The history of eugenics is as barely known as it is barbaric. It connects some of the wealthiest and most prominent figures of modern times to an atrocious ideology that promotes policies and practices both contemptible and condemnable.
The ancient Egyptians worshipped the Pharaohs as progeny of the sun god, Ra. The Japanese were told that their Imperial family descended from the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and the sea god, Ryuujin. In Europe, monarchs claimed that God Himself had directly granted them a “Divine Right” to rule over their subjects. In China they called it the “Mandate of Heaven.”
For as long as there have been royalty there have been elaborate theological justifications for why monarchs deserve to rule over the people…and there has always been royalty.
It’s easy to see why the ruling class has tried to foster this idea of godly rule in culture after culture. After all, if the Kings and Queens and Emperors and Pharaohs were not gods, or at least chosen by God, why would anyone listen to them? The difference between a regal king and a tinpot dictator disappears if the king’s divinity is denied.
Even today, in this ‘post-monarchical’ era, ancient superstitions about royal families persist. They are still referred to as “blue bloods” as if the very blood that flowed through their veins is different from yours or mine. There is still an elaborate etiquette for meeting the Queen of England and it is still strictly enforced without exception. Even Obama had to take a lesson before he could meet with Her Majesty Elizabeth II.
The rituals of class distinction are not merely for show. The royals have always considered themselves of superior stock to the commoners, a breed apart from the poor downtrodden masses who toil in squalor beneath them. Thus the obsession with breeding that gentry the world over have been at great pains to observe down through the centuries. Or should that be ‘inbreeding?’ Certainly, the branches of many a royal family tree fold in as much as they branch out, explaining the remarkable physical similarity between members of the European royal families or the recessive disorders like haemophilia that have plagued European royalty for centuries.
Modern DNA analysis has shown that the Spanish branch of the Hapsburg family, the dynasty that ruled over vast swathes of Europe for over 500 years, was inbred out of existence. After generations of cousins marrying cousins and uncles marrying nieces, the genetic variation between Hapsburg husbands and wives was no greater than that between brothers and sisters. The last member of the Spanish Hapsburgs, Charles II, died a congenitally sick, deformed man, physically unable to have a child in order to carry on the dynasty. Nor is this a modern phenomenon: recent DNA analysis of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen shows that he, too, was the sickly, deformed product of a brother-sister incestuous pairing.
The royal fixation with inbreeding arose—as do many such ideas—from seemingly irrefutable empirical observation. Animal breeding has been practiced for thousands of years. The ability to breed certain traits into or out of pets and livestock has been an art form ever since humans began domesticating animals to work the land. It wasn’t much of a stretch for rulers and sovereigns to toy with the idea of using these techniques to purify their own stock and domesticate their own “chattel,” the commoners.
But, it will be pointed out, that was a long time ago. We no longer live in an age of lords and peasants, but an age of unprecedented economic mobility. With the notable exception of the world’s remaining royal families, humanity no longer divides itself into “noble” and “base” castes. We no longer talk in vague generalities about the “mixing” of traits between parents, but with precise scientific understanding of the functioning of genes and chromosomes and the structure of DNA and the importance of upbringing and environment in shaping who we are. We no longer believe (assuming we ever did) that a Queen Elizabeth or a King Abdullah or an Emperor Akihito has been chosen by God to rule over us.
No, ours is an “enlightened” era: Our leaders are democratically elected politicians, not hereditary monarchs. Upward mobility is a function of drive, motivation and talent, not peerage and good breeding. Celebrities are our royalty. The richest men and women in the world are average Joes and Janes who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and they are all ranked in order of wealth by glossy magazines each year…
…Or so the story goes. The truth, as always, is not quite in keeping with popular perception.
As it turns out, there is a modern-day royalty, hereditary lines of rulers in positions of power who possess nearly unthinkable wealth. These kings and queens, however, do not live in castles or demand deference. Their faces are not printed on our bills or stamped into our coins (although their signatures may be on the bills for those who care to look). These are the inconspicuous monarchs, notable for the buildings and banks, financial institutions and tax-free foundations that bear their family names. They have traded crowns and scepters for shirts and ties, these lords of business and finance who blend into crowds. And we can trace their rise to the fall of the monarchies of old.
By the late 17th century, with the world already transitioning away from medieval feudalism and towards modern capitalism, the absolute power of the European monarchs was being whittled away. In England, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Bill of Rights of 1689 brought an end to the concept of the total authority of the king, an authority that had itself been formally limited by the Magna Carta in 1215. In 1694 the establishment of the Bank of England set a precedent for private control of a nation’s money supply, a template that was copied in country after country (including, of course, the United States) in the coming centuries. Before long it was a handful of banking families that controlled the exchequers of the governments that they “served” and the overt royalty of old was replaced with a new, covert royalty.
The would-be rulers of the world traded the trappings of royalty and the prestige of the throne for the modern-day suits and ties and corporate head offices from which our own society is directed and controlled. Their ranks were soon swelled by another type of nouveau riche: the cutthroat monopolists of the 19th century who built empires out of steel, rail and oil.
This new royalty, like the royalty of old, is obsessed with breeding. Rockefellers marry Carnegies, Averells marry Harrimans, Walkers marry Bushes, Foresters marry Rothschilds (and then honeymoon at the White House) until the dynastic family lines are ensconced into a modern-day aristocracy every bit as inter-bred and elitist as the lords and ladies of bygone days.
Unlike royalty of old, however, this modern breed of tyrant cannot rely on the old canard of “divine right” to justify their positions of power. With the fall of the medieval world came the rise of a new age of empiricism, itself a total revolution in humanity’s understanding of the world and our place in it. The rulers of our scientific age needed a scientific-sounding gloss to update the “divine right” of old and preserve the right of the few to rule the many. Luckily for this new breed of monarch, a pseudoscientific gloss was not long in coming.
In 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Within 10 years, his cousin Francis Galton had published Hereditary Genius, his first attempt to outline a theory in which character traits such as intellect and virtuousness are inheritabe. Essentially, Galton was positing that humans can be bred for intelligence or industriousness just as a dog can be bred to be aggressive or a horse can be bred for racing. In 1883 Galton coined the term “eugenics”—from the Greek eu (good) and -genēs (born)—to describe the study of how human evolution could be directed to improve “the racial quality of future generations.” The very name eugenics itself betrays the underlying assumption of this self-serving ideology: that there are “good” genes and “bad” genes that make individuals and their offspring more or less likely to survive in the societal struggle for existence.
Given this fairly innocuous-sounding assumption, the erstwhile eugenicist comes rather quickly to a number of startling conclusions. One of these is that those who are poor, disabled, or otherwise impaired are in fact merely the products of bad breeding. Motivated only by the desire to encourage the continual improvement of the human gene pool, the eugenicists neither pity nor scorn these individuals for their natural inabilities. Instead they seek to ensure that the poor and the weak produce as few offspring as possible while the wealthy elite have as many children as possible.
You might want to read that last sentence again to see if you have understood what it is saying. Without understanding this point, the prime motivation of the eugenics movement, all else will be difficult to comprehend.
Another startling corollary of the “good” gene/“bad” gene hypothesis is that those groups of individuals that can dominate others (militarily, economically or otherwise) not only have the right to exercise that power but in fact are obliged to do so in the interest of improving the species. In short, might makes right. If you’re not inbred with us, you’re against us.
It is not hard to understand why eugenics appealed so much to the rich and privileged gentlemen scientists of the British upper class or the American robber barons who would go on to fund their research. Here was the exact thing that the modern-day royalty needed: a founding mythology that provided a justification for their wealth and power. Boiled down to its essentials, this mythology stated precisely the same thing as the old mythology of the “divine right” of kings: that the rich and powerful are rich and powerful because they are inherently better than the poor and weak. If this mythology cloaked itself with scientific-sounding arguments instead of appeals to divine authority, then so much the better to capture the spirit of the age. No surprise, then, that it was this new “royalty” that funded the research that began the modern eugenics movement.
The American Eugenics Record Office (and its Cold Springs Harbor laboratory) where the majority of American eugenics research took place was founded in 1910 by Mary Harriman (of the Bush-Harriman Union Banking crime family) and funded by the Rockefellers and Carnegies. The office held index cards with data on hundreds of thousands of Americans that were to be sorted into “desirable” and “undesirable” sorts so that the Carnegie/Rockefeller minions could advocate the removal of people they didn’t like from the gene pool.
Although proponents of eugenics like to refer to the word’s Greek roots as “proof” that the concept is in fact a peaceful quest to breed a better race, the ideology has always been used to advocate the forced segregation, sterilization and ultimately the death of those that the self-appointed “elite” who fund the eugenics research itself deem unfit to breed. A popoular 1918 textbook on “Applied Eugenics” noted that execution was historically the first method of eugenics, adding that “Its value in keeping up the standard of the race should not be underestimated.” In a chapter on “Lethal Selection,” the book advocated eugenics “through the destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency.”
As we now know, eugenics itself was pure quackery. The chief promoter of Darwin’s work in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, also promoted the idea that humanity was a genus, not a species, and that the different races were in fact different species. Cesare Lombroso, a late 19th century Italian “scientist,” used eugenics as a way to revive the long-discredited notion of phrenology that the size and shape of body parts can determine if someone was a “virtuous person” or a “born criminal,” with the inevitable result that researchers “proved” that the physical characteristics of racial minorities made them more prone to vice, laziness, criminality and stupidity. Scientists at the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory and other “prestigious” institutions wrote case studies of families that “established” the genetic inheritance of criminality and mental retardation…studies that were later found to have been completely fraudulent. With disheartening ease, the “learned scholars” of the day used the cover of eugenics to codify their ingrained prejudices.
But using a term like “quackery” to describe eugenics might give the impression that it was a harmless fringe theory, something largely ignored by mainstream science and society at large. In fact, the exact opposite was true, with eugenics being held up both as the paragon of the scientific method and the most fashionable social cause of its day. The eugenicists researched it. Columnists wrote about it. Civic-minded citizens campaigned for it. The idle classes worried about it. Politicians legislated it. This was no fringe theory.
As viewers of my How & Why Big Oil Conquered the World documentary and a number of my other works over the years will know by now, the word “eugenics” may have gone out of fashion, but the idea never really went away. It persists to this day under the guise of “population control” and “carbon reduction” and other carefully crafted terms for eugenics-by-another-name.
The history of eugenics is as barely known as it is barbaric. It connects some of the wealthiest and most prominent figures of modern times to an atrocious ideology that promotes policies and practices both contemptible and condemnable. Those who remain unaware of the annals of eugenics cannot possibly understand how it has shaped the post-regnal era of wanna-be royals, who have retained their superpower status long after the lies of “divine right” and “royal blood” perished.
Indeed, it is not hard to understand why eugenics appealed so much to the rich and privileged members of the modern ruling class, or to the various political tyrants who seek to exert total control over their populations. The dogma of eugenics provides the exact thing that the modern-day royalty needs: a pseudoscientific, mythological foundation upon which to build their own wealth and power. Boiled down to its essentials, this mythology states precisely the same thing as the old mythology of the “divine right” of kings: that the rich and powerful are rich and powerful because they are inherently better than the poor and weak. If this mythology cloaks itself scientific-sounding arguments instead of appeals to divine authority, then so much the better for those seeking to appeal to modern, enlightenment-era sensibilities.
Granted, we don’t refer to these neo-royalty as literal “kings” or “queens.” Nor do we worship them as gods on earth. But, just as frightening, many have unwittingly bought into their worldview. In the name of “population control” and “environmentalism,” millions now rally for de-industrialization and depopulation, not realizing that they are advocating for the very world that the eugenicists desire. A world where a privileged few rule over the impoverished masses, neo-lords and neo-peasants in a neo-feudal society.
They may not wear crowns or don royal robes, but until we stop falling for their crypto-eugenic ideas we may as well bow and curtsy and address them as “Your Majesty.”