Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Poisoned Atmosphere In Which Leonard Darwin Discussed The Lethal Chamber As a Eugenics Tool

As I mentioned in the post below, Leonard Darwin was discussing the possible use of the "lethal chamber" as a method of enacting "Eugenic Reform" in the 1920s.  I will admit that he did, somewhat, come out against its use for "racial purification", though he entertained the possibility that mass murder could "purify" the human population.

As to the killing off of the unfit, the objections to this method of racial purification are as follows.  From the moral point of view, it would tend to associate the idea of murder with that of social progress, and would consequently tend to increase the number of murders.  From the racial point of view, it would, as in the case of excessive punishments, be less willingly adopted than other more humane methods and therefore, less effective.  And from the individual point of view, it would cause great distress of mind to many through fear not only that they themselves would be thus 'eliminated,' but also that might be the fate of some beloved relative.  The eugenist  (sic) demands self-sacrifice in order to lessen the sufferings of future generations, and any action tending to stifle the sentiment of pity for those who are now in any way suffering or defective would in the long run hinder the cause of eugenics.  No doubt capital punishment does produce beneficial racial effects; but the number thus eliminated are likely to be so small that, even if the foregoing objections were not valid, the keenest eugenist would hardly think it worth while to advocate its introduction or retention or racial grounds alone.  Certainly “scientific baby murder” cannot be tolerated, and in regard to eugenic reform generally, we must never attempt to act through the agency of the death rate, but only through that of the birth rate.

Considering what he's discussing, the mass killing of human beings by the state for means of "racial” hygiene," you'd think he could go a bit farther than that in discouraging it.  That it would tend to tend to “increase the number of murders” is about the strongest argument he makes against it, though I would guess the possible backlash against eugenics was seen by him as far more of a potential calamity resulting from its use.  As events turned out, after 1945, that was one of the side effects, other than the, apparently,  minor detail of millions of deaths.

If that passage seems disturbingly bizarre in 2013, Leonard Darwin was far from the only member of the British elite who was thinking about a pre-Nazi era final solution by means of gas chamber.  In a chapter From Scott Christianson's book about the history of the Gas Chamber called  "Envisioning The Lethal Chamber"   Christianson documents the disturbing fact that many of the bright lights of the English Speaking Peoples' were advocating that form of mass murder decades before that.  For example, there is the progressive and eugenicist, H. G. Wells

Writing at the dawn of the twentieth century, H.G. Wells often mentioned “lethal chambers for the insane” and mused that the “swarms of black, brown, and dirty­-white, and yellow people . . . have to go.

D. H. Lawrence, the author of the much championed and formerly banned,  "Lady Chatterleys  Lover" and some of the worst English language poetry of the 20th century. [See here]

The novelist D.H. Lawrence gave “three cheers for the inventors of poison gas,” saying, “If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly, and then I’d go out in back streets and main streets and bring them all in, all the sick . . . the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks.”

And even the sainted George Bernard Shaw

The dramatist George Bernard Shaw also favored mass use of the lethal chamber. Such talk became so prevalent that some commentators even began using the noun as a verb, saying so ­and ­so ought to be “lethal chambered.”

If anyone wondered where the idea came from, decades before the Nazis made the most extensive use of mass gas chambers, it was openly discussed in polite society by some of the leading lights of "progressive" thinking.  People still held up as paragons of liberal thinking and scientific enlightenment*.    The Nazis staging of the murder of millions, in some cases providing reassuring entertainment as they were marched into the building, reassured that they were about to be given a hygenic shower, could have been slightly modified from that laid out by Lawrence.

And, as Christianson shows, it was not just the Brits who were advocating the mass killing of "undesirables" by means of gas, Americans, figures in the scientific, academic, legal and "progressive" establishment were openly advocating that mass murder as a tool of effecting eugenics.

Grant’s views were widely shared among a hard core of leading eugenicists such as the biologist and American eugenics organizer Charles Davenport and Lothrop Stoddard, the Boston Brahmin politi­
cal scientist and leading anti­Bolshevik who labeled the Jew as “the cause of world unrest.” Many such ideas also enjoyed support among many liberals, such as the government chemist and Pure Food and Drug Act pioneer Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and civil rights lawyer Clarence Darrow, who said it was just to “chloroform unfit children . . . [and] show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.”28 William J. Robinson, a New York urologist and leading authority on birth control, eugenics, and marriage, wrote that the best solution would be for society to “gently chloroform” the children of the unfit or “give them a dose of potassium cyanide.” Robinson also insisted that splitting hairs about any of their “individual rights” should never be allowed to trump the preservation of the race. “It is the acme of stupidity,” he wrote, “to talk in such cases of individual liberty, of the rights of the individual. Such individuals have no rights. They have no right in the first instance to be born, but having been born, they have no right to propagate their kind.

Liberalism, so called,  clearly took a disastrously wrong turn as it was attempting to become more "scientific".  You can read Marilynne Robinson's essay about the character of 19th century American liberalism, "McGuffey And The Abolitionists"  to see how far the character of "liberalism" had changed for the worse in the succeeding decades.  It is one of the most ironic of all facts of current American culture that the closing speech of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Trial, a speech which Darrow prevented Bryan from giving in court by a legal maneuver, reads as far more progressive, far more informed and honest about the culture of Darwinism in the 1920s and far more prophetic of events in the next two decades than anything Darrow said.  But Darrow is presented as a hero of liberalism and Bryan is presented as an ignorant villain.  In reviewing their actual records, both had heroic aspects and both had glaring flaws.  No one in history is without those.  It is a huge mistake to turn any person into a demigod and figurehead of liberalism, even Charles Darwin.

*  If there is one thing that researching this series taught me it is that the impunity granted to figures such as Shaw, Darrow, Darwin etc. by the cumbersome use of paper stored in dusty volumes in distant libraries is over.  As their fuller record becomes available online, especially in media vulnerable to electronic search and key word searches,  all such passages will be made know, exposed and used.  The frequently phony charge of "quote mining" will not hold when it is possible to link to the complete context in which those horrifying passages were made and their authors verifying what they meant by them through citation of their repetition is possible.   The mechanisms of denial used by the Darwin industry to defend him against his own words are clear, suppression, denial, cover up, misrepresentation, and plain, bald-faced lying.

 Liberalism cannot live with the ideas that some of the purported heroes of liberalism espoused, it cannot live with the self-interested misrepresentation of the historical record to defend people who might have wanted more sex but who were, otherwise, no kind of liberal, in the traditional American meaning of the word.

Update:  As an example of this footnote, here is the full context of the quote from H. G. Wells, " Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought" in all its disturbing, sciency depravity.

And how will the New Republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black? how will it deal with the yellow man? how will it tackle that alleged termite in the civilized woodwork, the Jew? Certainly not as races at all. It will aim to establish, and it will at last, though probably only after a second century has passed, establish a world-state with a common language and a common rule. All over the world its roads, its standards, its laws, and its apparatus of control will run. It will, I have said, make the multiplication of those who fall behind a certain standard of social efficiency unpleasant and difficult, and it will have cast aside any coddling laws to save adult men from themselves.[52] It will tolerate no[Pg 316] dark corners where the people of the Abyss may fester, no vast diffused slums of peasant proprietors, no stagnant plague-preserves. Whatever men may come into its efficient citizenship it will let come—white, black, red, or brown; the efficiency will be the test. And the Jew also it will treat as any other man. It is said that the Jew is incurably a parasite on the apparatus of credit. If there are parasites on the apparatus of credit, that is a reason for the legislative cleaning of the apparatus of credit, but it is no reason for the special treatment of the Jew. If the Jew has a certain incurable tendency to social parasitism, and we make social parasitism impossible, we shall abolish the Jew, and if he has not, there is no need to abolish the Jew. We are much more likely to find we have abolished the Caucasian solicitor. I really do not understand the exceptional attitude people take up against the Jews. There is something very ugly about many Jewish faces, but there are Gentile faces just as coarse and gross. The Jew asserts himself in relation to his nationality with a singular tactlessness, but it is hardly for the English to blame that. Many Jews are intensely vulgar in dress and bearing, materialistic in thought, and cunning and base in method, but no more so than many Gentiles. The Jew is mentally and physically precocious, and he ages and dies sooner than the average European, but in that and in a certain disingenuousness he is simply on all fours with the short,[Pg 317] dark Welsh. He foregathers with those of his own nation, and favours them against the stranger, but so do the Scotch. I see nothing in his curious, dispersed nationality to dread or dislike. He is a remnant and legacy of mediƦvalism, a sentimentalist, perhaps, but no furtive plotter against the present progress of things. He was the mediƦval Liberal; his persistent existence gave the lie to Catholic pretensions all through the days of their ascendency, and to-day he gives the lie to all our yapping "nationalisms," and sketches in his dispersed sympathies the coming of the world-state. He has never been known to burke a school. Much of the Jew's usury is no more than social scavenging. The Jew will probably lose much of his particularism, intermarry with Gentiles, and cease to be a physically distinct element in human affairs in a century or so. But much of his moral tradition will, I hope, never die.... And for the rest, those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency?

Well, the world is a world, not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go. The whole tenor and meaning of the world, as I see it, is that they have to go. So far as they fail to develop sane, vigorous, and distinctive personalities for the great world of the future, it is their portion to die out and disappear.

It is worth remembering that Wells' Darwinist pedigree couldn't be more impressive, through his teacher Thomas Huxley, Darwin's protective bull dog and foremost promoter.  Though his relationship has no potential for providing more than third hand knowledge of what Charles Darwin thought.


  1. "If anyone wondered where the idea came from, decades before the Nazis made the most extensive use of mass gas chambers, it was openly discussed in polite society by some of the leading lights of "progressive" thinking."

    I have always understood that the gas used by the Nazis in the death camps was originally engineered for, and used in, their euthanasia program. I don't have a link, but I think that's not a controversial assertion.

    Pope Benedict had a cousin with Down's Syndrome who was so murdered.

  2. Zyklon B was a development of Zyklon, originally developed as an agricultural pesticide by the chemist Fritz Haber, a man with a horribly amoral history of his own. He was one of the foremost figures in German use of poison gas in WWI. His first wife, a chemist in her own right, Clara Immerwahr is believed to have committed suicide in reaction to his involvement with it. It is one of the many ironies of this history of moral depravity that as a Jew, Haber would have been eligible to be murdered with Zyklon gas by the Nazis, some of his relatives did. Even his nominal conversion to Christianity wouldn't have saved him. In another of her essays Marilynne Robinson points out that with the biological definition of Judaism in the late 19th century, his conversion wouldn't have saved him, something it might have, for example, during the forced conversion-expulsion from Spain in the 15th century.

    It is an indication of the amorality of science that even as he should have been brought up on charges as a war criminal, Haber was given the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. It is impossible to believe that the committee that gave it to him didn't realize the statement they were making about the unimportance of morality when they did it.