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PEACENIK BERTIE -- THE AUTHORITARIAN EUGENICIST



A reader writes:

"Bertrand Russell was not only a noted philosopher and "Peace" campaigner but also linked government- enforced eugenics with the usual Leftist ideas of population control and world government. Writing in "Icarus Or the Future of Science" in 1924 he wrote: "Birth-control is a matter of great importance, particularly in relation to the possibility of a world-government, which could hardly be stable if some nations increased their population much more rapidly than others.." Well before the Pill was invented, he saw 'scientific' birth control as a major factor at work influencing the demography of the West:
"Before long the population may actually diminish. This is already happening in the most intelligent sections of the most intelligent nations; government opposition to birth-control propaganda gives a biological advantage to stupidity, since it is chiefly stupid people who governments succeed in keeping in ignorance. Before long, birth-control may become nearly universal among the white races; it will then not deteriorate their quality, but only diminish their numbers, at a time when uncivilized races are still prolific and are preserved from a high death-rate by white science. This situation will lead to a tendency --- already shown by the French --- to employ more prolific races as mercenaries. Governments will oppose the teaching of birth-control among Africans, for fear of losing recruits. The result will be an immense numerical inferiority of the white races, leading probably to their extermination in a mutiny of mercenaries.

If, however, a world-government is established, it may see the desirability of making subject races also less prolific, and may permit mankind to solve the population question. This is another reason for desiring a world-government."

On eugenics... "Passing from quantity to quality of population, we come to the question of eugenics. We may perhaps assume that, if people grow less superstitious, government will acquire the right to sterilize those who are not considered desirable as parents. This power will be used, at first, to diminish imbecility, a most desirable object. But probably, in time, opposition to the government will be taken to prove imbecility, so that rebels of all kinds will be sterilized. Epileptics, consumptives, dipsomaniacs and so on will gradually be included; in the end, there will be a tendency to include all who fail to pass the usual school examinations. The result will be to increase the average intelligence; in the long run, it may be greatly increased. But probably the effect upon really exceptional intelligence will be bad. Mr. Micawber, who was Dickens's father, would hardly have been regarded as a desirable parent. How many imbeciles ought to outweigh one Dickens I do not profess to know. "


To his credit Russell at least acknowledged that putting the tools of eugenics in the hands of the State would probably have some undesirable and unpredictable consequences:

"Eugenics has, of course, more ambitious possibilities in a more distant future. It may aim not only at eliminating undesired types, but at increasing desired types. Moral standards may alter so as to make it possible for one man to be the sire of a vast progeny by many different mothers. When men of science envisage a possibility of this kind, they are prone to a type of fallacy which is common also in other directions. They imagine that a reform inaugurated by men of science would be administered as men of science would wish, by men similar in outlook to those who have advocated it. In like manner women who advocated votes for women used to imagine that the woman voter of the future would resemble the ardent feminist who won her the vote; and socialist leaders imagine that a socialist State would be administered by idealistic reformers like themselves. These are, of course, delusions; a reform, once achieved, is handed over to the average citizen. So, if eugenics reached the point where it could increase desired types, it would not be the types desired by present-day eugenists that would be increased, but rather the type desired by the average official. Prime Ministers, Bishops, and others whom the State considers desirable might become the fathers of half the next generation. Whether this would be an improvement it is not for me to say, as I have no hope of ever becoming either a Bishop or a Prime Minister. If we knew enough about heredity to determine, within limits, what sort of population we would have, the matter would of course be in the hands of State officials, presumably elderly medical men. Whether they would really be preferable to Nature I do not feel sure. I suspect that they would breed a subservient population, convenient to rulers but incapable of initiative. However, it may be that I am too sceptical of the wisdom of officials."


The image of 'men of science' seeking to repopulate the world in their own image reminds me of the bunker scene in Stanley Kubrick's film DR STRANGELOVE where the good doctor proposes a "Ten women to One Man" plan to his all male expert audience. Purely for the good of humanity of course. Russell could hardly have foreseen the Nazi version of eugenics, but after WW2 he never acknowledged the obvious connection of Nazi eugenics with pre-war Leftist eugenics generally or his own beloved state planning. In contrast Friedrich Hayek showed in his "Road To Serfdom" (PDF here and pictorial summary here) that it was the socialist intoxication with State planning that lead to the Nazi and Stalinist nightmares.

Hayek was an economist and a personal friend of Keynes. His critique of State planning was itself inspired by earlier works of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc critising the planned "rationalist" utopias outlined by thinkers such as Russell and H.G. Wells. Belloc's record for accurate social predictions is unusually good. Writing before WW1, he predicted the rise and demise of communism, the growth of new european totalitarianism and even a militant Islamic revival. What links the secular Hayek and the Christian 'Chesterton/Belloc' critiques is their common opposition to "the arrogance of the rationalist planners" and defence of what Hayek calls "the spontaneous order". Chesterton/Belloc in turn influenced C.S.Lewis and J.R.Tolkien, two Christian critics of modern "scientific" dictatorship. These genuine defenders of freedom, like their socialist opponents, never understood economics and thus focused exclusively on defending small business, small government and localism. This has blunted their relevance somewhat.

Russell called his paper "Icarus" in contrast to "Daedelus", a paper of similar bent authored by influential British Marxist and geneticist J.B.S. Haldane. The mythological references in the title indicated that Russell was starting to harbour a few doubts that the scientific planners were getting a little ahead of themselves. It is interesting reading Russell's 1924 paper today to note that his support for population control and world government were indeed lifelong.

In his later years he is often portrayed as a patriarch of pacifism. He founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and cast himself as an arch-enemy of "US Imperialism" (..but only after Stalin was safely buried). He even established his own "International War Crimes Tribunal" to investigate US war crimes in Vietnam. There are a few ironies in the makeup of his do-it-yourself "tribunal" -- as noted here and here and here. But the biggest of course is that it was chaired by "pacifist" Russell himself. Why? Because Russell believed the "pacifist" cause of world government was the only cause worth fighting for. So after WW2 he advocated that the US unilaterally attack the USSR with nuclear weapons to force Moscow to accept an American plan for the "international control" of nuclear weapons. So one is left to wonder just how much of his old authoritarian 1924 thinking continued to lie behind this icon of the peace movement.

Russell's 1924 paper shows just how close the Western 'scientific socialists', all of them central planners, many (most?) eugenicists, were to the Nazis. I think the intellectual scientific socialists were altogether a different kettle of fish compared to the old fashioned blue collar working class socialists, who at least had some common sense. Russell was probably a bit better than most as he seems to have caught on to Stalin a bit earlier than his more Marxist peers. These early 20th century "Planners" were probably the crowd Hayek was mainly targeting in his "Counter Revolution Of Science" argument. The "Planners" were essentially attempting to apply science to society with the State in the role of experimenter-in-chief and the general public as the unfortunate lab rat. They were really counter-revolutionaries, turning the clock back to the Old Regime, overthrowing 19th century liberalism, but calling their new regime "modern" and up-to-date."




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