Sunday, August 26, 2012

Darwin's Response to Gaskell Was Not a Rejection of Negative Eugenics

Aside from the "aid we feel impelled to give" paragraph from The Descent of Man which I discussed at the end of  my post "The People,"  one of the more common life preservers thrown to the eugenics-free Darwin is his answer to G. A. Gaskell's  eugenic proposal, sent to Darwin in a long letter.   Most often I've seen a short section of Darwin's letter, closely clipped,  with a claim that this proves he rejected eugenics.  I don't think I've ever seen any of G. A. Gaskell's letter or Darwin's entire response used in his defense.

However, if the entire correspondence is read, it becomes clear that Gaskell's proposal that people held to be unfit  be taught and required to use birth control, was what Darwin was objecting to.  And it's not because he thinks preventing them from procreating is a terrible violation of their rights.  That's quite clear in his letter, especially as, other than that, he encourages Gaskell.

I am glad that you intend to continue your investigations, and I hope ultimately may publish on the subject.

But when it comes to birth control (the subject heading in the book change to "Artificial Birth Control" on the page that Gaskel responds to Darwin) here's what Darwin said:

If it were universally known that the birth of children could be prevented, and this was not thought immoral by married persons, would there not be great danger of extreme profligacy amongst unmarried women, and might we not become like to "arreois" societies in the Pacific?

It's clear that Darwin was scandalized by birth control.  In his official biography of Francis Galton,  Karl Pearson confirms that interpretation.

"Darwin strongly supported Galton's opinion" [against birth control] "Life Letters and Labours of Francis Galton", volume 2,  p.111]

Darwin does say that he is skeptical that the time is ripe for Galton's proposals for marriage restriction.  What the difference between Galtons and George Darwin's proposals he had supported five years earlier, isn't specified in anything I've yet found.

Other than that, Darwin's letter, read in light of his belief that "civilised men" are bound to dominate the earth upon the extinction of the "savages", as he explicitly states in The Descent of Man, tis fully on display.

Suppose that such checks had been in action during the last two or three centuries, or even for a shorter time in Britain, what a difference it would have made in the world, when we consider America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa ! No words can exaggerate the importance, in my opinion, of our colonization for the future history of the world.

Notice the phrase "such checks".   In the context of the correspondence, that can only mean that the unfit had been kept from having children for the "last two or three centuries or even a shorter time in Britain".   Short of outright extermination, some kind of eugenics program or infanticide (which I will write on) must have been what Darwin had in mind.   And notice that he believes that the "future history of the world" would  rest on "our colonization", meaning the Brits.

In Gaskell's first letter, he notes that his proposal, negative eugenics though it would be, is considerably less violent than the struggle for existence that is the alternative contemplated by Darwin and his followers:

In conclusion, I submit, the birth of the fittest offers a much milder solution of the population difficulty, than the survival of the fittest and the destruction of the weak.

Note that Darwin seems to make reference to his "aid" paragraph in Descent of Man, here:

I just alluded to it in my remarks to the effect (as far as I remember) that the evils which would follow by checking benevolence and sympathy in not fostering the weak and diseased would be greater than by allowing them to survive and then to procreate.

As I pointed out before, Darwin undercut the case for not checking benevolence three or four times as he made a show of asserting it.  Only to continue to undercut it in page after page of that long book after he made that gesture.  Clearly Gaskell didn't find that sufficiently reassuring, as no rational person who believed Darwin would.

While it's clear that Darwin wants to blow off Gaskell, clearly not wanting to deal with birth control,  Gaskell is entirely justified in pointing out that Darwin, himself, has stated that the alternative is "survival of the fittest and the destruction of the weak".   Eugenicist that he is, you've got to grant that Gaskell said it, outright.   And it's clear that Darwin found it easier to contemplate a violent and desperate struggle in which the "weak" would be destroyed than that single women might enjoy having sex without fear of pregnancy.  I suppose I should pretend I'm surprised that he isn't so worried about the virtue of single men, but I won't.

Here is the entire correspondence as published in:

Scientific Meliorism and the Evolution of Happiness by Jane Hume Clapperton 
Appendix to Chapter XVIII,  p337

I AM enabled to place before my readers the following interesting correspondence.

November 13th 1878.

Charles Darwin, Esq.,

You have so often invited correspondence on the subjects treated of in your most valuable books, that I trust you will pardon this liberty I, a perfect stranger to you, venture to take, of offering for your consideration some thoughts mainly originated by your writings.

For many years I have been accustomed to think sadly of the present condition and probable future of the human race. The works of Malthus and J. S. Mill, your own works, and some others, have so clearly pointed out the evils under which man strives, and how slow and cruel in their action are various forces that tend to better his condition, that it is with a great feeling of relief I have quite recently been brought to believe that there are forces at work of which I had previously little conception, which will in a comparatively short time, and in a wholly admirable manner, bring about that state of things which is so earnestly to be desired.

You say (in " The Descent of Man "), " It is impossible not to regret bitterly, but whether wisely is another question, the rate at which man tends to increase ; " and further, that man " has no right to expect an immunity from the evils consequent on the struggle for existence." In regard to this last, with all respect, I am glad to be able to say, I, in great part, differ from you. I think, from the advance of civilization, which is so much a conquest over nature, and the growth of altruism, we have reason to hope for this immunity ; and as I now think we can have it without any deterioration of race and decline of virtue, I am free to think it wise to
regret the continuance of the pressure of population on comfort and subsistence.

It is my duty to be concise in what I have to say, in order to take up as little of your time as possible, in case my ideas should be worthless ; but I hope in the very short statement of the main results at which I have arrived, I shall still be able to make myself understood.

I believe I can point out, as now in action, two important laws of Race, to add to the one already so fully displayed by yourself. They are both naturally destructive of the action of the first law which is Natural Selection ; and the last, which is now in the first stages of evolution, annuls as it grows the action of the two
preceding ones.

They each have existence for the same reason, viz. that they tend to greater adaptability of race with conditions, or greater strength against the forces which environ. I summarize these laws as follows : —

The three great laws of Race Preservation in their natural order of sequence in evolution are —

First, the Organological Law — Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest

Second, the Sociological Law — Sympathetic Selection, or Indiscriminate Survival

Third, the Moral Law — Social Selection, or the Birth of the Fittest.

These three laws arise naturally and gradually out of the conditions which precede each.

The first is the Physical Law, which governs all organisms in which no form of sympathy is yet developed ; it tends to greater strength in the unit or more adaptability of the individual to its conditions.

The second is the Psychological Law, which necessarily arises with the growth of sympathy, and is the natural opponent of the first, which it gradually supersedes. It tends to greater strength and adaptability in the aggregate, but to less strength and health in the unit.

The third is the Judicial Law, evolved as a rule of conscience for well-being. It gradually annuls the preceding laws while combining their beneficial results, on the basis of tending to greater strength and health, both in the aggregate and in the unit. It is the final outcome of Human Evolution in the order of forces governing race propagation. It is necessarily evolved in the mind by the interaction of reason and sympathy, and its development proceeds on the fact of artificial birth-control, unopposed to the force of sexual passion which otherwise would, with the weaker individuals, most certainly be too powerful to permit its action.

Of the first of these laws I need say nothing, except that I have been so bold as to name it " Organological."

Of the second I may say, I have formulated it from a consideration of much in your writings, especially of chapters iii., iv., and v., in the " Descent of Man," of portions in the writings of Mr. Herbert Spencer, Mr. A. R. Wallace, Mr. F. Gallon, Mr. W. R. Greg, and others. Natural Selection was evidently defeated, and yet species continued to flourish ; so it seemed evident to me that a new law had been evolved, and this I set myself to discover. The word sympathy I have used in a wide sense, and as the quality meant has, as you point out, been most probably developed through natural selection, it exists in varying degrees of strength.

Of the reality of the third law there will be most dispute. That its evolution is proceeding, I cannot myself see reason to doubt; and that it is destined to act a most beneficent part in the future of mankind, I firmly believe.

As instance of its solution I may mention the growing opinion that it is wrong for consumptive people and persons inclined to insanity and epilepsy to marry ; the opinion, becoming more and more prevalent, that it is wrong to have more children than can be brought up well ; the opinion that celibacy is an evil, and that
asceticism is absurd ; that the sexual passion is at the spring of much that is noble in life, and is nothing to be ashamed of, but requires only to be regulated ; the inference that in no case is it wrong to apply knowledge to guard against natural evils, so long as no injury devolves on others by so doing ; the conclusion that
procreation is perhaps of all social actions the most important, and ought therefore to be most seriously regarded, and effected only under moral conditions ; the opinion that tendency to vice is hereditary, and that it would be best for society if confirmed criminals were "put compendiously under water." And finally I may
refer to the present painful conflict betweeh reason and sympathy relative to the preservation of the weak and incompetent while they propagate their stock to the injury of posterity.

I think the extending force of the practice of the arts preventive of conception is in proportion to the capability in these arts of increasing adaptation to conditions within and without the human organism.

If it is a fact that they do increase this adaptability, it appears to me certain that their practice will increase to the extent of society.

The prejudice against them founds itself on the belief that they are in themselves immoral, or of immoral tendency, because social instinct is against them. But social instinct has, as you justly point out, been developed in favour of the general good of the species; it follows, then, that if the general good conflicts eventually with an instinct, instinct will in time have to adjust itself to the new conditions.

A physiological fact having relation to man and society is one among other factors in the determination of morals. The concealment cannot be defended ; and if the knowledge of it is of use, it is hopeless to expect any attempt at concealment to be effectual.

If it be true that these arts do not increase adaptability to conditions, I see not how their manifest spread can be accounted for.

I think their action is rapidly becoming a sociological fact of the gravest importance, which cannot be left out of consideration in any speculation on social tendencies. I need but refer to France and its extraordinary statistics of births in relation to marriages.

I gather that you fear mach reduced social pressure would result in indolence. I submit that indolence is more a physical weakness than an acquired habit, and cannot, I think, be increased under ** Birth of the Fittest" To those who love children will be left the task of bringing them up. This love is hereditary, and will increase
by survival, and become a presiding force. It may not be Utopian to expect that some day a medical certificate may be required to define the rectitude of adding a new member to society. The weak in body or mind may be cared for and protected so long as they conform to the social mandate not to continue their race. They may, to use Professor Mantegazza's* words, "love, but must not have offspring."

In conclusion, I submit, the birth of the fittest offers a much milder solution of the population difficulty, than the survival of the fittest and the destruction of the weak.

I feel I take a liberty in speaking of any subject about which you must know so much more than I do. If I have been so fortunate as to make a true generalization, you will see it as such without many words from me.

My present intention is to further develop these ideas as long as I think them true.

I am, sir, with much esteem.

Yours truly,

G. A. Gaskell.

Down, Beckenham, Kent,

November 15th, 1878.
Dear Sir,

Your letter seems to me very interesting and clearly expressed and I hope that you are in the right

Your second law appears to be largely acted on in all civilized countries, and I just alluded to it in my remarks to the effect (as far as I remember) that the evils which would follow by checking benevolence and sympathy in not fostering the weak and diseased would be greater than by allowing them to survive and then to procreate.

With respect to your third law, I do not know whether you have read an article (I forget when published) by F. Galton, in which he proposes certificates of health, etc., for marriage, and that the best should be matched.

I have lately been led to reflect a little (for now that I am growing old, my work has become merely special) on the artificial checks to increase, and I cannot but doubt greatly, whether such would be advantageous to the world at large at present, however it may be in the distant future.

Suppose that such checks had been in action during the last two or three centuries, or even for a shorter time in Britain, what a difference it would have made in the world, when we consider America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa ! No words can exaggerate the importance, in my opinion, of our colonization for the future history of the world.

If it were universally known that the birth of children could be prevented, and this was not thought immoral by married persons, would there not be great danger of extreme profligacy amongst unmarried women, and might we not become like to "arreois" societies in the Pacific?

In the course of a century, France will tell us the result in many ways. We can already see that the French nation does not spread or increase much.

I am glad that you intend to continue your investigations, and I hope ultimately may publish on the subject.

I beg leave to remain, dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,

Ch. Darwin.

P.S. — This note is badly expressed and written, but I have not time or strength to re-write it

November 20rh, 1878.
Dear Sir,

I beg to thank you for your most courteous and encouraging letter. I shall devote particular attention to the points you raise, which are most important, though extremely difficult to deal with.

The very strength of the popular fear lest these new checks should lead to immorality, gives me some confidence that the human mind, so long trained in favour of that which tends to social order, will be able to withstand the greater license of new conditions without relapse.

Social change being evolutional is gradual ; such disorder as may be prompted must therefore arise in detail, while social order obtains in the mass ; disorder is disorganization, destruction of itself. I cannot conceive of the present order not being able to withstand the small corroding tendencies of disorder met in detail
surely it will outlive them.

The " arreois " societies are societies for death, not life ; they are social suicides. The libertine and selfish natures, in furthering their own ends, will, I trust, further their own destruction, and so be eliminated from society, while order survives.

If I could conceive disorder to arise at one time from numerous centres, and grow in corrosive power until the combination of order should be destroyed by it, then would I fear the extinction of the human race ; but disorder is of fitful growth and crumbles as it grows.

Without, I hope, overlooking the importance of colonization, there is much, I think, in what Mr. W. R. Greg says in his essay on " The Obligations of the Soil."

Colonization if slower would have one advantage — that it would be less painful. There is something about colonization at present, which reminds me of a panic in an assembly, where the people get jammed in the doorway. Subsistence is so difficult, that is, food is so dear, that emigrants may often view the fertile land they cannot
cultivate for want of capital, or a year's provisions, and so be forced to turn away and starve. High pressure sometimes defeats its own ends.

There is certainly one great danger in lessened fertility of some races, viz. that the pressure of other races upon them might extinguish them. The lessened fertility commences in the races which are stronger socially ; I trust they will endure. The nations guided by reason, could not long submit to having their standard of com-
fort lowered or their means lessened by the influx of an inferior race. I trust little to legislation, but its most useful action may some day be to preserve a civilized nation against the social encroachments of an uncivilized.

It was only that I could not find that what I call the law of sympathetic selection was formulated, that I ventured to draw attention to it. It is, as you point out, alluded to in your writings, and I am glad of the confirmation you give me.

The sympathetic are protective of their kind : the unsocial are left less protected. The law which might be called the survival of the sympathetic (the fittest socially) is a law oi protection and survival, conducing to the compactness of the social organism, and therefore to existence. Natural selection is a law of destruction
and survival.

I am hopeful that dispassionate study may help us to the resolution of several important questions. What I submit to you, I submit with much diffidence. I beg you will not let any feeling of courtesy lead you to reply to this letter ; I should be sorry to seem to give you this trouble, and much regret the state of your health.

I beg to remain, dear Sir, Yours truly,

G. A. Gaskell.

Charles Darwin, Esq.

*  Paolo Mantegazza, another eugenicist and correspondent of Darwin who attributed his eugenics to him.

Note:  Many of those who currently have a mythical conception of Charles Darwin as some kind of freethinking radical, oppressed by Victorian society and the church (the guy's buried in Westminster Cathedral) might want to read how he failed to come to the aid of Charles Bradlaugh when he and Annie Besant were arrested and prosecuted for publishing a pamphlet advocating birth control.   Darwin claimed ill health but it's pretty clear he wanted nothing to do with something considered as icky as birth control.  In a letter answering Bradlaugh's plea for help Darwin said he'd have to testify for the prosecution:

"I have not seen the book in question but for notices in the newspaper. I suppose that it refers to means to prevent conception. If so I should be forced to express in court a very decided opinion in opposition to you & Mrs. Besant…I believe that any such practices would in time lead to unsournd women & would destroy chastity, on which the family bond depends; & the weakening of this bond would be the greatest of all possible evils to mankind." [To Charles Bradlaugh, 6 June 1877, Darwin manuscript collection, #202, partly printed in Charles Bradlaugh: a record of his life and work, by Hypatia B. Bradlaugh, 2nd ed. 2 vols. London, 1894.

Bradlaugh was the most famous English atheist of his time.

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