20 April 2010

Newest Old Book Round Up

Spring is here and that means library book sales begin! This is an important part in giving oneself a good education! You can study what you want; you can discover forgotten, excellent scholarship of decades ago; and a few bucks go a long way. Library sales are a lot of fun because I never know what I'll find among the boxes and boxes of donated, used, out-of-print books that sell for dirt cheap. Well, that used to be so. Lately, however, I've acquired so many books this way that I can no longer leave a sale with boxes or bags full of books and instead leave with just a few or, rarely, only an armful at most. This is for two reasons. First, I have pretty much got enough good books on subjects that interest me that I really do not need a whole lot more any time soon. Second, many books at any sale are - ones I already have! There's no more for me to get! Wow!

Some of the best finds for me are books by those I consider philosophical opponents. It's important to know what statists, religionists and others believe and are up to. The best way is to get their writings, especially the ones out of print. There are a lot of them and they wrote a lot of books - and I'm collecting them! Those books have had their impact on their time which in turn influenced what is happening today and what will happen in the future. They are worth knowing about in understanding the battle of ideas going on.

Here is what I acquired from a library sale this weekend. I thought I will share my finds in case anybody might be interested in any of them.

On religion:

Religion In America: An historical account of the development of American religious life (2nd ed.) by Winthrop S. Hudson (1973). This 400+ page book starts with the Puritans and ends with black theology. That's hardly what I would call progress! Anyway, I expect it should be good.

Also I obtained Vol. 3 of Mircea Eliade's A History of Religious Ideas (1985). This volume is "From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms" and I suspect this might be a textbook, but it looks like good overview of the subject matter all the same. Old textbooks tend to be of better scholarly quality than today's, I believe.

On philosophy:

I found one book on philosophy that looks very insightful, Nicolas Berdyaev's The Origin of Russian Communism. This is a 1966 edition, the original published in 1937. It is a short book, but the chapter titles look like it should be an interesting read. Some chapters are "The Russian idea of religion and the Russian state", "Russian socialism and nihilism", "Russian 19th century literature and its predictions", and "Communism and Christianity." I intend to read this soon and I would not be surprised if it is worth reviewing.

In history:

A History of the Weimar Republic Vol. 2: From the Lacarno Conference to Hitler's Seizure of Power by Erich Eyeck (1967). I do not know much about Weimar Germany but I know enough about it to understand that there are important lessons to be learned from it. From the blurbs on the back cover I gather that Eyck was an expert authority on the subject and his book is first-rate. If so, I have to track down a copy of Volume 1.

The Movement: A History of the American New Left, 1959-1972 by Irwin Unger (1974). I knew I found a dandy when I saw that title! I am reading it now and it is very informative and revealing. This one will be in my next book review.

Turning to what is a more positive subject compared with religionists, communists, and New Leftists is Peter Gay's Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist (1965). I read Gay's excellent two volume The Enlightenment: An Interpretation so I knew had to grab this. This is a history of Voltaire's political and social thinking, not presented merely in itself, but how his experiences and events shaped it. I expect I'll be enjoying and learning a lot from this book when I get to it.


John K. Galbraith's The New Industrial State (1967). I know that Galbraith is a "big name" in economics and this is an important book. Being a free-marketer I am not likely to agree with this book, but I am curious about what Galbraith's ideas were and what their impact was.

Lastly, environmentalism:

The Ages of Gaia : A Biography of Our Living Earth by James Lovelock (1988). I think to be in a frame of mind suitable to reading a biography of the organism that we are parasites on Gaia, a.k.a. "the earth" I should first consume ample quantities of Killian's Red. Good thing this book is on the short side!

So those are my library's new additions.

And come to think of it, it is just as well that I am not buying as many books as I used to. My book cases are way overcrowded!

22 March 2010

Letter to My Congress-hooligan

I just sent this email-

Mr. Sestak,
You are a disgrace to your office and the Constitution for voting for this unprecedented power-grab over health care. Health care nationalization will be profoundly destructive and intrusive to individual liberty. Great men founded this country. The Constitution they created is being disregarded and our country is being run into the ground by politicians like you, you who would have been unworthy of grooming George Washington's horse. Two-bit hooligan politicians like you were tarred, feathered and run out of town 230 years ago - so I'll be remembering your health care vote come November.
Tom Stelene

Damn, that felt good!

I should have signed off, "Have a nice day."

28 February 2010

An Armed Society Means Moral Progress

As I happen to be posting this, the Supreme Court is ready to hear another Second Amendment case about extending the Heller decision to all 50 states, and I really hope it upholds firearms rights again.

In a way, the Second Amendment is really about more than self-defense.

According to the Constitution we are a society under the rule of law, not men. Government exists to protect individual rights, and furthermore, private individuals believe in recognizing the rights of other individuals.

This sounds like a quite peaceable societal arrangement, so why should citizens own firearms? Well, why not?

Why - in a free society - should firearms be outlawed or strictly regulated by the government? A man has the right to own property and use it as he likes as long as he harms no other man. Firearms are private property. That presupposes there is a firearms industry for people to make a living from. In other words, because our society has banished the use of force among men, firearms become objects and commodities like any others.

Why do I have firearms? I know I have the right to protect myself, but that is really not an important reason for me. I like to hunt and shoot. I like learning about how firearms work, how they are used, learning about their history and development, and on and on. They are fun and fascinating. That's all.

I live in a society where I can basically own all the firearms I want. I can use them quite freely from the range to the hunting field. I can get instruction in fighting with a firearm. I can wear a handgun in public for protection. I can keep a semi-automatic carbine in my home for defense. I can have rifles that are deadly at long ranges. All that and no one has anything to worry about from me. I am legally and socially trusted with them. I have like trust in my fellow citizens. We do not pose a threat to each other.

Is it not moral progress when a large number of citizens are heavily armed and they harbor no ill intent toward others? Is it not moral progress when we have relegated weapons of war to recreational and sporting uses?

Think about that.

That is an accomplishment that we Americans should be proud of, firearms owners or not. I know I am. I am glad I live in such a society.

Who would not be?

25 February 2010

Some Observations & Thoughts On Dictators

During his presidential campaign Barack Obama’s image was of nothing less than our nation’s savior. Substituting for the lack of any legitimate reasons to accept this image as based on reality were two significant factors: his personality cult and his impressive oratory skills.

As President of the United States the image of a messianic Obama has been discredited. He knows that Americans do not want his agenda but he is determined to impose it on them anyhow. President Obama gets in front of cameras and pretends that we want his agenda and that it will benefit us once it is implemented - never mind what he has been doing is the type of things that other collectivist-socialist dictators have done.

Is that to say there is the potential for Obama to became a dictator of sorts?

Before answering that, let’s briefly consider his life before he became president.

Barack Obama was heavily into alcohol and drugs in his teenage years because of a personal identity crisis. He was brought believing in Marxism. At Columbia University in New York he majored in political science and international relations. Obama stayed there working in the private sector for a few years and then moved to Chicago to become a church's "community organizer" on behalf of the poor. For three years Obama was the group's director. Obama went to Harvard Law School and edited its Law Review. After graduating, his book, Dreams From My Father, was published and he got involved in voter registration campaigns. He was a constitutional law professor at University of Chicago for twelve years and joined a law firm specializing in civil rights and neighborhood economic development. He then served on the boards of a few 'community' groups and worked with ACORN. In 1996 he was elected to the Illinois Senate and in 2004, to the U.S. Senate. He is another politician with a socialist/communist philosophy who has created a personality cult and has impressive oratory skills before a crowd. As president, Obama wants to “fundamentally transform America.”

Barack Obama the man is not especially impressive. That is exactly why his presidency is worrisome.

Consider some men with similarly unimpressive lives - before they became dictators.

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) was a zealous follower of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophy. He received a law degree and was a mediocre small town lawyer, choosing to represent the poor. In 1788 Robespierre was elected to the French legislature. He and other deputies formed a "Society of the Friends of the Constitution," or, the Jacobins. Like many dictators who would follow him, he had impressive oratory skills when he was before a crowd. Robespierre maneuvered himself in to power and was the first modern totalitarian-collectivist dictator. He mobilized the country for war against “enemies of the revolution” be they domestic or foreign and implemented terrorism as a means to furthering political ends. Robespierre was guillotined by political opponents who were next on his list to be executed.

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) studied Karl Marx’s writings in the university and his revolutionary activities got him expelled, and he went on to attend another university more successfully. He, somewhat like Robespierre, practiced law and took mostly cases about real property out of his interest with the peasants’ conditions. He became more involved in communist revolutionary activities and was arrested for plotting against the tsar and imprisoned, then exiled to Siberia. He lectured at Geneva University and helped found a communist newspaper. Lenin produced numerous writings that developed his version of Marxism as applied to the Russian peasantry. He seized power in 1917 with the intent of making Russia the leader of international communism which would go on to economically surpass and defeat the capitalist West.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) held odd jobs like teacher, soldier, journalist, editor, professional revolutionary. After breaking from the socialists he formed the fascist party. Mussolini had exceptional oratory skills before a crowd. Serving as Mussolini‘s political model was Lenin. As dictator his plan for Italy was a revival of the greatness of the Roman Empire in national socialist form. He was assassinated in 1945 as the Allied armies were overrunning Italy.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) failed to become an artist and architect and spent time in a poorhouse. When the First World War broke out he enlisted in the Army, and while recovering from a mustard gas attack he suffered a disorder. Hitler convinced himself that his purpose was to save Germany. He joined the German Worker's Party. Hitler developed exceptional oratory skills before a crowd. Hitler went on to model the Nazi Party after Mussolini's fascist party. His party's disastrous "Beer Hall Putsch" to overthrow the Bavarian government landed him in jail where he wrote Mein Kampf. After being released from prison he won legality for his party which he reorganized and maneuvered his way in to government and total power. Tens of millions were slaughtered by his government. He intended to lead Germany to a thousand-year reign of glory but committed suicide when the Russian Army was overrunning Berlin.

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) attended seminary in the 1890's and joined a Marxist underground which resulted in his expulsion. He then found work as tutor and clerk. Stalin joined the Social Democrat Party and organized labor demonstrations and strikes for which he was arrested and exiled to Siberia. He escaped a number of times from Siberia. He joined the Bolsheviks and became their bank robber. Escaped after each arrest. One robbery of a coach netted a few million and resulted in some 90 people killed and wounded. Of Stalin, Lenin said he found the just person he needs. Stalin was made editor of their newspaper. After Lenin's coup Stalin moves into party positions of more and more importance and power. Lenin has a stroke in 1922 and the party is in Stalin’s hands when he dies three later. Personality cult. Tens of millions were slaughtered by Stalin’s government.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976) had a few years of formal education and discovered communism while working at Peking University in 1918. Three years later he was one of the founding members of the Chinese Communist Party. Mao worked his way through the party's ranks and got involved in labor struggles but became convinced that the peasants were the revolutionary vanguard and violent revolution was necessary. He allied himself with other insurgent groups and formed their Red Army. He purged his territory of opposition through revolutionary terror, a prelude of what he was to eventually bring to China as a whole after achieving power in 1949. Mao also developed a personality cult. Tens of millions were slaughtered by Mao’s government.

Fidel Castro (b.1927) was an excellent student and active in sports. In the late 1940's he became involved in revolutionary activities in Dominica and Columbia as a university student in Havana and may have been involved in murders and assassinations. Castro had exceptional oratory skills before a crowd. He briefly practiced law and then ran for parliament, but the election was cancelled after a coup. With his brother Raul, he formed an underground movement to overthrow the government. Castro was captured in an attack on an army barracks and sent to jail. He was given amnesty and went to Mexico where he met Che Guevara and made contacts with the Soviet KGB. In Mexico he formed his guerrilla group that would later seize control of Cuba.

Pol Pot (1928-1998) studied in France on a government scholarship. Spent most of his time in French communist revolutionary circles and was deported after failing his studies. Joined the revolutionary movement in Cambodia. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia in 1975 and in implementing agrarian communism killed millions.

Daniel Ortega (b. 1945) was a mediocre student and while attending university in Managua in early 1960's became active with Sandinista communists and went underground. He was arrested after robbing a bank and released from jail in a prisoner exchange. He went to Cuba for guerrilla warfare training and returned to fight in Nicaragua, taking power in 1979 and implementing communist dictatorship.

Hugo Chavez (b. 1954) had a career as a military officer, led a failed coup in 1992. As a student Chavez formed his philosophical beliefs based on various Latin American nationalists and communists, as well as those of the European Marxian-strand of communism, also Noam Chomsky and Jesus, whom he calls “the first socialist.” He is attempting to implement in Venezuela a “socialism for the 21st century.”

The striking similarity they have before they became dictators is there was nothing striking about them. Nothing “larger than life” that would be consistent with having a significant role, either for good or bad. Before they were dictators they were "nobodies."

All ten of those infamous dictators - and Barack Obama - were failures or mediocrities who became zealots at an early age - secular equivalents of religious fanatics. None have done anything productive or creative and were arrogant second-handers. They had no qualifications or experience for governing or leading (other than some with military experience to whatever extent). They made very little of their own lives when left to themselves. They were political intriguers and political maneuverors, captivating speakers, writers perhaps, or even outright thugs - but they knew all that is wrong with society: "injustice," "inequality," "victimization," "oppression," or whatever, and how to finally fix it. From that they developed self-images of being a glorious messiah/savior. Of course, a savior needs an omnipresent villain to justify how he governs, be it “counter-revolutionaries,” “capitalist exploiters,” “the Jews,” “imperialists,”  - or “the last eight years.” Each of them maneuvered or forced their way in to political power in which their personality cult and oratory skills played important roles. All these self-righteous dictators with their grandiose plans for national greatness and glory utterly ruined their countries - or are currently in the process of doing so.

It is disturbing that the general characteristics of these dictators are seen in President Barack Obama.

After winning the election Obama often appeared with his seal of the “Office of the President-Elect” - for which there is no such office - displaying his eagerness for power.

Then there is this revealing anecdote from TV host Ed Shultz:
“First of all you walk into the White House, in the West Wing, and there are picture [sic] all over, I mean everywhere! Of President Obama! I mean, of his life in the first year as president of the United States. Now I don’t know if that’s the way it is with every president, but it was almost a shrine. I mean, well, here’s a picture of Obama the president with his kids over here. There he is getting on Air Force One. Here he is with some military people. Here he is on the line working the line at one of his campaign stops. I mean, just, it was just one picture after another! (laughs)”
That is significant because a common characteristic of a dictatorship is iconography of the dictator is ubiquitous, like in Saddam’s Iraq, Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia, etc.

Furthermore, President Obama, a Marxist, has numerous Marxist and Maoist advisors and staffers. Obama’s policies and agenda conflict with what Americans want and conflict with freedom and the Constitution.

The men who have been dictators of the modern collectivist-statist-socialist variety from Maximilien Robespierre - the first modern dictator because what he did is a model for later dictators - to Hugo Chavez, there is a definite “type” of man. Barack Obama is also of this type, but to what degree he follows them remains to be seen.

24 February 2010

Old, Obscure, Great Books Review: No. 3

The things never taught in formal education never cease to amaze me as I discover them in educating myself. There are so many lessons from the past to be learned that are applicable to contemporary problems that one wonders if these contemporary problems would even exist if the past's lessons had been learned.

For this review are two books on little-known history that are loaded with practical and (implicit) philosophical lessons on the moral and intellectual corruptness of collectivism. One is on what is now called "foreign aid," the other on pseudo-science.

East Minus West = Zero: Russia's Debt to the Western World, 862-1962, by Werner Keller; translation and introduction by Constantine Fitzgibbon; 1962, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 384pp. 

How often do collectivists denounce “Western greed” for pillaging and exploiting other parts of the world? How often do collectivists demand that the West give vast amounts of aid to “underdeveloped nations” to bring them up to our standard of living? How often is the West accused by collectivists of deliberately keeping down those poor nations? Collectivists ceaselessly demand some type of international welfare from America and the West for the benefit of some backwards nation as if they have never received any. It is just self-evident to them that if a third-world country can just get the right kind of aid in the right amount, then that nation will be on par with the West, realizing a long-overdue “justice.”

What the collectivists do not do is actually learn from reality and history. That would discredit their program. For instance, Russia received nearly a thousand-years worth of Western assistance - and consistently lagged behind. The Russians, like the second-handers in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, discovered or created nothing new in knowledge, industries, or arts on their own, depended wholly on those who did - for nearly a millennium.

Werner Keller's East Minus West = Zero starts with the background to the founding of Russia. Russia was populated by primitive, tribal clans “rooted in prehistory” when Scandinavian Varangians were, in the ninth century, trading with Greece and Baghdad via routes they established in what is now Russia. “The Eastern Slavs, across whose lands the Varangians travelled, had neither the ability nor the desire to combine politically and thus to create a state of their own. External teachers had to be called in before this could be achieved” (16). The northern Slavs decided they needed a government to settle the bloody feuds and quarrels that were breaking out with the different Scandinavian groups, however, they knew nothing about governing so they requested the Varangians provide them with a king. They obliged and Russia as a country began.

In 956 the Russian Princess Olga visited Byzantium. “The results of this first encounter with superior Western culture were to be considerable. For shortly after the Russian state visit the first steps were taken upon a path which, for over a millennium, was to be pursued by the eastern state. It was then that a policy was formulated which has not changed to this day, a policy of acquisition from the West in order to assist Russian development, of constant endeavour to ‘catch up and overtake’” (25).

Byzantine Christianity and culture began pouring in to Russia. From this the Russians became literate and learned skills like building stone architecture and composing music.

In the 15th century after the Mongol occupation ended Western influences again penetrated Russia. Ivan III brought in a large group of master builders from Western Europe so they could turn Moscow in to a city with architectural splendor equaling that of the Western capitol cities. Ivan also began arming by copying the West. Western armaments were bought and copied and Western armaments experts were brought to Russia.

Ivan IV, “the Terrible,” established mini-colonies of Europeans with all sorts of expertise that were put to work for Russia’s benefit. Upon Ivan’s request, Queen Elizabeth of England provided a navy for Russia.
The importing of know-how from the West continued for the next few centuries until Tsar Peter the Great in the 1690’s decided to start stealing the West’s know-how. A Russian mission nearly three-hundred strong toured the West gaining access to everything they could. Peter was part of the group disguised as a common NCO named Pytor Mikhailov. “Tsar Peter’s journey to the West reads like a list of instructions for all future Russian spies in the field of commerce and industry. [Peter] had money and notebooks ready in his pockets at all times. Educated persons who talked to Pytor Mikhailov noticed his superior intelligence, and the smiths and master carpenters in the Dutch shipyards were astounded at his great skill, his interest in their work, his thirst for learning and his knowledge of their crafts” (73). The next year, Peter cut short the journey because of a mutiny in Moscow. Still he managed to bring back some nine-hundred Western specialists to work for Russia.

Russia’s total dependency on buying, stealing and copying the fruits of Western knowledge continued through the centuries, knowledge which was at times used against the West, like military knowledge and armaments in Peter’s invasion of Sweden.

Keller also chronicles the voyages of discovery around Russia’s far coasts which were led, not by Russians, but by Westerners sent by the Tsars.

After Napoleon’s invasion, Alexander I determined to rebuild Petersburg so it surpasses Western cities. The rebuilding was done with Western architects, an Italian in charge of the effort. Keller sums up the Russian attitude toward architecture thus, “The mania for enormous cathedrals and vast palaces, and for the acquisition of valuable art collections, was in sharp contrast to the unbelievably old-fashioned cultural and economic conditions prevalent in the country. Russia preened herself in borrowed plumes”(157).

In the 19th century many significant advances in the sciences were made - by Westerners. This was also the period when Russian intellectuals were able to equal their Western counterparts, and then only a few and after studying under some of the West's best minds.

When Lenin seized power in Moscow in 1917, it was the German government that financed him and helped him build the Red Army. The German government then promptly became the first target by Lenin of Soviet subversion.

After three years of attempting to industrialize Russia failed completely, Lenin declared this eternal profundity: “Our programme was right in theory, but impracticable.” “Lenin behaved in a typically Russian fashion and… the Red rulers did exactly what their predecessors had always done,” namely, live off of Western minds. Western engineers, scientists, and technology “must come to Russia so that ‘Bolshevik Progress’ might begin” (196).

The second half of East Minus West focuses on Soviet Russia’s massive importation of Western knowledge and skill. The stealing and copying of Western innovations from everything up to the atom bomb and space technology was executed on a staggering scale, often with witting or unwitting help from Western heads of state. The best - or worst - illustration of this was the Great Falls debacle when the Soviets were taking planeloads of materiel and documents out of the U.S. during the Lend-Lease plan of WWII.

Also important are the semi-philosophical ideas that were appropriated from the West and used against it. Keller does not go into detail on philosophical ideas, but one can see how these ideas actually fitted together and reached a climax in Soviet expansionism.

Keller quotes from 1846 an Englishman who was in Russia for many years: “Russian policy is to acquire all those practices of civilized countries which lead to national aggrandizement… In all spheres apart from the physical, and above all in intellectual matters, Russian policy has been to instill in her subjects maximum subservience, a superstitious terror of power and a mindless materialism” (77-78).

The first doctrine was theological. After Byzantium fell to the Turks monks fled to Russia and brought with them the idea of a new seat for the Orthodox Church, a “Third Rome.” Moscow was deemed by the Russians as this Third Rome. It was the heir of Byzantium that would protect the world’s Christians.

Russia believed it had a divine mission.

Secondly, the idea of Pan-Slavism developed with Herder and the German romantics in the 18th and 19th centuries and the Russians turned this into a doctrine of xenophobic Russian nationalism against the “corrupt West.”

Russia believed in its moral superiority to the West.

The last major philosophical idea that the Russians imported from the West was Marxism. It began when Russian émigrés in Switzerland started a Marxist socialist party. It was not hard for Marxism to capture the Russian mind. “[Marxism] appeals to the Russian desire for a Messiah, for it is a sort of a secular religion,” according to the philosopher Nikolai Berdyayev.

The communist Russians were aggressive secular religionists, armed with weapons, including atomic weapons, ultimately built for them and to be used against those builders.

East Minus West = Zero is an excellent and fascinating book. The reader will be shaking his head in disbelief over and over at Keller's account of what Westerners have done in Russia. It is also an important book for understanding Russia.

After reading East Minus West, one sees the parallels between that history and what Western businesses and governments are currently doing in other parts of the world that are at best, semi-backward, and hostile to the West. It is the same story all over again. The primary lesson to be learned is that if a country remains mired in backwards collectivism and religion it must grow itself into a culture of independent-minded, reality-oriented, thinking it if wants to progress. A millenium of Western developing of Russia at Russian direction was not enough for Russia to catch up. The "greedy, unjust exploiters" were not those providing the development. Just giving them the technology because it is "humanitarian" is unjustifiable. If they are not fit for modern science and technology, they do not deserve to have it handed to them from those who created it. Doing so is also a demonstrable danger, time and again, to the West itself.


Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought, by Mark H. Haller; 1984, Rutgers University Press; 264pp.

In reading old books on late 19th and early 20th century American history one can come upon passing references to eugenics and the eugenics movement, enough to stimulate one’s interest in what it was about. Those brief, occasional, passing references to the scientists, social workers, politicians and others who believed the human race was in danger of being biologically degraded and therefore worked for laws and institutions for purposes like sterilizing people who were feebleminded and defective or restricting immigration on racial grounds, eventually arouses one’s interest in what the whole story was with eugenics.

I was even more curious about eugenics after reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. It has a brief appendix on the history of eugenics and its parallels with the global warming movement: widely accepted “science” that does not tolerate disagreement; bogus research generously funded by philanthropists and government; adherents in public office passing laws based on it that we are to live by; etc.

How did eugenics start and why did it last so long - and be so influential if it was only pseudo-science? How do we learn the lessons of believing in a pseudo-science - one that lasted for decades - and basing laws and institutions on it so that we do not do something like that again? Did not intellectuals like philosophers of science, historians, sociologists, and others afterward look back at this period to analyze it and endeavor to figure out the flaws in thinking and belief that allowed science to prominently uphold and spread nonsense for so long?

These questions and others were in the back of my mind for awhile and I intended to find some books on the eugenic movement. To my surprise I could not find any - so much for our intellectuals trying to learn from the past!

Finally, I discovered Mark Haller’s Eugenics (originally published in 1963), and it is described on the back cover as “the first comprehensive history of the rise, fall, and gradual revival of the eugenics movement in the United States.” It’s the only such book I have been able to find. It seems, for whatever reasons, as far as intellectuals are concerned the eugenics movement never happened.

As we can fortunately learn from Haller’s book, eugenics began in Europe with the convergence of different streams of scientific and social thought that eventually spread to America. What was eugenics? Eugenics was “the science of the improvement of the human race by better breeding” according to an American eugenist (3).

Francis Galton (1822-1911) was a “gentleman scientist” and became interested in human heredity after his cousin, Charles Darwin, published Origin of Species. Galton coined the term, “eugenics” and provided much of its doctrine. Galton believed “that man’s character and capacities were primarily shaped by heredity and that the present generation therefore had the power to control and improve the inborn qualities of the many generations to follow. In time this became for him a new ethic and a new religion” (10). “He foresaw that eugenics might become a sort of national creed, so that law and custom would work together for the improvement of the race” (17). Galton was by no means a complete quack, however. He did make important contributions to science and was one of the first to reject the then common belief that acquired characteristics could be passed on to the next generation, so much of his work held up when Mendelian genetics were discovered.

Galton’s disciple, Karl Pearson, in his studies of heredity became convinced that environment meant nothing and heredity everything. Pearson “feared that civilization was menaced by the fecundity of the poor. He insisted that human progress came only through a struggle of class against class, in which the superior classes won, and through a struggle of race against race, in which the higher races supplanted the lower” (13-14).

The other major contributor to eugenic thought was the field called “criminal anthropology.” “Criminal anthropology grew from investigations in various of the countries of Europe and exerted wide influence both there and in the United States. It reflected the extreme hereditarian ideas which developed in the wake of evolutionary thought” (14). In France, B.A. Morel wrote on hereditary degeneration causing social ills like alcoholism, criminality, insanity, and others, eventually culminating in sterile idiocy. Another important criminal anthropologist was the Italian, Cesare Lombroso. He thought that criminals had distinct physical characteristics because they were a certain type of human defective. “So well did the theory of criminal anthropology fit the presuppositions of post-Darwinian thought that for a time it received a respectful and often uncritical reception in Europe and America” (17).

In America it was the social workers, prison wardens and physicians, insane asylum superintendents, sociologists, and the like who were the forefront of the eugenics movement. These caretakers of the “feebleminded” assigned to heredity a major role in these human deficiencies. Also, many new professional societies were forming and publishing specialized journals. “Increasingly they centered upon heredity as a major factor in the burden of dependency and delinquency. From such persons, the experts in their fields, came the theories and impulses that first led to eugenics” (26). For instance, psychiatrists came to believe in surgically sterilizing the insane so they could not propagate; Alexander Graham Bell feared that a race of deaf humans might result from the deaf intermarrying; physicians believed that “inebriety is a disease” caused by heredity (30).

The last major factor in forming American eugenics was the arrival in America in the 1890’s of European racial doctrines.

Lastly, the eugenics movement got formal intellectual leadership.

Agricultural breeders and university biologists formed the American Breeders Association in 1903. In 1906 the American eugenics movement came to be a significant force when the Association formed the “Committee on Eugenics” comprised of important intellectuals with the purpose “‘to investigate and report on heredity in the human race’ and ‘to emphasize the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood’” (62).

Charles Davenport, a professor at the University of Chicago, became the prominent eugenist among those named to the committee. A biologist and eugenist, he even met Galton and Pearson while in England. Davenport was also a man with an inferiority complex and was highly sensitive to criticism. His uncritical approach to science eventually left him out of the mainstream as scientists learned more about genetics as the years passed. In eugenics he sought confirmation for his belief that a man was determined solely by his heredity. Urging that action be taken before all the relevant information was gathered was another of his traits. One critic of Davenport and his associates said, “Their efforts seem to me to be directed not so much to discover the laws of the transmission of insanity as to fit the facts to Mendelian theory” (70).

Davenport was hardly unique in having a dogmatic, uncritical approach to heredity, as Haller’s chapter, ‘Eugenics Orthodoxy,’ shows. Eugenists convinced themselves of some outlandish beliefs.

Haller quotes Charles R. Van Hise, president of the University of Wisconsin: “we know enough about eugenics so that if the knowledge were applied, the defective classes would disappear in a generation” (76). Also, many eugenists even believed that history is a “branch of biology.” For example, the fall of Rome was explained by the “poorer hereditary quality” of its citizens. The racial stock that founded and formed America was at risk of becoming extinct, according to eugenists. Eugenists wanted to prevent war because it was a waste of germ plasm. Not wanting to let go of their reformist cause of banning alcohol on the grounds that alcoholism was an inheritance from an acquired characteristic - Mendelian genetics discredited this - the eugenists asserted the existence of “blastophthoria.” This was the process of alcohol in the blood causing cell damage that could be hereditarily passed on.

Then there was the Big Scare the eugenists propagated in the second decade of the 20th century: the “menace of the feebleminded.” This myth “became a major force in American social thought” (95).

Eugenists concluded that the feebleminded were more prevalent in society than previously believed and were to blame for prostitution, pauperism, juvenile delinquency, and many other problems. This was deemed a menace to present and future generations and it urgently required a eugenic solution. “Hence the menace of the feebleminded became the battle cry of an intensive public crusade to extend the care and control of the mentally deficient. The menace of the feebleminded was the subject of Sunday school tracts, was lectured about before women‘s clubs, business clubs, and colleges, and was a major topic in most periodicals devoted to social reform. In virtually every state there was an organized campaign… to awaken the public and secure legislation” (109-110).

This menace was exposed as a myth when conscripts in the Army were given the new intelligence test the eugenists and others devised. The results of the tests, when applied to the population at large, showed that half the country was feebleminded! Clearly, this was not accurate. Psychologist J.E. Wallin criticized the tests: “the vast majority of delinquents and criminals who have been classed as feebleminded during the last decade… are not feebleminded at all, certainly no more feebleminded than many millions of citizens who are law-abiding, respectable, and self-supporting” (114). Nonetheless, the myth of the menace of the feebleminded continued for another decade.

Sterilization laws continued to be passed and when brought to the Supreme Court in the Buck v. Bell case were upheld as constitutional. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind” (139).

Eugenics started waning in the ‘20’s. Then “the works of many eugenists became pessimistic tracts on economics and politics with an ever thinner underpinning of science” (161). The American Genetic Association’s, Journal of Heredity, continued “to publish uncritical and naïve studies of human heredity” (168). By the ‘30’s, new, young scientists began entering the field and more often than not simply ignored eugenics than attempted to refute it.

Eugenics is rather short, limited in scope, and not an in-depth examination of the eugenics "science." It strikes me as an introduction to the subject and gives to the reader an overview, which makes it is an excellent book to start studying the subject - however, one must also stop there as well for the apparent lack of books on the subject! For what it is, Eugenics is an excellent, highly readable book.

As to my questions about how did the pseudo-science of eugenics become so widely accepted for so long, Haller's book offers some answers.

Genetics was a new science and the eugenists in particular proceeded with dogmatic certainty before they knew enough about it, drawing conclusions that suited their presupposed beliefs. They also committed many basic fallacies and were often uncritical and unprofessional as scientists. Many treated it as a religion and saw themselves as saviors of civilization from an imminient catastrophe. It also spread through propaganda and fear.

In sum, science was turned into a politicized pseudo-science, becoming a type of religion for advancing statist-collectivism at the expense of individual rights. Consider how outrageous is the "scientific" claim that the individual's genes belonged to the collective! For eugenists, the standard of the good was nature and its future. The Supreme Court even so ruled.

Does the history of eugenist "scientists" sound similar to anyone today?

It is not hard to imagine Al Gore in 1910 calling for eugenics sterilization and immigration laws because "the data is in and the debate is over!"

Old, Obscure, Great Books Review: No. 1
Old, Obscure, Great Books Review: No.2