Stumbled on this topic when browsing through Wikipedia as I am often given to doing now a days, whenever I get sometime.
So apparently eugenics,was a movement (supported by the likes of GB Shaw and Churchill (ya, that cigar chomping, nazi fighting “the greatest briton ever lived” racial supremacist/colonialist) which advocated the improvement of the human race through selective breeding of those with “desirable” traits (read,anglo-saxon breeding). It advocated intevention to limit breeding by those who were “undesirable” – premised on the fact that the louts had more children than those who were successful.
Eugenics fell out of favour after WWII – after the world learnt about the pogroms of the Nazis against the Jews, the Gypsies, the Polish – anyone who didnt qualify as Aryan. After the war, the subject was associated with the Nazis – the civilized world had nothing to do with it anymore.
Important to note, the second largest eugenics program in the world was nowhere else but the United States – again quoting from Wikipedia:
Beginning with Connecticut in 1896, many states enacted marriage laws with eugenic criteria, prohibiting anyone who was “epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded” from marrying. In 1898 Charles B. Davenport, a prominent American biologist, began as director of a biological research station based in Cold Spring Harbor where he experimented with evolution in plants and animals. In 1904 Davenport received funds from the Carnegie Institution to found the Station for Experimental Evolution. The Eugenics Record Office opened in 1910 while Davenport and Harry H. Laughlin began to promote eugenics.
During the 20th century, researchers became interested in the idea that mental illness could run in families and conducted a number of studies to document the heritability of such illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Their findings were used by the eugenics movement as proof for its cause. State laws were written in the late 1800s and early 1900s to prohibit marriage and force sterilization of the mentally ill in order to prevent the “passing on” of mental illness to the next generation. These laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927 and were not abolished until the mid-20th century. By 1945 over 45,000 mentally ill individuals in the United States had been forcibly sterilized.
In years to come, the ERO collected a mass of family pedigrees and concluded that those who were unfit came from economically and socially poor backgrounds. Eugenicists such as Davenport, the psychologist Henry H. Goddard and the conservationist Madison Grant (all well respected in their time) began to lobby for various solutions to the problem of the “unfit”. (Davenport favored immigration restriction and sterilization as primary methods; Goddard favored segregation in his The Kallikak Family; Grant favored all of the above and more, even entertaining the idea of extermination.) It did, however, have scientific detractors (notably, Thomas Hunt Morgan, one of the few Mendelians to explicitly criticize eugenics), though most of these focused more on what they considered the crude methodology of eugenicists, and the characterization of almost every human characteristic as being hereditary, rather than the idea of eugenics itself. Though their methodology and research methods are now understood as highly flawed, at the time this was seen as legitimate scientific research.
The idea of “genius” and “talent” is also considered by William Graham Sumner, a founder of the American Sociological Society (now called the American Sociological Association). He maintained that if the government did not meddle with the social policy of laissez-faire, a class of genius would rise to the top of the system of social stratification, followed by a class of talent. Most of the rest of society would fit into the class of mediocrity. Those who were considered to be defective (mentally retarded, handicapped, etc.) had a negative effect on social progress by draining off necessary resources. They should be left on their own to sink or swim. But those in the class of delinquent (criminals, deviants, etc.) should be eliminated from society (“Folkways”, 1907).
With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, eugenicists for the first time played a central role in the Congressional debate as expert advisers on the threat of “inferior stock” from eastern and southern Europe. This reduced the number of immigrants from abroad to 15 percent from previous years, to control the number of “unfit” individuals entering the country. The new act strengthened existing laws prohibiting race mixing in an attempt to maintain the gene pool. Eugenic considerations also lay behind the adoption of incest laws in much of the U.S. and were used to justify many antimiscegenation laws.
Some states sterilized “imbeciles” for much of the 20th century. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case that the state of Virginia could sterilize those it thought unfit. The most significant era of eugenic sterilization was between 1907 and 1963, when over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States. A favorable report on the results of sterilization in California, by far the state with the most sterilizations, was published in book form by the biologist Paul Popenoe and was widely cited by the Nazi government as evidence that wide-reaching sterilization programs were feasible and humane. When Nazi administrators went on trial for war crimes Nuremberg after World War II, they justified the mass sterilizations (over 450,000 in less than a decade) by citing the United States as their inspiration.
Unbelievable, right!? But true.