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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6

Eugenics and Party Politics, 1908-14



It might seem, therefore, that eugenics provided an ideological prop to the more traditional members of the Conservative Party. However, many of its advocates, especially the scientists, viewed it rather as a message which transcended what ordinary people meant by politics; so overwhelmingly important was it, conventional political issues must pale into insignificance by comparison. Science had taken the place once occupied by an unscientific politics and ethics, and the latter would soon arouse interest only as historical curiosities. Saleeby spoke of eugenics as the touchstone by which the usefulness of all political panaceas could be tested: 'the question is not whether a given proposal is socialistic, individualistic or anything else, but whether it is eugenic ... I claim for eugenics that it is the final and only judge of all proposals and principles, however labelled, new or old, orthodox or heterodox'.1 Some of the scientists expressed amazement that in­telligent people could still get excited over such trivialities as tariffs, dreadnoughts, religous education in schools and the other preoc­cupations of the party political machines; of what importance were battleships beside babies? And what purpose could be served by im­proving and perfecting the country's educational system if racial deterioration had once been allowed to set in ? William Bateson, so his wife informs us, believed that Parliamentary politics were without foundation in reality, and for many years ceased even to read a newspaper regularly.2 Dr Haycraft, in that interesting forerunner of eugenical literature proper, Darwinism and Race Progress, sounded what was to be the familiar note, when he wrote: 'what are the petty combinations of parties, or even those temporary associations of in-


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dividuals, which aim at a common or national policy, by the side of the health and the capacity of that race of which we are but passing representatives ... ?3

That eugenics would sooner or later engage the attentions of statesmen and government was taken for granted. But eugenists regretfully concluded that politicians were a timid group of people, who shied away from anything unusual or controversial. In Tredgold's words,

Under a democratic form of government no legislation much ahead of public opinion can be carried; and this is the chief danger arising when a democratic form of government is evolved in advance of the education of the democracy. In such circumstances the combination of an imperfectly informed elec­torate with a paid professional legislature is only too apt to con­duce to the establishment of a vicious circle, in which true social science is prostituted by the promulgation of so-called reforms which are a mere pandering to the present, rather than part of a definite system designed to further the real development and progress of the nation.4

This was the reason why Dean Inge thought democracy was 'perhaps the silliest of all fetishes that are seriously worshipped among us .. .'5 Arnold White similarly argued that 'Democratic Government means the inclusion of those who are ignorant of the laws of hereditary transmission, who are least prepared to lay down present ease for future good, and who are least accustomed to resist the impulse of passion or the suggestions of desire'.6 This problem was thought by Pearson to be well-nigh insuperable: 'a government which drew a line between capable and incapable would rapidly perish: for the incapables care nothing for the future of the race or na­tion, but seek from their necessarily subservient governments "panem et circenses"—more time to pillion-ride, more leisure for cigarettes, chocolates and cinemas—at the cost of the capable'. How, in these circumstances, could a start be made in 'practical Eugenics'? 'We might as successfully ask the weeds in a garden to make way of their own accord for the flowering plants whose development they choke. Let my readers think what a gardener could achieve, if his tenure of


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office depended on the consent of the weeds!'7

Inevitably, then, many eugenists were carried away by the logic of their argument to advocate some authoritarian form of government in which 'experts' could attend to racial issues, undistracted by the clamour of the mob. Others, like Miss Elderton, appealed desperately for some statesman to come forward and give a lead while there was yet time.8 Whetham, on the other hand, made the characteristic suggestion that eugenical problems might be handled more sensibly by the House of Lords, a body which did not have the fear of the polls before its eyes and so was less likely to 'waste' its time on pointless political controversies.9

The general view of the politician was thus, to quote Dr Slaughter, that he was 'merely a puppet of public opinion whose greatest desire [was] to keep his place as long as possible while doing that minimum of work which [was] forced upon him'.10 But eugenists grumbled that members of Parliament did not even seem to be aware of their own in­adequacies. For this they had a simple explanation: 'It is to be feared that not many of our parliamentarians have had any training in biology'.11 Bateson could never get over his shock on first discovering that Mr Gladstone thought that human beings normally had twenty-eight teeth: 'Portentous ignorance of this kind is common among historians and legislators. In itself perhaps a trifle, it is a symptom of detachment from the actual world so complete as to disqualify a man from safely exercising high functions of statesmanship, demanding, as they must, a discernment which can only come from wide knowledge of natural fact'.12

Pearson indicted liberalism on the self-same count: 'it is the ig­norance of great biological truths which has been the blot on the Liberalism of the past; it is this ignorance which makes so much of Liberal social effort vain. You cannot, sir, reform man, until you un­derstand the factors which control his growth, and you cannot un­derstand those factors by endlessly talking about them .. .'13 This im­patience with argument and assertion, which lacked scientific backing, was one of Pearson's favourite hobby-horses. Sloppy thinking and dangerous, because misdirected, humanitarian senti­ment would eventually disappear when a new generation of statesmen-philanthropists and civil servants had emerged, equipped


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with a proper statistical training.14 Already, he believed, intelligent working men, sickened by 'rhetoric and verbal controversy', were manifesting a marked lack of confidence in the leaders of both political parties, a circumstance which he used to explain the low turn-out in the 1910 Elections.15 Sooner or later, he said, it would be more generally understood that the great social problems of the day could no more be solved by consulting popular opinion than could questions of astronomy and physics; these were difficult problems requiring special training and analysis of a sort wholly beyond most people's grasp; meanwhile, party methods and hustings oratory merely created confusion and prevented the formulation of a scientifically-based policy that would lead to the consequence intended by its authors.16

Eugenists, therefore, fell into the unfortunate habit of damning politicians up hill and down dale. Sir James Barr, a Vice-President of the E.E.S., was especially prone to do this, and his gibes were all the more ill-chosen in that he found it impossible to conceal his hatred of the Asquith Administration.17 But even Saleeby, whose sympathies probably lay with the Radical Party, and who was certainly not a Conservative, joined in the game of spattering the professional politicians with insults. 'The eugenist has nothing to do with the low game called party polities', he wrote. A great and growing section of the community had come to see 'party-politics for the humbug and sham that it is, and the House of Commons as a lethal chamber for souls'.18 On other occasions he hit out against 'glass-eyed politicians' wrangling in 'the House of Gramophones', and repeated with relish Adam Smith's dismissal of 'that invidious and crafty animal vulgarly called a statesman or politician'.19

When, in 1925, Schiller looked at the political parties to see which of them could most easily be brought to listen to reason, he found that they all entertained prejudices unfavourable to eugenics.

The Conservatives may be supposed to have most natural sym­pathy with the aim of arresting the elimination of the best; but they are no longer the aristocrats they were, and the party is falling more and more under the influence of industrial poten­tates greatly interested in promoting the abundance of cheap


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labour. Also it cannot be denied that the idea of eugenics is new, and therefore suspect. The Liberals, on the other hand, though not hostile to change as such, are not specially favourable to science, and are tainted with a false humanitarianism which aggravates, and does not cure, social maladjustments; while the Labour Party, though it ought to be the most reluctant to work for the support of wastrels and parasites, has unfortunately got into the way of regarding limitation of output as a legitimate way of raising the social value of any product.

Schiller ended with the despairing conclusion that it might be necessary to abandon all the existing organizations, and 'found a new party of eugenical reform'.20 But, like his earlier hope that the 'old-fashioned politicians' might undergo a conversion, publicly confess the errors of their ways, and embrace the cause of Social Hygiene,21 this suggestion was lacking in common sense. A more realistic posi­tion was that of Saleeby, who told an interviewer from the Daily Sketch after the January 1910 Elections that he was not surprised at the absence from the Commons of avowed race-culturists, but dis­missed the idea of running eugenics candidates: 'We shall have to work through the great historic parties. We must get a Parliament returned pledged to deal with the whole question of inherited disease, the feeble-minded, inebriates, and the hereditary unemployable'.22

In the election that had just been held, the E.E.S. had, in fact, started, albeit tentatively, to act as a pressure group that could extract pledges from candidates. On 12 January 1910 it was decided, at the last moment, to circularize all former Members whose private ad­dresses were readily available, on the eugenic aspects of Poor Law reform, and ask them: 'Would you undertake to support measures recommended in the Report of the Poor Law that tend to discourage parenthood on the part of the Feeble-Minded and other degenerate types'. Over one hundred letters were sent out, and many favourable replies received.23 The campaign for the Mental Deficiency Act organized by the E.E.S. over the next three years was an example of the success that could be obtained by a patient cultivation of M.P. s on an issue where legislation for a particular objective was a practical possibility. But Parliamentary propaganda as a whole was allowed to


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6 Eugenics and Party Politics, 1908-14


languish. In March 1910, the Council of the E.E.S. resolved 'that in the present state of political chaos it was quite useless to attempt propagandist work among Members of Parliament, so the matter was left in abeyance'.24 In November 1911, a Parliamentary Committee was set up for the first time, with the task of watching all bills going through Parliament that were of concern to eugenists.25 But one of its members, Mr Marshall, was complaining in July 1914 that the ac­tivities of the Society in this matter were still quite inadequate, and instanced the recent Budget Debate where the eugenic point of view on child rebates had not been seriously pressed. Further organizational reforms were under way when the First World War broke out.26

Eugenists were undoubtedly hampered in their effectiveness as a pressure group by the way they treated politicians as a group. Little wonder that, subjected to a constant stream of abuse, politicians kept aloof from the E.E.S. Although it was making considerable headway in 1913, and enjoyed a good deal of sympathy, if not active support, the Society recruited a mere handful of M.P.s in three years. Balfour's acceptance of Honorary Membership was an isolated triumph; a similar offer to Asquith in 1913 met with a predictable refusal.27 Eugenists paid the penalty of indecision; they could not decide whether they wished to enter the political arena and exercise there what influence they could, or whether their aim was the conversion of the thinking public to a new outlook on life which would make all existing political philosophies and organizations superfluous. Karl Pearson, for one, clung to the whimsical idea that eugenics, as he presented it to the world, was politically neutral, a mere summary of the findings of science. This conviction led to intransigence and arrogance; politicians were hectored and scolded for their ignorance, stupidity, and immoral craving for electoral popularity. In this way opponents were made of many politicians who basically shared the fears and hopes which the eugenics programme expressed.

At this point it might well be asked: what, if anything, did eugenists want government to do for them? What precisely would they themselves have done if by chance they had attained power? In a nutshell, the eugenic demand was that steps should be taken to stimulate the fertility of the 'best stocks' and to reduce the fertility of


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6 Eugenics and Party Politics, 1908-14


the 'worst'. Saleeby coined the terms 'positive' and 'negative eugenics' to denote this distinction between the two aspects of the subject and since these terms quickly became part of the accepted language of eugenics they may as well be used here.


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