Quotes on Eugenics and Progressives

"The aim of eugenics is to represent each class or sect by its best specimens; that done, to leave them to work out their common civilization in their own way."

Francis Galton
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. X, No. 1
July 1904
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"Embedded in progressivism was the idea of scientific management - long-range planning by university-trained experts. This new managerial class became increasingly vital to the economic process. In a country that had nurtured a reverence for invention, the use of scientific management had a special appeal. Progressive reformers had a strong faith in science as the cure - all that would herald in a new era of rational control of both nature and human society. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that the revelations of a new science of genetics gave birth to a new science of social engineering - eugenics."

Garland E. Allen
Washington University
February 11, 2000
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"The time has already come when each country needs a considered national policy about what size of population, whether larger or smaller than at present or the same, is most expedient. And having settled this policy, we must take steps to carry it into operation. The time may arrive a little later when the community as a whole must pay attention to the innate quality as well as to the mere numbers of its future members."

John Maynard Keynes
Hogarth Press
July 1926
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"A prevention of the faculty and opportunity to procreate on the part of the physically degenerate and mentally sick, over the period of only six hundred years, would not only free humanity from an immeasurable misfortune, but would lead to a recovery which today seems scarcely conceivable."

Adolf Hitler
Hurst and Blackett Ltd.
March 21, 1939
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"What we must fight for is freedom to breed the race without being hampered by the mass of irrelevant conditions implied in the institution of marriage. If our morality is attacked, we can carry the War into the enemy's country by reminding the public that the real objection to breeding by marriage is that marriage places no restraint on debauchery as long as it is monogamic, whereas eugenic breeding would effectually protect the mothers and fathers of the race from any abuse of their relations. As to the domestic and sympathetic function of marriage, or even its selfishly sexual function, we need not interfere with that. What we need is freedom for people who have never seen each other before, and never intend to see one another again, to produce children under certain definite public conditions, without loss of honor. That freedom once secured, and the conditions defined, we have nothing further to say in the matter until the necessarily distant time when the results of our alternative method of recruiting will be able to take the matter in hand themselves, and invite the world to reconsider its institutions in the light of experiments, which must, of course, in the meantime run concurrently with the promiscuity of ordinary marriage."

George Bernard Shaw
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. X, No. 1
July 1904
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"Progressives saw sterilization as having natural advantages over traditional methods of helping the poor, such as charity. Sterilization was 'scientific' -- its rationale could be found in the writings of Charles Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, who mused that superior people, like superior crops and farm animals, were the product of good breeding."

Farhad Manjoo
March 4, 2006
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"The way of nature has always been to slay the hindmost, and there is still no other way, unless we can prevent those who would become the hindmost being born. It is in the sterilization of failures, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies."

H. G. Wells
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. X, No. 1
July 1904
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"During this time, a growing professional class believed that scientific progress could be used to cure all social ills, and many educated people accepted that humans, like all animals, were subject to natural selection. Darwinian evolution viewed humans as a flawed species that required pruning to maintain its health. Therefore negative eugenics seemed to offer a rational solution to certain age-old social problems."

David Micklos
Elof Carlson
Nature Reviews: Genetics, Vol. 1
November 2000
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"Every single case of inherited defect, every malformed child, every congenitally tainted human being brought into this world is of infinite importance to that poor individual; but it is of scarcely less importance to the rest of us and to all of our children who must pay in one way or another for these biological and racial mistakes."

Margaret Sanger
Bretano's Publishing
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"Under an older and harsher order of civilization these lower classes were cut down by disease, famine and petty strife, while the stronger survived, albeit when petty strife took on the aspects of serious warfare then, too, the upper levels suffered most severely; under the present social order there is a bolstering up of the lower and more helpless levels so that their fecundity is evidently operating against these older inhuman, but race-purifying, agencies. It now behooves society in consonance with both humanitarianism and race efficiency to provide more human means for cutting off defectives. Society must look upon germ-plasm as belonging to society and not solely to the individual who carries it. Humanitarianism demands that every individual born be given every opportunity for decent and effective life that our civilization can offer. Racial instinct demands that defectives shall not continue their [sic] unworthy traits to menace society. There appears to be no incompatibility between the two ideals and demands."

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"It is only with the individual of a hereditary, degenerate make-up which manifests itself in an inability to get on, or lack of ambition, or laziness which drives him or her beyond the bounds of self-maintained usefulness in an organized society that this study is concerned. These individuals are so strikingly anti- social that society is justified, if the general uselessness can be shown to be hereditary, in cutting off the descent line of this whole group of individuals, even if their specific traits and defects cannot be catalogued."

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"Man's conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man's side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man's conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have 'taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho' and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?"

C. S. Lewis
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"Society must concern itself not chiefly with the isolation, temporary or permanent, of the individual murderer, thief, or forger, but with the extermination or repair of the genetic, educational, or industrial defects which cause the production of criminals."

Charles Eliot
The New York Times
December 28, 1915
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"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind....Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
U.S. Supreme Court
May 2, 1927
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"The lasting impacts of the deceit and flawed science associated with eugenics have been tremendous.  The claims made by eugenicists were erroneous exaggerations drawn from Darwin's work that ultimately endorsed racism and blatant acts of discrimination.  Furthermore, because eugenics was so deeply intertwined with genetics, it is a constant companion among the hurdles associated with the advancement of genetic testing and gene therapy."

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This article traces eugenics from Darwin's theory on natural selection down to the final theory of eugenics. Rogers also gives a brief history of the movement and explains the lasting implications of eugenics.

"The eugenics movement saw itself as fostering a public good. It was optimistic that scientific changes in human breeding habits would solve many complex problems facing modern American society. Eugenicists favored better public health, family planning, more thoughtful preparation for marriage, and education about human reproduction. They encouraged reproduction of the "best and the...

This article describes the connections between American immigration quotas and the Eugenics movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among other things, some Eugenicists "argued that the 'American' gene pool was being polluted by a rising tide of intellectually and morally defective immigrants – primarily from eastern and southern Europe."

Selden examines the forces that made eugenics so popular to so many people. Famous supporters, financial support, embedded ideological ideas in the cinema, and support from leading universities helped the movement gain followers.

Garland points out the faulty research ideas and methods of the eugenics movement. Eugenicists used poor survey and statistical methods of research and false quantification. They didn't fully understand that complex traits couldn't be pushed into Mendel's chart and they didn't understand the full effect...

This essay explains the connection between social Darwinism and eugenics. Kevles goes on to further elaborate on the effects of the eugenic movement on the world.

"Eugenicists were particularly interested in mental illnesses, although some were known by different names. Notably, 'dementia praecox' we now know as schizophrenia and 'mongolian idiocy' is Down syndrome. By the turn of the 20th century, people with mental disorders were usually wards of the state, and eugenicists argued that their care was a growing burden on society. Mental patients made...

This article explains the long-term progression of medical ethics in Germany from Social Darwinism to eugenics. Mocozzi warns us that care is critical when we face the difficult ethical decisions of today so that we do not travel down the eugenics pathway.

"Among the many concerns that captivated the American educated class early in the last century, few were thought to be as urgent as the threat posed to the nation by sexually insatiable female morons. This may sound silly; today, our fear of morons is rather abstract, and on a national scale confined mostly to whomever is the current resident of the White House. But a hundred years ago, morons...

This article talks about the American Eugenics Society's efforts to spread the ideas of the eugenics movement through fairs, "Fitness Family" contests, lectures, and exhibits.

Garland answer the question of why so many intelligent people were involved in eugenics by looking at the economic, political, and social influences on the time.

An excerpt is below:

"Solving the new problems of industrialization demanded a change from laissez-faire to managed...

"Of all the legislation enacted during the first four decades of the 20th century, sterilization laws adopted by 30 states most clearly bear the stamp of the eugenics lobby. The first law was passed in Indiana at the urging of the prison physician, Harry Clay Sharp, who advocated vasectomies as a way to prevent the transmission of degenerate traits. At meetings of the American Medical...

In this article, West argues that scientific materialism, or the view that everything in the universe can be fully explained by science, is a dangerous view. Not only does this view lead to ideas like technocracy, utopianism, and dehumanization, but it also stifles free speech. When science is seen as way to solve social problems, West says, whole classes of society can be destroyed.

This article traces the effect that the American eugenic movement had on the German eugenics programs.

This article tells the history of eugenics, paying special attention to the role the Progressive movement played in eugenics. The article also discusses the role that American eugenics policies played in the formation of Hitler's eugenic programs.

Chart or Graph

"Like a tree, eugenics draws its materials from many sources and organized them into an harmonious entity."

Thirty-three states passed sterilization laws, and by the 1970s, 60,000 people had been sterilized.

This graph illustrates the eugenicists' idea that different countries had different intelligence levels.

Analysis Report White Paper

This article gives some historical background to the eugenics movement and attempts to explain how eugenicists used religion to condone their actions.

This article offers a comprehensive look at the rise of fall of eugenics. It also offers well-researched facts about many significant figures in the field of eugenics.


"Clip from Forgotten Ellis Island, a documentary film by journalist Lorie Conway, narrated by Elliott Gould.


This video gives a short, but comprehensive history of eugenics in America, the influences American eugenics had on Nazi Germany, and cautions Americans about embracing new technology for social progress.

Primary Document

This landmark case upheld a statute that instituted compulsory sterilization for the mentally ill. Carrie Buck, the plaintiff, was determined to be feeble minded and promiscuous, and therefore the court ruled that she be sterilized. This case was a proponent of negative eugenics, or the limiting...

"'The most important lesson,' Dr. Eliot said, 'which the great advance of applied biological science teaches is that the treatment of human evils and wrongs in the future should be preventive for the mass as well as curative for the individual. The main functions of the medical profession are to be the prevention of the spread of disease, the eradication or seclusion of the causes, sources, or...

"Sir Francis Galton's essays were originally published by the Eugenics Education Society in 1909. Collected here are historically significant essays on the possible improvement of the human breed, eugenics (definition, scope, and aims), restrictions in marriage, studies in national...

I PUBLISH these essays at the present time for a particular reason connected with the present situation; a reason which I should like briefly to emphasise and make clear.

Though most of the conclusions, especially towards the end, are conceived with reference to...

In this article, the founder of eugenics, Francis Galton, defines eugenics. He addresses the importance of the field and urges the spread of eugenics until it is accepted as a foundational principle of genetics. An interchange between H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Galton, and...

In this book, Francis Galton attempts to prove one of eugenics most foundational ideas-that mental ability is hereditary.

"Borrowing from Laughlin's Model Law, the German Nazi government adopted a law in 1933 that provided the legal basis for sterilizing more than 350,000 people. Laughlin proudly published a translation of the German Law for the Prevention of Defective Progeny in The Eugenical News. In 1936, Laughlin was...

Harry Laughlin was influential in the area of compulsory sterilization laws. He viewed many laws used by states to be too confusing or too poorly written to be effective. To remedy this, he created his own model law. A state law derived from this law was declared constitutional in the famous...

In this speech, James Wilson praises the work the American...

"Laughlin's report began with an analysis of the 'phenomenon of heredity' and its role in increasing the numbers of 'socially inadequate' people in America. Taken together, said Laughlin, this 'great mass of humanity is not only a social menace to the present generation, but it harbors the potential parenthood of the social misfits of our future generations.' The defective traits common to...

In this work, Lewis defends a universal law of morality.

"This essay, which was published as a pamphlet by the Hogarth Press in July 1926, was based on the Sidney Ball Lecture given by Keynes at Oxford in November 1924 and on a lecture given by him at the University of Berlin in June 1926.

This essay is worth reading for especially two reasons. First of all, for the wealth of historical information about the origin of the laissez-faire...

"BIRTH CONTROL, Mrs. Sanger claims, and claims rightly, to be a question of fundamental importance at the present time. I do not know how far one is justified in calling it the pivot or the corner-stone of a progressive civilization. These terms involve a criticism of metaphors that may take us far away from the question in hand. Birth Control is no new thing in human experience, and it has...