Eugenics Yesterday and Today (1): Introduction and Definitions

May 13, 2020

For many years, the eugenics mentality has been gaining ground all over the world. Currently, there are debates concerning medically assisted procreation, as well as all kinds of medical practices made possible by technical progress and technological innovation. FSSPX.News is offering a series of articles to take stock of eugenics.

What is hiding behind the eugenics term is often not well understood. Generally it has been used regarding a limited period of history, as if to imply that there is no reason to tackle this problem today. However, eugenic practices, in the most derogatory sense of the word, are very much present today and are spreading insidiously, under the pretexts of human development and freedom. To such a point that some personalities, however far removed from morality, or even foreign to all morality, are worried and are raising the alarm.

There are even men of the church, in different ways and to different degrees, to develop arguments in favor of eugenics or to justify it in certain cases. This is one of the painful chapters of the crisis that the Church has experienced for more than half a century.

Some Definitions

The word “eugenics” is a recent one. According to the Etymology Dictionary it is a “doctrine of progress in evolution of the human race, race-culture,” from 1883, coined (along with adjective eugenic) by English scientist Francis Galton (1822-1911) on analogy of ethics, physics, etc. from Greek eugenes “well-born, of good stock, of noble race,” from eu-“good” and genos “birth” (from PIE root *gene- “give birth, beget”).

“The word indicates the discipline which studies the methods likely to improve the characteristic characters of the human populations, and the adjective which concerns or applies this discipline. (…) “Similarly, EUGENIE n. (1930) is dated. EUGENISM n. (1887), is didactic, like EUGENIST n. (1935) and adj. (1941), borrowed from the English eugenist (n., 1908; adj., 1921); these terms are marked by their time and by their subsequent use relating to the politics of racist and dictatorial regimes.” [Historical Dictionary of the French Language, Le Robert]

Larousse gives this definition: the “theoretical and practical study of all the means capable of protecting, increasing and perfecting the most robust and best endowed elements of the human races, i.e., to safeguard the genetic quality of future generations.”

The word therefore covers all the sciences and methods which seek the progress of the human race, and it is sometimes used in this very general sense. But in a more limited sense, it is above all about dealing with population problems:

“1) problems concerning the quantity of the population (positive measures favorable to the increase in the number, from the prohibition of abortion and neo-Malthusian propaganda, to the institution of family benefits, tax-free family allowances, etc.; negative measures tending, on the contrary, to limit this number: contraceptive propaganda, legal abortions, sterilization, etc.);

2) problems concerning the quality of the population (measures relating to normal or pathological inheritance: positive and negative measures; and measures relating to the environment: positive prophylactic measures; or negative measures: fight against social ills, alcoholism, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases). [S. de Lestapis, “Eugenique et Eugénisme” in Catholicism.]

“We Have to Improve the Human Race”

Note that these measures refer to a distinction that has become commonplace between positive eugenics which seeks to promote the reproduction of the fittest, and negative eugenics which seeks, on the contrary, to prevent the multiplication of the unfit.

Some eugenicists go so far as to promote, through appropriate methods, an artificial selection leading to the appearance of a superior race, under the guise of “improving the human race.” This concern, which might seem anachronistic at the start of the 21st century, when we know the repulsion it provoked as a result of its use by the Hitler regime, is present explicitly in many circles. Robert Edwards, Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2010, who carried out the first in vitro fertilization, nicknamed “father of the first test-tube baby” wrote: “We have to improve the human race.”

In order to distinguish among the different types of eugenics that exist, it is necessary to construct a historical panorama.