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More Missing Links -- of Darwin, Eugenics and Hitler

Yale Alumni Magazine has done the world a favor by exposing one of the skeletons in the closet of that and other universities: the eugenics movement.

The author, Richard Conniff, though himself a Darwinist, doesn't pull punches. A century ago, he explains, well-meaning professors who contributed in positive ways to economics and conservation nonetheless also provided an intellectual weapon for evil that rocked the 20th century. A young activist in Germany was impressed. The movement started by Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, was carried to an extreme by this man and his friends in the decades to follow.

In Germany, an imprisoned political extremist viewed these developments with satisfaction. Writing Mein Kampf in his cell, Adolf Hitler complained that naturalization in Germany was not all that different from "being admitted to membership of an automobile club," and that "the child of any Jew, Pole, African, or Asian may automatically become a German citizen." Now, though, "by excluding certain races" from the right to become American citizens, the United States had held up a shining example to the world. It was the sort of reform, Hitler wrote, "on which we wish to ground the People's State."

Nazi Germany would soon become the dark apotheosis of eugenics. When compulsory sterilization began there in 1933, the Nazi physician in charge of training declared he was following "the American pathfinders Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard" (author of The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy). Eugen Fischer, the leading Nazi eugenicist, would thank Grant and his racial theories for inspiring Germans to work toward "a better future for our Volk."

Mind you, these were the progressive minds of their day, leaders in many fields. They advocated their benighted policies before the full development of Nazi atrocities, so they have some excuse. Today, however, the Ivy League still hosts eugenicists, and once again they are toasted and lionized. They are very progressive, the fare of glowing New York Times articles and their apologists are legion.

Even Mr. Conniff cannot bring himself to explain how deeply implicated Darwinism is in eugenics. This is not to blame the dear old man, any more than American eugenicists are responsible for Hitler's crimes. It is to say that the intellectual lineage is obvious and irrefutable. No Darwin, no eugenics.