- In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity by Daniel Kevles
Penguin, 426 pp, £4.95, August 1986, ISBN 0 14 022698 2
This much-debated study of eugenics contains a love song to British science – indeed to British size – that has gone almost unnoticed as the Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, preparing for his departure from these shores, gives at least a plausible account of why the situation is now so bad in the arts and the sciences. In the Name of Eugenics arrives, in its Penguin version, groaning with American honours: done over by the Checking Department at the New Yorker, then Knopf’d, then winner of the ‘Page One Award for Science Writing in Magazines’ and, in 1985, runner-up for the American Book Award in Non-Fiction. It is an affluent work brewed in a culture of affluence, and some of this shows in its analyses of eugenical selection – who should breed, who not.
Vol. 9 No. 7 · 2 April 1987
SIR: Michael Neve (LRB, 5 March) calls the eminent Victorian scientist Francis Galton a ‘keeper of proto-fascist eugenical fantasies’, such as a ‘hygienic social order, free of mental defectives, criminals, subnormals, not to mention the rest of us’. The last category is self-exposing and of course self-evidently ridiculous. Galton nowhere expressed a ‘violent’ commitment to social reform (through influencing family-planning – in the light of genetics as then understood in terms statistically applicable to human families). Does Neve prefer to live in a society with increasing numbers of criminals and mental defectives, or does he just deny that heredity has anything to do with mental, temperamental or physical disabilities? As the English Association abandons its original nativist commitment in favour of multi-culturalism, and the Royal Anthropological Society becomes another agit-prop organ of ‘anti-sexism’ and ‘anti-racism’, Neve may be pleased to note that the old Eugenics Society has lost all interest in upliftment through careful contraception and has become virtually just another arm of the abortion-free-for-all lobby: but he is not yet part of the well-entrenched radical establishment in the literary and social science ‘academe’ of Anglo-Saxonia, or he would not have included that little final tribute to something distinctively ‘English’. But put Daniel Kelves, Steven Rose, Richard Lewontin, Leon Kamin, Nancy Stepan, Joseph Alper, Paul Rich, Stephan Chorover, Michael Biddis, Raphael Samuel, Gerald Dworkin, Old Silly Billig et al in the scales of scientific achievement against Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, Ruggles Gates, Cyril Darlington, William Shockley or Carleton Coon, and I have no doubt who will eventually emerge the ‘superior’, if indeed one dare use an adjective that derives from Anglo imperialism in an élitist culture.
Michael Neve writes: A group of mainly Jewish historians of genetics is counterpoised here with ancient, presumably Anglo-Saxon, scientists. Perhaps this is what Jean Bone means by ‘nativism’.