Advertisement

A Period of Doubt: Race Science before the Second World War

Chapter
  • 73 Downloads
Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series

Abstract

‘It was the Nazis who perpetrated the deed, but men and women everywhere believed in the distinction between races, whether white, yellow or black, Aryan or Jew.’ This, in a nutshell, was the dilemma of race biology in the 1930s and 1940s. The deed was the single greatest crime in the history of mankind — the systematic extermination of six million Jews because, it was claimed, they belonged to an inferior race. The dilemma of race biology was that what men and women everywhere believed, scientists believed also — that there was a hierarchy of superior and inferior races. However hard scientists tried to disassociate themselves from Nazi racism by labelling it a ghastly perversion of science for political ends, the fact was that racism received its sanction in science.1

Keywords

Racial Classification Physical Anthropology Cephalic Index Human Heredity Mental Defect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    The quotation is from George L. Mosse, Towards the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1978) p. xi. The reasons for the persecution of the Jews were, of course, very complex, and went way beyond any supposed ‘scientific’ explanations. The social place of Jews in Germany, economic factors, and Germany’s defeat in World War I all played a part.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    George W. Stocking, Jr., Race, Culture and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology (New York: The Free Press, 1968), chs. 7–9, and his edited book, The Shaping of American Anthropology, 1883–1911 : A Franz Boas Reader (New York: Basic Books, 1974).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Andrew D. Lyons, The Question of Race in Anthropology from the Time of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach to that of Franz Boas with Particular Reference to the Period 1830 to 1890 (approx.) (Oxford, D. Phil, 1974) esp. 520–34. He notes that among the social anthropologists, the diffusionists like G. Elliot Smith, Perry and Rivers were the last to consider race a factor of even secondary importance.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See also G. M. Morant, The Races of Central Europe; A Footnote to History With a preface by J. B. S. Haldane (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1939). Other books in this genre by American and other scientists includeGoogle Scholar
  5. G. Dahlberg, Race, Reason and Rubbish (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942);Google Scholar
  6. Ruth Benedict, Race, Science and Politics (New York: Modern Age Books, 1940); andGoogle Scholar
  7. Ashley Montagu, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942).Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Loren R. Graham, ‘Science and Values: The Eugenics Movement in Germany and Russia in the 1920s’, American Historical Review 83 (1978) 1133–64.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    The preliminary notes for the book by the Catholic convert, literary figure and social satirist, G. K. Chesterton, called Eugenics and Other Evils (London: Cassell, 1922) had, according to the author, been written before the war, when eugenics was the ‘topic of the hour; when eugenic babies (not visibly very distinguishable from other babies) sprawled all over the illustrated papers …’. After the war, he realised eugenics was not, as he had believed, about to disappear; that in fact Englishmen would return to ‘the stinks of that low laboratory’. So the book was written and published.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    John Mackinnon Robertson, The Saxon and the Celt: A Study in Sociology (London: University Press, 1897).Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    On these developments, see Philip Abrams, The Origins of British Sociology, 1834–1914 (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1968). Sociologists seeking to make their field an autonomous discipline originally turned for advice to both Galton and Dufkheim. Galton was led to institute a eugenics laboratory because of the success of his lectures to the new Sociological Society, founded in 1905. ButGoogle Scholar
  12. Michael Freeden, in his The New Liberalism: An. Ideology of Social Reform (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978) argues that the social thinkers, even Hobhouse, regarded biology as a necessary part of sociology; the main issue among social thinkers like Hobson and Hobhouse was the degree to which society was autonomous. See esp. pp. 767–116.Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    Abrams, Origins of British Sociology, p. 91. On Hobhouse, see also John E. Owen, L. T. Hobhouse, Sociologist (London: Nelson, 1974).Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    Gary Werskey, The Visible College (London: Allen Lane, 1978).Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Lancelot Hogben, Dangerous Thoughts (London: Allen & Unwin, 1939), p. 51.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Lancelot Hogben, Nature and Nurture (London: Allen & Unwin, 1939) revised edition, p. 29. J. Arthur Thomson had already pointed out in 1916 that traits were a result of nature and nurture. See his ‘The Biological Theory of Nurture’, Eugenics Review viii (1916) 50–61.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    See Nicholas Pastore, The Nature-Nurture Controversy (New York: King’s Crown Press, 1949) p. 163.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    R. A. Fisher, ‘The Correlation Between Relations on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance’, Trans. Royal Soc. Edinburgh 52 (1918) 339–433.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    Bernard John Norton, Karl Pearson and the Galtonian Tradition: Studies in the Rise of Quantitative Social Biology (PhD, University College, London, 1978) pp. 251–8. Norton concludes that Fisher’s contribution should not be seen, as it traditionally has been, as a contribution to ‘pure’ genetics, but as a ‘stunning contribution to eugenics’.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    R. C. Punnett, ‘Eliminating Feeblemindedness’, Journal of Heredity 8 (1917) 464–5.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    R. A. Fisher, ‘The Elimination of Mental Defect’, Eugenics Review xvi (1924) 114–16.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Hogben, Genetic Principles in Medicine and Social Science (London: Williams and Norgate, 1931) p. 120.Google Scholar
  23. 30.
    See Rosalind Mitchell, British Population Change Since 1860 (London: Macmillan, 1977) pp. 80–4.Google Scholar
  24. 32.
    For Haldane’s life and work, see K. R. Dronamajin, ed., Haldane and Modern Biology (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1968) andGoogle Scholar
  25. William Provine, The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  26. 35.
    J. B. S. Haldane, ‘Karl Pearson, 1857–1957’, Biometrika 44 (1957) 303–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 37.
    For Müller’s views, see Carl Bajema, ed., Eugenics Then and Now (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania: Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross, 1976) pp. 170–209, 237–43, 265–6, and H.J. Müller, ‘The Dominance of Economics over Eugenics’, in A Decade of Progress in Eugenics: Scientific Papers of the Third International Congress of Eugenics (Baltimore: The Williams and Williams Co., 1934) pp. 138–44.Google Scholar
  28. 39.
    Julian Huxley, ‘Eugenics and Society’, Eugenics Review, xxvii (1936) 11–31.Google Scholar
  29. 40.
    Lionel S. Penrose, Mental Defect (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1934).Google Scholar
  30. 41.
    In none of the standard works on eugenics, such as G. R. Searle’s Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900–1914 (Leyden: Noordhoff International Publishing, 1976),CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lyndsay Andrew Farrall’s The Origins and Growth of the English Eugenics Movement, 1865–1925 (Indiana University, PhD, 1969) orGoogle Scholar
  32. Donald McKenzie’s ‘Eugenics in Britain’, Social Studies of Science 6 (1976) 499–532 is the fate of eugenics in the late 1920s and in the 1930s discussed at any length. Nor is it clear that British eugenics followed the same path as that described byCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kenneth M. Ludmerer in Genetics and American Society: A Historical Appraisal (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  34. Lawrence S. Waterman, in The Eugenic Movement in Britain in the Nineteen Thirties (University of Sussex, MSc, 1975) attributes the decline of the eugenics movement to the fact of unemployment, the reduction of socialism as a real threat in politics, and because of the link between fascism, anti-Semitism and eugenics.Google Scholar
  35. 43.
    Leonard Darwin acknowledged in his address to the Second International Eugenics Congress in New York in 1921 that human beings were products of environment and heredity and that eugenists had often aroused opposition by unnecessarily running down reform dependent on changes in environment. See Leonard Darwin, ‘The Aims and Methods of Eugenical Societies’, in Eugenics, Genetics and the Family (Baltimore: William and Williams Co., 1923) pp. 5–19.Google Scholar
  36. 44.
    See, for example, the remarks of the American, Dr E. Blanche Sterling, from the US Public Health Service, in ‘Child Hygiene in Human Ecology’, in A Decade of Progress in Eugenics, p. 343, or the apparently eugenic yet in fact environmentalistic book by Sir James Merchant, The Claims of the Coming Generation (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1923). In fact environmentalism and Lamarckianism had always formed a strand of eugenical thought in Britain.Google Scholar
  37. 47.
    R. B. Cattell, The Fight for our National Intelligence (London: P. S. King, 1937).Google Scholar
  38. 48.
    For Haldane, see Werskey, The Visible College, p. 209. On Fisher, see Joan Fisher Box, R. A. Fisher, and for Burt, see L. S. Hearnshaw, Cyril Burt, Psychologist (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979) pp. 61–70. On the change in Scottish children’s test scores, seeGoogle Scholar
  39. Lionel S. Penrose, Outline of Human Genetics (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1973) 3rd edn, p. 118.Google Scholar
  40. 50.
    For details of this and other aspects of his life and work, see the biography by Fisher’s daughter, Joan Fisher Box, R. A. Fisher: The Life of a Scientist (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1978) esp. pp. 24–31 and 189–93.Google Scholar
  41. 51.
    Ronald A. Fisher, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (New York: Dover Publications, 1958) esp. pp. 189–284. The book was dedicated to Major Leonard Darwin.Google Scholar
  42. 54.
    George W. Stocking, Jr., Race, Culture, and Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1968) pp. 62–3.Google Scholar
  43. 55.
    Charles Myers, ‘The Future of Anthropometry’, J. of the Roy. Anth. Inst. 33 (1903) 36–40.Google Scholar
  44. 58.
    Franz Boas, ‘Changes in the Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants’, in Franz Boas, Race, Language and Culture (New York: The Free Press, 1966) pp. 60–75. Not until 1939 did Shapiro establish Boas’ conclusions beyond doubt by his careful, statistical studies of the changes in the body type of Japanese who had moved from Japan to Hawaii. SeeGoogle Scholar
  45. H. L. Shapiro, Migration and Environment: A Study of the Physical Characteristics of the Japanese Immigrants to Hawaii ana the Effects of Environment on Their Descendants (London: Oxford University Press, 1939).Google Scholar
  46. 59.
    Arthur Thomson, ‘A Consideration of Some of the More Important Factors Concerned in the Production of Man’s Cranial Form’, J. of the Roy. Anth. Inst. 33 (1903) 135–66.Google Scholar
  47. 60.
    Arthur Thomson and L. H. Dudley Buxton, ‘Man’s Nasal Index in Relation to Certain Climatic Conditions’, J. of the Roy. Anth. Inst., 53 (1923) 92–122.Google Scholar
  48. 61.
    William Ridgeway, ‘Presidential Address: The Influence of Environment on Man’, J. of Roy. Anth. Inst. 40 (1910) 10–22.Google Scholar
  49. 62.
    W. M. Flinders Petrie, ‘Migrations. The Huxley Lecture for 1906’, J. of the Roy. Anth. Inst. 26 (1906) 189–220.Google Scholar
  50. 63.
    Alfred C. Haddon, The Races of Man and Their Distribution (Cambridge: University Press, 1924) p. 8.Google Scholar
  51. 64.
    H. J. Fleure and T. C. James, ‘Geographical Distribution of Anthropological Types in Wales’, J. of the Roy. Anth. Inst., xlvi (1916) 37.Google Scholar
  52. 65.
    William C. Boyd, ‘Critique of the Methods of Classifying Mankind’, American J. of Phys. Anth., 27 (1940) 333–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 66.
    William C. Boyd, Genetics and the Races of Man: An Introduction to Modern Physical Anthropology (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1950) pp. 18–19.Google Scholar
  54. 67.
    Alfred C. Haddon and Julian Huxley, We Europeans: A Survey of Racial Problems (London: Jonathan Cape, 1935).Google Scholar
  55. 68.
    H. J. Fleure, ‘The Nordic Myth: A Critique of Current Racial Theories’, Eugenics Review xxii (1930) 117–21, and ‘Race and Politics’, Eugenics Review, xxvii (1936) 319–26.Google Scholar
  56. 70.
    R. Ruggles Gates’ Mendelian and polygenist views were spelled out in ‘Mendelian Heredity and Racial Differences’, J. of the Roy. Anth. Inst., xv (1925) 468–82, and ‘Genetics and Race, Man 32 (1937) 1–4.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nancy Stepan 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryYale UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations