact the Council of the E.E.S. had their eyes on the fund, some of which they would have liked to see spent on a study of heredity.83 In general, however, eugenists did not


5 Attitudes to Class and Social Welfare

like the National Insurance Act. It spread the risks of sickness and un­employment throughout the community in a way which they thought likely to stimulate the fertility of the 'unfit', while increasing the fiscal burdens which weighed upon the efficient; and it was a measure con­cerned only with mitigating individual suffering, which by-passed the causes of social distress and took no account of the long-term interests of the race.

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