Watching the ‘Eugenic Experiment’ Unfold: The Mixed Views of British Eugenicists Toward Nazi Germany in the Early 1930s
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- Hart, B.W. J Hist Biol (2012) 45: 33. doi:10.1007/s10739-010-9259-z
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Historians of the eugenics movement have long been ambivalent in their examination of the links between British hereditary researchers and Nazi Germany. While there is now a clear consensus that American eugenics provided significant material and ideological support for the Germans, the evidence remains less clear in the British case where comparatively few figures openly supported the Nazi regime and the left-wing critique of eugenics remained particularly strong. After the Second World War British eugenicists had to push back against the accusation that their science was intrinsically dictatorial or totalitarian and, as a result, many of their early perceptions of the Nazis were ignored or rationalised away. Further, historians in recent years have focused more directly on the social reformist elements of eugenics, discussing the links between hereditary science and the birth control and feminist movements in addition to others. While undoubtedly making valuable contributions to the scholarly understanding of the eugenic milieu in the interwar years, these studies have neglected to recontextualize the sentiments of British eugenicists who did indeed view the Nazi government positively in the early years of the 1930s. This article argues that there was a significant, though not numerically sizable, faction in the British eugenics movement, though mostly outside the Eugenics Society itself, in the early 1930s that viewed the Nazi Germany as an admirable state for its implementation of eugenic principles. One of these figures was later interned by his own government for being too closely aligned with the German regime, though he argued that this affinity was driven by the quest for scientific truth rather than politics. Eugenics in Britain thus contained a greater diversity of views toward Germany than scholars have previously assumed, warranting more research into the individuals and organizations harbouring these views.