Monday, August 6, 2012

‘Pantheon’ by Sam Bourne

“There was an editorial from the New Statesman of 1931. The magazine reckoned that the only people who could possibly oppose the eugenic vision were traditionalists and reactionaries, too selfish to see that their desire to have children should take second place to society’s need for an improved breed…’
“Here was that economist chap, Keynes, whom everyone so admired, putting the case for widespread use of birth control, because the working class was too ‘drunken and ignorant’ to be trusted to keep its own numbers down. And look at this, Grey’s big pal, William Beveridge, Master of University College, arguing that those with ‘general defects’ should be denied not only the vote, but ‘civil freedom and fatherhood.’’
“Next James came to a short essay by Harold Laski, who had once sat between James and Florence at high table: The time is surely coming in our history when society will look upon the production of weakling as a crime against itself. And on the very next page, JBS Haldane. Harry Knox was always quoting Haldane, James remembered, chiefly because the eminent scientist and socialist supported the Republic in Spain. Here he was sounding the alarm: Civilisation stands in real danger from over-production of ‘undermen’…’
“There was an editorial of warm support from the Manchester Guardian, praising Brock for backing the sterilisation ‘the eugenists soundly urge.’ On the next sheet was a table of recent statistics, showing which countries were already leading the way. Curtis had been right: Germany apart, the United States was ahead of the pack, having sterilised thirty thousand of the mentally ill and criminally insane by 1939, mostly against their will…’
“He flicked through a few more pages, coming across Bertrand Russell, star philosopher and another one of the Greys’ high table chums. It seemed the great man had dreamed up a rather elaborate wheeze to improve the quality of the nation’s stock. He wanted the state to issue colour-coded ‘procreation tickets’: anyone who dared breed with holders of a different-coloured ticket would face a heavy fine. That way people of high-calibre could be sure their blood was mixed only with those of similar pedigree. Why risk contamination by those whose blood might be dangerously proletarian, foreign or weak? Just check their ticket!’
“James was shaking his head at the arrogance of it all when he came across an essay suggesting that the problem was not that the poor were having too many children, but that they were having the wrong kind of children. The solution was a programme of artificial insemination, aimed at impregnating working-class women with the sperm of men blessed with high IQs…”
(pp. 328-330, ‘Pantheon’ by Sam Bourne - Harper)

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