The Unfit and Inferior

Exerpts from What is Eugenics?, chapter 14, 1932 3rd ed.

Leonard Darwin

ALL of us are being greatly damaged by the presence of the unfit and the inferior in the ranks of the nation. If those included in these classes have large families, this injury to our country will be slowly increased as the generations succeed each other. And in all probability, from this cause, racial deterioration is now actually taking place very slowly but very steadily. All this we have seen, and the question is, What can be done to safe-guard the nation against this treacherous disease?

In the first place, how are the individuals to be selected who ought to have either small families or no children? This question has already been answered as regards the insane, mental defectives, criminals, and the diseased. If parenthood were to be entirely prohibited amongst all these classes, not only would all these particular troubles be slowly lessened in the future, but in all probability something would thus be done which would tend to produce a much more widespread improvement… The elimination of the mifit, however beneficial in itself, might not alone prevent a deterioration in the breed from taking place.

In fact, the greatest danger to the race in the future is likely to result from what is taking place amongst the mass of the people. It is the large families now so often produced by the less useful citizens, and the small families produced by so many of those on whom our prosperity depends, that constitute the danger signal. It is even more important to look to the inferior than to the unfit.

When considering whether it is possible to make any move, other than by mere persuasion, in the direction of lessening the fertility of the inferior, there are two classes of persons to whom it is especially desirable that attention should be directed. The first class comprises those who are living an uncivilized life in our midst. The second class includes all those who have for a long time been in receipt of help of various kinds from the State; that is, of public assistance, as it may be called. Let us begin by considering this second class, who may be conveniently grouped together under the title of dependents, thus separating them off from all truly independent citizens.

There are no doubt some individuals who act like the lower animals, being quite uninfluenced in regard to parenthood by any thoughts of future consequences. Such as these would not be affected in regard to the size of their families by public assistance one way or the other. The majority of these animal-like creatures are, however, feeble in mind, and on that account parenthood ought anyhow to be prohibited in their case.

The foregoing considerations indicate that assistance which eases the strain of family life tends proportionately to increase the number of dependents in the coming generations. All such assistance may be described as philanthropic, whether coming from public or private funds. And we thus see that philanthropy is constantly helping to defeat its own aims… What we have to seek for is some way of counteracting those consequences of philanthropy which are harmful.

Another general question which has to be considered is whether any couple has the right in all circumstances to bring offspring into the world. Here we have first to ask, What is the meaning of the word “right”?… It is generally held that all men have a right to live. If so, every child must, to say the least, be kept alive, if necessary by public assistance. If nothing else were done, this assistance would, as we have seen, tend to encourage the inferior to produce more children. For this reason the State may justly accompany public assistance with certain conditions as to the further production of children. Returning to the limitation of the size of the families of those we have called dependents, we have seen that they have no unlimited right to parenthood. The State may, therefore, rightly prevent the continued injury which would result from the production of large families by this class of persons. But how? It would be both undesirable and impossible to prevent parenthood amongst so large a class by any form of compulsion. It would not be difficult, however, to warn all those who had for a long time been in receipt of public assistance that no more children ought to be born. Such a warning would, of course, be useless when parenthood had become impossible. When any of those warned did neglect the warning, and when more children appeared, the public assistance given might be reduced in quantity or given only in institutions, where parenthood would be impossible. This would tend to deter others from neglecting these warnings.

The other class of persons needing early attention from the eugenic point of view comprises those living uncivilized lives in civilized countries. Many of them have for long been, no doubt, in receipt of State aid, and such as these should be dealt with as dependents. It is the treatment of those living uncivilized though independent lives in our midst which constitutes a most difficult problem. Many of them are living in overcrowded dwellings, or not sending their children to school. In either case, they could be warned that no more children should be born. And they might be told that, if such warnings were neglected, the laws as to overcrowding and education, often a dead letter in such cases, would be rigidly enforced.

Thus we see that there are methods by means of which it would be possible to diminish the size of the families of the inferior, and thus to promote racial progress.