Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian

Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian

Postby admin » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:18 pm

Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain
by Dan Stone
© Dan Stone 2002




Gobineau's [unlike Chamberlain's] was an honest Antisemitism, it was, like Nietzsche's, an historical Antisemitism: it had nothing whatever to do with modern Antisemitism, that movement born from fear, envy, and impotence ... [i]t is an upright, a genuine, a gentlemanly Antisemitism, it is the Antisemitism of the aristocrat, who sees his very blood threatened by revolutionary religions.

-- Oscar Levy, from "Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain", by Dan Stone

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Extremes of Englishness
1. Oscar Levy: A Nietzschean Vision
2. Anthony Mario Ludovici: A 'Light-Weight Superman'
3. Nietzsche and Eugenics
4. Race and Eugenics
5. The 'Lethal Chaber' in Eugenic Thought
Conclusion: From 'Underman' to "Underclass'
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:20 pm


I would like to thank: Gerard Delanty, the editor of this series, for ensuring that the process of publishing this book has been so smooth.

For permission to reproduce documents, my thanks to: the Earl of Portsmouth; Edinburgh University Library (Special Collections Division); House of Lords Record Office; Galton Institute; Contemporary Medical Archives Centre, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine; Albi and Maud Rosenthal; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records Office.

Three of the chapters of this book have previously been published, in slightly different versions: Chapter 1 in the Journal of Contemporary History, 36.2, 2001, Chapter 2 in the Journal of Political Ideologies, 4.2, 1999, and Chapter 4 in the European History Quarterly, 31.3, 2001. My thanks to the editors and publishers, Sage ( and Taylor & Francis ( for permission to reproduce this material.

I would like to thank the staff at the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford, the British Library in London, the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records Office in Stratford-upon-Avon.

My friend Scott Ashley has been a constant source of inspiration and knowledge. This book would not have been written without him. Many others have contributed to the development of this book. My thanks especially to: Andrew Benjamin, Martin Blinkhorn, Donald Bloxham, David Cesarani, Gregory Claeys, Penelope Corfield, Philippa Drew, Alison Falby, Roy Foster, Michael Freeden, Heidrun Friese, Helen Graham, Roger Griffin, Richard Griffiths, Caroline Ludovici Jones, Tony Kushner, Mark Levene, Florin Lobont, Matthew Madden, Patrick McGuinness, Rudolf Muhs, Davide Panagia, Stefanie Peter, Martin Porter, Lawrence Proulx, Barbara Rosenbaum, Albi Rosenthal, Maud Rosenthal, Simon Sparks, Ben Tipping and Zoe Waxman.

Finally, thanks to my parents, Avril and Graham, for their support, and to Hil, for hers.
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:21 pm

Introduction: The Extremes of Englishness

The historian should not aim at completeness, he should aim at relevance.
-- R. G. Collingwood, 'Notes on Historiography'

The standard explanation for the failure of fascism in Britain is the Whiggish one, that British parliamentary institutions were too strong and well developed to fall prey to such an ephemeral movement. This explanation is based on the argument that fascism was a foreign invention, alien to British ways. British fascists, in particular Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF), were basically imitators, in thrall to Mussolini and, later, Hitler. No such peculiar imports would ever succeed on British soil. As a letter writer to the New Age put it in response to an article by Oscar Levy praising Mussolini,

I trust you do not suggest that the doctor's ideas should be adopted by our nation. The principles of the Italians, Machiavelli and Mussolini, and the philosophy of the Polack Nietzsche, may be suited to the Latin and other Mediterranean races, but they are alien to the northern genius. Benevolent tyranny is the best thing for nations composed of gods and worms, but leadership without too much rule is better for the more homogeneous nations of the north. [1]

With the exception of the extravagances of national self-aggrandisement, this view of Britain is one that still basically underpins the historiography of British fascism. After surveying the potential challengers to parliamentary stability -- the Irish question, suffragism, trade unions, the effects of the First World War -- one scholar notes that 'During the 1920s, then, there was little opportunity for extremist parties to gain any purchase on the political system', and goes on to conclude that 'Ultimately, the failure of the BUF and of the earlier fascist movements to gain greater support must be attributed to the established parties' success during the interwar years in maintaining and even increasing their support.' [2] Among historians and political theorists, British fascism is usually treated as something of a joke, only marginally less risible than the Irish Blue Shirt movement. Even its most careful historian believes that, in the last instance, British fascism 'was small beer', and that, 'In terms of its impact on society and politics, British fascism has been over-rated.' [3] Another historian believes that since, in the northern European democracies, the prerequisite conditions identified by scholars for the emergence of fascism were lacking, 'There was neither space nor "need" for revolutionary nationalism', and that the BUF was thus 'essentially a contradiction in terms, a sort of political oxymoron'. [4]

These statements are, of course, correct. But there is more to a political movement than just politics. It is easy to dismiss British fascism as an imitative movement that never stood a chance of unseating a relatively stable parliamentary democracy, since, at least after the First World War, co-operation and coalition in government -- coupled with convenient economic circumstances -- did contrive to keep out extremist parties. But apart from the fact that this outcome was never a given -- the evidence that some Tories were prepared to abandon the parliamentary system over the issue of Irish Home Rule and lead Britain into civil war in 1913-1914 is compelling -- the nature of fascism in Britain is not synonymous with politics narrowly defined as the attempt by the BUF or other, minor, fascist parties to win power in local or national government. Julius Streicher's Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer, may have been correct to call Mosley's BUF 'a Jewish catch-up movement' [5] (at least in the latter part of the claim) but this is to ignore the whole cultural background to political fascism in Britain, a cultural background whose assumptions were far more widespread than the simple high-political record of British fascism suggests.

In this book, I will challenge the view, derived from traditional approaches to political history, which dismisses British fascism as a pale imitation of its continental counterparts, and as an irrelevance in British political history. Instead, using a history of ideas approach, I argue that there was a well-developed indigenous tradition of ways of thinking which, while they cannot be called 'fascist' -- not before 1918 at any rate -- can certainly be seen as 'protofascist'. I am not putting forward a new argument for the failure of fascism; since, in the end, that failure was so marked, it would be tilting at windmills to argue otherwise. I am, however, proposing that we reassess the intellectual provenance of proto-fascist ideas in Britain, suggesting that they may be found to quite a large degree in the Nietzsche and eugenics movements, movements that represented the 'extremes of Englishness'.

What I mean by the phrase 'extremes of Englishness' is that the ideas of the writers whom I discuss do not produce a blend that contains all the elements necessary for a fully fledged fascist ideology. Instead, they indicate channels of thinking that, when combined, add up to an indigenous proto-fascism. Arnold White's militarism, the Edwardian popular leagues' demands for conscription and defence of empire, Lord Willoughby de Broke's 'National Toryism', Oscar Levy's Nietzschean critique of an effete western ethic, Anthony Ludovici's call for a 'masculine renaissance', Karl Pearson's and W.C.D. Whetham's equation of eugenics with anti-alienism and anti-feminism, A. H. Lane's antisemitism, William Sanderson's vision of an organic society dedicated to 'service', Viscount Lymington's rural revivalism -- all of these are, singly, elements of a reactionary, sometimes revolutionary-reactionary, ideology. In combination, they come very close to satisfying the criteria regarded by scholars as constituting fascism.

While there is not complete agreement as to how best to define fascism, there is some broad consensus among scholars. The attempt to define 'generic fascism' has given rise to fruitful comparative research, and the definitions offered by two scholars are cited here to indicate how I am conceiving fascism in this study. Roger Griffin defines fascism as 'a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultranationalism'. [6] Roger Eatwell, building on the work of Griffin and others, proposes this definition (while cautiously noting the impossibility for simple definitions 'to reveal the full complexity of political phenomena'): fascism is

an ideology that strives to forge social rebirth based on a holistic-national radical Third Way, though in practice fascism has tended to stress style, especially action and the charismatic leader, more than detailed programme, and to engage in a Manichean demonisation of its enemies. [7]

In a recent book, Dave Renton has added the important proviso to these theories that, by stressing the ideational background to fascism, they tend to overlook the fact that fascism was also -- primarily -- a form of action. [8] While this may be so, in Britain one sees the theoretical and ideational background, but only to a small extent the action. In other words, following Robert Paxton's five-stage model of fascism -- 1) the initial creation of fascist movements, 2) their rooting as parties in a political system, 3) the acquisition of power, 4) the exercise of power, 5) radicalisation or entropy -- it is clear that British fascism barely got beyond the first stage. [9] The writers I am examining here show that in some ways even this first stage was incomplete in Britain, at least until the 1930s. When I talk, then, of the intellectual background to British fascism, I am seeking to understand the extent to which the subjects in this study can be seen as being the instigators of what could have become, under different political circumstances, a fascist movement which moved from stage 1 in Paxton's scheme to stage 2, and have developed into a fully fledged movement integral to the political scene, threatening to take power.

Given that it is dealing with only the first stage in fascist formation, this study will not offer a new definition of generic fascism, nor is it an attempt to question the definitions of Griffin, Eatwell or anyone else (such as Ze'ev Sternhell or Stanley Payne); I cite these two examples in order to show that theorists of fascism recognise that the history of ideas of fascism is still relevant for historians of fascism proper, even if it is clear that one of the defining features of fascist movements in power is that they become indifferent to their early programmes. My contention is that in Britain the ideas existed without the movement, even before the rise of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. Historians are correct to note that fascism was squeezed out of the political process in the interwar period. But I also argue that this outcome was by no means as inevitable as the Whiggish historiography suggests, especially in the context of the radical right before 1914. The manifold, radical ideas that feed fascism -- whether or not they subsequently guide it in power is not here the question -- existed in abundance in Britain, especially in the Edwardian cultural sphere, as I demonstrate below. British fascism failed not because it was an imitative movement, but because mainstream conservatism did not need to co-opt its ideas in order to remain in power. But this context, it must be stressed, was never inevitable. There was a National Government in 1931, but not in 1913; in other words, British political traditions are only long-standing traditions in retrospect, giving the illusion of permanence. The historian, in this case the historian of ideas, should recreate a sense of the play of ideas, the great number of possibilities that existed in the tumultuous, pessimistic days of Edwardian and interwar Britain, and restore a sense of contingency to a setting that is too easily slotted into a story of political continuity that was not felt with such confidence during the period itself. As Peter Clarke has noted, 'Historians who complacently celebrate the smooth transition from aristocratic to democratic government in Britain perhaps overlook the Ulster crisis as the moment of truth for a politically emasculated governing class, resisting the implications of representative government.' [10]

Besides, it is worth noting Richard Griffiths's recent claims, in An Intelligent Person's Guide to Fascism, that the scholarly concentration on defining generic fascism means that, for reasons of post facto definition, movements that are obviously fascist tend to get left out (especially the Action Francaise), while others that were not so important are over-emphasised. It is essential now to recognise that in the 1920s and 1930s, before the Holocaust, calling oneself a fascist did not carry the same stigma that it does (or should) today, but that fascism was, in manifold ways, pervasive and persuasive. [11] Intellectuals, it seems, were especially prone to fascism's seductions. [12]

This is not therefore a book about fascism per se, but about streams or tendencies in the history of ideas that, when combined, could have helped produce a fully fledged native fascism. There are many reasons why this did not happen in Britain, which have been studied by historians in detail. After this introduction, then, I will not refer to the thinkers I am studying (with the exception of Lymington and the later Ludovici) as fascists, for they were not. I will instead talk of the 'extremes of Englishness' for, as well as suggesting radicalism, this term indicates the existence of an indigenous tradition of modern illiberalism. Hence, in order neither to presuppose the 'fascist' nature of this intellectual provenance, nor to stretch the concept of fascism beyond a useable limit, I will refer henceforth to the 'extremes of Englishness' when talking of these Edwardian and interwar ideas.

Although it is outrageous to talk of a thinker such as Oscar Levy as a fascist, it makes more sense to think in terms of the 'extremes of Englishness'. In Levy's case, the epithet is not totally inappropriate: despite being a German Jew, and despite his attacks on nationalism and fascism, his peculiar, Nietzschean understanding of the Jewish roots of the evils of western civilisation drove him into the arms of fascists and antisemitic conspiracy theorists such as George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers. The two men became good friends, and Levy even visited Pitt-Rivers when the latter was interned during the Second World War. But other writers are more difficult cases; take, for example, T.E. Hulme. Although he called himself a Tory, and although he flirted with Maurras's Action Francaise, there is in his writings no trace of antisemitism. He is also in a different league of writing from the other people discussed in this book (with the partial exception of Levy). Like all major thinkers -- and Hulme was an original and challenging thinker -- his thought cannot be pinned down. At times he sounds authoritarian, at others he asserts the equality of all men. Nevertheless, he is mentioned in this study because he was involved with the members of the Nietzsche movement and the New Age, and because my argument is not that these thinkers were fascists, but that they reveal strands of thought in Britain in the Edwardian period and later which had the potential to fuel fascist movements. Hulme's fear of the 'cinders', the 'fundamental chaos' that underlies all existence, typifies a certain modern fear of the void that all fascist movements across Europe sought to overcome: the idea that for things to stay the same things must change. [13]

The same argument applies to the eugenicists. It is now fairly widely accepted that eugenics appealed to thinkers across the political spectrum. Furthermore, eugenics was not some kind of free-wheeling amorphous project, but was an aspect of generally held ideas about social reform: "'Eugenics" is still so associated with "Nazism" in our minds that we are blind to the reality that the reformist ideas which grew out of it had a wide geographic but highly differentiated impact.' [14] For left-wing thinkers of the more 'planiste' variety, it became an integral part of their conception of society, along with (indeed part of) schemes for public hygiene and education. The broad political appeal of eugenics, however, does not invalidate the claim that it was essentially reactionary, predicated on fear of degeneration. Although many schemes for both 'positive' and 'negative' eugenics are indistinguishable from public health measures -- in fact the presence of an established public health bureaucracy was key in restraining the growth of the eugenics movement as a single-issue movement [15] -- they all rested on an analysis of society which saw it as somehow in decline, and hence in need of rescue. The split between rightwing thinkers who stressed genetic solutions, and left-wing thinkers who stressed environmental ones did not appear until well into the interwar period, and even then was never fully developed.

That eugenics appealed to the left, and especially to the haughty, technocratic 'socialism' of Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells or the Webbs, is not a priori evidence against eugenics contributing to the growth of fascism. After all, Shaw, perhaps tongue in cheek, was never shy in stating his admiration for Mussolini and Hitler, and Wells wrote considerable amounts about the need for the disappearance of the Jews in order to realise the state of the future. [16] The extent to which in Germany, the USA and Scandinavia the growth of racial science fuelled extremist movements that were founded on notions of the 'social body' is well known. [17] Britain, however, was the birthplace of eugenics. Perhaps it is for this reason -- a more gradualist development of the science -- that eugenics was prevented from becoming a premise of government. But there were extremists among the British eugenicists. Following the chapters on the individuals, Levy and Ludovici, these extremists are investigated. Not, however, in isolation. The term 'extremes of Englishness' is also meant to suggest that these extremes built on more mainstream traditions, and were not aberrations. The extreme eugenicists, for example, shared many basic assumptions with the mainstream geneticists, just as the few paranoid conspiracy theory antisemites shared assumptions with the run-of-the-mill establishment antisemites who permeated the British governing elite. To take a random example: if Tom Segev is correct to argue that Britain supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine because it overestimated the extent of Jewish world power, [18] how are we to maintain that Oscar Levy's claims about the world-role of the Jews or Wells's claims about Nazism's supposed Old Testament roots are aberrant or out of the ordinary?

Nowhere is this parabola of prejudice illustrated more clearly than in the concept of the 'lethal chamber'. This concept, nowhere defined in the literature but frighteningly suggestive to a post-Holocaust audience, is a common term of reference for British eugenicists from 1900 to 1939. While few eugenicists seem to have advocated the use of such a 'lethal chamber', most seem to have known what it meant -- a kind of shorthand for the more extreme 'negative' eugenic measures -- and felt obliged to bring it up in order to distance their own ideas from those of the supposed extremists. And besides, there were a few extremists who would have liked nothing better than to have seen their negative eugenic ideals implemented with such ease.

These ideas did not appear out of nowhere. It is perhaps true that every age contains the same cornucopia of ideas, among which some are particularly suited to the zeitgeist. It may just as well be true that every age produces the thinkers that it deserves, or even that the age is defined by its great thinkers. Whatever the case -- and it seems unnecessary to get bogged down in materialist/idealist discussions about the production of knowledge in order to satisfy the demands of this study -- the beginning of the twentieth century undoubtedly saw a rise in pessimistic theories, theories of social decline, of degeneration, of the survival of the unfittest. The thinker who seemed most succinctly to summarise these themes was Friedrich Nietzsche. Whether or not this was a correct reading of the philosopher is not my concern here, though it seems to have more of a textual basis than many an early twenty-first-century commentator would allow. What connects the chapters of this book more than anything else is Nietzsche, and the way in which his ideas motivated so many social theorists of the early twentieth century, driving them to commit their thoughts to public scrutiny. Nietzsche made possible the careers of Levy and Ludovici, and was more or less present in the writings of the eugenicists depending on their philosophical bent, though not on their aspirations, which all accorded with those perceived at the time to be Nietzsche's: the rule of the best, an aristocracy of taste, and a leadership that scorned the call of the weak and degenerate. Chapter 3, specifically on the relationship between the Nietzsche and eugenics movements, explores these links in detail.

Nietzsche, as is well known, has been used to justify philosophical and political arguments of all persuasions, from anarchist to National Socialist, from misogynist to feminist. The examples of this multivocal appropriation, however, come usually from France, Russia, or, especially, Germany. We are aware that Georges Bataille wrote 'Nietzsche and the Fascists', defending Nietzsche's reputation in the face of fascist manipulations, whereas Julien Benda devoted part of his The Treason of the Intellectuals to attacking Nietzsche as an unrestrained advocate of violence or the 'warlike instinct', just as Max Nordau gave over a chapter of his Degeneration to correlating Nietzsche's work with his madness. [19] We know that there were German-Jewish, especially Zionist, writers such as Maximilian Stein and Leo Berg who saw in Nietzsche an advocate of a Jewish revival, just as there were Nazi philosophers such as Heinrich Hartle who appealed to Nietzsche to justify the Nazi programme. [20] The debate as to the accuracy of these positions is still as strong as ever, though the argument put forward by Weaver Santaniello, in Nietzsche, God, and the Jews, that the Nazis knew full well that Nietzsche's opinions on the Jews contradicted their own, and that they misused him deliberately in order to try to hide his real position, is certainly persuasive. [21] The debate about Nietzsche and fascism, however, is just one area over which readers disagree about where Nietzsche's sympathies lay.

What is less well known -- and no doubt more surprising to those whose view of the British life of the mind is based on stereotypes -- is that the reception of Nietzsche in Britain was just as vigorous as it was on the European mainland. This reception is interesting for three reasons. First, it reveals that intellectual activity in Britain at the turn of the century was lively, wide-ranging, and up-to-date. Although Nietzsche's works had not been translated into English with the same speed as they had been into French, numerous readers of German (and not just emigres like Alexander Tille) had made the effort to get to grips with this new, mysterious prophet. Second, the range of attitudes to Nietzsche covers a trajectory that is as wide, if not wider, than that to be found in France or Germany. The authors whose work appears in this volume span the range from libertarian and ultra-progressive (Havelock Ellis) to extreme-right-wing (Anthony Ludovici); in between there are aristocratic revivalists, moral philosophers, and, most importantly, those who considered themselves to be orthodox Nietzscheans, of whom Oscar Levy is the doyen. Third, and most significantly, the reception of Nietzsche in Britain ties in with other themes of early twentieth century thought in which Britain led the way, especially sexology and eugenics. The examinations of Nietzsche's thought that were produced in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century were not simply explications de texte. Rather they were the means for their authors to proclaim whole new points of view, whether simply a statement of one's avant-garde status, or an assertion of a new morality. Particularly marked in this reception is the connection between the early Nietzscheans and the science of eugenics, the attempt to control human breeding patterns with the aim of producing a stronger race. It is no coincidence that early Nietzscheans included Havelock Ellis, the sexologist, Maximilian Mugge, the eugenicist, and F. C. S. Schiller, the Oxford philosopher and staunch defender of eugenics.

All this means that, far from being of interest merely to antiquarians of the history of ideas, the British Nietzscheans constitute a body of thinkers whose contribution to British intellectual life was wider than a cursory glance suggests. Put simply, the reception of Nietzsche in Britain, though it replicated the extent of the debates in France and Germany, was by no means a reflection of those debates; rather indigenous concerns of all hues found Nietzsche just as useful an ally as did all manner of thinkers elsewhere.
This breadth of interests also explains why this book contains, side by side, passages by utterly disparate writers, or writers whose opposing views would have encouraged one to put the other up against the proverbial wall. Yet I place them together not just because they were all among the rather select band of early readers of Nietzsche, but because they demonstrate how volatile European thought in this period was. When even Britain, bastion of bourgeois respectability and stolidity, could throw up such passionate and contradictory opinions about a mere philosopher, then there must really have been something challenging taking place.

Just what that challenge was becomes clear on examining the works of the Nietzscheans and the eugenicists. As elsewhere in Europe and beyond, Nietzsche represented the call of the new against the established order. Whether that meant the modernist technocrat rebelling against the hypocrisy of hereditary privilege, or whether it meant the aristocratic revivalist railing against the degeneration of 'the herd', Nietzsche provided a suitable starting point. What distinguished the British Nietzscheans' concerns from those of Germany or Russia was the focus on particularly British issues: the enfranchisement of women, the rise of labour, 'alien' immigration, a new science of sex. Sometimes these concerns dovetailed with those of other countries, but whatever the case for the internationalism or insularity of British Nietzscheanism, it was motivated, like its continental counterparts, by the call to understand what Nietzsche meant by the 'transvaluation of values'. And what unites almost all of them is a concern with eugenics and race, understood not in the narrow, Nazi sense, but rather in the broad sense of the new attempts to shape the demography of Europe through technocratic management. Yet this is not a complete break from Nazism, as I argue in Chapter 3, and thus the impact of these strands of thought in British intellectual life should give us pause for thought.


What I have tried to do in this book is not simply to present an argument in the history of ideas: that British fascism had an indigenous basis in the writings and actions of the national efficiency movement, the Diehard peers, the military leagues, the Nietzsche and eugenics movements. The reason for putting forward this argument is not solely one that will interest scholars, that is, not one that sets out only to modify the prevalent historiographical picture. I want to make a broader point about the history of ideas: we are so used to pigeonholing thinkers into 'schools', 'movements' and 'trends' that we overlook those who move between schools, who do not easily fit, or whose reputations rest on only a small proportion of their literary output. In combination these reasons account for the loss of Levy, Ludovici and most of the eugenicists to social and intellectual history. For another example, this book is not about literary modernism, but to a large extent it does make use of the New Age, a journal which has still not received the attention it deserves for its role in promoting early modernism (and which, thanks to its editor, A. R. Orage, was one of the early mouthpieces for Nietzscheanism). As a result of this and similar omissions, 'modernism' is still defined by two or three key players, while others, no less influential in facilitating and driving forward 'its' reception (as if modernism were anyway a unitary beast), are overlooked. [22] The historian of ideas can discourage the temptation to make the past more manageable, less complicated. In proferring a past that is suggested to be less complex and polysemic than the present, this temptation both domesticates the past and caricatures it. Reintroducing a sense of contingency and complexity does not prevent the historian from seeing long-term trends or pointing to developments in ideas, politics or economics, but it does mean that these trends cannot be seen to have emerged from nowhere, that the boundaries are always blurred between one trend and another; indeed, that many contradictory or apparently 'nonsynchronous' (to use Ernst Bloch's term) or 'untimely' (to use Nietzsche's) trends can co-exist.

In his explanation of how he set about writing history, R. G. Collingwood demonstrated that, rather than going to one's sources, seeing what was in them, and reproducing it, there was more profit to be derived from approaching one's material with one or more questions in mind. This kind of questioning, which Collingwood contrasted with a 'scissors-and-paste' history-writing, was a way of showing 'that the past which an historian studies is not a dead past, but a past which in some sense is still living in the present'. [23] In this spirit, I have not sought simply to transcribe what I found in my research, but have approached my sources with certain aims in mind, armed with the following questions: Why has the indigenous base of British fascism been overlooked? In what political circumstances did the ideas emerge and relationships develop between individuals and groups that gave rise to anti-democratic and authoritarian ideologies in Britain? What was the influence of Nietzscheanism on these emerging ideologies, and vice-versa? How were theories of degeneration, 'national efficiency' and eugenics linked to ideas about race in the years 1900-1918? Was there really such a large difference between continental eugenics and British eugenics? How thereafter did eugenic ideas develop to allow for wider differentiation between progressive and reactionary eugenicists and racial scientists? Can these British ideas be better understood with a term other than 'fascism', a term which implies their derivation from and imitation of National Socialism and/or Italian Fascism? I have no doubt not been able to answer all of these questions satisfactorily, but they give a thrust to the book which it might otherwise have lacked.

Collingwood believed that his history-as-question methodology would help in making the past relevant to contemporary human action. Few historians now would feel so sure. Nevertheless, studying the ideas that made up the 'extremes of Englishness' is of more relevance now than it has been at any time since the end of the Second World War. Historians now respond, quite understandably, with scepticism to suggestions that their work might be a guide to practical action; yet this aspiration remains part of the justification for devoting so much attention to human-made catastrophes, their causes and backgrounds.

On a more modest scale, if this book has successfully put forward my main historiographical argument, then the wider point about the history of ideas should follow automatically. Studying obscure authors, restoring them to their proper place in British culture (that is, not one where they are granted more influence than they really had, but one where their very existence is acknowledged), is a task well worth the effort if it clarifies the essential unclarity of the past, making complexity and density the norm.
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:26 pm

CHAPTER ONE: Oscar Levy: A Nietzschean Vision

... it was the Jews who started the slave revolt in morals; a revolt with two millennia of history behind it, which we have lost sight of today simply because it has triumphed so completely ... Let us face facts: the people have triumphed or the slaves, the mob, the herd, whatever you wish to call them -- and if the Jews brought it about, then no nation ever had a more universal mission on this earth.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, 1887, I: vii, ix

Surely it is not every one who is chosen to combat a religion or a morality of two thousand years' standing, first within and then without himself.
-- Oscar Levy, 'Editorial Note' to The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. I, 1909, p. ix.

A book on Nietzsche, race and eugenics in Britain has no choice but to begin with Oscar Levy. [1] The editor of the first complete English edition of Nietzsche's Collected Works (1909-1913), he was a Jew and a German (both withholding and juxtaposing the two will be seen to be important) who in 1894 abandoned his father's banking business in Wiesbaden for the life of the mind, settling in London as a physician. Levy not only drove forward the reception of Nietzsche in Britain in the face of widespread indifference (though on the basis of the earlier efforts of others), but also wrote much and contributed more to the intellectual development of a whole 'school' of thinkers, centred mainly around A. R. Orage and the avant-garde weekly journal, the New Age. [2] His diagnoses of civilisation, penetrating and controversial, not only landed him in trouble with the authorities in the wake of the anti-alien backlash of the post-First World War period, but are still worthy of consideration for their early insights into the coming European cataclysm. Although many of his claims, stemming as they do from his belief in the need to overthrow decadent Judeo-Christian values and replace them with an aristocratic conception of society, are inimical to today's mainstream beliefs, they are consistent, compelling, and not easily dismissed. That they also led Levy into the arms of some of Britain's most eccentric extremists, notably George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, is only one of the conundra that I hope to address in this analysis of one of the most talented, committed and 'untimely' of British intellectuals.

Shortly after arriving in London, where he set up a doctor's practice, Levy had a 'moment of realization' during one of his trips to the British Museum, a moment described in his autobiography as follows:

I have the sudden thought that Monotheism etc. may not be 'Progress' after all, as I had been taught in school and life under the (unconscious) influence of Hegel. My Damascus: 'But then the Jews were wrong!?' The Chosen People not chosen for Beauty like the Greeks? Only for Morality, and what a Morality: the curses J.C.! I have never recovered from my 'Damascus', and today at the age of 75, I hold it even with more fervour than 50 years ago. [3]

Once the influence of Nietzsche -- who was recommended to him by an unknown female patient -- is added to this self-description, one has a complete picture of the themes that would haunt Levy throughout his life: the role of religious ideas in history; the relationship of Judaism, Christianity and western civilisation; and the need for beauty and nobility in the realm of morality -- all seen through Nietzschean lenses.

The history of Nietzsche's reception in England has already been written, so I will not reiterate it here. [4] Suffice it to say that when Levy stated -- as he often did -- that to interest the English in Nietzsche was an uphill struggle, he was hardly exaggerating. Suffice it also to say that Levy eventually succeeded because, apart from practical considerations such as finance (which was taken care of by his father's money), he took the task on with a fervour that was nothing short of religious. In the editor's note to the first volume of the Collected Works, Levy wrote that 'this Cause is a somewhat holy one to the Editor himself'; in the introduction to the same volume, he spoke of Nietzsche's works in the same way a missionary talks of the 'Good News'; and in his 1932 introduction to the Everyman edition of Thus Spake Zarathustra, Levy wrote of his earlier 'conversion' to Nietzscheanism. [5] Furthermore, he succeeded in a way that would have delighted Nietzsche himself, confirming his claim that his notoriety would come from being misunderstood: the outbreak of war in 1914, and the general identification of Nietzsche with German militarism and barbarism, despite Levy's valiant efforts to disprove the connection, probably did more for Nietzsche's (and Levy's) reputation in England than any essays by Havelock Ellis, lectures by Anthony Ludovici, or articles and letters to the press by Levy himself could ever hope to achieve. Levy, though he headed the Nietzsche movement in Britain, was atypical of it, in that he followed Nietzsche to the letter, especially concerning the role of the Jews in western history.

What was it then that Levy found so irresistible in Nietzsche? A good answer may be found in Levy's first book, The Revival of Aristocracy (1906). Although this book postdates Levy's discovery of Nietzsche, and although he later claimed to be somewhat embarrassed by it, the book adumbrates all the matters that were to preoccupy Levy all his life. Like so many cultural critics and scientists of the fin-de-siecle, Levy was drawn to the theory of degeneration, arguing that philanthropy, extended to the benefit of 'the feeble, commonplace, pitiable, unsound, and helpless' to the exclusion of the 'best', had led to the point at which, by the late nineteenth century, 'only a harmless flock of sheep was left surviving, mutually innocuous and useless'. [6] Levy believed that a way out of this dangerous situation could be found in the teachings of Nietzsche: 'man might be regenerated; conceivably might a new shepherd be found for this straying herd. of waifs; an aristocracy might be established to counterbalance that equalized and contemptible rudis indigestaque moles'. [7] No doubt it was because of this note of optimism that Levy later distanced himself from this book, but his diagnosis of society remained unchanged.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the person who took most notice of The Revival of Aristocracy was A. R. Orage, the editor of the New Age. Orage was wide-ranging, and published writers of all political views. He had himself advocated an aristocratic understanding of Nietzsche's 'Ubermensch'. [8] On reading Levy's book, he contacted Levy asking for twenty-five copies to sell through the pages of the New Age. Since this was a supposedly socialist paper, Levy's Nietzschean colleagues Ludovici and G.T. Wrench objected, but he persuaded them otherwise, and soon both were themselves regular contributors. Ludovici in fact made his name as an art critic in Orage's journal, with his bi-weekly column in the years 1913-1914. Later on, Levy had this to say about the New Age:

It was, on the whole, not a Socialist but a reactionary paper (which is the same). So reactionary, that most of its contributors were Medievalists -- or of that Christian Secularisti, such as Shaw . . . They lived in the past, to which they were frightened back by threatening chaos. They wished to put the clock back, as Chesterton once said, but they had not the Chesterton courage to confess it. [9]

Thanks to Orage, Levy found an audience, however small, for his views. Most importantly, he had found the most suitable outlet for airing his views on Nietzsche, from which base he could gather around him others committed to the Nietzsche cause.

The most important of these was Anthony Ludovici. Having been Rodin's private secretary for a year in 1906 and having then spent a year in Germany studying Nietzsche, to (some of) whose ideas he subsequently devoted himself, Ludovici was an ideal candidate for involvement with the Nietzsche movement. He quickly became Levy's protege, 'one of the best disciples', was the main translator for the Collected Works, and gained some literary fame as a lecturer and publisher on Nietzsche. [10] The two men were, at first, inseparable, being nicknamed 'The Lion and the Jackal' by the other readers in the British Library. Levy even paid for Ludovici to accompany him on a tour of Germany ('where AML enchants my sister'), Italy, Greece, Turkey and Palestine. Ludovici returned the favour by basing Dr. Melhado -- one of the main protagonists of his first novel Mansel Fellowes (1918) -- on Levy. [11] Later on, when Ludovici became involved with the proto-fascist group the English Mistery, wrote articles in the English Review praising the Third Reich, turned to antisemitism, and even travelled to Nuremberg to attend a rally, the relationship between the two men took a turn for the worse. [12] But with typical tolerance of his friends and disregard for women, Levy could never bring himself to break completely with Ludovici, and he blamed their differences less on Ludovici's political mistakes than on Ludovici's wife Elsie Buckley who, Levy believed, was aggrieved that she had earlier been spurned by him. According to Levy, after their marriage, 'Seven offensive letters followed from London, Ludo reproaching me for "coming from a decadent stock" etc., and apparently "leading him astray". I very much suspect, that it was all her game.' [13]

Levy's influence on Ludovici was enormous, and in the years of their close collaboration they shared a common interpretation of Nietzsche. This interpretation, popular among British Nietzscheans, saw Nietzsche as the herald of a 'transvaluation of values', in which the effete 'slave morality' of western civilisation would be replaced by a pagan, aristocratic, manly set of values. The emasculated condition of society was summed up in several pithy sentences by Levy in his introductions to the eighteenth and last volume of Nietzsche's Collected Works and to Gobineau's The Renaissance. Today, he wrote, we are faced with 'millions of slaves, many of whom are beyond any care and help, many whose propagation even threatens our society with an ignoble death from suffocation by its own refuse'. How did this come about? The answer lay in the type of values which had been propagated for the last two thousand years: ' ... our moral values, the values of Democracy, Socialism, Liberalism, Christianity, lead to the survival of a type of man who has no right to survive, or who ought only to survive on an inferior plane'. [14]

The important difference that developed between Ludovici and Levy was on the response to this shared diagnosis. Where Levy stressed the role of moral ideas, Ludovici -- like other Nietzsche scholars such as Maximilian Mugge or Paul Carus -- gradually came to place more and more emphasis on breeding and race, on 'the impossibility of securing the preservation of the nation's identity (which includes its character, culture and institutions), except by preserving its ethnic type'. [15] Levy was by no means immune to the latter theme. Indeed, while he excoriated Houston Stewart Chamberlain's Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899) for its vulgar, declasse antisemitism, which made the mish-mash of German peoples into the proud bearers of a pure Aryan heritage, Levy celebrated Gobineau as the discoverer of the all-importance of race. This meant, quite clearly for Levy, a 'refutation of the democratic idea that by means of an improvement in environment a healthy and noble person could be produced out of a rotten stock'. [16] Levy often also cited Disraeli in order to defend his claim (indeed his admiration for Disraeli led him to translate Tancred and Contarini Fleming into German [17]). But Levy's notion of 'stock' was not a racialised one, as it was for Ludovici and Mugge, who argued for the necessity of racial homogeneity. Rather, for Levy 'stock' meant above all 'breeding' of the sense of class position; a biological aristocracy. [18] Thus although Levy praised 'that young and promising Eugenic Party', he also noted that 'the successful "breeding" of men can only be brought about by religious or philosophic faith', and that therefore one needed Nietzsche more than Galton. [19] And hence he felt able to laud Gobineau in rather expansive terms:

Gobineau's [unlike Chamberlain's] was an honest Antisemitism, it was, like Nietzsche's, an historical Antisemitism: it had nothing whatever to do with modern Antisemitism, that movement born from fear, envy, and impotence . . . [i]t is an upright, a genuine, a gentlemanly Antisemitism, it is the Antisemitism of the aristocrat, who sees his very blood threatened by revolutionary religions. Both Nietzsche's and Gobineau's Antisemitism, therefore, included of course Christianity. [20]

The mention of Christianity in this context is revealing. As a Jew, Levy felt more obliged to take the position on breeding that he did than he otherwise might have done, although he never had any qualms about publicly advertising his delight in 'Christian baiting'. [21] His aristocratic vision led him to stress class above race, but there is a certain tension involved in his doing so. When he discusses that obsession of the British degeneration theorists, the disintegration of Empire, he contradicts his invocation of Disraeli's and Gobineau's dictum that 'all is race', arguing that 'It was intermarriage with the non-race, with the people, that led to the ruin of Rome: it was the mixture of different classes much more than the mixtures of different races that produced that decadent and servile chaos of the later Roman Empire'. [22]

The racial element that remained, however, is what lends to Levy's thesis its frisson. For although the power of the Roman Empire had not simply undergone racial degeneration, but had 'been 'sapped' by an uncongenial and poisonous code of values', [23] this poisonous code had been propounded by the Jews. On the one hand, then, Levy shies away from arguments that proceed from the belief that modern Europe can only be rescued from degeneration by the creation of racial homogeneity through eugenic measures, arguing instead for a kind of pre-nationalist aristocratic vision of a pan-European ruling caste; [24] on the other hand he accepts Nietzsche's claim, primarily expounded in the Genealogy of Morals, that the people who have led Europe to the moral abyss which has sought equality at the expense of health, vigour and achievement are the Jews.

Like Nietzsche, Levy was consistent in this claim, seeing Christianity as the child of Judaism, and its more successful continuer of the slave morality in ethics. This is the reason why Levy attacked Chamberlain so fiercely, but lionised Gobineau: since the Germans claimed to be Christians, a religion which historically neglected the body in favour of the spirit, their claim for racial superiority was disingenuous: 'What cannot and must not be tolerated is the confusion of these two contradictory values Race and Christianity.' [25] While Levy was not alone in this period in arguing for an aristocratic revivalism, [26] his arguments are more original than most because they do one thing that the others do not: they explain European civilisation through a consistent methodological insistence on the history of moral ideas as the driving force of history. His argument runs something like this: modern European society is degenerating because it is bound to an effete moral value system; these effete values derive from Judaism, from that Judaism which developed when the 'early white Semites mixed their blood with lower races and thus degenerated'; [27] this Jewish ethic was taken a step further by Christianity, which is a 'Super-Semitism'; Luther, the Reformation and Puritanism took Europe even further away from its manly origins; modern revolutionary movements such as led the French and Russian revolutions, though they believe themselves to be atheist, are in fact continuing to further the causes of Judeo-Christianity by their insistence on a utopian vision of equality and their contempt for the 'strong'; the archetypal example of this barbarism masquerading as civilised values is Germany; only an aristocratic revival -- based on the attitude of the ancient Jews -- which scorns Christianity, the weak and feeble can save Europe from terminal decline.


This theory may have been sweeping, but in the first half of 1914, when the atmosphere was already darkening, it helped Levy make prescient claims about the fate of Europe. On the subject of individual liberty, he noted that

What in reality such liberty may lead to, the history of Germany with its two centuries of barbarism after the proclamation of liberty [by Luther] will teach us; a barbarism, by the way, which is only half painted over, and which no commercial success of modern Germany will ever hide from the eyes of the more cultured observers of Europe. [28]

And in correspondence with George Chatterton-Hill, who wrote from Freiburg that he had 'never known a nation so brutally chauvinistic', Levy agreed:

There is no doubt about the hopeless state of culture in modern Germany -- a state, all the more serious, as it is not felt by the Germans themselves, who, even when questioned about it only shrug their shoulders and say 'Wir leben eben in einer Uebergangszeit'. If further pressed, where the 'Uebergang' leads to, they are silent, or order another glass of beer, beer being their anodyne against a bad conscience and a muddled mind. [29]

This attack on the Germans was of course closely bound up with his own background. But in the event, he was proved correct, at least insofar as the outbreak of war confirmed his pessimistic assessment of the times. On the subject of the war, Levy was equally thoughtful. Although never having any inclination to become a naturalised Briton since, from his Nietzschean perspective, nationality was irrelevant, during the war he was at pains to stress how far removed he was from the 'German temperament'. Even though he reluctantly returned with his wife Frieda and daughter Maud to Germany, in January 1915, on Frieda's bidding (she could not stand the anti-German atmosphere in England), they soon moved on again to Switzerland. Throughout the rest of the war, Orage took the brave decision, in terms of popular opinion, to continue publishing Levy's articles. These became increasingly devoted to defending Nietzsche's reputation from the charge of being the muse of German militarism. [30]

Thus Levy began to define himself using British political terminology: 'I, as a Tory, object to Germany's democracy and her democratic materialism and romanticism, which cultivate no virtues whatsoever and only lead to uncleanliness in thought and action.' [31] But neither this self-definition, nor Levy's remarkable plea to the readers of the New Age on behalf of Germans who were being interned as enemy aliens in Britain, [32] prevented Levy from continuing to appropriate Nietzsche's position of the 'good European' as the position from which to criticise the whole European system. 'It is idle,' he wrote, 'to think that this war will end wars: it will, on the contrary, only start a new Napoleonic Era of Wars. The gamble for the mastership of Europe has begun and it will not end until that mastership has been reached and Europe has become one and united.' [33] In his little book of War Aphorisms (1917), Levy warned: 'If we do not re-educate ourselves in the matter of Christianity, then in a few decades the bloody religious dance of the national dervishes will begin again.' But in a sign that he had lost some of the optimism of pre-war days, he ended the book with the claim that 'the new, united Europe will be aristocratic or it will not be at all'. [34]

This loss of optimism is confirmed in a series of articles which Levy produced for the New Age. Under the title 'The German and the European', Levy penned five imaginary conversations between the eponymous characters. The European attempts to convince the German that Christianity is the ultimate cause of the war, and that the unification of Europe under a ruling caste drawn from all nations is necessary, while the German sees only the immediate political causes, and retreats from the force of the European's arguments -- which he initially accepts -- into appeals to Christianity and nationalism, and a vindication of Germany's actions in the face of her isolation by the other great powers. They part unreconciled. [35]

By the end of the war, Levy seemed to have lost any hope that the regeneration of Europe might be forthcoming. In another series of articles for the New Age, he made more dark predictions for the future. Asserting once again that "Down with the strong, long live the weak!" is the secret watchword of every Christian and every democrat', Levy went on to claim that this weakening did not make men less ready to go to war. On the contrary: 'by weakening men we do not turn their thoughts towards peace, we make them quarrelsome and vindictive ... Only the strong and healthy can remain at peace, provided they desire to do so; the weak and sickly, still more the impotent, cannot do so in any case, whether they want to or not.' [36] Hence the conclusion in 1919, which he headed 'A Reflection for Optimists', that 'A war arising from mystic and moral motives cannot be ended by the application of social and economic nostrums. This does not mean that our diplomats will not conclude a peace; it only means that the peace they make cannot possibly be a lasting one.' [37] Levy's writings after 1918, as before 1914, sought to explain in what these 'mystic and moral motives' consisted. For Levy the explanation was straightforward, and in this straightforwardness lies the explanation's strength and its weakness.


On returning to London in April 1920 -- an act which required some cunning manoeuvring around the Home Office, and gaining an entry visa from the Foreign Office -- Levy found himself rather isolated, and the mood of the city changed. Even many of his earlier friends spurned him, as they could obviously not be seen to be acquainted with an 'enemy alien'. As a result, he moved to a hotel in Margate, where he could work undisturbed. In the move, however, he 'forgot' to mention his change of address to Bow Street police, a legal requirement for aliens. The hotel owner thoughtfully reported his presence to Margate police for him. [38]

It was perhaps his lack of friends that made Levy's acquaintance with George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers all the more explicable. But there is no need for psychological guesswork. Both men clearly shared to a remarkable degree their understanding of the world around them. This understanding was to drive Pitt-Rivers into the arms of Nazism, while Levy remained committed to his aristocratic international; but it was the same understanding nevertheless.

The two men met at the offices of the New Age, and exchanged ideas over lunch. Not only did Pitt-Rivers believe that the chief causes of the 'contemporary disasters' were spiritual, but more importantly he believed that 'The spirit which led this world into disaster and will continue to do so, unless stopped in time, is the spirit of your own race ... the Semitic spirit'. [39] When Pitt-Rivers went on to explain to Levy that 'only the Jews can deliver us from the Jews', by which he meant that the comparative racial purity of the Jews could yet be a source of strength in overcoming the problem which they themselves had spawned, Levy was convinced. He had himself earlier declared, in a classic expression of 'honest antisemitism', that

The world still needs Israel, for the world has fallen a prey to democracy and needs the example of a people which has always acted contrary to democracy, which has always upheld the principle of race. The world still needs Israel, for terrible wars, of which the present one is only the beginning, are in store for it; and the world needs a race of good Europeans who stand above national bigotry and national hypocrisy, national mysticism and national blackguardism. [40]

Undertaking the unlikely task of pre-emptively defending him from charges of antisemitism, Levy agreed to write a preface for Pitt-Rivers's pamphlet, The World Significance of the Russian Revolution (1920).

This remarkable piece of writing is easy to dismiss simply as Jewish self-hatred. Yet although Levy was certainly so deeply immersed in the current beliefs about Jews and Judaism that he accepted too readily many of the prevailing stereotypes, [41] there was nevertheless a good reason for his approach. His Nietzschean critique of civilisation took as its starting point an attack on a value system supposedly introduced by the Jews, and continued by Christianity in both its religious and post-religious (modern, revolutionary) manifestations.

Beginning with a sweeping claim that chimes in exactly with what Pitt-Rivers had already said to him over lunch, Levy wrote:

There is scarcely an event in modern Europe that cannot be traced back to the Jews ... all latter-day ideas and movements have originally sprung from a Jewish source, for the simple reason, that the Semitic idea has finally conquered and entirely subdued this only apparently irreligious universe of ours. It has conquered it through Christianity, which of course, as Disraeli pointed out long ago, is nothing but 'Judaism for the people'. [42]

He then goes on, summarising Pitt-Rivers's argument, to assert that this history-of-ideas approach means that the author of the pamphlet can in no way be regarded as a vulgar antisemite. Since Levy believes that a certain type of antisemitism 'does the Jews more justice than any blind philo-semitism ... that merely sentimental "Let-them-all-come-Liberalism", which is nothing but the Semitic Ideology over again' (pp. viii-ix), he has no qualms about naming himself an antisemite: 'If you are an anti-Semite, I, the Semite, am an anti-Semite too, and a much more fervent one than even you are ... We have erred, my friend, we have most grievously erred' (p. x).

In what, then, have the Jews erred? Levy accepts all of Pitt-Rivers's allegations: the Jews, whether consciously or not, have been the principal agents of economic and political misery in the world, through their dealings in international finance and their actions in promoting democracy and revolution; Bolshevism, as the bearer of an originally Jewish ideal of equality for the masses, was successful because it was opposed only by democracy, itself a product of the same forces. This argument, however, leads Levy into the realms of conspiracy theory, where he sounds more like Nesta Webster the modern English originator of such theories -- or Lady Birdwood -- her latter-day successor [43] -- than Nietzsche. Seeing nothing but the play of ideas in history, he asserts that 'There is a direct line from Savonarola to Luther, and from Luther to Robespierre, and from Robespierre to Lenin' (p. iii). Thus Bolshevism 'is a religion and a faith' (p. iv).

What is shocking in this piece is not merely Levy's summary of the effects of the Jewish morality in history:

We who have posed as the saviours of the world, we, who have even boasted of having given it 'the' Saviour, we are to-day nothing else but the world's seducers, its destroyers, its incendiaries, its executioners ... We who have promised to lead you to a new Heaven, we have finally succeeded in landing you in to a new Hell. (pp. x-xi)

Levy also argues, and here his claims become more interesting, that the Jews, under the teachings of Nietzsche, can reverse the situation begun by their ancestors two thousand years before:

Yes, there is hope, my friend, for we are still here, our last word is not yet spoken, our last deed is not yet done, our last revolution is not yet made. This last Revolution, the Revolution that will crown our revolutionary work, will be the revolution against the revolutionaries ... It will pass a judgment upon our ancient faith, and it will lay the foundation to a new religion. (p. xii)

The Jews, the underminers of western civilisation, are the only people able to rescue that civilisation from further deterioration. Self-hatred is yet self-aggrandisement.

The article caused something of a minor storm. Antisemites applauded - the same vulgar antisemites Levy believed himself to be combating - and Jewish groups were understandably horrified. Pitt-Rivers may have been charming, but he was nevertheless among the small number of truly committed extremists in Britain. Taken in by his superficial scholarship, Levy made the mistake of believing Pitt-Rivers to be truly interested in saving civilisation by, through criticising them, saving the Jews. [44]

Here Levy's exceptionalism regarding the Jews becomes clear. Many Jewish commentators applauded Nietzsche's philosemitism, but omitted to mention his attack on the Jewish origin of the slave morality. [45] Some, such as the German scholars Maximilian Stein, Leo Berg and Auguste Steinberg, did not omit the awkward aspects of Nietzsche's thought, but left them 'muted or explained away'. [46] Levy, however, accepted and vociferously propounded them all.

Hence positive reviews of Levy's preface coming from the far right, including one from Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent, [47] were decidedly not to Levy's liking. In contrast to the Jewish thinkers, they applauded the first half of Levy's argument, but failed to mention the second. As Levy later complained in My Battle for Nietzsche in England (the manuscript of which he sent to Pitt-Rivers for correction in 1926), they 'omitted to give my complaints about English Puritanism and its connection with capitalism, democracy and plutocracy ... [They] likewise skipped my remark about the inner and profound similarity of the Scotch, Jewish, American and English financiers.' And that, Levy protested, was essential to note if one was to understand 'the comprehensive anti-Semitic tendency of my preface, that was the anti-Jewish as well as the anti-Christian view point of my introduction'. [48] Levy's views on the Jews, though they may appear bizarre, were in fact consistent with Nietzsche's. Yet in the history of Nietzsche-reception in Britain, few thinkers -- whether of left or right, Jewish or not -- were willing to follow Nietzsche to the letter in his harsh assessment of the Jewish origins of modern western civilisation. As one scholar puts it, 'while many laid the axe to Jewish roots, Nietzsche sought to cut the fruit off the tree. Nietzsche did not seek to cut off the Jews, but rather to value their ancient roots and integrate their modern descendants into a new society'. [49] Levy likewise cut himself off from the mainstream of early twentieth-century political thought by insisting on the validity of the whole of Nietzsche's Zivilisationskritik. He may have shared some ideas with the social Darwinists, some with the eugenicists, the aristocratic revivalists, the antisemites, the Zionists and the Jewish philosophers, but Levy's exceptionalism lies in the fact that none of them could follow him consistently, for all of them would have found their ideas contradicted by doing so.

The only journal accurately to report what Levy wrote was Plain English, the vehemently antisemitic hate-sheet run by Lord Alfred Douglas, in his post-Oscar Wilde reincarnation as Catholic antisemite. Yet even he dismissed Levy's claims about the relationship of Christianity to Judaism as a 'trick' because the consequence of accepting the argument would necessarily have to be the de-Christianisation of Europe. Levy wrote to the paper, which he praised as 'the only review which takes questions of religion seriously', setting out in detail his position. Again stating the inextricable link between Christianity and Judaism, Levy argued that his antisemitism

includes, and very much so ... the Christians. No Christian has a right to be an anti-Semite, for he is himself a Semite, nay a Super-Semite. No Christian must accuse Jews of revolutionary tendencies, for he is himself the follower of a God with revolutionary tendencies. No Christian must condemn Jews for their socialism and Bolshevism for these Jews are simply good Christians, and those who accuse them are knowingly or unknowingly repudiating their own God.

In the following issue, Douglas dismissed Levy's piece as 'mere Jewish raving'. [50]

The publicity surrounding this piece provided the opportunity wanted by the Home Office to deal with Levy who, as the major promoter of Nietzsche (and hence of German militarism) in England, was already viewed with some suspicion. In the wake of the passing of the 1919 Aliens Act, Levy became a victim of official British xenophobia. He was deported in October 1921.

Levy's case became something of a cause celebre. The press devoted considerable attention to it, most of it admonishing the government for its determination to 'make an example' out of Levy, citing its shameless rejection of his contribution to British cultural life over the previous twenty years as, as one commentator put it, 'a curious reflection on the civilisation which went to war in the cause of "liberation"'. [51] More chilling undertones can be detected in Hilaire Belloc's contribution. Belloc maintained that Levy's expulsion was an outrage because of his unusual honesty: 'he had never hidden his true nationality nor changed his name, nor used any of those subterfuges which, even when excusable, are dangerous and contemptible in so many of his compatriots'. [52] And the antisemitic newspaper The Hidden Hand or Jewry Uber Alles lauded Levy as 'the most courageous and honest Jew living', applauded him for not having 'changed his name to Levin, or Lawson, or Livingstone, or Lawrence, or Lincoln, or any other of the aliases affected by weaker brethren of his name', and blamed the Home Secretary's decision to deport him on the secret machinations of the Learned Elders of Zion, of whom 'Mr. Shortt is merely the tool'. [53]

Levy himself discussed his expulsion publicly only in 1932, in his introduction to the Everyman edition of Thus Spake Zarathustra. He treats the subject lightly, yet it is clear that being forced to leave England had pained him greatly. He explains the reasons why he did not apply for naturalisation: 'I had only the battle "Culture against Barbarism" at heart; I was not interested in the fight "Nation against Nation", knowing very well that, whatever its results, it would only lead to more Barbarism.' [54] Despite his protests against the decision, he was informed that only those Germans 'who were" of definite benefit to British trade" were allowed to remain -- alas! I was only the importer of a few new but very odd and doubtful ideas!' (p. 60). Yet he ends on a note of defiance, revelling in his literary achievements: 'Now the British Government could drive out the body of his apostle, but never the spirit which he had brought to these shores and far beyond these shores' (p. 61).

A year later, on the receipt of a Nansen passport for stateless people, Levy divided his time between Wiesbaden and the south of France. In 1924 he travelled to Italy to meet Mussolini, and he finally left Germany for good just before Hitler took power in 1933. He left France for England in 1938, on his daughter's persuasion, returned to France, and then, being in England when the war broke out in 1939, he remained there until his death in 1946.


After 1921, Levy's ideas developed in response to the rise of fascism. After visiting Mussolini, he penned a panegyric which is naive to the extent that it is uncritically celebratory. Levy saw in Italian fascism the only serious attempt thus far to combat Bolshevism -- which, being descended from Christianity, Levy saw as the greater threat -- on its own terms, that is, spiritual ones. Since 'behind all modern political movements there are spiritual forces', only ideas, he believed, could fight ideas; fascism fitted the bill perfectly. Convinced by Mussolini that fascism was motivated by great spiritual forces, Levy concluded: Fascism is not only an antidote, but likewise a remedy against Bolshevism. For Bolshevism is not so much a revolutionary as it is a reactionary creed. Bolshevism wishes to put the clock back to the old principles of the French Revolution: it even stands up most shamelessly for liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These ideas, however, have decayed, nay, have become idols which are as good as dead: it is for the new fascistic movement to bury them altogether and to enthrone in their place other ideas and living aspirations for the guidance and progress of mankind. [55]

What was it in his Nietzschean arsenal that persuaded Levy to support fascism? The literature on the subject of the links between Nietzsche's thought and fascism is large, and needs no introduction here. [56] Most of it deals with Nazism, and Levy's original response to that ideology will be dealt with shortly. But in the early 1920s, when many Italian Jews were joining the Fascist party, fascism was not primarily an antisemitic movement. On 26 May 1934 Mussolini declared himself to be a student of Nietzsche. And in the immediate aftermath of the March on Rome, it is hardly surprising that Levy felt drawn to Mussolini. For all the attempts to prove that the fascists, especially the Nazis, distorted Nietzsche, on a simplistic level the affiliations between Nietzsche and fascism are obvious and were behind Levy's initial enthusiasm: the language of strength, vitality and scorn for the weak, the idea of the Superman and the fascist 'new man', and race-regeneration. Levy also mistakenly believed that fascism was compatible with Nietzsche's aristocratic radicalism, and was therefore disappointed by its rabble-rousing.

Levy soon recanted when he realised what a terrible miscalculation he had made. As he wrote in his autobiography, recalling the time he met Pitt-Rivers on the boat over from Dieppe, the latter returning from a trip to Czechoslovakia to support the Sudeten Germans, 'It is easy to go wrong nowadays for an intellectual.' [57] He never gave up, however, his search for a suitable refutation to communism.

But Levy did not go wrong for the same reasons as most intellectuals. He shared with the fascists a hatred of Bolshevism, but genuinely believed that his interpretation was ultimately to the benefit of the Jews. Besides, he soon corrected himself once Nazism made explicit a link between fascism and antisemitism which was only latent in the case of Italian fascism in 1924. [58] An article published in the Review of Nations in 1927 confirms this claim. Once again, Levy reiterated his idiosyncratic belief that 'all our modern values -- be they Jewish, Christian or Mohammedan, nay, be they nationalistic, socialistic or Bolshevistic values -- are in the end rooted in and traceable back to the Spirit of Israel'. [59] But this argument, though it indicts the Jews tout court, does not rest with the Jews.

Take the following, for example: 'Out of this utterly false soil, out of defeated Israel, out of an acre where all the natural values were turned upside-down, grew Christianity, and it even accentuated the sickness of Israel, and out-Jewed the Jewish attitude to life.' Or this: 'The Jews have had it all their own way throughout the centuries ... [and in the nineteenth century) Christianity was now secularized and rebaptized "Democracy".' [60] There is little here to distinguish Levy, for all his tolerance, erudition and knowledge of life in Europe, from the rantings of Mein Kampf. The similarity, however, should not deceive us. Levy's claims show that the interwar period was even more complex and vibrant than already thought. Politics and philosophy were not simply divided into left and right, polarised between fascists and communists, with an increasingly beleaguered centre. Even in Britain, where the National Government held the vote of the middle classes together, the play of ideas was complex enough to allow for ideas to be voiced which are not easily slotted into the normal political pigeon-holes. In Levy's case, one can detect ideas which had the potential to fuel fascism, but which need not have done so. There were other varieties of conservative revivalism, including Levy's revolutionary aristocratic Nietzscheanism, which have been overshadowed by the catastrophic achievements of fascism and Nazism. And it is because of these 'achievements' that it is difficult to separate those who merely sounded like fascists from those who were fascists. Only by historicising the reception of Nietzsche is it possible to see why Nietzsche was not a fascist, but also why his exegetes were at first drawn to the rhetoric and style of fascism.

Fortunately, with Levy the task of differentiation is made simple by virtue of his post-1933 writings. Once Hitler rook power, Levy realised that any positive aspects he had seen in Mussolini's fascism were chimeras. Fascism was nothing but the next step towards barbarism. In other words, Levy incorporated it into the continuum of history that he had been outlining since the turn of the century, making Nazism the latest descendant of the 'Spirit of Israel'. Levy's achievements as a seer must therefore be seen as part of a package which structurally binds the ideational forces behind Nazism to those behind Judaism. Levy continued to espouse a consistent Nietzscheanism, meaning that Nazi antisemitism was unacceptable to him. By contrast, the foremost Nazi proponent of Nietzsche's thought, Heinrich Hartle, followed Nietzsche in blaming the Jews for the ills of contemporary civilisation, went further than most of Levy's critics and accepted that Christianity was a decadent version of Judaism, but drew back from Nietzsche's philosemitism. Indeed he argued that although Nietzsche explicitly 'distanced himself from the National Socialist solution of the Jewish question', the 'background' of his moral philosophy made him the 'arch enemy of Judaism [Urfeind des Judischen]'. [61] But if Levy attacked Nazi antisemitism, he continued to see Nazism in terms of his Nietzschean Zivilisationskritik.

Levy set out his approach to Nazism in a letter to the New English Weekly, the successor to the New Age, on 16 November 1933. Here he wrote that the explanation for the 'medieval depths' which the Germans were now plumbing was

that the modern Germans are less a civilized than a religious people. Their religion comes, strange to say, right out of the Old Testament. The Chosen Race Idea, which is at the root of the German mentality, springs from the soil of Israel. Israel likewise produced, long before Hitler and Gobbels, its 'Ahnenprufer' (ancestor examiners) in the historical figures of Ezra and Nehemia. They forbade all intercourse with foreign women and even had already existing marriages nullified (Ezra ch. 10). They, too, were all for purity of Race, for pride of Race, for power of Race. The Germans, following in their footsteps, do not know how reactionary they are and how akin, spiritually, to those, whom they detest. Neither do the Jews suspect that it is their own message that now turns against them and that there is only an outward difference between the shield of David and the Swastika of Hitler. This Hitlerism is nothing but a Jewish Heresy ... [62]

When Levy later insisted that 'The quarrel between the Nazis and the Jews is one between two hostile brethren', [63] he did so in the full knowledge that most people would ilnd such claims rather exercising, to say the least, as they still do. But from his position of Nietzschean impermeability, Levy felt perfectly entitled to make such proclamations. This sense of justification was also why Levy saw fit to quote at length his remarks from his 1913 introduction to Gobineau's The Renaissance in his 1932 introduction to Zarathustra. He did so to emphasise, as he was never shy of doing, his early appraisal of the situation in Europe. And he was praised for doing so; one newspaper noted that 'Dr. Levy has let the passages he wrote on Gobineau in 1913 stand as he first wrote them, and they make fascinating reading, for they forecast exactly the consequences of the Germans' belief in Teutonic superiority, their race-worship and anti-Semitism.' [64]

In the late 1930s Levy allowed himself some more prophecies, in response to a growing body of literature (just as in 1914) blaming Nietzsche for the Nazis (much of it, of course, emanating from Nazi sources; even Der Sturmer cited Levy in October 1935). In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle in 1938 he wrote

If we are 'academic' enough to leave this weapon [Le. Nietzsche] to our enemies, not only we but the whole world will one day mourn in the manner of our ancestors: in sackcloth and ashes ... The Nazis (who are no fools, don't let us under-estimate them!) have recognized this, and if we allow them to fight under the Nietzsche flag the 'practical effects' will be even more 'tragic' than cavalier-critics imagine. [65]

This message he preached not only in the English-language press all over the world but, under the pseudonym Defensor Fidei, in a regular column for the Paris-based emigre journal Neues Tagebuch. [66]

So although Levy warned against the dangers of Nazism, he mitigated the strength of his message in the eyes of mainstream opinion by connecting Nazism to the same 'Semitic spirit' he had been combating all his life, and which the Nazis believed themselves -- erroneously -- to be overturning. He did not help his case by adding that not only were the Jews the source of the ideas which the Nazis used to justify persecuting them, but that the Jews should be glad of Nazi antisemitism, because it could help them see their position more clearly. In a letter to a South African newspaper, for example, he wrote that the Jews' best response to this new antisemitism would be 'less ambition and more tradition, that is to say, more attention to their ancient duty of leadership in morality and religion'. [67] Just as the Ahlwardts and the Stockers deserved his sincerest thanks because they had, Levy says, driven him out of Germany, allowing him 'to find my "soul"', so 'The German Jews, in the same way, ought to be more grateful to Hitler: he got them out of the unlucky country'. [68] It had to be the Jews who save Europe because it was they who created the problem in the first place. Even the most radical 'solutions' put forward by gentiles were destined to fail: 'Distrusted all over the earth, the Jews should, above all, see to free the people from the Jewish-Christian values, for which they themselves are responsible -- a business, for which Hitler is not strong enough being himself infected by the Jewish virus.' [69]

It was this theory of history based on the connection between the Jews and the course of western civilisation that Levy sought to clarify in his last book. The Idiocy of Idealism (1940) had originally been suggested to him by Norman Douglas. [70] Douglas, a good friend of Levy's, was another writer who, based on his experience of eastern civilisations, held the contemporary west in contempt. In a book dedicated to Levy, Douglas argued that western civilisation had been poisoned by an ethic which originated in the Bible: 'we can hardly congratulate ourselves, as white men, on being at the mercy of theories which were elaborated ages ago to suit the convenience of tawny Israelites'. He argued for the naturalness of castes, and especially of the theories of Manu: 'caste-feeling underlies every form of refinement; it is a man's best prophylactic against that mass feeling which would make a cypher of him'. And he pleaded for an end to the excessive breeding of 'those legions of paupers, insane or diseased persons, who, insured or subsidized by the State, are lowering our standard of fitness as irrevocably as night follows day'. [71] Levy's theory of history sat easily with Douglas's views. Behind it is the belief that religious forces are the motor of history: ' ... this age is more religious than it thinks. It is even so religious that it is unconscious of its religiosity.' [72] And the religious ideas to which civilisation is especially indebted are those of the Jews:

the Jews are the creators of our values and, if something goes entirely wrong with our civilization, then those values must be held responsible or at least need a close investigation. The Jews are thus responsible for most of our modern troubles, even for their own enemies, the Nazis and their so-called neo-pagan movement. (p. 66)

Interestingly, and in contrast to his erstwhile colleagues Pitt-Rivers and Ludovici, as well as just about all the theorists of race and eugenics in Britain, Levy sees the beginnings of decadence and the slave morality in the ancient Jews' desire to create a pure race. Citing the example of King David, who took Bath-Sheba as his concubine, dismissing her being married as an irrelevance, Levy argues that 'the kings of "merry Israel" -- the period of Israel's glory -- did not care for pure race. No healthy man does: his mind and senses turn towards the fine women of all races. He feels that he himself conveys race: that he is able to impress his blood and spirit upon his descendants' (p. 26). Only with the introduction of monogamy with a woman of the same origin did decadence set in.

Levy's belief that a strong race is a caste of aristocrats, the best elements drawn from all groups, comes from Nietzsche, who recommended that the Junkers should marry a 'Jewish mare' in order to inject a little intelligence into their stocks. This is why Levy, thinking no doubt of his own marriage to a woman of solid Prussian bourgeois origin, says that 'Cross-breeds between Jews and European Gentiles ought to be encouraged -- those between Germans and Jews especially! [73] The Germans who have not recognised that crossbreeds are the source of a vigorous race are the Germans who belong to the 'depressed classes: to those who have come to the front with the Nazi government' (p. 29). In them are visible all the ills of civilisation introduced by the ancient Jews:

With them, that Puritanism, which is characteristic of all Nazis, Marxists, and Fascists, became again apparent: the instinct of a poor and plebeian crowd which must be careful of its inadequate outfit in the matter of sex and spirit and thus naturally shrinks from contact with the foreigner, just as the peasant shrinks from contact even with the next village. (p. 29)

But the ancient Jews' isolation did, according to Levy, eventually produce 'a separate race' (p. 30), and the other nations imitated them out of fear that the Jews' inbreeding was making them a potential danger (p. 31). So, the

noble blood of any healthy nation behaves like the Kings David and Solomon, the poorer blood of enfeebled classes listens to the priests and prophets of Israel. Thus the Germany of the defeat bears the hall-mark of Israel in "defeat and thus the new Chosen Race turned upon the older one and applied its methods of intolerance, fanaticism, and pessimism upon its teachers and originators. (p. 30)

From the decadence of ancient Israel to the rise of Christianity, especially the success of 'Nazi-Christ' with 'the masses' (p. 119), to the Reformation, Calvinism, Cromwell, Rousseau, Robespierre, modern German nationalism, 'which is the modern equivalent for what was once called "religion'" (p. 115), to the Russian Revolution, 'a direct legacy of our late and lamented deity' (p. 34), and 'the Sansculottes of the Third Reich' (p. 136) -- through all this Levy sees the Jewish morality at work. No wonder, with their morality turned so fully against them, that 'the Jews do not rejoice in their victory' (p. 136).

No wonder, also, that the book attracted considerable attention. One important critic (the writer of the blurb for the book) was George Bernard Shaw, who had come to Levy's defence during the deportation debacle in 1921. He was not far from the mark when he wrote the following:

The Idiocy of Idealism, which ought to be called 'The Natural History of Dictators and Saviours; should be read just at present. The fact that what Herr Hitler believes to be a German triumph of Anti-Semitism is really a complete and disastrous conquest of the German mind by the mentality of Jewry may be as dangerous to us as it has proved to the Jews themselves. The demonstration of this by a well-known and entirely tactless Nietzschean Jew makes a very readable book of just the right length.

Unsurprisingly, Levy made himself unpopular. He had attacked the Jews, he had attacked the Christians; he attacked the communists, he attacked the fascists. In a grand gesture of Nietzschean solitude, Levy isolated himself from all the major political philosophies of his age, including mainstream Nietzscheanism, in favour of an aristocratic vision of society from which he never wavered. His all-encompassing vision led him to see earlier than most the dangers of Nazism, but it prevented him from dealing more soberly with the place of the Jews in European history. If it is legitimate to be impressed by Levy's early recognition of the storm that was brewing in Germany, his explanation of it is still shocking and, ultimately, too sweeping to be correct.

Even so, the argument propounded by Levy, or at least a version of it suitable to contemporary sensibilities, is still sometimes put forward as an explanation of Nazism:

Is it not conceivable that one of the forces behind National Socialism was and is a dim resentment and a 'fearful envy' of the chosenness of the Jews, driving it to put Aryans in the Jews' place to the point even of willing the total annihilation of the Reich when the Nazis realized that their hopes of completing the Endlosung were coming to an end with the approaching end of the war? [74]

Although this does not go so far as to call Nazism a 'Jewish virus', the thrust of the argument is the same as Levy's.

Yet if this connection does impress us, precisely because of its grand sweep, it obscures too much in the intervening history to be credible. That is to say, the jump from biblical times to the 1930s with only 'race' and the 'slave morality' as the underlying historische Ideen is rather hard to swallow. [75] Just as for Ranke, the 'historical idea' of the nation's unchanging essence provided some sort of anchor in the flux of time, so for Levy the great upheavals of the last two thousand years, from the birth of Christ, the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Reformation, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the rise of Nazism, are all explicable by the unchanging notion of the slave morality. And all the fault of the Jews!

What rescues Levy, making him more than just a curiosity for antiquarians of the history of ideas, is his clear-sightedness in the face of Nazism, his predictions from very early on that Europe was heading for catastrophe. From his Nietzschean quiver, the arrows of anti-fascism, anti-nationalism and internationalism have stood the test of time. But we must not forget the other side; unlike many contemporary Nietzsche scholars, we must resist the temptation to turn Levy into an advocate of post-nationalist liberalism. [76] Levy's insights into Europe were part and parcel of a general critique which demanded an aristocratic concept of society, the belief that Judaism was responsible for all the ills of society, and a naive methodology in the history of ideas which sees Nazism as fundamentally 'Jewish'. The only difference between the conclusions of an Oscar Levy and those of a George Pitt-Rivers is that where the latter opted for Nazism as the solution, the former saw it as part of the problem.

Levy's connections between events do border sometimes on conspiracy theory, especially when he asserts the influence of biblical Judaism throughout the centuries, thereby attributing all of the modem world's ills to the Jews. But other, more highly regarded thinkers made similar claims. [76] Besides, this same assertion also provided Levy with the tools necessary to see that Europe was sliding to war in 1914 and in 1939. Outspoken in 1913 because of his predictions, outspoken today because of the foundations which helped him make them, Levy was one of the most unusual thinkers of the first half of the twentieth century, yet also one who illustrates the early twentieth-century obsession with race with great clarity. In the next chapter we will look at his erstwhile colleague, Anthony Ludovici, a man no less devoted to his Nietzschean cause.
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

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CHAPTER TWO: Anthony Mario Ludovici: A 'Light-Weight Superman'

I prefer to be known by posterity as a writer of accurate and prophetic vision, rather than as a time-server and stooge of Philistinism who acquired ephemeral fame by toeing the conventional line marked out by his least enlightened contemporaries.
-- Anthony Ludovici, Confessions of an Antifeminist, 1969, p. 355

Who has ever seen an old man who did not praise former times and condemn the present, loading on to the world the weight of his own wretchedness and on to the manners of men his own melancholy!
-- Michel de Montaigne, 'On Judging Someone Else's Death', Essays, II: 13

In November-December 1908, at the age of 26, Anthony Mario Ludovici lectured at the University of London on the subject of Nietzsche's philosophy. From the man who later translated Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche's infamous biography of her brother, it comes as no surprise to find statements such as the following: 'The strong will and must discharge their strength, and in doing so, the havoc they may make of other beings in their environment is purely incidental.' [1] In 1967, displaying a remarkable lifelong attachment to ideas that had long since become unfashionable, Ludovici claimed in his last book that 'everywhere in Europe the mob, high and low, has been indoctrinated with the Liberal heresy that heredity plays no part in human breeding, and that therefore special endowments cannot be transmitted from one generation to another'. [2]

In this chapter I discuss the writings of Anthony Ludovici, a man who, despite his many publications (over fifty books and pamphlets, and numerous articles), has been almost totally forgotten. [3] The interest of Ludovici's extreme ideology lies not in 'the fact that he was the only person to espouse the views he did -- at least before 1939 -- but in the fact that he continued to maintain his position until his death in 1971, entirely failing to modify his opinions. Furthermore, the peculiar melange of ideas which went into making Ludovici's ideology cannot easily be labelled with any familiar term. I argue that we should not forget the 'extremes of Englishness' just because its ideas, here represented by Ludovici, did not ultimately inform policy. [4]

While it would be overstating the case to claim that Ludovici's writings were widely influential, he was well known as a public figure, whose ideas, particularly early on in his career, acquired some intellectual currency. But the Whiggish view of history which still dominates interpretations of British fascism -- that its failure was a result of the inherent strength of British parliamentary institutions -- means that he has long been ignored. Ludovici's idiosyncratic blend of Forster-Nietzscheanism, Lamarckianism, social Darwinism, antisemitism, anti-feminism, monarchism and aristocratic conservatism was, however, not as ridiculous to Edwardian minds as it is to ours today; it is easy to dismiss Ludovici as a crank, and therefore miss the fact that many of his ideas chimed in with those being espoused by people on the left as well as on the right certainly before 1914, and even until 1939. I argue that reminding ourselves of the existence of men such as Ludovici -- who was not as marginal as might at first appear -- can help in dispelling the complacency which still surrounds the historiography of British fascism.

Studying Ludovici can also provide a wider context for the stormy intellectual milieu that witnessed the birth of modernism. W. B. Yeats, for example, was a mystical nationalist and eugenicist, and in On the Boiler (1939) his ideas -- with the exception of antisemitism -- were very close to those of Ludovici. [5] And advocating eugenics, even if not of the extreme, 'negative' sort with its total dependence on hereditary factors, [6] was as common on the left in the Edwardian and post-First World War period -- Shaw, Ellis, the Webbs -- as on the right. There is a certain contingency about the play of ideas in intellectual and political life that was especially marked in the interwar period. This is not to say that one cannot divorce right from left, or liberal from conservative, but that extremes can be incorporated into the life of the nation where a willingness to do so exists. Perhaps if Ludovici had written good poetry instead of bad novels he may -- like Pound -- have later been celebrated.

Anthony Mario Ludovici was born in 1882, the son of a painter. [7] Brought up in London in the age of the height of Empire and the first stirrings of British decline (he was fourteen when E. E. Williams's scare mongering tract Made in Germany was published), in 1906 he worked as private secretary to the sculptor (and misogynist anti-Dreyfusard) Auguste Rodin, followed by a year in Germany spent reading Nietzsche, whom he then set about promoting. In 1914 he enlisted, was wounded, and made a captain. Early on captivated by Nietzsche's phrase 'transvaluation of all values', Ludovici believed he had found the key to society's problems; the rest of his life was spent trying to persuade others of the veracity of his interpretation of this phrase. He was among the translators of Oscar Levy's first English edition of Nietzsche's works, and his first books were exegeses of Nietzsche's ideas, particularly as they related to art. [8] As he put it, he believed that 'the best and subtlest way of illustrating and advocating the Nietzschean Weltanschauung was to employ an indirect approach and to show through history and current events how the application of Nietzschean values would prove salutary'. [9]

The most concentrated outpouring of Ludovici's works occurred, however, during the 1920s and 1930s, when he was a member of the English Mistery. Here he found the perfect forum for expounding his theories of degeneration, birth control and race-breeding. The group is usually characterised as part of the 'muck and mysticism' side of the British right, which indeed it was, with its stress on rural values, the link between blood and soil, and service to the monarch. But that does not fully encompass its activities, nor adequately express its ideological underpinnings. It is easy to dismiss as harmless lunatics a group that believed that England could 'once again' become a rural paradise; it is far less easy to dismiss it when one also finds out about its founder's involvement with Arnold Leese's Imperial Fascist League, one of the few genuinely Nazi organisations in Britain, [10] and when one sees that the rural nostalgia of the English Array (the breakaway successor to the English Mistery) was indissociable from its antisemitism.

In what follows I will trace in outline Ludovici's output from his early work on aristocracy and degeneration, through his involvement with the English Mistery, and on into the postwar period. Doing so reveals several things. First, unlike most studies in the history of ideas, there is little change over time to be observed in this case, Ludovici's exceptionalism leaving him relatively uninfluenced by the enormous shifts in the intellectual and political climate of the twentieth century. Second can be seen the importance of such extreme ideologies in their English context: English writers were just as capable of combining civilisation and barbarism as Mitteleuropa, at least on paper. Fascism in Britain was not merely a politics of imitation, it also derived from home-grown problems. Third, there was nothing inevitable about the extreme right's inability to gain power, and the ideological casserole represented by Ludovici contained enough variation to appeal to a fairly broad spectrum, had conditions been more 'favourable'. It was correct to claim, as did one of his contemporaries, that Ludovici 'threatens to become the professional champion of lost causes'. [11] Nevertheless, until after the Second World War, Ludovici was not shunned by the wider community; thus he needs to be situated firmly in the context of the complex interplay of ideas in the Edwardian and interwar periods, an interplay where Nietzscheanism, race and eugenics come together.


In 1915, when Ludovici published his first major work not devoted solely to Nietzsche, A Defence of Aristocracy: A Textbook for Tories, the urgency of his message would have been felt by a fairly large section of political opinion. Many took seriously theories of degeneration and other social pathologies, seeing as evidence for them the decline of imperial power, the rise of Labour, and rapid constitutional and social changes. Before the outbreak of the war, only the right's own lack of leadership prevented it from taking power, having precipitated Balfour's fall in November 1911. [12]

Ludovici's Nietzsche-inspired ideas of struggle and power developed in a heated ideological context, in which the Diehard peers, centred around Lords Milner and Willoughby de Broke, fought the Liberal government and their own party over the 1911 Parliament Bill and (especially) over Irish Home Rule, an issue that had the potential to lead Britain into civil war. On 4 July 1911, Lord Farnham, for example, threatened that the Home Rule Bill would 'end in plunging a part of the United Kingdom into a state of turmoil, strife, and bloodshed, if not indeed an actual state of civil war'. And Willoughby de Broke set up the British League for the Support of Ulster and the Union in March 1912 in an attempt to make the government recognise the seriousness of the Diehards' resolve. In the Morning Post of 8 November 1913, the League actually went so far as to call men to arms. [13]

It was a period of ideological retrenchment on the right, but a retrenchment which was stated in the most aggressive of terms, demanding tariff reforms, substantial increases in military spending, especially on the navy, conscription, 'national efficiency', and anti-alien legislation. Many of their demands were in fact met, with the government's finally agreeing, for example, to spend money on Dreadnoughts, or the Aliens Acts of 1905 and 1919. Most of these ideas were promoted through the various nationalist 'leagues' that sprang up in the Edwardian period, the Navy League (founded 1895) and the National Service League (1902) being perhaps the most influential. [14] While the Diehards never left the world of parliamentary politics, they were certainly gearing up to do so in 1914 over the issue of Ireland, and they made of illiberalism, extreme nationalism, militarism and racism a base from which home-grown fascist ideas could develop in Britain. [15] Most importantly, in the years before 1914 the ideas of the Diehards were by no means those of a lunatic fringe, but were a powerful current in Unionist politics; indeed, one scholar suggests that their views 'were those of the mainstream rather than of a minority in Unionist ranks' . [16] In this context Ludovici's writings do not look so unusual as they would do by the 1960s.

Thus Ludovici's claim that democracy bred weakness by ceding power to the masses was as familiar a refrain as was his assertion that true leadership could only be undertaken by an aristocracy set apart from the rest of the people. This was an argument that had been put forward by other thinkers attempting to revive Tory thinking. Willoughby de Broke, for example, wrote in 1913 of his conception of 'National Toryism', one which 'aims at the establishment of an aristocracy, not of birth, or of brains, but of instinct and of character ... The national revival will follow on the great appeal to the national instinct.' [17]

Other, more philosophically minded thinkers were engaged in similar projects. T.E. Hulme, for example, whom we will encounter again below, wrote his A Tory Philosophy in 1912, in which he argued from 'the conviction that the nature of man is absolutely fixed and unalterable, and that any scheme of social regeneration which presupposes that he can alter is doomed to bring about nothing but disaster'. [18] Most importantly, a 'revival of aristocracy' had been proposed in 1906 by Oscar Levy, as we have seen in Chapter 1. His 1906 book adumbrated many of the concerns with which Ludovici was to preoccupy himself for the rest of his writing career: degeneration, miscegenation, 'sickly modernity', 'sensible marriages', and 'an aristocracy ... to counterbalance that equalized and contemptible rudis indigestaque moles'. [19] Importantly, both Levy and Ludovici explicitly did not mean the existing British aristocracy, for they had betrayed the interests of the people, unlike their medieval forebears who had understood the meaning of noblesse oblige. [20]

After 1918, this haughtiness, deliberately cultivated to be reminiscent of Nietzsche's 'aristocratic radicalism', [21] contrived to keep Ludovici apart from the BUF, despite their shared racism. His political isolation was, however, by no means matched by social exclusion. Among other things he debated with Sylvia Pankhurst in the Oxford Union debating chamber (29 January 1936), and argued in print with Dora Russell, who correctly called Ludovici 'one of the most inveterate anti-feminists'. [22] Ludovici was also discussed by guild socialists, at least those of a more organicist persuasion, who agreed with his aspirations -- a revival of authority -- but took exception to the means -- the revival of aristocracy. Arthur Penty, for example, discussing Ludovici, fully sympathised with the desire to initiate 'measures for the public good'; he questioned, however, the plausibility of Ludovici's suggestions, proposing instead of the 'authority of persons' the authority 'of ideas or things'. [23]

Even before the First World War Ludovici had established a reputation for himself through his bi-weekly art column in the New Age, a column which gave rise to lively debate. When, for example, Ludovici attacked the sculptor Jacob Epstein, whose work was on display in the Twenty-One Gallery in London, T. E. Hulme responded by ridiculing Ludovici, calling him a charlatan, and 'a little bantam' with 'a little Cockney intellect'. Obviously having offended his taste for modernism, Ludovici was to feel the full weight of Hulme's withering vituperation. Most revealing here, however, is that in the pages of the New Age there were other people who had read Nietzsche; Hulme turned Ludovici's ideology against him, claiming that only 'the unworthy sentiment of pity for the weak, which, in spite of Nietzsche, still moves us, prevents us dealing drastically, with this rather light weight superman'. [24] In response, Ludovici claimed that he was only trying to fight against 'anarchy in art', a claim which sufficiently annoyed Wyndham Lewis for him to become involved; in typical Lewisian style, he condemned Ludovici as 'obviously a fool' who wrote only 'dismal shoddy rubbish'. [25] In this small vignette Ludovici, far from being unknown, emerges as a. minor player in the debates that surrounded the emergence of modernism, today's better-known players (Hulme and Lewis) becoming so aggravated mainly because they could not admit just how close in fact they were to Ludovici's way of thinking on most matters.


In the interwar period Ludovici turned away from art to concentrate on more explicitly political topics: anti-liberalism, anti-feminism, birth control and, increasingly, race. Behind all of these topics, on which he wrote widely, lay a theory of degeneration. For Ludovici, degeneration was axiomatic: 'at the present moment we are simply an undulation in a rapid avalanche making speedily towards complete and utter degeneration'. [26] His reasons for believing so are interesting. They range from the prolix -- a rather sensational (and left-sounding, in the vein of Morris) claim about the 'disease of language' -- 'The causes of our present condition are to be sought, first and chiefly, in the decline of a common and uniform culture, secondly in the cheap literature that has come into being since the Education Act of 1870, and thirdly in modern journalism' -- to the 'scientific': 'Spencer has shown conclusively that by far the greater number of existing organisms are the degenerate descendants of higher species . . . Development is, therefore, really the exception rather than the rule.' [27] Appealing to Spencer in the 1920s revealed Ludovici's Lamarckian bent, which, when combined with social Darwinism in the 1930s, led him to voice some of the most extreme political opinions to be found in Britain in this period.

For Ludovici, then, such things as the Education Act were really only symptoms of degeneration, not its cause. This was to be sought first and foremost in careless breeding, especially miscegenation, a theme that obsessed Ludovici for the rest of his life. As he asked in 1921, 'What breed of sheep, what breed of horses, what breed of common barnfowl, could have been abandoned to the promiscuous mating alone (not to mention other errors) to which modern man has long been abandoned, without suffering degeneration?' [28] By 'other errors', Ludovici meant primarily political changes that had opened the way for mass participation, and the emancipation of women. These were caused by and led to further degeneration. As he wrote in 1927, 'The influence of the democratic contempt of blood and family, which is based upon the belief in equality, and leads to miscegenation on a universal scale, must also be reckoned among the remoter and deeper causes of modern degeneration.' [29]

In response Ludovici proposed inbreeding, and for a while even incest. [30] And here his understanding of race came into play. Interestingly, Ludovici did not condemn Jews and non-whites as racially degenerate, but adumbrated the ideas of the New Right when he argued that each of the races could only preserve its own cultures through inbreeding. This theory of race was backed up by biologists and anthropologists who were Ludovici's contemporaries. Levy's friend George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, for example, in the same year that Ludovici's Man was published, in a book which had significant influence over the growing school of British anthropology (and which cited Ludovici), defined race as 'identity or measurable distinction and a constant degree of relative homogeneity . . . A race survives only in so far as it remains ethnically segregated.' [31]

Unsurprisingly then, Ludovici's comparison of men to animals such as sheep and horses was a common theme of right-wing thought. Indeed, it was a theme that displayed impressive longevity. In 1901, for example, the journalist Arnold White had written in characteristically vigorous style that 'The best specimens of a race, whether among men, pigeons, orchids, or horses, are only to be found where the laws of breeding and of culture are carefully obeyed.' Much later on, in the unashamedly pro-Nazi and astonishingly ill-timed book Unfinished Victory (1940), of which he rapidly became very embarrassed, Arthur Bryant wrote that Hitler 'knew the fatal consequences of neglecting the breed through having witnessed them at first hand'. And this way of thinking provides a link between the thought of the interwar right and the postwar extreme right wing in Britain. Ludovici's erstwhile colleague A. K. Chesterton,. writing in 1965 as first chairman of the directorate of the National Front, warned of the dangers of ignoring racial differences in terms that were typical of Ludovici's way of thinking:

'Racial discrimination' which throughout Nature is a clean and wholesome thing is depicted as something abominable, and cowards in their millions shy away from it, afraid of what they fear will be the immediate social consequences and thereby ensuring that the ultimate social consequences will be laden with all the human pathos and misery of miscegenation. [32]

The political implications of the belief in the dangers of cross-breeding were clear to Ludovici: all forms of progressive thought were the cries of the weak hoping to assert themselves in the face of the degeneration of the strong. Hence his rhetorical question, 'Is it possible then that the very cry of 'freedom' belongs essentially to weakness? to feebleness of character?' [33] In other words, his racism combined both an 'external' character -- keeping the English race apart from others -- and an 'internal' one -- protecting the best stocks within the race and eliminating the weaker. His attack on democracy was not simply a defence of traditional hierarchies, but an attempt to revivify conservative thought by demonstrating the biological and cultural necessity of those hierarchies. Where 'biologism' in the nineteenth century had largely been a liberal ideology, by the twentieth' it had become largely conservative. The internal aspect of Ludovici's racism believed that 'Democratic institutions tend inevitably to destroy the belief in national purity and good stock. Miscegenation might even be regarded as the peculiar vice of democracy'; the external aspect 'disbelieves, therefore, in having Jews, or men of foreign extraction, or odd people -- that is to say, eccentrics, cranks, and fanatics, as politicians in an English Parliament'. [34] Again, this was not a stance that Ludovici held in isolation. In 1909, for example, the director of the National Social Purity Crusade, James Marchant, blamed most of the vice and degradation that existed in Britain on foreigners, 'Germans and Jews predominating', and proposed 'to deport all foreigners engaged in the white slave traffic directly or indirectly'. [35] This was written at an earlier period, in the midst of anti-alien scaremongering. But then, when Ludovici wrote his Defence of Conservatism some twenty years later the atmosphere was hardly less uncomfortable for 'aliens', that is to say, primarily for the Jews. [36]

However, in tile 19208 and early 1930s Ludovici's main ideological target -- because the one that revealed most clearly the extent of English degeneration -- was feminism. His basic claim was that feminism was 'simply an automatic reaction to man's degeneracy'. [37] Yet women demonstrated their inferior nature by the fact that instead of seeking to reverse the degeneration they actually sought to emulate men. Rather than preach the reawakening of healthy values, they sought sexual equality; rather than working towards a recognition of aristocratic qualities, they sought the franchise. Hence feminism revealed its own bankruptcy: 'Modern democracy with its political machinery is so thoroughly discredited, and is moreover such a menace to our national greatness, that, if there had been any social acumen or shrewdness in woman, she would have proved it by utterly scouting this political faux pas of degenerate manhood.' [38]

Yet again, this was hardly an original argument, [39] but Ludovici backed up his political assessment of feminism with sexological arguments. In pursuing the same ends as men which were leading to degeneration -- women damaged their biological requirements. Women, claimed Ludovici, were not intelligent enough to perceive this damage on their own, and had to be carefully trained: 'No reform can come of teaching women anything.' [40] Basically, what feminism led to was an atrophy of the female sexual organs, since feminists taught women that they could enjoy the same sexual cycle as men. Rather, Ludovici claimed, 'although Woman means everything to Man's sexuality, and is the embodiment of all that his reproductive instinct can desire, even when it is at its keenest, Man means very little to Woman. [41] What he meant was that a woman's sexual pleasure is not exhausted in the sexual act -- as it is for men -- but is only completed in pregnancy and suckling: 'Thus, unless a woman has been specially trained, she can never appreciate that it is possible for her to be consciously averse from having a child, while her reproductive apparatus may be yearning to function and actually in a parlous condition because of its deprivation.' [42]

Permitting women a freer sexual life, Ludovici believed, was a step on the path to doom. When Dora Russell wrote in Hypatia that for women, sex, 'even without children and without marriage, is to them a thing of dignity, beauty and delight', Ludovici responded with incredulity. 'The implication; he wrote, 'is that sexual satisfaction with contraception is a perfectly possible and rational practice for women, and Mrs. Russell pleads for sterile "Free Love" for the unmarried as if it were a sufficient substitute for marriage and maternity.' [43] And apart from the damage being done to women's bodies by their own recklessness, birth control could only favour the weak: birth control, 'by reducing sound stocks proportionately with unsound stocks, cannot operate in favour of the sound, and must in fact ultimately reduce the sound (already much too few), to a dangerously small group'. [44]

Apart from the rather vague notion of a 'Masculine Renaissance', [45] Ludovici proposed to deal with this distressing problem by 'approaching the matter merely from the qualitative or race-improvement standpoint'. [46] This meant dispensing with squeamish moral norms, norms which were, anyway, those of the weak: So apart from encouraging women to marry at an early age, when their sexual organs had not entered into 'relative senility', [47] his solution was selective culling: the only means of escaping the hastening degeneration was 'controlled and legalised infanticide'. Only this would 'allow standards governing infant-selection to be periodically revised, and will thus lead to an improvement of the race'. [48] In the 1930s, he defended his ideas by appealing to the example of Hitler's Germany, where 'measures calculated to impose sanitary mating on the people' [49] had been introduced with widespread support.

Once Ludovici had opted for the solution of selective culling and legalised infanticide, in which 'Only that life should have sanctity which offers some guarantee of future worthiness', [50] he espoused it in ever more strident tones. And in the English Mistery he found a forum where he could discuss his ideas with other like-minded men.


The English Mistery was founded in 1930 by the disaffected mason William Sanderson. The Mistery conceived itself as a school for leadership based on the revival of the 'lost secrets' of race-memory, government, power, organisation, property and economics. In other words, its ideas were really radicalised extensions of some of those advocated by the Tory revivalists of the Edwardian radical right. The stress on 'instinct' recalls Willoughby de Broke's discussion of 'national instinct', just as the Mistery's stress on 'service' recalls Willoughby de Broke's claim that 'the privileges of British citizenship are derived from the performance of duty' and White's assertion that the aim of a revised British educational system should be 'the creation of citizens who shall be fit to reproduce their kind by a race fit to do their duty to themselves, their children, their country, and their king'. [51] According to Sanderson, the word 'mistery' meant simply 'service', and the group would educate Englishmen that what they are 'bound to serve' is 'nothing imaginary, or ideal, or mystical, but the only truly real thing in the world'. [52] This was the English race, defined unusually as separate from that of the other British races. Sanderson shared Ludovici's peculiar mix of social Darwinist racism and Lamarckianism. Arguing that 'The first cause of degeneracy is the loss of aptitude for sexual selection, and capacity to recognise sexual values', he went on to use this social Darwinist prognosis as evidence for the interruption of tradition, by which he meant the Lamarckian idea of the instincts preserved in the collective memory. [53]

Yet for all the similarities in their understanding of contemporary England, Sanderson was more inclined to ritual than was Ludovici. Sanderson's stamp is found in the numerous pamphlets the Mistery produced, containing details of constitution, procedure and aims, and little about actual political goals. The stated purpose of the Mistery was 'to regenerate the English Nation and to recreate a body politic with properly functioning members', and to create 'a sound ethical basis for national politics' based upon 'principles derived from the instincts and traditions of English breeds'. These pamphlets were more an outlet for Sanderson's conspiratorial angst than for serious ideological discussion, especially since 'Debate is prohibited within the kin.' [54]

However, this 'muck and mysticism' side of the Mistery should not blind us to its extreme -- and potentially extremely dangerous -- ideology. Sanderson was not just an occultist; he had early on joined the antisemitic Order of the Red Rose (founded in 1917), and was a member of the violently Nazi Imperial Fascist League. And the Mistery's position was founded not just on rural nostalgia, but on fears of racial contamination. Its 'Instructions to Companions', for example, contained the following warning: 'Realise, then, that it is the life of your race that is at stake, and that its survival will depend on a handful of men fighting a desperate battle with their backs to the wall.' [55] And elsewhere it openly asserted that 'the best cocker spaniel will never make a good greyhound, and a Jew may be a good Jew but will never be an Englishman'; the Mistery 'supports the elimination from public life in parliament or elsewhere of all those Jewish and other alien influences which, however worthy in themselves, cannot fail to work against English instincts and traditions'. [56] Again, such sentiments were but extensions of well-established right-wing views. James Marchant's Purity Crusade was set up with the aim of expelling vice from the cities and encouraging healthy lifestyles, but its fundamental premises were exclusivist, if not racist. Attacking the 'so-called laws' of heredity, Marchant's claims were exactly those later to be echoed by Sanderson: 'Man enters into a great inheritance of customs and traditions, laws and religion, art and literature, which, even if we grant a great deal to heredity, exercise an immeasurable and decisive influence over him.' [57]

No wonder, then, that Ludovici felt at home in the English Mistery. The lack of activity, however, bothered him, and it is clear that those who knew of the Mistery's existence, notably members of the Conservative party (several of its MPs were members, such as Michael Beaumont and Reginald Dorman-Smith), had begun to mock it. In a Mistery publication, Ludovici took up this problem, stating that the group had become 'no more than a farce, or at most an insignificant branch of the Conservative Party'. And in a passage pregnant with hints about the state of the group's internal politics, he went on: 'If we cannot achieve this unity we might just as well join the Boy Scouts or the Salvation Army as continue to belong to or believe in the English Mistery.' [58] Even so, at the end of his life, Ludovici still felt that his association with the group had been worthwhile:

as . . . a certain air of mystery hung over both our aims and our proceedings, our group contrived during the period of its existence in full strength (Le., from 1930 to about 1937) to attract a good deal of notice and to provoke considerable curiosity and interest. Nor was this confined to England; for our fame spread abroad, particularly to Germany and Italy, and with consequences which as far as I was concerned, proved of the utmost educative value. [59]

These included meeting leading officials of the Third Reich.

Unsurprisingly, the group split in 1936, Sanderson continuing, with a few others, to use the name, the rest going on to found the English Array under the leadership of Viscount Lymington. Lymington was primarily a rural revivalist, but he believed that his aspirations could be fulfilled only through careful racial selection. What he called 'kinship in husbandry' also had to apply to human beings, and in a classic horticultural metaphor so beloved of degeneration theorists, he wrote that 'if the best are to survive it must be by careful tending and protection from weeds and parasites'. On the basis of his observations of the differences between urban 'scum' and healthy rural types, he concluded that 'It is blood and soil which rule at last.' [60] The influence of Ludovici on Lymington is clear to see, since by 1938 Ludovici had for some time been advocating the policy of 'sacrificing the lesser to the greater'. Already in 1925 Ludovici had written that 'This absurd and degenerate value must be transvalued into the following: It is noble and virtuous to sacrifice the less for the greater, the rubbish for the precious.' [61] And in 1928 he once again -- this time in the context of birth control -- asserted that 'the only justifiable way to set about solving the question of over-population is to proceed drastically with the elimination of the undesirable'. [62]

But it was in 1933, under the aegis of the Mistery, surrounded by people such as Sanderson and Lymington, that Ludovici wrote a piece unequivocally advocating wholesale slaughter. In this piece, Violence, Sacrifice and -war, the usually haughtily restrained Ludovici yielded to an outburst of excess energy comparable to speeches made by German Nazis before 1933. Although it would be difficult to call Ludovici a fascist -- thanks to his distaste for populism -- it is clear that the ideologies that fused to produce Nazism were not unique to Germany.

Beginning with a rather romantic tale of the evolution of civilisation, Ludovici goes on to argue that it is nevertheless impossible to remove violence from society, since violence is an inevitable result of the 'healthy expansion' which drives civilisation forwards in the first place. Here is Ludovici's basic development myth:

All through man's history it is this healthy expansion that has with monotonous repetition introduced fresh violence into human communities, and since violence means the sacrifice of something or somebody, one of the perpetual problems of human societies has been how to shift the ultimate effect of the violence upon a group or community other than the one in which the violence actually originated; and if this was not possible, how to sacrifice portions of the community itself so as to neutralise the world. [63]

All societies, then, whether primitive or modern, need sacrifice so as to create order. On a cursory glance, this notion of the necessity of sacrifice sounds somewhat akin to Rene Girard's theory of mimetic violence and the need for scapegoating. [64] But, unlike Girard, Ludovici does not see the possibility of transferring the role of scapegoat either on to a non-human element such as an animal, or of a single figure (Christ) revealing the workings of this scapegoat mechanism so that the violence can be deflected. Rather, Ludovici seems to take pleasure in acknowledging the intractability of the problem, and the violence that it apparently demands: 'Surely, therefore, the time has come to recognise the inevitability of violence and sacrifice, and consciously to select the section or elements in the world or the nation that should be sacrificed' (pp. 11-12). Ludovici, armed with his schoolboy's Nietzsche, rather sounds as though he would relish the opportunity to take the necessary decisions.

So, from a starting point -- an untested and wild hypothesis -- which he chooses not to validate, Ludovici is led in a few simple moves to a call for mass-murder. The fact that he cites the practice of sacrifice in numerous societies, ranging from the ancient Peruvian practice of burning widows to infanticide in China (p. 7), is sufficient for Ludovici to make the claim that this type of sacrifice-as-population-control is always and everywhere necessary.

Ludovici sees his call as part of the project of the transvaluation of all values required to regenerate the English race. What he wants to create in England is 'a great and brave nation' which 'will not hesitate to abandon all such suicidal solutions as homosexuality, heterosexual vice, birth control, infanticide, emasculation, etc., and will distribute the burden of sacrifice over inferior races abroad, and inferior human products in all classes at home' (p. 15). He ends by reiterating this clarion call: 'I suggest that in future a great nation should courageously face the fact of violence and sacrifice, and make the latter as far as possible selective whether at home or abroad' (p. 15).

This pamphlet tells us more about the English Mistery, and about Ludovici in particular, than any of their other publications. The Mistery were open to radical suggestions for redefining 'Englishness', suggestions that reached their extreme form in Violence) Sacrifice and War. In the context of the development of European right-wing thought, this is a particularly interesting piece. Since the mid-nineteenth century, zoologists and anthropologists had justified the mass-murder of 'native' people by theories of progress and degeneration. Hitler was to apply the same logic when the principles of colonial rule were applied to the European continent. For the argument that fascism partly represents a type of 'colonialism come home', Ludovici's pamphlet is important evidence, for here we find an explicit recommendation that genocide (dressed up, as it always was, as scientific necessity) could be applied to the populations of the metropole. [65] Perhaps one of the reasons for the successes of German and Italian fascism as opposed to British or French is connected to the failed colonial policies of the former countries.

Who, though, does Ludovici have in mind when calling for the removal of unsound biological stocks from the population? Part of the argument is clearly a justification for Empire: the slaughter of primitive peoples as a way of venting the Englishman's excess energy, long a mainstay of British imperial thinking. In the debate over conscription at the turn of the century, for example, one author casually remarked that 'the presence of the white man will tend to entail less extreme suffering upon his subjects', a happy outcome to be attained 'partly by better organisation, partly by increased publicity and the action of European organisation upon the colonists, partly by the mere extirpation of the most ill-used races'. [66] But where 'sacrifice' at home is concerned, I would argue here that, although it is unspoken in this particular piece, the Jews are the most obvious target.

Seeing the Jews as the obvious target does not just mean seeing what happened in Germany during the war and imputing the same thought processes to British fascists. I have already shown that antisemitism was integral to the English Mistery's conceptions of what was threatening the English race. And there were several references to Jews in Ludovici's earlier writings in which the foreignness of and threat from the Jews is stressed in terms of admiration for their supposed racial purity: the Jews' 'momentary superiority' is 'the effect of their close inbreeding in the past, and that is why we cannot do the Jews a greater disservice than to increase our friendliness to them to the extent of breaking down the racial barrier that now separates them from our degenerate miscegenated stocks'. [67] But it was only after his involvement with the English Mistery, and especially the English Array, that Ludovici devoted a whole book to the Jews, Jews) and the Jews in England (1938).

He did so, however, only under a pseudonym -- Cobbett, a not inappropriate name given that Ludovici, like Douglas Reed, [68] had appealed to the pastoralism conjured up by Cobbett's Rural Rides on more than one occasion, in an early appeal to the languorous and bucolic England still evoked today by magazines such as This England. [69] That he felt it necessary to hide behind a pseudonym on this occasion is evidence of his embarrassment at entering the shadowy world of conspiracy theory more usually associated with the vehemently antisemitic Nesta Webster, and the popular distaste for open displays of antisemitism by 1938, two years after the Battle of Cable Street, a distaste that only grew after the Kristallnacht pogrom in Germany later in the year.

The precariousness of the antisemitic position after 1938 is no doubt why Ludovici begins with the disclaimer that his book is an attempt at a neutral study, something it is hard to achieve given 'the high feeling created over this question, through recent anti-Semitic measures adopted in Germany'. But since his book is aimed neither at 'modem Germans or Jews' but at 'the earnest English student', he does not worry that 'in thus attempting to recover the calm of pre-Hitler historians, it will hardly be possible to please the extremists through our lack of violence, and the Liberals through our statement of many unpalatable and seemingly offensive truths' .[70]

This apparent neutrality was a widely used strategy before the war with regard to writing about Jews, [71] and continues in the writings of the New Right. In Ludovici's circle, though, it was soon discarded, and the pages of Lymington's journal, the New Pioneer, founded in 1938, became ever-more vociferously antisemitic the nearer to war Britain came. Ludovici himself, however, never ceased to base his antisemitism on a seemingly incontrovertible bedrock of anthropological and biological evidence. Rather than just condemn the Jews for the usual range of misdeeds (greed, usury, communism, rootlessness, cosmopolitanism), Ludovici tried to show, a la Lamarck, how these conditions of Jewish existence were conditioned by centuries of inherited characteristics:

four and a half milleniums of contact with civilisation, and at least three milleniums of contact with trade and urban life -- adequately explain all that is known about the Jew's character and his peculiar relationship to his Gentile environment, more especially when the latter is either predominantly agricultural and rural or has relatively recently achieved civilisation. (p. 83)

Thus, Ludovici set out to show how the history of the Jews from ancient times moulded them into 'a closely inbred race' (p. 5). By the time that the Jews came to Europe in 'the early centuries of our era' there was an 'irreducible kernel which was recognised as the basic peculiarity of the Jew' (p. 17). Accordingly, he condemned those, such as Huxley and Haddon, [72] who refused the notion of 'race' altogether, as avoiding basic facts of sociology and nationality:

It will not remove. the knowledge which all Europeans have, and which cannot be wholly fallacious seeing that . . . it is based on history, that the Jew traditionally favours certain callings, certain occupations, and reveals certain definite psychological characteristics which, whether conditioned by long habituation or not, are nevertheless distinct and may be (probably are) the psychological correlatives of his type. (p. 26)

And what was this type? Despite centuries of both urban and rural dwelling in Europe, 'it may be that it is precisely these few stubborn and primitive desert traits in the Jews, which have repeatedly moulded their history' (pp. 65-66). The Jews are, basically, nomads who can have no attachment to the soil, and can therefore never become part of a nation. This nomadism -- their' Asiatic Bedouin origin' (p. 79) -- explains both the Jews' lack of respect for property and their avarice: 'The nomad is essentially a particularist who is by nature, as it were, born into the philosophy of the Manchester School, whether this came after or before him' (p. 67). Ludovici's claims here were by no means original, but were a stock: in trade of British antisemitism. In 1899 Arnold White claimed that 'Intellectual superiority, Oriental subtlety, and the training of sorrow accredit the Jew with a complex and mysterious power denied to any other living race.' After the First World War, Lord Sydenham of Combe, in an article first published in the highly respectable Nineteenth Century and After, described the Jews as 'an exceedingly able, ambitious and power-loving Oriental race' whose ideals 'may conflict with Gentile polity'. And the extreme antisemite Harold Spencer devoted a chapter of his Democracy or Shylocracy? to 'A Desert People', describing the Jews as 'an Oriental people, one of those races baked by the sun in the dry, burning climate of the great deserts of North Africa, Arabia and Asia Minor', going on to claim that 'The desert crept right into their hearts, and so at all times they were filled with the spirit of the sandy wastes. Throughout the centuries Israel has remained a desert and nomadic people. [73]
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:33 pm


Ludovici's conclusion from this brief history of the Jewish race is that it is inadequate to distinguish Jews from Gentiles solely on the grounds of religion, as did the emancipators of the nineteenth century (p. 94). Rather, and 'from the purely anthropological standpoint', one can only conclude that

anything in the nature of mixed marriages with the Jews, particularly on the part of English people, cannot fail to introduce into pure English stocks many ethnic elements which are not merely foreign to the English as a people, but the absence of which from English strains constitutes one of the principal claims to the specific character of the English as a particular people in north-western Europe. (p. 115)

When he ended by claiming that 'Prudence would, therefore, seem to dictate a policy of exclusion both of the Jew and his influence from all those departments of English life in which his influence may so alter the character of the nation as to make it lose all its specific qualities' (p. 115), Ludovici managed to avoid -- on the surface -- the usual outbursts of paranoia which characterise so much antisemitic writing. His book was all the more dangerous for that, especially since it did not contemplate 'merely' the removal of the Jews. Like Sanderson, Ludovici believed that the Judaisation that had taken place in England meant that exclusion would be futile, 'if it did not contemplate and include the far more fundamental but infinitely more difficult task of freeing the country of its wrong values' (p. 116). [74] And in one of the sentences which gives away the authorship of the book, Ludovici asserted that 'It is essential to set out with a transmutation of existing unsound and corrupt values, especially those which have Bedouinized not only our society but also our pure type' (p. 117).


In the context of the approach to war, the English Array devoted itself more and more to antisemitism. The English Mistery had by this time dwindled into a mystical society, whose raison d'etre, according to Sanderson, was to 'open to you the door of atonement through which you may escape into the garden of manners and the memory of peace where your bent will be tended in freedom with care'. [75] By contrast the Array took with it those members of the Mistery who had connections or influence, a fact reflected in the pages of its Quarterly Gazette, and Lymington's magazine, the New Pioneer. Apart from Ludovici, other regular contributors included Rolf Gardiner, the rural revivalist, Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, the military historian, and A. K. Chesterton. Other prominent members included Richard de Grey, the brother of Lord Walsingham, Baron John de Rutzen and Colonel Hardwicke Holderness. Although he never joined the BUF, Lymington widened his contacts on the right by founding, in September 1938, the British Council Against European Commitments, with John Beckett and William Joyce of the National Socialist League. Later he joined with Beckett to form the British People's Party, which remained in existence until 1954. [76] This congregation of fascists made the Array serious in a way which the Mistery had never been.

The focus was now clearly on the Jews. Despite the Array's protestations that they were English patriots and not fascists, their increasingly strident antisemitism has to be seen in the context of the success of Hitler's Germany on the international stage. In the first issue of the Array's Quarterly Gazette, Ludovici spoke again of the need for a transvaluation of all values, which he now equated with 'a demonetisation of current corrupt values'. And the second issue stated that 'Any race not content to live as parasites on others must consider the health of its people and the fertility of the soil of its country as matters of fundamental importance.' [77] A similar state of affairs prevailed at the New Pioneer, where A. K. Chesterton typically condemned the coming war as 'the war of the Jews' revenge'. [78]

Both Ludovici and Lymington travelled to Germany to meet Hitler and Darre, and Ludovici wrote up his impressions for the conservative English Review. Like the most insightful opponents of the regime, Ludovici claimed that 'something akin to a new religious zeal has spread throughout the land ... I witnessed ... something bordering on the magic, something which although beyond reason, was anything but madness'. [79] Ludovici, though, saw this in a positive light, arguing that the mood of the country was that of 'a great nation stirred and united by a lofty purpose', and that 'The Nazi movement ... has united the country as no country has been united since the Renaissance.' [80] Ludovici believed that this 'lofty purpose' proved that there was hope yet for the effete populations of the west, and discussed the 'biological revaluation' and the back-to-the-land movement and labour camps in those terms. [81] Ludovici's general conclusion; 'after setting out the way in which the pernicious influence of Socrates had perverted the course of western history for so many centuries, was that Hitler was the one figure capable of reversing the trend by which biological matters were ignored: 'the fact that Adolf Hitler, as soon as he seized the reins of Government at the beginning of 1933, did not hesitate to grapple with Socrates and, at least in Germany, to discredit him, is surely one of his most remarkable achievements'. [82] Nazi Germany was, in Ludovici's eyes, realising Nietzsche's dream of a eugenical paradise.

In this tense atmosphere Ludovici fell out with Levy. The two friends who had done the most to promote the cause of Nietzsche in Britain could not tolerate each other's attitudes towards Nazism. As we have already seen, Levy, after his disillusionment with Italian Fascism, came to see both Fascism and National Socialism as part of the emasculation of western civilisation that Nietzsche had explained. By contrast, Ludovici saw Nazism as inspired by Nietzschean dreams of overturning that process of emasculation. In two articles, again in the English Review, Ludovici set out his position. 'It seems fairly obvious,' he began, 'that there must be a strong Nietzschean influence in National Socialism, if only because of the powerful breath of pre-Socratic Hellenism which has prevailed in Germany ever since the N.S.D.A.P. seized the reins of government.' [83] Unsurprisingly, Ludovici was especially impressed by the introduction of legislation which put an emphasis on 'the desirability of sound stock, of preventing inferior or tainted stocks from multiplying, and of eliminating from the ranks of parents all persons who are in any way hereditarily diseased'. In this legislation he found 'further confirmation of the Nietzschean influence'. [84] And he was equally impressed with the new attitude to women prevailing in the Third Reich. Attacking his English opponents (he had recently spoken at two debates on feminism in London) who believed him to be simply jealous of women's achievements, Ludovici appealed to the policies of Hitler as being in the best interests of the race:

This concentration upon an ideal of woman as wife, mother and domestic mate, and this conviction that only thus can women secure happiness and health, is in harmony not only with Nietzsche's views, but also with the latest findings of science. But while Nietzsche relied only on his extraordinarily sound judgment when he threw in his stake on the side of antifeminism (which should on no account be confused with misogyny), the National-Socialist leader has now, in supporting a similar standpoint, the whole of enlightened modem science behind him. [85]

Nazi legislation concerning women was not backward-looking, but actually more of a defence of women than allowing them to participate in 'masculine careers', and if the English had not yet recognised this fundamental truth it was because 'this country is still stubbornly disinclined to bend her head from the clouds and adopt a biological attitude towards humanity'. [86]

Levy, understandably, was furious. The two men had always disagreed on the way to approach Nietzsche, Levy favouring direct explication, Ludovici the application of Nietzschean themes to current affairs. Nevertheless, this disagreement only became serious in the context of Nazism. Ludovici's claims that some of Nietzsche's teachings, especially those stemming from the writings of the latter part of his life, had inspired the Nazis was countered by Levy's insistence that the real Nietzsche was to be found in his early works (before 1882). Levy, so Ludovici claimed in his unpublished autobiography, thought that only by discrediting the later writings 'could Nietzsche be exculpated from the charge of having inspired the hated Nazis', and hence Levy encouraged his protege Marius-Paul Nicolas to write a book saying so, a book. which Ludovici condemned in no uncertain terms. According to Ludovici, 'Levy was very angry -- so angry that quite 'unjustifiably he began telling everybody that I had gone over to the Nazis, was therefore an anti-Semite, and had deserted both him and Nietzsche.' The breach was never to be healed, despite Levy's attempt to bring about a reconciliation in 1945, just before his death. And Ludovici's conclusion remained unsympathetic: 'to this day I remain convinced that, but for the association of some of Nietzsche's doctrines with the policy and practice of the Nazis, we should never have heard of this relatively belated and heterodox exaltation of the books of Nietzsche's early period'. [87]

Perhaps the break with Levy was partly behind the fact that Ludovici was the writer of the most sustained antisemitic pieces for the Array. Just before the war he produced the first of the New Pioneer's pamphlet publications. English Liberalism was a history of the liberalism which was now supposedly destroying the nation. But, iIi an advance from the days of A Defence of Aristocracy or A Defence of Conservatism, the emphasis was now firmly on the Jews. Starting from the standard Mistery/Array claims that heredity was the basic factor in determining national character, and that with suitable leadership the ancient qualities of the English could yet be salvaged, Ludovici explained how those qualities had been systematically attacked by the Jews. The character of the English was open to attack since, 'in the early days ... there was an element in the land (I refer to the Jews) which was by origin and habit the very best constituted for accentuating and confirming the particularist and negative tendencies of the people'. [88]

The Jews, being 'the extreme particularists of the East' (p. 10), 'hereditary nomads' (p. 11), had settled in the English oasis, but felt no allegiance to it. The result was a heightening of particularist tendencies latent in the English, and ultimately a situation whereby 'the jungle morality, always prone to rise uppermost, would receive a constant and very powerful impetus' (p. 12). Only after the King and the nobility felt at one with the people, and expelled the Jews, could England develop in a satisfactory way. In the 365 years of the Jews' absence, 'the English people reached not only ethnic unification, but also the highest point in their culture and civilisation' (p. 12). Proof of this is to be found in the harsh treatment of degenerates in these years: 'The biological standard was high, and respect for sound biological specimens can be inferred from the treatment meted out to degenerates, incurables and lepers. If sacrifice there had to be, it was the latter who were penalised and not the sound and physically desirable' (p. 15).

The return of the Jews coincided with the growth of Puritanism, and the two together -- combining particularism with 'negativism to the flesh' (p. 23) -- played havoc with the national characteristics of England so carefully nurtured in the preceding three-and-a-half centuries, especially the English conception of property. The Jews in particular could not understand the notion that property must not be possessed absolutely, that 'it is impossible to remove from anything that is capable of becoming property in a gregarious community that part of its value which is a contribution from the community as a whole' (pp. 24-25). Hence the urgency of the English Array's call with its specifically English racism: 'we cannot deny that the particularist spirit has triumphed, and that the Jew and the Puritan are masters of the situation' (p. 28).

So the members of the Array entered the war with a well-developed anti-semitism, and hence a sense that war could not possibly benefit the English. Lymington's BCAEC was the most visible manifestation of this belief. However, unlike those arrested under Regulation 18B such as Arnold Leese or Lymington's associates Beckett and Captain Ramsay, the members of the English Array were able to meet throughout the war. But their activities amounted to very little, since they were obviously prime candidates for arrest under a regulation that permitted internment on grounds of suspicion alone. [89] Ludovici had himself been interrogated in May 1940, and in August was dismissed from his job in intelligence because of his membership of the Right Club. [90] Summer camp at Farleigh Wallop, Lymington's estate in Hampshire, was the main activity. That left plenty of time for writing. Lymington, now Earl of Portsmouth, produced the most interesting piece, a short book entitled Alternative to Death (1943) in which he set out in full his conception of the mystical union between race and soil: 'The soil constitutes our environment in the truest sense; it courses through our blood, moulds our muscle and builds our bones.' And he also set out here his explanation for the war:

it would not be unjust to ascribe the victims of this war to the policy of international finance, for it is doubtful if Germany would have felt the impetus to install a Hitler or answer the appeal for lebensraum, if it had not been for the system of cosmopolitan lending from Lombard and Wall Streets. [91]

More time was devoted to agricultural concerns, with the Kinship in Husbandry (which included Rolf Gardiner, H.J. Massingham, Edmund Blunden, Arthur Bryant, and other notable figures) meeting and publishing on the need for a 'return to husbandry'. [92] Although the politics of this ruralism was explicit, it was apparently less threatening to the establishment than the purely 'political' activities of other fascist groups. Indeed, the group's ideas of ecology and self-sustenance were to some extent adopted by the Ministry for Agriculture during the war. [93]


Unlike many other appeasers, after the war Ludovici appeared to feel no need either to rethink any of his opinions or to hide those he did hold. This was because he had always maintained that his vision of a regenerated England would not be a regimented fascist state like Nazi Germany. However minor the differences between fascist corporatism and English 'service', or the Fuhrerprinzip and the 'school for leadership' may have been, those advocating them felt that they were not synonymous with the rabble-rousing mass-politics of continental fascisms. By the end of the war, which he contemptuously called the 'War for Polish Independence', Ludovici's stance had, if anything, hardened. [94]

Ludovici had always been an advocate of correct body control -- in 1933 he even gave a lecture to the English Mistery on the Alexander Technique [95] -- and after the war he once again stressed how vital this was to stave off degeneration. Apparently ignorant of -- or uninterested in -- the ideological currents which had led to the murder of the Jews, Ludovici launched into one of his most sustained exegeses on degeneration and breeding, The Four Pillars of Health (1945). In it are reiterated all his pre-war fears about race, feminism and degeneration.

On breeding, for example, Ludovici presented his old argument in favour of homogeneity: 'breeding from disparate parents and parental stocks is tantamount to producing a machine, such as a steam locomotive, from spare parts obtained, not merely from different makers of locomotives, but from different types of steam-locomotives procured at random from different locomotive. builders.' [96] This led to familiar conclusions about birth control: Ludovici spoke of society's need to 'abandon the Socratic values' which teach the principle that 'love' can justify any match, no matter how foul from the hereditary standpoint; and it must also learn to appreciate that no alleged moral purity, no alleged loftiness of soul, can be an adequate compensation for any defect, even so apparently slight as impure breath (pp. 8-9). This consideration lies at the foundation of what he calls the 'Four Pillars of Health': conditions essential to health, good habits of life and hygiene, good dietary habits, and the correct use of the self. But all of them apply only when there is a good initial hereditary endowment (p. 46).

The stress on heredity, coupled with an unchanged belief in the continuing degeneration of the English, led Ludovici to some interesting conclusions. By 1945 it was already unusual to talk of biological degenerates, as Ludovici's more tempered comments in public appearances testify. [97] It was even more unusual to talk of 'harmful mutations' who 'may be called "Nature's failures'" (p. 40). What is startling is the way in which Ludovici contextualises this current stage of degeneration. In the final year of Nazi genocide in Europe, Ludovici wrote of 'Nature's failures' that 'here in Europe, as in America, they are not eliminated and the stock deterioration they cause is, therefore, cumulative' (p. 40). The Holocaust was not simply the result of the influence of the science of racial hygiene, but that was one important cause. That Ludovici penned this in England in 1945 is what makes him stand out as an extremist. The only similar case of brazen openness is that of Arnold Leese, who in 1951 wrote that 'I considered Hitler was right in the main, as 1 do now.' [98] But Leese had only one string to his bow: a violent, paranoid loathing of Jews that had led to his imprisonment in 1936, and later internment. Ludovici was a self-styled intellectual.

After The Four Pillars of Health Ludovici published another four books. They dealt with feminism, heredity and leadership, religion, and liberalism. Ludovici had written on all these themes before, and he wrote about them now in an almost unchanged manner. There is not the space here to provide detailed exegeses of the books, though they are fascinating examples of the bridge between pre-war British fascism and the postwar National Front, which, before the advent of the British National Party, could appeal to Ludovici to defend their position as 'respectable' ultra-rightists as opposed to Nazi populists. Indeed, Richard Verrall, the most intelligent of the National Front theorists, combined Holocaust denial and a renewed interest in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion with an expose of the Jewish propagation of race equality theory and the value of Lamarckiarusm. [99]

A few examples from each book will suffice. In 1948 Ludovici again stated his claims about feminism leading to female degeneration, and offered this advice: 'The only rational policy, however, is to sacrifice along creative and selective lines, so that the sacrifice amounts to scrapping, as the farmer does, the less valuable plant.' [100]

In 1952, in The Quest of Human Quality, Ludovici returned to the theme with which he began his Nietzsche-inspired career as a writer: degeneration. [101] In this case, Ludovici sought to demonstrate his claims by contrasting degeneration with a diluted version of his previously more vociferous racism. The best part of the book is taken up with a reiteration of the theses put forward in 1915 -- that democracy is 'a form of mass neurosis' (pp. 46-47), that 'there are no democratic criteria for the selection of desirable leaders' (p. 51), and that only an aristocracy, the like of which has never existed in Britain, [102] can, thanks to 'the quality of its members' (p. 89), govern in the interests of all. And he devoted ample space to explaining the reasons for this degeneration, chief among which is miscegenation.

Here we see one of the few modifications that can be found in Ludovici's work. The crucial-difference between Ludovici's pre- and postwar approaches to the problems of miscegenation lies in the 'types' or 'stocks' that are being improperly interbred. On a cursory glance, Ludovici is saying exactly the same thing, railing as he does against 'the mongrelisation of the population' (p. 94). Yet, whereas before the war the stress was on the purity of the English race, a purity hard won after centuries of inbreeding, now the focus is away from 'race' and more on degeneracy within England: 'It amounts to childish simplicity to suppose that mongrelisation occurs only when different races mix. In England this is now probably its rarest manifestation. It occurs chiefly in healthy, sound stocks, mongrelising themselves by mating with unsound, needy, and tainted stocks' (p. 95); 'since there are no pure races in Europe now, it is preferable to speak only of the random breeding of disparate types, strains, and stocks' (p. 111). However, since his racism always had this internal as well as an external element, this is hardly a major change; besides, the general tenor of his work suggests that this is more an attempt at disguise than a genuine change. Furthermore, even this more 'restrained' language of 'strains' or 'stocks' -- though it reappeared in the context of black immigration in the 1960s -- was (at least openly) unacceptable in 'respectable' circles after 1945. [103]

Again, we can see the double strategy at work. Ludovici condemns extreme racism thereby letting it in through the back door. Where before the war the focus was on foreigners, particularly Jews, now Ludovici's attention (with the exception of the racist passage in The Child, cited above) is ostensibly turned toward the 'plain or ugly person' (p. 103). Yet the aim actually remained the same; later on in the book Ludovici defends the concept of race, again asserting that only the extremes of Nazism make people reluctant to face the reality of racial characteristics and, more importantly, racial hierarchies:

The fact that certain discredited political parties have falsely claimed racial integrity for a national population of modern Europe need no more intimidate us into forsaking the idea of race and the word that conveys it than the present gross abuse of terms like 'complex' and 'inferiority complex' by people who have no notion of their technical meaning. (pp. 140-41)

The difference is that in 1952 Ludovici saw the need to supplement this racism with what he called 'psycho-physical' factors, a term popular in the 1930s:

All those advocates of Aristocracy, therefore, who have fallen an easy prey to the Internationalists, Egalitarians, and other critics of the 'racialist' standpoint, by pressing the necessity of 'pure' race, really missed the point . . . [B]y emphasising race alone, and overlooking the all-important question of psycho-physical standardisation, the racialists have seriously damaged rather than helped the aristocratic Cause. (pp. 148-49)

Ludovici here claimed to be preaching a middle way between 'those alarmed philo-democrats ... [who] base their hopes on Education alone' and 'the philo-aristocrats who plead the necessity of descent from "pure" races' (p. 149). Yet earlier on he had spoken of the fact that there were no pure races in Europe 'now', suggesting that at some point previously there had been pure races. There is hence a palpable tension, even contradiction, between the claim - which one senses is made in bad faith -- that purity does not exist, and the obvious desire for and belief in purity.

At first glance, Ludovici's postwar stress on purity -- based as it is on criteria for breeding among the English population -- could be seen as an argument more about class than race. And to some extent it is, particularly in the light of the pre-war comments, which he shared with Lymington, about the decay of the large cities and the call for an aristocracy. Indeed, one of the reasons why Ludovici has slipped out of the pantheon of the contemporary extreme right is no doubt his snobbish attitudes, which mingle quite comfortably with his ideas about race (incidentally disproving Hannah Arendt's claim that 'snobbery is incompatible with fanaticism' [104]). Yet, in the last resort, his upper-class reactionary stance is devoted to a racial concept which can include those of lower classes: 'If isolation and inbreeding can endure long enough, even a heterogeneous people like those of present-day Britain, could become a race' (p. 140). Class and race go hand in hand, for it is only an aristocracy that can be the vanguard of the new racial crusade, but it is the race that the aristocracy must serve, and that therefore takes precedence. In 1912, Havelock Ellis had argued against social superiority being necessarily synonymous with physical superiority, putting forward instead the idea of seeking out 'Nature's aristocrats, to whom the future of the race might be safely left without further question'. [105] Only in 1952 did Ludovici arrive at a similar conclusion, when what forty years earlier had been the height of progressive sophistication had long since been regarded as dangerous authoritarianism.

Most strikingly, Ludovici confirms the predominance of racial over class aspirations in attaining purity by referring to the Jews. In a strategy that later became typical of the New Right philosophy promoted by Alain de Benoist, Ludovici justified segregation by defending the achievements of different races, achievements that -- so the claim goes -- result from racial homogeneity and isolation. Less than a decade after the Holocaust, Ludovici defended his brand of racism by celebrating 'The great beauty and psycho-physical uniformity attained by the Ancient Jews', a racial purity 'whose typical characters have, in a high percentage of individual Jews, survived even to modern times' (p. 162). The Jews' putative success in the art world serves to illustrate the relationship between racial and cultural integrity, for this success indicates 'the power to feel, judge, and assess quality', attributes which 'I have been insisting on' (p. 163), No longer any explicit mention that these qualities are harmful to the English race, an omission of some magnitude.

After producing nothing for almost ten years, Ludovici then wrote, shortly before turning eighty, a Nietzschean attack on Christianity, Religion for Infidels (1961), the basic thrust of which was that Christianity had neglected 'human biological realities' and as a result promoted the weak over the strong. This inversion of the natural order had resulted in the breeding of such degenerates that the tenets of Christianity itself could no longer be observed, because the mass of humanity was too atrophied and wracked with malaise to have regard for themselves, let alone each other:

When, therefore, Jesus said, 'Love thy neighbour as thyself,' he not only failed to appreciate that love cannot be enjoined, but also failed to foresee that, by linking this teaching with the racially lethal precepts of the decadent Greek, Socrates, his followers would one day make his command doubly unrealisable by debilitating the creatures to whom it was addressed. In this way the religion that enjoined love of the neighbour upon its believers, ended in ensuring nothing but hate. [106]

Then Ludovici tries to pre-empt the inevitable response as to what can be done about so injurious a situation by putting himself in the place of the reader. The reader who offers the retort that Ludovici is a Nazi

not only shows himself incapable of going further back in history than World War II -- as if thought on the question began then -- but also betrays his expectation of immediate applause from every moron in the nation, whose alleged inability to suffer the violent elimination of even selected lower-grade defectives, is confounded with the patient, not to say, cheerful, endurance of the death of thousands of quite unselected and presumably sound adults and children on our highways every year. (p. 83)

Instead of this random selection, Ludovici proposes 'The Transvaluation of values, which has not yet been understood by three generations of Nietzsche-readers' (p. 89).

By 1961, then, Ludovici, from his beginnings as a cosmopolitan young lecturer and translator of Nietzsche, had become a relic of a bygone age, whose writings juxtaposed an almost Luddite fear of the car with a cold, dispassionate call for the revivification of the English race through, if necessary, the mass-murder of 'undesirables'.

His last literary gasp came in 1967, four years before his death at the age of 89. The title of the book alone illustrates his unrepentant stance. The Specious Origins of Liberalism was published by Britons, a far-right organisation which had been founded by Henry H. Beamish, an early supporter of Mussolini and Hitler and pathological antisemite who, on his death in Rhodesia in 1948, left a large amount of money to Arnold Leese. By the war Britons had become almost exclusively an antisemitic publishing house, and it kept the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in print throughout the war years. [107]

The book saw a final reiteration of ideas that had reached the peak of their influence in the 1930s. By now they were the inflexible rantings of an old man. Indeed, Ludovici turns here from eulogising the English race, to elegising for it, confirming the claim that reactionary ideologies are essentially nostalgic. [108] Where in 1930 Ludovici believed that England needed to recover its medieval characteristics, now, in 1967, he claimed that the Golden Age was within living memory: he had seen the English people transformed 'in the paltry space of only 8 decades' from 'a people of considerable and impressive merit' into 'a populace expert in shifting its every legitimate burden and responsibility on to the backs of neighbours'. [109]


Here, at the end of his career, the curious position of Ludovici in the pantheon of British right-wing thinkers is clear. The ideas he espoused in the Edwardian and interwar periods were hardly original, but by the 1960s they were downright unacceptable, leaving him in the company of such luminaries as John Tyndall (then of the NF, later becoming leader of the BNP), whom he anyway would have despised as a rabble-rouser. Ludovici's exceptionalism consisted then not in his ideas -- though the particular combination of them and his wide intellectual range as a writer was unusual -- but in his career trajectory, from a radical, provocative but mainstream thinker to an intellectual outcast because of the steadfastness with which he refused to reconsider the views that made up his particular ideology.

Tracing Ludovici's ideology decade by decade illustrates the failure of the extreme right in Britain more generally. At the turn of the century, and until the end of the First World War, the right in Britain stood for radicalised versions of ideas which won widespread sympathy: defence of the Union, defence of the Empire, national efficiency, anti-alienism, the 'regeneration of the race', the defence of 'tradition', and political security. These were values that were not only those of the right, as the popularity of eugenics across the spectrum shows; nor were they quick to disappear between the wars, as the resurgence of antisemitism in the context of anti-war feeling in 1939-1940 also show. [110] After 1945, however, they underwent considerable modification, many being junked from mainstream conservative thinking altogether. Flare-ups of extremist activity, such as the anti-Jewish riots of 1947, [111] were sparked off by particular localised incidents, and owed little to mainstream political influences. While popular racism has always characterised British society, and been implicitly encouraged by government (in)action, intellectual justifications for it have been in little demand since the Second World War.

The large number of strands that went into making up this ideology, from Lamarckianism, eugenicism and antisemitism, to anti-feminism, aristocratic revivalism, monarchism and ruralism, suggest the difficulty in pinning down the boundaries between the radical right and the mainstream in the Edwardian period. There is little to choose from between a Ludovici and a Willoughby de Broke on essential points. But if one thinks of an ideology as a way of setting out clear positions on policy, derived from a certain political theory, [112] or a conception of how society should be, then the task becomes easier for the interwar period and after. For the principles to which Ludovici held fast failed to develop as society changed around him. Just as Willoughby de Broke lost influence after the First World War as he became increasingly interested in eugenics precisely when it began to lose its hold over mainstream thinking, so Ludovici became an increasingly provocative figure as the views of the Edwardian radical right became ever more outdated.

Ludovici's political aims did not change even if, at the end of his life, he felt it necessary to question' the 'youthful enthusiasm' for Nietzsche that had animated most of his work. [113] As a result he continued to believe in the necessity of race-regeneration long after the word 'race' was held even by human biologists to signify anything meaningful. [114] And he espoused an aristocratic concept of leadership long after the full extension of the franchise made such notions ever more unlikely to playa role in British politics. The espousal of his ideology, then, led him into the political wilderness, as he knew and accepted:

The extreme unpopularity of my political attitude, especially in regard to the pre-requisites for the regeneration of an elite, is to be explained by the wholly emotional and deeply-rooted bias with which all Westerners, and particularly Anglo-Saxons, are afflicted in connection with human breeding ... It looks as if the people of the Western democracies will prefer to perish altogether before they recognise that sooner or later the principles of what they derisively call the 'Stud-Farm' must be applied to humanity if survival is really desired. [115]

Nevertheless, a study of Ludovici reveals some important aspects of extreme right ideologies in Britain. It confirms the claims of Thurlow and Bauerkamper that British fascism did not consist merely of imitations of continental fascisms, but was to a large extent a home-grown response to British (or, in Ludovici's case, English) concerns. This is why it is correct to speak of the 'extremes of Englishness' , for what is easy to overlook in the interpretation of the British extreme right is, for example, the comfort with which the so-called 'patriotism' of an Arthur Bryant with its stress on the marvellous idiosyncrasies of 'Englishry' -- could sit with Nazism. There was no self-contradiction in being a Nazi sympathiser, not just a run-of-the-mill anti-war appeaser, and yet being an English nationalist. Although today Ludovici's ideas have more in common with the relatively successful extremist politicians of France or Austria, they can be seen as remarkably 'English' in that they emerged out of a set of fears about the demise of the Empire and the loss of the nation's position of importance on the world stage.

We have become used to the idea that civilisation and barbarism go hand in hand, but examples of this frightful symbiosis tend to come from Nazi Germany. Rarely do they come from the history of colonialism, and even more rarely from writers who deal with society and culture in Britain. The haughty, soigne Ludovici could have been a leading European intellectual. His contacts in France and Germany, his pages in the New Age, and his wide reading appear to be ideal elements for an enlightened ideology. Yet Ludovici devoted himself to outdated scientific theories and combined them with a selective reading of a philosopher who gave far more to the world than the notion of the elimination of the weak (if he even gave us that). Yet it is as well to remember that Ludovici was not always forced to turn to far-right publishers; he was invited to speak in public, and to contribute to debates on pressing matters. That he has disappeared from view for so long is not only his own fault, but is also partly due to the vagaries of critical reception, as I suggested at the outset.

In Our Prophets, a critical study of contemporary thinkers, Robert Kerr wrote of Anthony Ludovici that 'Anyone who reads his Woman: A Vindication can see that he possesses the potentiality of becoming one of the leading writers of the age. All that he needs to give him his proper place in literature is an accession of moderation and common sense.' [116] Although it is the contention of this book that we should not ignore the 'extremes of Englishness' and that Ludovici was a well-known figure in interwar cultural life, it is a fact for which we should be grateful that, given his failure to acquire a sense of moderation, Ludovici did not become one of the leading writers of the age. He was, however, far more widely known than we might think today; and the reason lies in the generally positive attitude to be found towards eugenics among Nietzscheans, and towards Nietzsche among eugenicists. These attitudes are the subject of the next chapter.
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:41 pm


CHAPTER THREE: Nietzsche and Eugenics

To Sir Francis Galton belongs the honour of founding the Science of Eugenics. To Friedrich Nietzsche belongs the honour of founding the Religion of Eugenics ... Both aim at a Superman, not a Napoleonic individual, but an ideal of a race of supermen, as superior to the present mankind -- many of whom, alas! have not even completed the stage of transition from animal to man -- as man is superior to the worm.
-- Maximilian Mugge, 'Eugenics and the Superman', Eugenics Review, 1.3, 1909, p. 191.

Nietzsche is the spiritual father and forerunner of the Eugenists.
-- Charles Sarolea, German Problems and Personalities, 1917, p. 92.

'The old tablets of morality are broken, and the new ones are only half-written.' With these words Alexander Tille ended his book, Von Darwin bis Nietzsche (1895), ushering in a process, which still continues, of making use of Nietzsche both to diagnose a modern condition of godlessness, and to find something to fill the gap left by God's death. It would probably be true to say that the new tablets of the law are still only half written, if they are even that much written (and perhaps postmodernism means accepting, even celebrating that fact), but in the first decades of the twentieth century interpretations of Nietzsche combined with the new science of eugenics to form a potent attempt to formulate a new code of morals. Why this combination came about, how it was articulated, and what were its results, are the subjects of this chapter.

In his book on Nietzsche, for the second edition of which Oscar Levy wrote a glowing preface, George Chatterton-Hill, the Geneva-based sociologist, wrote of Nietzsche's masters and slaves as constituting two separate races. Chatterton-Hill tried hard to clarify this claim:

By this division, Nietzsche does not mean arbitrarily to divide the human species into two anthropological races. His meaning is that, given an infinite number of races, or of 'ethnies', which is the term preferred by the anthroposociological school, those races may, alike from the physical and mental point of view, be roughly divided into a superior and inferior race.

The slaves, Chatterton-Hill believed, were degenerates, while the masters represented an aristocracy, Indeed, the essence of Nietzsche's thought was to be found, according to Chatterton-Hill, in aristocracy: 'aristocracy of sentiment, of taste, of thought. As an aristocrat he glorifies the Over-Man, supreme type of aristocracy; as an aristocrat he has a supreme contempt for the masses ...' [1] With these words, Chatterton-Hill typified early interpretations of Nietzsche. Such interpretations accorded well with widespread theories of social degeneration that arose in the Edwardian period in the face of the rise of organised labour, urbanisation, technologisation, imperial decline and feminism.

But Chatterton-Hill was not just a scholar of Nietzsche. He also wrote about heredity, in particular about the importance of selection in social life. Like many scholars of the time, he believed that the laws of selection in 'organic life' could be transferred to the social realm: 'If we are able to appreciate the omnipotence of Naturzuchtung in the life of organisms,' he wrote, 'we shall be able, also, to appreciate the action of the same Naturzuchtung in the life of societies.' Understanding these laws, Chatterton-Hill went on to show, meant discouraging hybridity between the races, since it 'usually brings indubitable racial degeneracy in its train'. Most importantly, these laws, since they were those of nature, taught one to be sanguine in the face of the disappearance of 'inferior' races: 'it is not only non-human species which become the victims of elimination through human agency; the lower races of mankind give way before the evolution of the superior races'. Savages, he noted in a spirit of fairness, were not biologically degenerate, they were simply unable to compete with the achievements of more civilised peoples. There was nothing to be done about this natural outcome of social (as opposed to physical) evolution, and so one had had to accept that 'The more progressive white races fatally exterminate the less progressive black races, whose lands they till and render fertile, thereby destroying the conditions under which alone these hunting or pastoral peoples can exist.' The lesson to be learned from these investigations was that 'it is always conflict that decides the fates of races, as of individuals' and that 'selection is uninterruptedly active in eliminating all the waste products of organic activity'. [2] This view sat easily with Chatterton-Hill's understanding of Nietzsche, simply transferring (a certain reading of) the theory of the Ubermensch from the national sphere to the international, or the empire.

Scholars have noted before the connection between eugenics and the teachings of Nietzsche. I am not concerned with the long-standing, heated debate about whether or not Nietzsche was a forerunner of Nazi racial politics, [3] but with the links that existed between interpretations of Nietzsche and the eugenics movement in Britain in the early years of the twentieth century. These links have been noted, but never studied in detail. In the first two chapters of this book, I have shown them in the Nietzsche movement's major figures of Oscar Levy and Anthony M. Ludovici; in this chapter, I will paint a broader picture. Since Robert Bannister included a chapter on 'The Nietzsche Vogue' among American social Darwinists in his book. of 1979, there have been no systematic studies of the interaction between Nietzschean thought and eugenics, even though this relationship is obvious, in terms of influence and personnel, and revealing of cultural currents in the early twentieth century. Bannister claims that most Darwinists dissociated themselves from Nietzsche, whom they considered too extreme. [4] This is so, for the examples he chooses; but there are many others, especially ,among the eugenics movement, where the connection is not only admitted, but celebrated (again, whether or not this is a correct reading of Nietzsche is not my main concern). This difference was probably a consequence of the eugenicists' diagnosis of an unchanging, genetic threat to society, whereas the degeneration theorists believed that environmental reform could alleviate the problem. [5]

For example, Pauline Mazumdar, in a book about the Eugenics Society in Britain, points cut the similarities between Nietzsche's philosophy and the theories of eugenics that were often detected by British commentators. Beginning with a reference by R. A. Fisher to Zarathustra in a talk delivered to the Cambridge Society on 12 October 1913, Mazumdar goes on to note the interest of people such as Havelock Ellis, Maximilian Mugge and George Chatterton-Hill in both strands of thought. She also notes that the Eugenics Society's official line on Nietzsche, if such can be said to exist, was one of caution. [6]

Nietzsche himself scorned Darwinism, but still must have been aware of the Darwinian construction that could easily be placed on his philosophy, especially the idea of the superman, with its accompanying vocabulary of aristocracies, hardness and exuberant violence. Indeed, this was the. inflection that Nietzsche's writings were given by his early exegetes, Just as today interpreters find in Nietzsche the beginnings of theories of pluralism, liberalism, feminism, cyborg theory or postmodern identities, so the theorists of the start of the twentieth century saw in Nietzsche the greatest expositor of the concerns of the day. In Britain these concerns were largely responses to new social and political developments: increasing urbanisation, working-class organisation, feminism, the loss of world economic superiority and the desire to maintain the empire; in general, the threat to old governing elites. To a certain constituency, Nietzsche seemed to offer both an explanation for the emergence of this threat, and a remedy. Eugenics, grounded as it was in scientific research, appeared to confirm empirically what Nietzsche had grasped philosophically.


Having asserted the existence of connections between the Nietzsche and eugenics movements, the best way to examine it is through considering what the exponents of these two movements actually said. I will begin with the Nietzscheans, since the fact that they appealed to eugenics is perhaps less surprising than that many eugenicists also appealed to Nietzschean-sounding ideas, even if not always explicitly to Nietzsche by name. The distinction in this chapter, it should be noted, between Nietzscheans and eugenicists is somewhat arbitrary, as is not surprising given that I am seeking to establish their profound interconnection. Indeed, in several cases, for example those of Maximilian Mugge and Havelock Ellis, it is not possible to place them more squarely in one camp than the other. Nevertheless, on the basis of their writings' main themes, I have endeavoured to divide them up in a way which is not too unjust.

The first thing that needs to be noted when thinking about the Nietzscheans is that, although Nietzscheanism was an avant-garde movement in the first decade or so of the twentieth century, its exponents were by no means intellectual or social outcasts. Indeed, support for Nietzsche was something of a social glue in 'progressive' intellectual circles. It held together, for example, the friendship of Ludovici and Levy longer than this might otherwise have endured; and it lent credibility to an emerging modernism which perceived itself to be fighting against an entrenched decadence in the artistic and literary world. Nietzschean concepts and terms would be bandied around by George Bernard Shaw and W.B. Yeats, T.E. Hulme and Wyndham Lewis, as if the mere invocation of them was sufficient to send the Georgians and the pastoralists running.

There were many more Nietzscheans than just the formidable duo of Levy and Ludovici, however, even if few clung so tenaciously to Nietzsche as did these two. Chatterton-Hill has already been cited. And while few were so obviously connected to eugenics as Ludovici, a friend of C. P. Blacker, the first postwar Honorary Secretary of the Eugenics Society [7] and an exponent of extreme forms of negative eugenics and prenatal selection, many readily employed a vocabulary familiar to those with eugenicist concerns.

Take, for example, the case of Paul Cohn, one of Oscar Levy's proteges, in an article for the New Age in 1913. It is the end of the piece that is interesting, for Cohn suddenly launches from a fairly sober tone into one of those flights of hyperbole that so often characterise early writings on Nietzsche, whether pro or contra:

Only Nietzscheanism can lead us out of this impasse. A sound system of eugenics will prevail, free alike from that false 'humanitarianism' which is more devastating to the race than all the Tartar invasions, and from the false eugenist theories that preserve the wrong persons. Science, instead of bolstering up an outworn ethical system, will be harnessed to the service of the Superman. Thus Nietzsche's true leaders, the men of strong and beautiful bodies, wills and intellects, will be developed. [8]

Much early work on Nietzsche saw him in this social Darwinist-eugenicist light, in which the laws of biology could be applied to social, cultural and psychological life. More importantly, most interpreters looked on this scientific determinism not as a ,way of benefiting everybody but as a way of redefining or even realising afresh sp1i:ial hierarchies. Eugenics was 'progressive' in the sense that it challenged established orthodoxies -- the possibility of environmental reform, for example -- but reactionary in that it was primarily employed to justify class and race prejudices, in which in the struggle for existence it was genetically predetermined who was going to come off best. Of course, there was in such thinking a paradox: if the 'best' were hereditarily determined, why was there such fear of social pathology, that is, of degeneration? Here the argument about 'civilisation' and 'humanitarianism', which had supposedly distorted the 'natural' order of things, came into play. Its introduction did not, however, deal with the claim that psychological life -- and hence moral life -- was also subject to biological laws. If this were indeed the case, from where did the humanitarian sentiment come? The argument was circular: the weak were so successful because their effete ethic had become influential. The implausibility of this position notwithstanding, most cultural critics, certainly most Nietzschean critics, asserted it openly. In terms of the sociology of knowledge, here is a fine case study of the way in which normative or popular prejudice informs science.

A good example is that of Thomas Common (1850-1919). Common was one of the first people in Britain to write on Nietzsche, abandoning his earlier intention to enter the church in order to do so. He arranged with Henry and Co. of London to publish an English edition of Nietzsche's major works, under the editorship of Alexander Tille, two volumes of which appeared in 1896 before the publishing house went bankrupt. He also published (sporadically) the Nietzschean journal Notes for Good Europeans (1903-1916), as well as, in 1901, a selection from Nietzsche's works, and he contributed regularly to the first English Nietzschean journal The Eagle and the Serpent (1898-1903), edited by J. B. Barnhill and Malfew Seklew. [9]

In these writings Common interpreted Nietzsche, ''The New Outlook', in the light of Darwin:

From the standpoint of all Darwinian philosophy of history, we now regard Christianity as an artful device for enabling inferior human beings to maintain themselves in the struggle for existence, a device analogous to, and serving the same purpose as, the ink of the cuttlefish, the venom of the snake, the stench of the skunk, the various forms of mimicry, &c.

Since Christianity was the prop of the weak, a new society would do away with it in favour of the strong:

Not a social democracy, but a social aristocracy -- in the true sense of the term -- in which intelligent and honest 'working men' will have their positions elevated, while unworthy characters may be degraded perhaps to the level of serfs or slaves, will be evolved in future, if the better class of men are wise enough to take advantage of their superiority, and thus maintain the excellency and prevent the degeneracy of the human race. [10]

Common reiterated this position at every opportunity. There was clearly a sense, detectable simply in the stridency of the tone, that connecting Darwin and Nietzsche was the height of avant-garde sophistication. The mention of the two names in one breath was enough to signal that one had overcome the cloying bourgeois sentiments of the age and had acquired the tools with which to build something new: 'The theory of evolution points the way to the very opposite of democracy, to an aristocracy in the true sense, if the human race is to progress and be at its best ... It must, however, be a social aristocracy, not an individualistic aristocracy, as Professor Karl Pearson has pointed out in his "Ethic of Freethought".' [11]

Appealing to Karl Pearson indicates the extent to which Common was willing to throw in his lot with the eugenicists. This attitude he summed up thus: 'It is not inappropriate to say that if Darwin be regarded as the Copernicus of moral and social science, Nietzsche is the Newton thereof.' Nietzsche, Common believed, had explained the laws by which morals evolved, just as Darwin had explained the laws of biological evolution (even though he could not explain the mechanism by which the process operated). [12]

Common shared this interpretation with Alexander Tille (1866-1912), the editor of the Nietzsche translations that were originally intended to extend to Nietzsche's complete works. Tille had lectured on Nietzsche at the Glasgow Goethe Society in 1894, and subsequently as a lecturer in German at Glasgow University in 1899. In his book Urn Darwin his Nietzsche (1895) and his introductions to the two published volumes of the works, Tille developed the argument that Nietzsche's thought represented a progression of Darwin's. Until he was forced to resign his lectureship at Glasgow on account of being openly pro-Boer, Tille was probably the leading light of the British Nietzsche movement, a movement which before the arrival of Levy was based (despite the title of Thatcher's book) mainly in Scotland. [13]

Tille saw Nietzsche as an 'evolutionary ethical utilitarian'. Indeed, he believed, talking of Thus Spake Zarathustra, that 'With this book of Nietzsche's, Darwin's great and dominant theory of evolution is for the first time related clearly and unclouded by reigning ethical notions to contemporary mankind and to the future development of mankind.' [14] Baldly stated, Nietzsche confirmed what Darwin's theory of evolution implied: that men are not all born equal (p. 21). As a consequence, socialist and humanist theories based on the opposite, Rousseauesque assumption that all men are born equal must be overthrown in favour of one that will secure the future of the race by following the laws of evolution, in which the healthy and strong promote an upwards development, and the ill and weak disappear (pp. 22; 235). Socialist leaders such as August Bebel who try to base their utopian ideals on readings of Darwin are misguided, for they have failed to see that Darwinism is an aristocratic principle: 'it is based on the "selection of the best'" (p. 164), the Ubermensch, 'that born hero, who through his physiological aptitude stands beyond good and evil, and knows only the difference between good and bad' (p. 220). According to Tille, Nietzsche understands perfectly well 'how a species [Art] in the Darwinian sense emerges, and on this knowledge he bases his theory of the breeding of an aristocratic race' (p. 221).

This book, one of the clearest statements of the linkage between Darwin and Nietzsche, was never translated, and hence presumably had few readers in Britain (although in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where a number of the early Nietzscheans were based, there was a significant German expatriate community, and people interested in the latest in German culture). Tille reiterated his claims in the introductions to the two volumes of the works that appeared in 1896, Thus Spake Zarathustra (which he published in the face of advice that it would be better read after Nietzsche's early works) and The Case of Wagner.

In the former, Tille stressed the debt Nietzsche owed to Darwin. But he accredited his importance to the fact that Nietzsche put Darwin's scientific theory on an ethical footing: 'it is Nietzsche's undeniable merit to have led this new moral ideal to a complete victory'. [15] In the latter Tille devoted more space to explicating the importance of Darwin, especially in the light of neo-Lamarckian heresies being spread abroad by those unable to accept Darwin's teaching of the selection of the fit. Once, Tille argues, one recognises that 'a severe struggle for existence rages everywhere, and that all higher development is due to the effects of that struggle', one must accept that man's moral judgement is not the measure of the universe; rather nature and its laws govern, or should govern, man: 'Why should we not look at him as a being above all physiological, and measure first of all the value of his art, civilisation, and religion by their effect upon his species, by the standard of physiology?' An all-pervasive sense of physiology is what, Tille claims, characterises the four works of Nietzsche in volume XI. [16]

Tille and Common, as the progenitors of British Nietzschean thought, set the tone for others to follow. And follow they did, to the extent that linking Nietzsche with Darwin became such a stock trope of early Nietzsche studies that anyone who cavilled at the linkage was considered somewhat controversial.

One vociferous member of the Nietzsche movement, a close associate of Levy and Ludovici, was J. M. Kennedy, the orientalist scholar. In his book The Quintessence of Nietzsche (1909), Kennedy employed all the language of social Darwinism in order to explicate Nietzsche as a 'philosopher of intellectual and physical aristocracy'. [17] Nietzsche, Kennedy explained, believed in the need for an aristocratic 'caste' or 'race' (p. 64), and was therefore the most valuable thinker in the major battle of the age: the fight against degeneracy.

What were the roots of this degeneracy? Kennedy is not entirely clear on this, but he is sure about how it was encouraged. Like Levy and Ludovici (and Nietzsche), he blames the spread of Christianity: 'Christianity denies life ... As the crowd of slavish degenerates greatly outnumbered the aristocratic few, it is not: to be wondered at that the new faith spread like a prairie fire' (p. 65). The bulk of Kennedy's book is then devoted to defending this 'new manly ideal' (p. 317) of aristocratic scorn for the weak in mind and body.

Strikingly, this proposed aristocracy is not to arise solely on its own merits, but on the basis of the elimination of those who stand in its way. Indeed, the sine qua non of Kennedy's aristocracy is the oppression of just about everyone else:

The essential thing in a good and healthy aristocracy is that it should not regard itself as a function either of the kingship or the commonwealth, but as the significance and highest justification thereof -- that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, for its sake, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. (p. 325)

And he goes on to advocate, for the remainder, a life of drudgery in the service of their masters:

Instead of the lowest classes in society receiving wages and keeping up their pseudo-independence, they must be trained to submit themselves as property. They will certainly be no worse off than slaves were in ancient communities; and in most cases they will be better off than they now are. (p. 347)

It would of course have been possible for Kennedy to advocate such views, which were, after all, only an extreme version of the ideas of the conservative revivalism of the period, and leave it at that. Indeed, this is what he did in a later book on Tory Democracy (1911), though even here not without appealing to Nietzsche's demolition of romanticism and his philosophical justification for an aristocratic revivalism based on the laws of race. [18] But in 1909 he sought to bolster his views by giving them a grounding in science. In particular he appealed to a concept of uneven evolution which linked his Nietzschean views with those of Darwin:

A close study of our biological evolution from the ape to man furnishes the best refutation of the ridiculous claims put forward by Democrats and Socialists. It would be childish to think that we had all evolved equally, that no man had ever advanced a step in front of his neighbour. On this point the very evidence of our own senses would satisfy anyone but the most rabid demagogue: men are not equal; equal rights are an absurdity. (p. 347)

Many thinkers, and not just in Britain, deduced human inequality from the writings of Nietzsche and Darwin. In Germany one of the main exponents of this viewpoint was the social anthropologist Otto Ammon, whose books on natural selection were written with the expressed aim of refuting the claims of German Social Democrats. [19] Whether Nietzsche and Darwin were saying the same thing was rarely the subject of inquiry, just as whether what they were saying really justified a hierarchical vision of society rarely came up for discussion. Rather, since their interpreters began with a vision of such a society, they did not spend much time on probing beneath the surface of either Darwin's or Nietzsche's writings to check if they really were advocates of slavery and rigid social stratification or not.

The attack on Christianity was part of this general vision of an organic, hierarchical society. The proponents of such a society, of course, never considered that they might be any other than part of the aristocracy, even if they included a few modest claims about their unworthiness in the face of the Ubermensch. A case in point is that of the French philosopher Henri Lichtenberger. I include him in this study because his book on Nietzsche, originally published in French in 1898, was, in J. M. Kennedy's English translation, quite influential, largely thanks to the high esteem in which it was held by Havelock Ellis and Charles Sarolea. [20]

Lichtenberger repeats almost word for word the mantra of anti-Christianity: 'the religion of pity, like Christianity, for example, tends to protect the existence of degenerates . . . The religion of pity carries with it the extreme, evil consequence of prolonging a number of useless lives which are really condemned by the law of selection.' [21] The appeal to 'the law of selection' makes Lichtenberger's position instantly recognisable. Darwin is again brought into the service of a Nietzschean cause; a vulgar notion of genetics is appealed to as supporting evidence for a rather clumsy reading of Nietzsche:

There are unfortunates whom it is inhuman to relieve. There are degenerates whose death should not be delayed ... The earth must not be a lazar-house inhabited by the sick and discouraged, or else the healthy man will perish from disgust and pity. To spare future generations the depressing sight of misery and ugliness, let us kill all those who are ripe for death, let us have the courage not to retain those among us who are falling, but let us push them so that they may fall even more quickly. (pp. 178-79)

We have become accustomed to associating such statements with the history of Nazism. But Nazism was a part of a longer history of ideas, a history which embraced a great variety of thinkers from the beginning of the nineteenth century. This is not to say that people such as Lichtenberger can be considered to be Nazis; rather, it means that Nazism did not come from nowhere, that the potential for violence exists across Europe -- not just in Germany -- and that dreams of purification, cleansing, health and the aesthetic modelling of human beings are common and old ones. [22]

Lichtenberger was clearly not alone in his view that a social theory could be derived from a conflation of Nietzsche and Darwin. Another typically vociferous proponent of such a combination was Ferdinand Schiller, the Oxford philosopher, who penned a number of studies on eugenics. On the question of the reception of the Nietzschean idea of strength, for example, Schiller explicitly recommended that 'we should here correct Nietzsche by a wider, more scientific and Darwinian notion of "strength"'. What this means becomes immediately apparent when Schiller turns to the problem of decadence, and how civilisation itself is sapping the strength of the healthy. Schiller argues that Nietzsche

sometimes tries to show that the moral qualities he dislikes -- humanity, pity, sympathy, etc. -- are not truly the sources of social strength they are taken to be, or that they have been fostered to a pitch that renders them biologically dangerous. They may in short be phenomena of 'decadence', the extensive existence of which throughout civilisation Nietzsche boldly proclaims.

As a result, Schiller advises finding a scientific basis for the theories of Nietzsche; this he locates in eugenics:

... eugenics is becoming a subject of sober scientific research, and we already know a good deal more than we are putting into practice ... We also know that Nietzsche's preference for an aristocracy is biologically justified, because progress everywhere depends on the few who are capable of creating novelties ... men are unequal in all sorts of ways and ... to try to reduce their abilities to the same level may be fatal to the human race. [23]

Many thinkers therefore saw the theories of evolution and the survival of the fittest, as understood by the eugenicists, as significant not on their own, but in combination with the philosophy of Nietzsche. Even those who appealed to Nietzsche not as proponents of a new aristocracy but purely on anti-religious grounds employed a 'hard' Darwinian language to back up their claims. For example, at a talk to the Birmingham Rationalist Association in November 1909, one Arthur Knapp gave a talk about Nietzsche which aimed to show how the 'fiery philosopher' had applied the principles of evolution to morals. Knapp argued, in order to justify his attack on Christianity, that Nietzsche had shown how that religion was contrary to moral evolution:

Given an earth and living creatures, those individuals or species who have no desire for life will probably die off. Given the desire for life, then, as soon as men gather together in tribes, those actions which make for the preservation of the tribe will be good, and those which tend to destroy it will be bad. So far so good; but neither Spencer, nor Darwin, nor Huxley, explained whence Christian ethics came, for precisely those men who would be bad for the tribe (the poor in spirit, sickly and impotent) Christianity calls good. It remained for Nietzsche to explain Christianity in accordance with the Darwinian theory. [24]

Nevertheless, some thinkers disputed the claims made by the Nietzscheans that eugenics supported their position. They did so, however, not because they disagreed with the congruence of the two strands of thought, but because they thought that eugenics predated Nietzsche, that is, they wanted only to reverse the story of the ideas' provenance. The best example of this claim occurs in the writings of Maximilian Mugge, one of the thinkers whose interests very clearly embraced both Nietzsche's philosophy and eugenics. In the first volume of the Eugenics Review (1909), the organ of the newly founded Eugenics Education Society, Mugge published a paper on the idea of the superman as it related to eugenics, and in the same year he authored an influential book on Nietzsche's philosophy. Another followed several years later.

In all three of these publications Mugge came out strongly in favour of Nietzsche. He sought, however, to set the record straight on the relative novelty of eugenics by pointing out that Galton began publishing his research on heredity in 1865, long before Nietzsche's star began to shine.

In the preface to the second edition of his first book, Mugge thanked Galton, 'the great founder of the science of Eugenics'. He noted that it was his 'duty to point out that the term "precursor" applied to Nietzsche with respect to Galton in the first edition is untenable' and cited a passage from Galton's Memories of My Life to show why. [25] This ascription of originality, if not influence, is worth bearing in mind when one considers Mugge's comments on Nietzsche, which dearly place him in a post-Darwinian framework. Indeed, Mugge sees the possibility of improving on Nietzsche's ideas by applying to them the lessons of eugenics:

The higher-men must work towards the Superman, who will be a hero and a genius, uniting in himself all the partial excellences of former heroes -- he will be a strong and perfect man, both in body and soul. With this conception Nietzsche may be considered as an ally of Galton, his Superman is a poetic dream of the latter's Eugenics. (pp. 5-6)

This claim does not mean, though, that Nietzsche and Darwin are synonymous: 'To call Nietzsche a Darwinian moralist is an approximate classification only. On the other hand, it is foolish to say, as some Nietzscheans do, that he was not under the sway of Darwin's doctrines. He himself underestimated the influence of Darwin upon him ...' (p. 301). This claim -- that Nietzsche was influenced by Darwin more than he knew -- is what allows Mugge to bring the two thinkers together. First, he appeals to biology, which 'will plant a protective hedge of laws against all that is weakening mankind' (p. 305). Then he shows how recent developments in biology unite Nietzsche with Darwin, through the discoveries of his nephew, Galton:

The great contemporary of Nietzsche with his theory of the Superman is Francis Galton with his Eugenics. He defines it as the science which deals with those social agencies that influence, mentally or physically, the racial qualities of future generations ... In Galton's Eugenics, founded upon the idea of evolution, and the assumption that the human will is in some small measure capable of guiding the course of evolution, we see a scientific realisation of Nietzsche's dreams. Health, energy, ability, manliness and courteous disposition -- some of the qualities Galton requires -- are the best stepping-stones, if not towards the Superman, at any rate towards a Superior race. (p. 365)

In other words, while Nietzsche's goal of the superman was laudable, Galton's work forced a reassessment of it: 'Nietzsche overestimated the force of heredity ... Now though Galton's Law has some inconsistencies through its neglect of social evolution, it still proves the impossibility of methodically breeding the Superman' (p. 367). Even so, what Mugge did here was make the idea of race-breeding sound more respectable by using Galton -- the sober man of science -- as a way of tempering Nietzsche, thus actually lending his ideas more credibility. What Nietzsche and Darwin ultimately had in common, then, as eugenics revealed, was a shared emphasis on the value and desirability of conscious selection in breeding:

Nietzsche has shown us the way in his condemnation of the weak. Heredity will not bring about the Superman, nor retard the 'downward' path, but Selection may do so .... Selection is the only thing we can somehow control, since we do not know the secret ways followed by Nature when transferring qualities. (p. 369)

The issue of consciousness in selection was in fact the thing that Nietzsche believed differentiated his idea of evolution from Darwin's. Nietzsche thought that the ideas of 'natural selection' and the 'survival of the fittest' were too random to be relied on, if one was interested in human progress. For otherwise 'the fittest' could easily be the herd, whose safety in numbers secures their propagation. In fact, Mugge was perspicacious in recognising so early on in the history of Darwinism that Nietzsche's ideas are actually closer to Darwin's than he (Nietzsche) thought, and that the Darwin that Nietzsche attacked was more a popularly received Darwin than the ideas of Darwin himself. Mugge's view, that Nietzsche and Darwin were actually rather close, is one that has been recently confirmed. [26]

Other thinkers were less certain as to the nature of the Superman, and devoted their efforts to this question. One such was A.R. Orage, editor of the New Age, a man with interests ranging from guild socialism to Nietzscheanism to mysticism (and who eventually abandoned his British links to become a follower of Gourdieff and Ouspensky). In the Edwardian years he became one of the leading authorities on Nietzsche, not only because he gave Levy and Ludovici platforms from which to air their views in his journal (to the chagrin of his socialist friends and their conservative ones), but because he published two small but influential books on Nietzsche himself.

As Orage expressed it in his book Friedrich Nietzsche: The Dionysian Spirit of the Age (1906), 'the problem is, in Nietzsche's words, to determine what type of man we are to cultivate, to will, as the more valuable, the more worthy of life, and certain of the future, here upon the earth'. [27] This question was potentially such a difficult one for the simple reason that 'evolution is by no means identical with progress. Thus the Superman, if he is to appear at all, must be willed -- in plain English, must be bred' (pp. 69-70). Once the idea of consciously breeding a race of supermen has been conceived, therefore, the problems set in. Who is to determine what sort of man should be bred? And who is to determine whether the characteristics of the superman chosen by his breeders are really the correct ones? Who, in other words, will guard the guardians?

Having raised the question of the control of conscious breeding, a question which is again of relevance today in the context of genetic engineering, Orage actually solved it rather rapidly. He was in no doubt that it would be easy to find among the living examples of especially creative and gifted people who could be trusted with the progress of humankind:

Individually and in a few cases it may be true that noble minds accompany diseased bodies, but the rule is obviously the reverse. Were it not so, the whole of our hygiene, education, even our reason itself, must prove pure delusion. (p. 76)

In a later book, Nietszche in Outline and Aphorism (1907), Orage expanded on this view:

... only peculiarly endowed peoples and individuals are capable of creating, that is, lending to things new and high values. The mass of people accept valuations already created by the few. It is the few alone who give new significance to things. [28]

Orage, for all his interest in socialism, had no difficulty in proclaiming the need for an 'aristocratic caste' (p. 165) which would be responsible for the development of the superman, and in whose hands power, 'The one element that determines value' (p. 166), would be invested. Like William Inge, Dean of St. Paul's, and leading luminary of the Eugenics Society, Orage believed that Nietzsche 'had in mind the eugenic man who was to lead the world'. [29]

That such a view was widely accepted can be seen in the fact that even Havelock Ellis, held to be one of the most progressive thinkers of the period, and a promoter of the 'new science of sexology, was in agreement. In one of the earliest, and finest, essays on Nietzsche, Ellis took on the champions of the theory of the 'master-morality', claiming that although this was the one idea to which most Nietzsche-proponents inevitably gravitated, it was not the most representative of Nietzsche's thought, but an expression of Nietzsche's 'third period', the 'period of uncontrolled aberrations'. [30] Nevertheless, Ellis, himself one of the most celebrated of all the eugenicists, sympathised with the position that the philosophy of the 'master-morality' tied in with the new science of race and eugenics:

Nietzsche ingeniously connected his slave-morality with the accepted fact that for many centuries the large, fair-haired aristocratic race has been dying out in Europe, and the older down-trodden race -- short, dark, and broad-headed -- has been slowly gaining predominance ... The day has now come for the man who is able to rule himself, and who will be tolerant to others not out of his weakness, but out of his strength; to him nothing is forbidden, for he has passed beyond goodness and beyond wickedness. (p. 67)

Although in this essay Ellis claimed that statements such as these were merely explications without comment of Nietzsche's ideas (p. 67), his writings elsewhere make it plain that, while he was too liberal a thinker to make the same appeals to enslavement or aristocracy of a Mugge or a Kennedy, he too basically felt that the most pressing concern of the day was the necessity of race-regeneration. As he put it, 'The higher task is now ours of the regeneration of the race, or, if we wish to express that betterment less questionably, the aggeneration of the race.' [31] In this light, Ellis's interest in Nietzsche must be seen as more than a coincidence.

Ellis vociferously attacked those who advocated the so-called 'catastrophic theory of nature' in which violence, revolution and war are held as natural, even necessary; [32] Ludovici, though Ellis does not name him, is, with his Violence, Sacrifice and War (1933) an archetypal representative of this theory. But Ellis did hold many views which accorded well with the Nietzschean eugenicists. On Christianity, for example, Ellis saw no need to hold his fire, in his essay 'The Control of Population':

It is one of the unfortunate results of Christianity among us to-day -- amid other results more fortunate -- that we were led to reject infanticide, and that we still feel compelled to our own pain and trouble, to the injury of the race, and to the misery of the victims of our supposed 'humanitarianism,' to keep alive even the most hopelessly maimed and defective of new-born infants. We know in the back of our minds that we do it out of a quaint superstition. So timid a race have we grown, so meekly crushed by the dead hands of a tradition that for us has ceased to have any meaning, that our 'humanitarianism' is now a ghastly spectre! We suffer the fate we deserve. [33]

Ellis may have tried to find a middle-way eugenics between Christianity and the violence of a Ludovici -- 'I have faith that some day, in whatever poignant shape, the truth will come to Man that life is an art, and that in art there is no place either for violence or for sentimentality' (p. 170) -- but the image of him that still prevails as a progressive libertarian would certainly benefit from careful questioning.

In the same volume of essays from which 'The Control of Population' comes, Ellis ended with a chapter entitled 'Eugenics and the Future'. In this piece, Ellis argued that 'We must never imagine that eugenics alone can cure the ills of humanity' (p. 180). Furthermore, he went on firmly to dissociate eugenics from any sort of racism:

Even apart from the important fact that there is probably not a single person of really pure race to be found anywhere, the eugenist, as such, is not concerned to decide which is the best race, nor even to assume that any race is better, taken all round, than any other race. The eugenist, whether the dark-skinned eugenist or the white-skinned, is not called upon to make any decision in the matter. He is simply called upon to improve the stock of the race within which he belongs. (pp. 191-92)

Yet Ellis continued to accept that within Europe there were three main races, the Mediterranean, the Nordic and the Baltic, as well as the Alpine race as 'a wedge driven in between these two from the East' (p. 193). And he believed that the task of eugenics was a negative one of eliminating bad stocks through sterilisation (pp. 178, 181). This belief, coupled with his assertion that 'Eugenics, properly understood, has nothing whatever to do with these [racial) squabbles. It accepts the race of a human stock, or its blend of races; it desires that the stock shall produce the finest results of which it may be capable' (p. 196), means that Ellis, combining a certain libertarian streak with a resistance to racism and a desire to improve the human race, may have been closer to the views of Nietzsche than were the more obviously 'Nietzschean' eugenicists who called for the production of 'supermen'.


This discussion of Ellis has taken us from the camp of the Nietzscheans into that of the eugenicists. Not all of the thinkers whom I examine in this section were explicitly interested in Nietzsche; nevertheless, many of their ideas share a certain ideational space with the Nietzscheans. This space, I contend, went beyond the mere coincidence of concepts with the same name ('superman', 'aristocracy', 'breeding', 'taste') but was part of a wider re-evaluation of society's fundamentals. Of course, there were some thinkers with feet in both camps. As well as Nietzscheans who shared a vocabulary of selection and struggle with eugenicists, and eugenicists who borrowed Nietzschean concepts such as superman, there were a number of writers who combined both approaches, of whom the most obvious and best-known are George Bernard Shaw and Havelock Ellis. Ellis, as we have seen, was responsible for one of the very first pieces of writing on Nietzsche in English (1898), and certainly one of the most influential (though it was overshadowed by the appearance in translation in 1895 of Max Nordau's Degeneration, a book that turned many readers against Nietzsche). As I have also noted above, Ellis is better known as an advocate of eugenics and as one of the pioneers of British sexology. His interest in the two areas of study is no coincidence.

By contrast with Ellis, Shaw was the exception to the Darwin-Nietzsche nexus. According to Thatcher, 'Shaw saw in Nietzsche an opponent and not an ally of Darwinism.' [34] Shaw's objection to Darwin was that his 'natural selection' was too automatic a process, in which almost everything was to be left to chance. Hence the situation could arise where the 'fittest' would not necessarily be those one wanted to survive on grounds of beauty, morality or other valued characteristics. That did not mean, however, that Shaw was therefore anti-Nietzsche. Man and Superman paints a thoroughly Nietzschean picture of the need for conscious selection in breeding in order to produce the superman, although in Shaw this was with the aim of accelerating the onset of socialism, whereas in Nietzsche it was with the aim of overcoming European nihilism, of which socialism was an important expression. On account of Shaw's socialism, Levy, Ludovici and their circle rejected his Nietzscheanism tout court, seeing Shaw's superman as a laughably emasculated beast. [35] Even so, Shaw's attitude to Darwin was to a large extent shared by Ludovici, [36] and both men held outspoken views on the need for stringent eugenic measures, even if, in Shaw's case at least, these views were delivered with somewhat mischievous intentions.

But Shaw and Ellis were only the tip of a Nietzschean iceberg in the world of eugenics. Irrespective of different writers' attitudes towards Darwinism, there was no lack of readiness to set up connections between Nietzsche and eugenics. Shaw's objection to Darwin, that is, the essential randomness of 'selection' if left to 'nature', was shared by many eugenicists, whose interest in selection they would admit owed much to the discoveries of Darwin, though his work, they averred, they were now busily bettering. And Nietzsche was one of the means of going beyond Darwin, along with a host of more strictly 'scientific' means (statistical methods, developments in genetics, and so on).

An excellent example of this link is to be found in the early days of the Eugenics Review, in a short discussion piece submitted to the journal by one Claude Mullins. It is worth quoting at length as a general illustration of the appeal of Nietzsche to eugenicists, as well as an indication of the extent to which eugenicists were ready to let Nietzsche's teachings overthrow the ones with which they had grown up, in particular Christian ones:

The charge is often brought against Eugenists that their principles are in opposition to the teachings of Christianity. And I think it must be admitted that consistent Eugenists must find themselves out of sympathy with much of the work that is to-day carried on in the name of the Christian religion. They must quarrel with many of those whose lives are devoted to carrying into practice what is dictated to them by their conception of Christian duty. Much of modern religious and social work is unconsciously increasing the gravity of the problems with which future generations will have to deal. Short-sighted charity, state and private, is doing great harm in so far as it encourages the reproduction of the unfit, and there are many who believe that the exhortation 'Be fruitful and multiply' must in a Christian country be held to apply to all sorts and conditions of men, regardless of economic or Eugenic stability. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, to find many Eugenists dissociating themselves from this code of public morals which they believe to be inspired by the Christian religion. Consciously or unconsciously they are forced to the position of Nietzsche, to whom Christianity seemed as a glorification and encouragement of the unfit among the human kind ... The ideal set by Nietzsche was beyond doubt a Eugenic ideal.
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:42 pm


Thus far, no surprises. The Nietzsche-eugenics alliance seems well established. Mullins argues that the alliance is in fact already well known and popularly subscribed to among eugenicists. But he then attempts to rescue Christianity for eugenics. He carries out what might be seen as a peculiarly English operation on eugenics, domesticating it in trying to make its message compatible with the more comfortable beliefs of the middle classes. And even if a form of Christianity can exist which is compatible with eugenics, there is no doubt that Mullins's eugenics is far from the teachings of Nietzsche:

There are many who, with Nietzsche believe that the greatest task of the present generation is to build up a better generation for the future; must all these, too, set themselves in opposition to Christianity? It is necessary for a Christian nation to care for the poor, to feed the hungry and to tend the sick; but does this necessarily mean that we must follow and adopt the Slave Morality? Under present conditions I submit that we are doing so, and the result, if we continue on our present path, must be what Nietzsche predicted, the ultimate triumph of degeneracy, which, of course, means national and racial decay and the victory of a more virile civilisation. But does not the science of Eugenics teach us how we can retain what is noble and valuable in the Slave Morality and at the same time retain the ideals of the Master Morality? As Christians we cannot return to the practice of killing off the weak and allowing the poor and the diseased to die; we cannot return to the barbarous age of Natural Selection. But surely, as Christians, we can insist that the pauper degenerate, for whom we care to-day, shall not be at liberty to increase our burdens of to-morrow. Under the Christian code of morals, as under any other, we are perfectly entitled to look forward and to see that the next generation shall not be burdened by our charity of to-day. As Christians we must be charitable to the living, but we must also have thought for the future.

I submit that there is nothing anti-Christian in the doctrines of Eugenics. Their application will shock many present-day conventions and beliefs, and they will possibly be denounced as opposed to Christian morality; but those who believe in Eugenic reforms can be inspired by the Christian ideal just as much as those who preach and practice modern charity. Eugenics loyally follows what is fundamental and true in the Christian code, though it shakes off many of the mistaken conceptions of Christian duty which are so widespread to-day. At the same time Eugenists incorporate with their practical Christianity much of what is healthy and stimulating in the warnings of Nietzsche. [37]

Here, then, we see a watered-down Nietzscheanism acting as a spur to eugenic policy, but also as a spur to a rethought Christianity. Mullins, unlike Knapp, was unwilling to let go of his Christianity even though he was attracted by Nietzsche's ideas, seeing in them a means of reconciling his belief in caring for 'the poor and the diseased' with his concern that the burden of doing so will sooner or later become too great.

Although this half-hearted Nietzscheanism may have been an easy option for many, there was nevertheless no shortage of eugenicists willing to take on board Nietzsche's message, or at least what they believed to be Nietzsche's message, in its entirety. The message of Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, was less equivocal. According to Pearson, Galton's view of philanthropy was as follows:

seek the family of civic worth, the individuals of eugenic stock and confine your help 'whenever help is really needful' to these alone. Our statesmen 'should regard such families as an eager horticulturalist regards beds of seedlings of some rare variety of plant, but with an enthusiasm of a far nobler and more patriotic kind.' [38]

One such eugenicist not short on noble and patriotic enthusiasm was Maximilian Mugge, whose work, like Ellis's, also spanned the divide between Nietzsche-reception and eugenics. I have already shown how his book on Nietzsche attempted to establish connections between Nietzsche and Darwin, and argued that Nietzsche's true precursor was not Schopenhauer or Emerson, but Galton.

It is striking that in the first volume of the Eugenics Review, Mugge was given space, side by side with Arnold White and Havelock Ellis, to espouse a thoroughly Nietzschean eugenics. In giving Mugge this platform, the Eugenics Education Society was signalling its readiness to allow itself to be seen as an avant-garde, progressive body. Certainly, as many historians have argued, it was comprised of middle-class men and women with middle-class concerns (primarily taxes), but it was hardly a run-of-the-mill middle-class institution when it began permitting its members to advocate anti-Christian, scientistic sentiments.

Even the title of Mugge's paper was provocative: 'Eugenics and the Superman: A Racial Science and a Racial Religion'. Every term in it was shockingly new and challenging to established ways of thought. By appealing to a eugenic religion, Mugge attracted the attention of the aged Galton, and Galton returned the compliments that Mugge had passed to him in his Friedrich Nietzsche; His Life and Work. In a letter to his niece, Galton noted that Mugge's paper 'strikes me as very good', [39] which was hardly surprising given the religious terms in which Galton had sought to couch his eugenic revelations.

What is interesting for our purposes is that Mugge set out to claim Nietzsche for eugenics, indeed to see in Nietzsche's thought the perfect philosophical justification for eugenics. 'One of the lasting merits of the poet-philosopher Nietzsche,' Mugge wrote, 'is the fact that he has founded a Eugenic Religion, a valuable ally of the Eugenic Science.' [40] According to Mugge, it was no coincidence that 'Both Eugenics and the Superman are products of our times, originating at about the same period' (p. 185).

Mugge believed that the idea behind the superman was one that had existed for generations; he invokes many examples ranging from Kamchatka to Wales to ancient Rome, from Theognis, Pluto and Plutarch to Goethe, Whitman and Nietzsche, to prove 'the permanent existence of the racial ideal' (p. 188). It is in Nietzsche, though, that this ideal receives a truly scientific formulation: 'The stage of transition having now come to an end and man having been at last evolved from the animal, the dream of the Superman assumes an incarnation in Nietzsche's Eugenic Religion; the vague essays of marriage customs become now a grand Eugenic Science' (p. 189). It is thanks to Nietzsche that 'The Eugenic Instinct appears now, after its re-incarnation, to be more than a mere instinct. Reason has permeated it; the racial instinct is bound to become a science and a religion, or, if the latter term is to be avoided, an art' (p. 189).

Mugge's staunch identification of Nietzsche and eugenics was perhaps the most explicit to be found. Only Ludovici put forward more strident views on the value of Nietzsche for human breeding, and he did so from outside the confines of the Eugenics Society. A somewhat more sophisticated version of Mugge's ideas was published by the Eugenics Review a few years later, in the context of the war which -- if much British propaganda was to be believed -- Nietzsche was largely responsible for starting. In a paper, 'Eugenics and the Doctrine of the Super-Man', originally delivered as a talk to the Eugenics Society in London on 7 October 1915, Professor Lindsay argued that although there was a certain correlation between the concept of the superman and the goals of eugenicists, it was not as absolute a fit as Mugge thought. Lindsay, like most readers of Nietzsche, thought that Nietzsche held that 'The true morality is the morality of an aristocracy of health and power. Man is to be regenerated by the production of the Uber-Mensch, the Super-Man, the genius -- leader, ruler, thinker, philosopher -- who will command and govern.' [41] But he believed that this morality was not equivalent to that proposed by the eugenicists. On the one hand, then, he noted the apparent similarity: 'It is often affirmed that Nietzsche's philosophy is the fine flower and fruitage, the necessary and legitimate corollary of the doctrine of Evolution, of the principle of Natural Selection' (p. 252). But he then went on to argue that 'this is a profound mistake. The "fittest" must not be confounded with the strongest. Evolution must take account not only of physical, but also of spiritual development' (p. 252). The result of this claim was not, however, to divorce Nietzsche from eugenic thinking as clearly as Lindsay would have liked. He sympathised with Nietzsche's position -- 'The rule of the strong may seem an attractive prospect' -- but felt that it did not sufficiently assure the desired results: 'we have no guarantee that the strong shall also be the wise and the good' (p. 254).

Yet this criticism of Nietzsche was really a criticism of the likes of Mugge, and actually, unbeknown to Lindsay, made Lindsay closer to the views of Nietzsche himself. To the extent that the Superman can be understood as a real being at all, he is most assuredly a superior being on moral as well as physical grounds. Lindsay mayor may not have been correct to say that

It [the Superman] is one of Nietzsche's most fundamental thoughts and its eugenic affinities and implications are obvious. According to this doctrine, the aim of our endeavours, the ultimate justifications of humanity, the new 'wherefore?' is to be found in the development of a superior race, a new and higher type of humanity, physically, intellectually and morally -- a type as far above the man of to-day as he is above the ape. (p. 255)

But Lindsay ultimately objects to Nietzsche's superman, not on the grounds that he sees no moral superiority in him, but on the grounds that the doctrine is not sufficiently backed up with scientific data. The 'most fundamental defect in Nietzsche's philosophy; according to Lindsay, is 'his ignorance of biology a defect which becomes glaring when he deals with racial, eugenic or genetic questions' (p. 256). Hence it is that 'the student of Nietzsche will search his works in vain for any systematic discussion of the Uber-Mensch from the point of view of biology' (p. 256).

In other words, Lindsay was not objecting to eugenics per se, but to the kind of eugenics that -- as Pearson might have said of the Eugenics Society - was not founded on scientific knowledge. Lindsay might well have accepted Nietzsche's superman had he felt that it was scientifically realisable: 'I take it, then, that the doctrine of the Super-Man is not likely to promote the cause of Eugenics. The production of genius, if we limit that term to supreme achievement, is never likely to come within the range of biology' (p. 261).

Lindsay was rather more subtle than many eugenicists, most of whom simply appealed to Nietzsche in order to justify their claims. A typical example is George Pitt-Rivers, whom we have already encountered as the conspiracy theorist friend for one of whose pamphlets Oscar Levy wrote a preface, and to whom Levy later appealed for help in placing his manuscript My Battle for Nietzsche in England with a publisher. Around the time that the two men first met in the offices of the New Age, Pitt-Rivers, a card-carrying member of the Eugenics Education Society, wrote to the Eugenics Review to complain about the 'egalitarian special pleading' of an article by F. A. E. Crew in the previous issue of the journal. This article, 'A Biologist in a New Environment', put forward the thesis that, the Germans having lost the war, the theory of the selection of the fittest was proven false. Furthermore, Crew argued that his experiences in the trenches had taught him that racial and social differences were products more of socialisation and education than genetic inheritance, and that the notion of superior races or classes was a false one. Incensed, Pitt-Rivers referred to his own military service to explain that his own experiences had taught him nothing of the sort. But Pitt-Rivers denounced Crew especially for promoting the belief that Nietzsche and Treitschke were responsible for German militarism and the outbreak of war: 'Everyone acquainted with his [Nietzsche's] works knows that there was no more persistent and biting critic of German policy, and above all German military policy, than Nietzsche.' [42] Without making the connection between them explicit, Pitt-Rivers represented the views of most eugenicists by both defending Nietzsche and holding that moral and physical characteristics are hereditarily determined.

Not all eugenicists would have recognised themselves in this description, for many said nothing explicitly about Nietzsche. Nevertheless, apart from those cited above who did refer to Nietzsche, it appears that the connection also worked on a more unconscious level, or at least on a level of recognition where Nietzschean concepts could be employed without having to name their source. This claim is particularly true for the ideas of aristocracy, scorn for the weak and human inequality.

Now, all of these concepts existed before Nietzsche and, as I showed in Chapters 1 and 2, were widely addressed. The aristocratic revivalism of the Diehard peers, or the National Toryism of a Willoughby de Broke, did not owe their existence to the philosophy of Nietzsche. Even so, when one reads the works of eugenicists at this time, it is striking that the way in which these concepts are employed gives them a Nietzschean 'feel' which is more than coincidental.

Take, for example, an article by George Adath, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, in the Eugenics Review, originally a speech given at the International Eugenics Congress in New York in September 1921. Adath began with the assertion that 'Students of heredity are inevitably eugenists: they are forced by their studies to recognise that men are not equal', and went on:

Whether they join the Eugenics Society or no they are eugenists. And -- though in so saying I may shock my audience -- as eugenists they are, if not themselves aristocrats, believers in an aristocracy. Their desire is that for the good of the race the best shall prevail, that we shall be led and governed by them. [43]

Nowhere in his article does Adath mention Nietzsche, yet the sentiments he expresses are entirely compatible with the views of the Nietzscheans such as Kennedy or Mugge. With this stress on the virtues of an aristocracy, it is hardly surprising that Willoughby de Broke, for example, became ever more interested in eugenics, as his correspondence with Caleb Saleeby reveals. [44] When Adath argued the eugenic commonplaces that 'the social conditions of the present day are such as to favour the preponderance of what are from every point of view the lower classes, the survival of the unfit and the inevitable deterioration of the race' and that 'under modern conditions through the larger families of the unfit the race is deteriorating and not improving', he articulated opinions that were also the premises and starting points of the Nietzscheans.

One more example will suffice to establish the common ground between the eugenicists and the Nietzscheans. Again it is taken from the Eugenics Review, the journal of the Eugenics Society that is usually regarded as the 'mainstream' of the eugenics movement, and as articulating little more than middle-class fears of high taxation. This was indeed the case, but it is not all that the Eugenics Society was. At this period, 'middle-class mainstream' also meant complacently accepting racial hierarchies (see Chapter 4) and articulating visions of social order which could not have been achieved without committing considerable violence. There is something disquieting about the 'respectable' members of the society, most of whom would have been horrified by the slightest whiff of Bolshevik barbarism, sitting in their comfortable lounges discussing the need to eliminate the unfit, without seriously considering the terrible implications of realising such vague visions. At least Shaw, when he scandalised the nation with his talk of the need to use 'lethal chambers' to get rid of a considerable part of the nation (see Chapter 5), though being ironic, was more honest in expressing what the views of the eugenicists actually necessitated than were the cautiously scientific Eugenics Society grandees.

R. Austin Freeman, the novelist and author of Social Decay and Regeneration (1921), published in 1923 an article whose title is unimaginable without an awareness of Nietzsche: 'The Sub-Man'. [45] Nietzsche, however, is not mentioned, and the article presents a strictly sociological analysis of society's losers, comparing them with inferior races abroad and with healthier classes at home. Yet Freeman, after presenting his case, justifies his terminology thus:

as we sometimes apply -- not inappropriately -- the term 'Super-men' to the members of that illustrious minority which furnishes the intellectual motive-force to society, so to these, who are as far below as the others are above the mean, we may properly apply the term 'sub-men'. (pp. 385-86)

Nietzsche would have been horrified to learn that the term 'Super-man' was being applied to any living person in the early years of the twentieth century. But for many eugenicists, dividing the world into supermen and sub-men seemed the most natural thing in the world.


From the very start of Nietzsche's reception most professional philosophers (that is, those in academic positions) rejected Nietzsche. In the United States, where the Nietzsche-reception proceeded slightly faster than in Britain, Nietzsche was condemned for his uncompromising aristocratic vision and for the naivete of his epistemology, even while many philosophers admired the notion of the 'over-man' as compatible with American cultural ideals. [46] Similarly in Britain, the first academic philosophers to lecture on Nietzsche described him as the proponent of exaggerated views barely compatible with the careful world of Anglo-Saxon philosophy. What is interesting about all of these criticisms for our purposes, however, is the fact that the dissenters' understanding of Nietzsche was based on the same Darwinian-eugenicist foundations as Nietzsche's proponents. William Wallace, for example, assuming Nietzsche to be advocating a form of Darwinism, and the idea of the Superman to be a kind of pure race, argued that 'Far from being the aboriginal state of society, purity of race is rather a device of dominant classes to thwart the tendency of evolution in the interests of a special aggregation of social elements.' [47] Wallace, however, despite objecting to Nietzsche's ideas, was at least one of the few academic philosophers in Britain willing to take them seriously, and argued for the need for a satisfactory translation of his works. Others were less charitable, especially when they felt that Nietzsche was outraging their Christianity.

In a more hostile vein, for example, the Edinburgh University Professor of Logic Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison devoted several articles to Nietzsche. Arguing that Nietzsche 'sets up a purely biological standard of judgment', a 'glorification of mere animalism', a 'wild-beast theory of ethics', Pringle-Pattison claimed that 'apart from criticisms in detail, the affinity of Nietzsche's main doctrine to the biological theory of natural selection - if not its lineal descent from it- is not to be denied'. [48] According to Pringle-Pattison's understanding of Nietzsche, this is 'an heroic and aristocratic ideal' in which 'A species is not judged by the number of its specimens, but by the character of its highest types' (p. 304). Although he was thoroughly out of sympathy with these ideas, Pringle-Pattison described them in what sounds like a checklist of Mugge and Ludovici's basic tenets:

Not sacrifice of self, but a lofty acceptance of the sacrifice of others; not humility, but a fixed consciousness of superiority; not compassion for the weak and suffering, but an indifference, as of Nature herself, to the failures in life's struggle: on the other hand, a glorification of power (Macht) in whatever form (be it physical strength and beauty, swift intelligence, or inflexible will), aristocratic hauteur, distinction of manners, an Olympian freedom from prejudice amounting to an absence of all belief whatsoever, these are the chief characteristics of 'the distinguished Ego'. (p. 306)

With the exception of the last claim, regarding the absence of all belief, the Nietzscheans would not have demurred. And Pringle-Pattison, though horrified, at least had to admire Nietzsche's consistency in not flinching from the ultimate consequences of 'translating man back into nature' (p. 317).

Pringle-Pattison's analysis, perhaps because it did share so much common ground with the Nietzscheans, elicited a sharp response from them. In his reply, Thomas Common sought to portray Pringle-Pattison as the defender of an outmoded ethos, much as early opponents of Darwin were already portrayed, as one who 'seems bent on bolstering up at all costs the superficial modes of thought prevalent among the comfortable and fashionable class of Christians ... the champion of the Philistine class'. [49] In other words, Pringle-Pattison is defending his own position in society, and the make-up of that society itself. Common subjected these articles to a pugnacious critique, ranging from Pringle-Pattison's general misconceptions about Nietzsche's ideas to the more careless minor errors. The vigour of the response, however, suggests something of a defensive tone, as though Common actually felt that he had been partially unmasked. This is especially so when he turns to the major question of human development:

Professor Seth, in his questionable uprightness, avoids stating plainly the end which Nietzsche has in view, when he protests against modern-day morality and civilisation. Nietzsche protests against them in the interest of higher life, he protests against them because they tend to the deterioration of the human race, and prevent it attaining a higher plane of being . . . Professor Seth also dishonestly keeps out of sight the fact which Nietzsche again and again insists on -- namely, that life itself is exploitation. It is the appropriation of the means of existence, which someone else, in posse or esse, is thereby prevented from appropriating, and is perhaps thereby prevented from living. Nature is terribly cruel and indifferent, and no 'humanitarian' agencies can ever counteract such cruelty and indifference. A continuous destruction of actual and potential life ever goes on. The wild beast, therefore, is at the basis of Christian morality also. The doctrine, however, which Seth evidently advocates (if his words are intended to have any meaning at all) in opposition to Nietzsche -- namely, to prevent the existence of higher human life in posse; for the sake of maintaining inferior human life in esse -- is by far the most inhumane and degrading. What Nietzsche advocates, though apparently harsh, is really the most humane of all modes of living. (p.72)

In other words, although they disagreed on the implications, both thinkers accepted essentially the same reading of Nietzsche. Where Pringle-Pattison saw a harsh attempt to manipulate the human race that would result in inexcusable indifference to those who did not fit the desired characteristics, Common saw a refusal to contemplate the glorious vision of a superior human race:

the carrying out of Professor Seth's principles, which he puts in opposition to those of Nietzsche, involves the sacrifice of superior life for the sake of that which is inferior necessarily involving, also, the sacrifice of a larger number of higher human beings, for the sake of a smaller number of a lower class; because the lower class cannot exist in such numbers as the higher and more advanced human beings. Professor Seth, therefore, has no proper sense of the value and significance of human life. (p. 77)

Actually, the two opponents did have a sense of the value of human life, but they saw that value as residing at opposite ends of the spectrum delineated by Nietzsche, the meaning, if not the interpretation of whose ideas they fundamentally agreed on.

As with philosophers, not all eugenicists were so keen on appealing to Nietzsche, especially once his reputation had been damaged by allegations after 1914 that he, along with Treitschke, bore the intellectual responsibility for German militarism. Reading the pages of the Eugenics Review, for example, there are of course relatively few articles devoted directly to Nietzsche or Nietzsche-inspired topics, even if the vocabulary of the eugenicists is suffused with Nietzschean terms. What is important to note, though, is that even among opponents of eugenics, the link between Nietzsche and eugenics is assumed. Indeed, just as for Mugge and Tille, it is a point in the favour of both schools; for opponents the combination amounts to a two-pronged attack.

The first type, the anti-Nietzsche eugenicist, is exemplified by an article of 1900 by the philosopher Maurice Adams, 'The Ethics of Tolstoy and Nietszche'. It would be inaccurate to label him exactly a eugenicist, but he certainly held many of the basic assumptions of degeneration theorists which were to be such a powerful impetus to the growth of eugenics. What then were Adams's objections to Nietzsche? First, as a moral philosopher, he recoiled from his perception that 'For him [Nietzsche] the moral life has no independence. It is entirely subordinated to Biology. The morality of a man is only a symptom of his physiological condition.' [50] Furthermore, Adams discerns a change in Nietzsche's thought, a gradual rejection of the initial optimism that a new race of men could quickly be bred as he realised that such a dream was far from attainable:

This dream of a noble, a heroic race which should surpass men, as man has surpassed the ape, gradually faded from Nietzsche's mind. He probably came to see that he had misunderstood Darwinism when he believed that functions were quickly developed by inheritance; that 'in two or three generations all has already become instinctive,' -- but that vast periods of time are required for any great modification of a race to arise by way of inheritance. (p. 100)

But ultimately Adams objects because he cannot partake of the aristocratic enthusiasm which so motivated Levy, Ludovici and Mugge. When, in The Antichrist, Adams detects a movement away from the breeding of a new race to the cultivation instead of distinguished individuals with a finely honed sense of contempt for the herd, he can no longer go along with the Nietzschean eugenic programme. At bottom he is a liberal humanist who wants to cancel out Nietzsche's appeal to the instincts with an equal and opposite dose of Tolstoy's appeal to rationality and denial of instinct. Adams thereby aims to arrive at a harmonious middle ground in which 'the equal rights of all its members which belong to them in virtue of their common humanity' can sit alongside 'the development of the faculties with which men are so unequally endowed' (p. 105). Hence his rejection of Nietzsche:

His demand for health and strength as a condition of all worthy life is surely sound. His protest against the existence of the weaklings who are so numerous in modern society, and who ought never to have been born and are unfit both in body and mind to face the duties and pains of existence, is sorely needed ... But his defence of a proud and egotistic aristocracy, of unfeeling and even brutal egotism, even of downright cruelty; his scornful repudiation of love and sympathy and of the feeling of human fellowship which is man's greatest joy, is harmful, false and evil, and tends only to the disruption of society and the loss of the hard-won gains of evolutionary progress. (p. 102)

Here we see yet another nuance of degeneration theory. Although he stridently accepts the need to reduce the number and influence of 'weaklings', Adams nevertheless cannot support an out-and-out aristocratic conception of society. Rather he conceives of a liberal society composed of healthy individuals each living life to the full and enjoying equal rights. Not all degeneration theorists were aristocratic revivalists, just as not all eugenicists were reactionaries. While Adams can hardly be called a progressive thinker, he helps us build a picture of the Edwardian intellectual world that is more complex than the simple vision of 'privilege' versus the rest.

In that world, Christianity was still a force to be reckoned with, and some of Nietzsche's most trenchant critics came from the Christian quarter. Some years after Adams's article was published, when Britain was on the verge of war, another critic of Nietzsche came along who sought to discredit Nietzschean ideas by identifying them with eugenics. L.H. Green began his Christian defence, in 'Nietzsche, Eugenics and Christianity', by accepting that Nietzsche's ideas had become increasingly unavoidable as the archetypal articulation of fears of degeneracy, decline and moral ineptitude:

the philosophy of Nietzsche is not an isolated phenomenon, it is the expression of a very widely diffused attitude of mind; an attitude which has been popularised, and to some degree misrepresented, by George Bernard Shaw. It is an attitude which has come to stay, an attitude which is exercising a great influence on thought. [51]

What this attitude was Green stated baldly:

His [Nietzsche's] view of life is thus essentially an aristocratic view, and it is a view which is to some extent embodied in the ideals of the eugenists today ... Society is recognising the importance of the principle of selection ... we are being driven to something of an aristocratic view of life. (220, p. 113)

And Green was to some extent sympathetic to this viewpoint, for he accepted the eugenicists' claims that selection was necessary in order to maintain a worthy civilisation, and that 'undesirable types' should be prevented from breeding, just as he accepted Nietzsche's call for a transvaluation of all values, 'to raise the miserably low standards that still obtain amongst so-called civilised people' (221, p. 147). But for Green, the result of realising eugenic goals was not the breeding of supermen but the fusion of aristocracy and democracy, the realisation of the Christian ideal of accomplishing the Kingdom of God:

The eugenist, then, is presenting us with an aristocratic view of life -- aristocratic, that is, in its literal sense, i.e., the rule of the best ... There would seem, then, to be nothing impossible in a union of aristocratic with democratic ideals. Democracy does not mean the rule of the ignorant, the unfit ... [but] the completest development of every individual man according to the stuff that is in him. (220, p. 113)

In other words, Nietzsche's division of humanity into masters and slaves is unacceptable, for a democratic version of eugenics would simply promote the development of individuals in a social context, a context which, Green believes, Nietzsche ignores. And for all his sympathy with the aspirations of the eugenicists, Green's Christianity means that he cannot accept the means by which Nietzsche for one proposes to attain them (221, p. 147). He defends Christianity against Nietzsche's charge of sloppy and sentimental morality, arguing that the admonition to love is as vital a force as any that Nietzsche could have foreseen; and instead of scorn for the weak he proposes an unspecified 'social reconstruction' which will enable every man, 'black and white, capitalist and labourer, vigorous and weak, superman and idiot, to fulfil himself' (221, p. 148). Green's anti-Nietzscheanism is at the same time a defence of Christianity on Nietzschean terms, and a vigorous attempt to reconcile Christian, that is universal, love with the eugenic vision of a more highly developed race of men, even if not supermen.

Other Christian thinkers had no wish to rescue Nietzsche for their own viewpoints, but recoiled from his eugenic ideal. In an important early article, 'The Teachings of Friedrich Nietszche', Charles Bakewell turned to Nietzsche for the simple reason that, although his style no less than his ideas were 'so bizarre, so absurd, so blasphemous, that one is tempted to set them aside as simply unworthy of serious consideration', he was nevertheless articulating the ideas of the time, as his ever-growing reception showed. [52] Bakewell made no secret of the fact that he considered Nietzsche's writings to be 'poison' (p. 324), arguing that 'he usually hits real evils on the head; but that the ideal which he would substitute would entail even greater dangers than the one he is opposing' (p. 326). And what was the evil that Nietzsche proposed? It could, according to Bakewell, be 'summed up in one word, Uebermensch, -- beyond-man' (p. 323). Since the law is, finally, that 'the physical alone determines the moral' (p. 326), Bakewell argues that 'The worship of, i.e., the enthusiasm for beyond-man, the noble, the titan clad in all the truly Greek graces, the man that is to be, this is Nietzsche's religion' (p. 323). Bakewell understands Nietzsche's basic message to be the following: 'nature, which works its way by evolution and the selection of the strong, points to beyond-man as her goal; and nature's will is our law, because we are fragments of nature' (p. 328). Now Bakewell found all of this sensationalist, not to say repulsive. Yet what is interesting is that Nietzsche is equated by Bakewell with a eugenic vision, a kind of Darwinism of morality, and he argues that the church must find the correct way to respond.

William Barry approached Nietzsche in a similar vein. Barry, a literary critic who devoted a chapter of his 1904 book Heralds of Revolt to Nietzsche, was horrified by the implications of Nietzsche's thought for the Christian foundations of society, as his description of Zarathustra as 'the Mohammed of Darwinism' indicates. [53] Barry's article fluctuates between nervous condemnation and aggressive self-defence:

One thing, at all events, is certain -- we have not derived our sense of ethics in these matters from the struggle for existence, or the laws of evolution. It is, simply, a Christian inheritance. Let it be weakened, or its foundation sought in mere physiology, and it will soon become suspect; the 'free spirits' of whom Nietzsche proclaims himself the harbinger, will undertake with him a 'transvaluation of all values,' and setting up the earthly existence as a standard, without care for scientific 'fictions' of an order immutable and uniform, will recommend every man to measure what is good by the advantage it brings in the using. To sacrifice oneself on behalf of the social order will then be thought as absurd as to suffer martyrdom for conscience's sake. It is entirely a question of 'mights not rights,' in which he laughs that wins. To Nietzsche, the dominant note of evolution is 'conquest'; and, in the long run, it is the individual that conquers for himself. (p. 369)

Nietzsche, according to Barry, wishes to 'bring back an aristocracy of blood to withstand universal suffrage', a claim that tells us as much about the time of the discussion as it does about Nietzsche. Nevertheless, Barry ends on a note of admiration for Nietzsche, for he had at least framed in the clearest way possible the question of the age:

It was fully time that the question should be asked of evolution, whither, according to the men of science, is it moving, and what is the law of its ascent? Is the Christian creed essential to it, or can we so read the writing in man's flesh and spirit as to conclude that 'seeming' is the only word, adaptation to it the supreme wisdom? (p. 377)

The importance of this 'question of science' (p. 378) should not be underestimated, for it embodies the range of possibilities for contemporary civilisation: 'Science, culture, freedom, democracy, hang upon this word. The ideals of anarchy-- are they the conclusions of a self-justified Darwinism?' (p. 377). Barry was at least open-minded enough to answer the question only rhetorically and leave the way for further discussion. In Green, Bakewell and Barry, for all their differences, the influence of Nietzsche and eugenics, in combination, was one that was hard to disentangle, and even harder to ignore. Whether sympathetic in part or not at all to Nietzsche, the philosopher was, in their minds, equated with an aristocratic, stock-breeding vision of society. Thus, all early writers on Nietzsche, whether pro or contra, took for granted the fact that Nietzsche and eugenics were synonymous.


The numerous examples of the link between Nietzsche and eugenics that I have provided in this chapter are not exhaustive. They suffice to show that the link was a real one, and that the supposedly stolid eugenics movement was more than ready to absorb the vocabulary, if not the exact same ideas, of Nietzsche, the reception of whom is normally presumed to have been the preserve of the avant-garde and the self-consciously outre. Perhaps we should not be surprised. The authors of one of the standard works on the history of eugenics in Germany, for example, take it as axiomatic that Nietzsche, despite his rejection of the ideas of Darwin, provided the eugenicists with their basic ideas. [54]

But what were the results of the linkage? The attacks on Nietzsche during the First World War can hardly have boosted the popularity of the eugenicists, and the gradual discrediting of eugenics during the interwar years can only have contributed to the Nietzscheans' marginality. Only well after the Second World War, with the efforts of Walter Kaufmann, did Nietzsche's reputation in the English-speaking countries recover from the taints of militarism and Nazism acquired during two world wars. But beyond the immediate circle of those devoted either to the Nietzsche or eugenics movements (or both), the similarities of both are indicative of wider preoccupations in Edwardian and interwar Britain. What both groups of devotees shared, at its most basic, was a concern with degeneration. In this they simply offered more 'special interest' versions of a concern that was exercising large numbers in Britain, from military circles to philanthropists to playwrights to social commentators of all stripes. One preoccupation of these theorists was the 'woman question', especially the demands of the so-called New Woman to emancipate herself from the restrictive mores of bourgeois patriarchy. [55] Another, by no means uncommon, preoccupation was a fear of the 'alien', at this period a term synonymous with the Jews who had been entering Britain in fairly large numbers between 1880 and 1914. [56] But it reveals a widespread acceptance of racial explanations for social and historical processes. More specifically, and in a more extreme version, the concern with degeneration manifested itself in radical solutions, one of which was to advocate the use of a 'lethal chamber' for the elimination of the unfit. In the next two chapters, I will show how a Nietzschean vocabulary of degeneration and breeding both influenced a widely held racist worldview, on the one hand; and supported extremist fantasies of annihilation on the other. The 'extremes of Englishness', then, appear less an aberration in an otherwise tolerant society with a proud tradition of offering asylum to the oppressed than as the natural outgrowth of popularly held; and scientifically legitimated, claims about the supposed incompatibility of races.
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Thu Aug 21, 2014 3:55 am

CHAPTER FOUR: Race and Eugenics

Eugenics in Britain is a much-explored field. Since the pioneering studies of George Mosse, Daniel Kevles and others, the opinions of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, Caleb Saleeby and Leonard Darwin, R A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane have become widely known. With the exception of the USA, which is often examined along with Britain, the impact of eugenics in other European countries and on other continents is only now becoming clear, as a recent reviewer points out. [1] That fact does not, however, mean that only an international approach, desirable as that undoubtedly is, remains the sole task for scholars. [2] There is as yet confusion about eugenics in Britain.

The most pressing problem in the historiography of eugenics, though one which most scholars assume to have been settled, concerns the relative stress laid by eugenicists on class and race. The latter, ostensibly more pernicious emphasis, is usually associated with the strict hereditarianism and its 'perversion' into blood and soil ideology in certain strands of Rassenhygiene of Weimar Germany and the racially motivated genocide of the Third Reich. [3] The former, by contrast, is associated with the class-ridden societies of Britain and, to a lesser extent, the USA. The middle classes in Britain, so the assessment goes, felt trapped between a still dominant old elite and an emerging worlcing class clamouring for rights. The differential birth-rate between the professional classes and the fast-breeding lower orders, especially the 'submerged' (the lumpenproletariat) and those labelled 'feebleminded', was supposedly at the root of the eugenics movement, which was just one movement among many through which the middle classes could articulate their fears and aspirations. [4] Typical of this position was the statement made by the Oxford philosopher and eugenicist Ferdinand Schiller: 'We must get rid, therefore, of our unproductive and parasitic classes, alike of the idle rich and of the unemployables, and stimulate the rest to more and more efficiency.' [5]

In this chapter, I investigate the role that the notion of 'race' played in British eugenics. Doing so is no idle concern or simple matter; it should not be thought either that the connection is obvious, or that it has been long-proven. In fact, quite the opposite is the case, as the above comments indicate. The existing historiography on eugenics in Britain has not yet accounted for the impetus that race-thinking gave to the plans of the eugenicists. I will show that although class concerns were a major factor behind the ideas and enquiries of the British eugenicists, no less important was a concern with race. British eugenics cannot so simply be separated from an ostensibly 'harder' continental school, since race-thinking, so often overlooked by historians, was integral to the worldview of the British eugenicists. The centrality of race is shown in the way in which (mainly Jewish) immigrants were discussed, and in the assumptions appealed to, common since the early nineteenth century, of a racial hierarchy which saw the white European at the top and the black African at the bottom. This assumption, which encompassed fears of miscegenation and hybridity, encouraging prurient interest in the sexualities of 'inferior races', was one which would shape eugenic concepts and methods of enquiry for many years, even after the development of genetic science ought to have shown such racial schemas to be no more than creations of fantasy. Concentrating on texts of the Edwardian and interwar periods, I will show this continuity of thought across the whole spectrum of eugenicists, from the socially progressive to the protofascist. I end by looking at how investigations into race-mixing carried out by the Eugenics Society after the Second World War were still informed by the same assumptions about race. What all of these sources show is the inseparability of race and class in the writings of the British eugenicists.


For some eugenicists, race was the primary concern. Although their numbers were few and their views were not popular, at least in terms of their impact on legislation, they served an important function in legitimising the opinions of those who shared many of their assumptions but would not go as far in their prognoses. It was, as J.A. Hobson put it, 'the ripest and most audacious example of the racial eugenics, upon which ruling classes and ruling nations everywhere rely, when they desire to support their will-to-power by quasi-scientific authority'. [6]

One such was Robert Reid Rentoul, whose credentials were impeccable: a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, the General Medical Council of Education, the Medico-Legal Society, and the Society for the Study of Inebriety, Rentoul had given evidence to the Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded. He was nevertheless one of the most outspoken of the eugenicists, as his book Race Culture; or Race Suicide? of 1906 shows. Taking it as read that environment has little or no bearing on degeneracy -- 'Heredity is the great cause' -- Rentoul set out to demonstrate the necessity of dealing harshly with degeneracy wherever it may be found. And for Rentoul this meant less the 'feeble-minded' synonymous with the lower classes, but alien immigrants and sexual 'perverts'. Rentoul indulged in an attack in which the ferocity of the language mimics what it condemns, revealing both a fear of and attraction to it.

On the subject of miscegenation, Rentoul's prurience is unmistakable: 'The intermarriage of British with foreigners should not be encouraged. A few of us know the terrible monstrosities produced by the intermarriage of the white man and the black . . . From the standpoint of race culture it is difficult to understand the action of those who advocate the naturalization of foreigners.' [7] He can only explain it by arguing that the 'race instinct' is dying out (p. 5). In order to make an argument for the sterilisation of degenerates, Rentoul has the following to say about 'sexual perverts'. It is worth quoting at length, in order to gain a sense of the breathlessness of Rentoul's prose:

Hysteria and nymphomania are but a name for the symptoms, while the removal of the ovaries or uterus often gives marked relief to those diseased. The surgeon knows that the elderly man with enlarged prostate soon loses his uncontrollable sexual desire when he has had his prostate removed; while the poor demented creatures who slink up back entries and display their sexual organs to children, or attack young girls, are as well known to the police as are the habitual inebriates and habitual criminals. The negro is seldom content with sexual intercourse with the white woman, but culminates his sexual furor by killing the woman, sometimes taking out her womb and eating it. If the United States of America people [sic] would cease to prostitute their high mental qualities and recognize this negro as a sexual pervert, it would reflect greater credit upon them; and if they would sterilize this mentally afflicted creature instead of torturing him, they would have a better right to pose as sound thinkers and social reformers. (pp. 31-32)

The connection between race and sexuality has been often noted, both in colonial and metropolitan situations. [8] And in the United States, many eugenicists -- such as Charles Davenport, Paul Popenoe and Roswell H. Johnson, Edward Murray East and Herbert Spencer Jennings [9] -- advocated exactly what Rentoul proposed, with the result that sterilisation laws were implemented in many states. Here the sex-race connection is laid bare.

Rentoul, after explaining the sexual voracity of negroes and other degenerates, went on to elucidate the dangers of immigration. In particular he was shocked by the nonchalance displayed by his fellow Englishmen in the face of widespread naturalisation of foreigners, who, with their names changed, could more easily pass unnoticed among the English. 'The immigration of diseased, insane, criminals, and pauper persons into this country is a point which has not been sufficiently noted,' says Rentoul' The Englishman must not continue to be seduced by the flattery of foreigners, praising 'Britain's greatness', for this prevents him 'from seeing that race instinct and race preservation are his first, and sometimes his only duty' (pp. 101-04). Once again, the threat posed by immigrants is not one of higher taxes, but one of racial degeneration.

A similar scenario to Rentoul's is presented by Charles Armstrong, in a book advertised as explaining that a new moral code must replace the old, 'if we of the Anglo-Saxon Race are not to lose for all time our place in the Vanguard'. [10] The Survival of the Unfittest is one of the most racially motivated of all the eugenicist writings, from its opening claim that 'England, possessing the finest human stock in the world, is at the present time doing all in her power to destroy it' to his final call for a 'New Party ... sincerely devoted to the causes of Retrenchment, Freedom and Eugenic Reform', a call which (in name at least) adumbrated Oswald Mosley. [11] In between, Armstrong argued for the classification of nations along the same line as families -- 'there is no reason why C3 peoples should hold and neglect vast fertile territories, as at present, while others which are A1 or A2 are confined by the status quo within narrow limits' (p. 90) -- and explained Bolshevism with racial categories -- 'the deliberately devilish policy of these Russian Jews is to use eventually the whole of Asia's immense resources in population and wealth for the furtherance of their aim -- world revolution, or the suppression of civilization' (p. 92). Basically, Armstrong's book was an attack on democracy and its founding belief in the equality of human beings. Armstrong simply stated the argument of the mainstream eugenicists -- that humanitarian policies, and civilisation generally, have led to the survival of the weak -- and extended it to its logical conclusion.

One other writer who was also fond of taking arguments to their logical conclusions was Anthony Mario Ludovici, the author, as we have seen, of many books on Nietzsche, Tory revivalism, anti-feminism, eugenics, race and religion. Widely read and wide-ranging, Ludovici made a name for himself as an erudite and outspoken reactionary. On the question of eugenics he was unstinting. Opposing the Eugenics Society's official position on voluntary sterilisation because he believed this would only be taken up by the intelligent, he advocated, until his death in 1971, extreme forms of negative eugenics. Deriving his position from an understanding of the Ubermensch popular among early interpreters of Nietzsche, Ludovici celebrated the qualities of the strong and denigrated those of the weak. With this division between weak and strong, one has to accept, so Ludovici says, the inevitable consequence that someone must suffer. Unlike under socialist and communist schemes, Ludovici's proposed eugenic reformers 'must do what no society hitherto has ventured to do, i.e., they must determine by law beforehand who is and who is not to be sacrificed'. [12] This he saw as perfectly feasible: 'where they take over the whole burden, as they do in this country, of indigent lunatics and other degenerates, they have the right to exercise all the means at their disposal for preventing degenerates from being born'. [13]

Thus, Ludovici advocated infanticide -- 'the tendency will be, in a society whose principle it is to sacrifice the less to the greater, to proceed to some kind of controlled and legalized infanticide' [14] -- incest -- 'we are entering upon an era in which miscegenation for human society will be discredited and inbreeding and possibly even incest adopted in its stead' [15] -- and, eventually, mass-murder -- 'the time has come to recognize the inevitability of violence and sacrifice, and consciously to select the section or elements in the world or the nation that should be sacrificed.' [16]

Ludovici, despite these strident opinions, was by no means an outcast from the eugenics movement. His books, published in a steady stream throughout the interwar period, were reviewed in the Eugenics Review (both favourably and unfavourably), and as well as his work on Nietzsche and his art column for the New Age in 1913-1914, he wrote for the Cornhill Magazine, the conservative English Review and scientific publications such as Marriage Hygiene.

Particularly interesting are Ludovici's dealings with the Eugenics Society. In correspondence with C. P. Blacker, one of the society's leading lights, he argued that as well as the pre-natal selection which Blacker advocated, there had to be, as in animal husbandry, some form of post-natal selection, 'either by total elimination when the aberration is too pronounced, or by the selection of a particular member of a brood or the particular product of a cross for further breeding'. [17] The society was not put off; indeed, it wrote to Ludovici asking him to join them, but he refused on account of their co-operation with religious groups and their promotion of contraception. The secretary wrote back, accepting the validity of the criticism, but arguing that the society was trying 'to convert Christianity to Eugenics', adding that 'I greatly hope that we shall not hereby be debarred from occasionally getting your help in debates and discussions.' [18] Nor was Blacker, the same man who after 1945 decried the extremism of pre-war eugenics, personally affronted, and he and Ludovici remained friends. In 1932 Ludovici invited Blacker to stay with him in his holiday home in Lewes, and the following year Blacker sent Ludovici a pedigree schedule he had drawn up, saying that it 'may be of interest to the English mistery [sic],' the proto-fascist group with which Ludovici was involved. [19]

Although these were extremists, there were too many of them, and their views were not so far removed from those of the mainstream ideas on race, to dismiss them as having little or no bearing on the eugenics movement.


Where then does the notion that class was the main concern of the eugenicists come from? The idea that there were two strands of eugenic thought, a German one emphasising race and a British one stressing class, was promoted, after the Second World War, by the eugenicists themselves. C.P. Blacker, for example, the first postwar Honorary Secretary of the Eugenics Society, went to some lengths, first to dissociate British eugenics from the 'authoritarian ideal in eugenics' which had 'revealed itself as perhaps the most repellent and dangerous manifestation of German National Socialism'; and second, to attack those in Britain who had used eugenics as a way of disparaging the poor. Blacker acknowledged that what characterised British eugenics had been its stress on class: 'Social class was sometimes put forward as a criterion of eugenic value; and terms were sometimes used such as "lower classes", "riff-raff', "dregs", which seemed to imply a contempt for certain sections of the poor.' In postwar Britain, the intention of eugenicists was to promote neither class, professional achievement, nor personal characteristics, but the 'fulfilment of parental obligations'. [20] The claims served two vital purposes if eugenics was to enjoy a postwar role: to establish a large gap between Nazi racism -- fuelled by hatred and implemented by force -- and British eugenics -- educational and never coercive; and to acknowledge, thereby overcoming, the class bias of pre-war British eugenicists.

Before the war, that is, before the reputation of eugenics was devastated by the revelations of what had occurred in Nazi-occupied Europe, British eugenics was, however, far less predictable than Blacker claimed in 1945. In fact, even among the most moderate figures among British eugenicists, racial and class considerations blurred into one another. Havelock Ellis, for example, the doyen of eugenics and sexology, noted that 'good stocks are ... so widely spread through all classes ... [that] we are not entitled to regard even a slightly greater net increase of the lower social classes as an unmitigated evil', although he was quite ready to accept that eliminating the burden placed on society by the feeble-minded was desirable. [21] According to Ellis, eugenicists should improve the physical condition of the race as a whole (however that was defined), not of any particular class within it.

One can of course object that the way in which eugenicists envisaged improving the race was precisely through manipulating the class framework of society. One can also object that Ellis was too much on the avant-garde of scientific inquiry to be said to be representative. When one analyses the popularisers of eugenics, so the story goes, one arrives at a different, more pedestrian conclusion. [22]

While class-related fears were central to the activities and undertakings of certain eugenicists, they were not the only, nor even the primary reasons for the success of eugenics in the Edwardian and interwar period, a success which is measured not so much in legislative influence -- for here the way was blocked by the existing public health establishment [23] -- but in the way in which eugenic ideas of decay, degeneration, struggle and selection pervaded social and cultural life in this period. There was a multitude of reasons why people became involved with eugenics. A desire to protect the British empire, to resist the political aspirations of feminism and organised labour, and racist beliefs in the superiority of the British (usually 'English') race and hence the need to protect it from immigration and miscegenation were all fundamental motivations, as were less grandiose interests in public health issues. Furthermore, the popularity of eugenics on the left -- and not just on the 'aristocratic socialist' or technocratic, social engineering left of the Fabians and Shavians -- indicates that eugenics had an appeal far beyond that of a middle-class protest movement. [24]

Yet scholars, following Blacker's lead, have continually sought to domesticate British eugenics, surrounding it with an aura of pipe-tobacco fuddydud, as if, like Georgian quatrains and other innocent pursuits, it were to disappear along with the Golden Summer of 1914. But just as the Golden Summer existed for none but a tiny, privileged section of the population, so eugenics was more than a naive movement of tweed-clad fogeys which would be swept aside by advances in genetic science.

That most of the leading eugenicists came from the professional middle classes is undeniable, as Donald MacKenzie and G.R. Searle have demonstrated. [25] But advocating the disappearance of a dirty, disease-ridden and (most importantly) expensive underclass was not their only aim. Confining herself to the Eugenics Society, where the argument is most pertinent, Pauline Mazumdar typifies this anaesthetising historiographical approach, in which the prejudices of the eugenicists appear, despite themselves, as forerunners of a more sensitive approach to public health and social welfare. But if its members did find their motivation in class prejudice, they, and many other eugenicists, were also driven more profoundly by other illiberal aspirations, aspirations which were common across Europe. Just as William Schneider has shown that the French scientific establishment's claim that it was never seduced by a 'hard', Anglo-German, genetic approach to eugenics is somewhat economical with the truth, [26] so the view of British eugenics as separated from a 'continental', racist school is false. 'Race' was not simply a synonym for 'nation' in Edwardian Britain, [27] unless one accepts that the word 'nation' itself carried implicit racist assumptions. Even if not yet having acquired the biologistic hue that Nazi eugenics would later take on, eugenics in Britain was, on both the left and the right, a basically racist enterprise. It remained (and remains) so for the right, whereas the left slowly moved away from this position during the interwar period (though not from the basic eugenicist position that the genetic make-up of society as a whole could and should be improved, as the 1939 Geneticists' Manifesto shows, and not so far that they could not base their research on methods derived from German race scientists).

Of course, there were notable examples of class-prejudice voiced by eugenicists. Ferdinand Schiller has already been cited, but perhaps the most vociferous were William and Catherine Whetham, the husband and wife team who, from William Whetham's position as fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, published a large amount of eugenic literature in the years preceding the First World War. Merely the titles of several pieces explain their position: 'The Extinction of the Upper Classes', 'Eminence and Heredity'. And they lost no time asserting their distinctively pompous claims: 'With the birth-rate falling in other classes, especially the most provident classes, the influence of a high rate of increase in feeble-minded families must mean the rapid and progressive deterioration of the race.' Their research findings that members of pauper families tended to marry other members of pauper families led them to the conclusion that 'such pauperism is due to inherent and inborn defects which are hereditarily transmitted'. [28] Similar concerns were raised by C.T. Ewart, assistant medical officer at Claybury Asylum, in an article devoted to eugenics and degeneracy. Making it clear that degenerates came from the lower classes, Ewart stressed the undesirability of caring for such people by calling the reader's attention to the cost involved, and to the threat posed by them to respectable society. 'Nothing is more wasteful,' he wrote, 'than this army of degenerates who, when they are not living at the cost of the taxpayer in workhouses or prisons, are wandering at large, idling, pilfering, injuring property, and polluting the stream of national health by throwing into it human rubbish in the shape of lunatics, idiots, and criminals.' [29]

Most eugenicists would have concurred. Yet when talking of the need to regenerate the race, almost all claimed that this project would involve people from all classes. James Marchant, the director of the National Social Purity Crusade, a body campaigning for moral rectitude, also believed that the differential birth-rate was a threat to society. Yet he asserted that rectifying the situation was to be achieved 'not by keeping the under dog down, not by levelling down, but by levelling up, and by the creation in all classes of an active sense of parental, social and racial responsibility'. Based as much on environmental as hereditary concerns, this was certainly an expression of middle-class angst. But Marchant's position also came "from a distinct belief in the strength of the nation as a whole, seen as an organic unit. This vision of a healthy society was one which necessitated co-operation between the classes, but was one which, in Marchant's mind, transcended class politics. Hence he pleaded for 'improving the physical and moral environment of all classes for the next few generations' and believed that a shift in morals was more important than tampering with the nation's genetic makeup: the young must be taught, he argued, 'to regard the sex instinct as a "racial instinct", as something which exists, as it in reality does, not primarily for the individual but for the race. It is a trust for posterity .... [T]he racial act is for the race.' [30] The 'race', where it was synonymous with the 'nation', was founded on notions of ethnic exclusivity.


Another example of the way in which eugenics both fed on and fuelled common assumptions about race is the way in which it is closely tied, through the theory of the 'rule of the best', to the aristocratic and Tory revivalism of the Edwardian period. This revivalism is correctly understood as a reaction to the rise of feminism and organised labour, and the concomitant shifts in society and politics. Such obviously class-based theories as those put forward by Tory revivalists like Arthur Bountwood and J.M. Kennedy vehemently condemned the new, radical movements. [31] But this reactionary response to changes in British political life did not automatically mean a hatred or fear of the lower classes. It is no coincidence that the 19th Baron Willoughby de Broke, the leader of the 'Diehard' peers against the Parliament Act in 1911 and against Irish Home Rule in 1913-1914, was also a theorist of aristocratic society. His vision of an organic society, based on the concept of noblesse oblige, had room for the 'working man', just as long as he knew his place. As Lord Selborne wrote in his obituary of Willoughby de Broke, 'He knew and understood, and cared for the working Classes, as brother-Englishman, in a manner and with a depth of feeling which would no doubt be incredible to a communist.' [32] One might wonder whether such paternalism was put forward anything other than cynically, as a ploy to hang on to power, but Willoughby de Broke stated his case for 'National Toryism' repeatedly and honestly, in articles in the National Review and in numerous letters to other Tories, including several to Andrew Bonar Law stating the case for 'a school of thought that will stand by us in future hours of need, and create a strong permanent body of followers who will rely on you to vindicate National or Tory principles'. [33] As George Dangerfield memorably put it, Willoughby de Broke was a man who 'had quite a gift for writing, thought dearly, and was not more than two hundred years behind his time'. [34]

It should come as no surprise, then, to find that the man who was at the forefront of Tory revivalism was also an admirer of eugenics. Indeed, he became an ardent fan of Caleb Saleeby, the chairman of the National Birth-Rate Commission, vice-chairman of the National Council for Public Morals, and one of the prime movers of the Eugenics Society. That Saleeby was also (in a manner of speaking) a socialist was no obstacle. The class-transcending potential of eugenics was precisely what attracted Willoughby de Broke to it. He wrote an enthusiastic introduction to one of Saleeby's books, and fulsomely praised him in public and in private. [35] The point is that eugenic theories of aristocracy and good breeding were not necessarily accompanied by antipathy to the lower classes; several writers based their eugenic visions on a society already economically levelled. [36] When articulated by members of the peerage, however, eugenics objected to an organisation of the lower classes which left them outside an organic society, independent of their 'superiors' and the country's 'natural leaders'. The fear of organised labour was a stock one among the middle classes, but eugenics could be applied as both an offensive and defensive weapon in the fight for workers' rights.

Like the Tory revivalists, but from a different political tradition, Karl Pearson, the first Galton Professor of Eugenics at University College, London and director of the Eugenics Laboratory, an institution devoted to Pearson's new science of biometrics, who held the Eugenics Society's 'unscientific' popularising in contempt, was quick to draw broader conclusions from his research than his statistics merited. MacKenzie has shown the extent to which Pearson's eugenics was an expression of the habitus of the professional middle class. Yet that does not mean that the science of eugenics was solely focused on class-related efforts at producing healthier children, nor that the scientists' claim to objectivity was a whitewash. Pearson, who can be seen as a sort of national socialist (in the literal sense), believed that he was working not just for the benefit of the middle classes but for the health of the nation, the race. Hence his clarion call:

There is a hereditary nobility, an aristocracy of worth, and it is not confined to any social class; it is a caste which is scattered throughout all classes; let us awaken it, that it may be self-conscious, and realise how the national future lies incontrovertibly in the feasibility of making it dominant in numbers and submitting the rest to its control. [37]

For example, in a lecture delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle on 19 November 1900, Pearson began with the standard fear of the 'over-fertility of the unfit' and the 'lessened relative fertility in those physically and mentally fitter stocks' and applied it to an international context. 'What I have said about bad stocks seems to me to hold for the lower races of man,' said Pearson. He then went on to argue that 'the Kaffir' and 'the Negro' have failed to produce civilisations comparable to that of 'the white man', and that it was not to be regretted that indigenous peoples had been driven off their lands by white colonisers, since this was preferable to the two races living side by side or, even worse, 'that they had mixed their blood as Spaniard and Indian in South America'. [38] By the time of the lecture's publication, German colonial troops were massacring the Hereros in South West Africa. [39]

Here we see a typical example of the boundaries between science and prejudice being blurred. While Pearson's class-prejudice is much in evidence, in that he holds the unfit to come from the lower classes, his argument only begins and does not end there. In fact, he ended his lecture by attacking the section of society that was supposedly parasitic on the other, but appealing to a rectification of the situation 'as a step towards the improvement of the whole herd'. [40]

Class was, then, only one source of motivation for the eugenicists. In Pearson's case, paying careful attention to his language reveals that, for all his distaste at the support given to 'degenerate' families of low status, his position has broader concerns. When he turns to the subject of immigration, miscegenation and international competition, Pearson's tone takes on a heightened emotional charge. In one pamphlet, for example, he begins by setting out the desirability of encouraging a higher physical and mental condition of the nation as a whole. He then explains this desirability not as being merely a way of reducing the threat posed to respectable society by degenerates but as a way of ensuring Britain's standing in the world: 'Selection of parentage is the sale effective process known to science by which a race can continually progress. The rise and fall of nations are in truth summed up in the maintenance or cessation of that process of selection.' [41]

Elsewhere, in a lecture delivered at the Galton Laboratory on 17 March 1914, Pearson argued that the eugenicist was nothing other than a scientifically advanced social reformer whose sole aim was the patriotic one of improving the race as a whole: 'it is to parentage itself that the patriot who would work for racial progress must turn in the first place, if he would achieve a greater success than the environmentalists with a century of social reform have hitherto been able to claim'. [42] Again, Pearson explicitly sees his project in terms of patriotism, in terms of protecting the position of the empire from competition from other aspiring races. This national position takes precedence over, though it is partly constituted by, the class-prejudice that is so often seen as the sum total of British eugenicists' concerns. In this he was following Galton, who wrote of the importance to the British of eugenics that 'To no nation is a high human breed more necessary than to our own, for we plant our stock all over the world and lay the foundation of the dispositions and capacities of future millions of the human race.' [43]

Nowhere is this claim more defensible than in Pearson's work on Jewish immigrants, work which he undertook with Margaret Moul, one of several women who worked at the Galton Laboratory (anti-feminism was one prejudice which Pearson did not share with his colleagues). [44] The starting point of the research was this simple question: 'What purpose would there be in endeavouring to legislate for a superior breed of men, if at any moment it could be swamped by the influx of immigrants of an inferior race, hastening to profit by the higher civilization of an improved humanity?' But this apparently disinterested investigation into whether or not the Jewish immigrants of the East End of London constituted such an 'inferior race' was hampered from the start by its presuppositions. The reports of Pearson and Moul's tests -- on such things as the correlation between head shape and intelligence, or eye colour and intelligence -- run to over one hundred pages, before the authors conclude that 'Taken on the average, and regarding both sexes, this alien Jewish population is somewhat inferior physically and mentally to the native population.' They recommend, on the basis of this finding, a firmer concentration on the existing inhabitants of the British Isles: 'The welfare of our own country is bound up with the maintenance and improvement of its stock, and our researches do not indicate that this will follow the unrestricted admission of either Jewish or any other type of immigrant.' [45]

One cannot simply call these writings of Pearson's 'propagandistic' and hope thereby to isolate them from the 'scientific' work undertaken by the Biometrics Laboratory or the Eugenics Record Office. As well as a marked dislike of the 'inferior classes' at home, Pearson's writings were concerned equally, if not more, with 'patriotic' issues of the standard of the British race, and the protection of the British empire. For Pearson, then, the themes of class, empire and race overlap and are part of a single problematic.

Among the writings of the eugenicists, the writings of Pearson are well known. But other writers were willing to be far more outspoken in their claims, disproving the claim that Pearson was exceptional among eugenicists when it came to voicing 'belligerently patriotic' sentiments. [46] The same rise in pitch that is characteristic of Pearson is audible in other writers too, when the subject turns to the defence of the realm.

A striking example occurs in a book by the Reverend Horton, National Ideals and Race-Regeneration (1912), written for Cassell's New Tracts for the Times series, a series which did much for the popular reception of eugenics. Attacking a supposed drift towards cosmopolitanism and internationalism, Horton advises his readers not to lose sight of their own nation. This danger he believes to be especially real for the British, since the empire is all too easily understood as a 'pseudo-nation':

And in this pseudo-nation the overwhelming majority, probably four-fifths, are people of a different colour, a different religion, and a different political provenance. Nothing but confusion and degeneration can come from imperialism thus understood; the fifty or sixty millions of white men and Christians will be dragged down by the three hundred and twenty millions of Mohammedans, Hindoos, and Negroes. [47]

Horton does not object to international co-operation (pp. 23, 63), but insists that the empire should be a group of nations united under the British crown, 'and held together by the reverence and gratitude which daughters feel for their mother' (p. 19).

But when he turns to eulogising the virtues of the British race, Horton becomes distinctly dewy-eyed:

The white cemeteries that dot the veld in South Africa and the ocean sown with the bodies of our brave men,

'Whose heavy-shotted hammock-shrouds Drop in the vast and wandering deep',

the great tradition that we place our country before our own lives and, thinking of what England has done for us, ask, What can we do for England? these are part of our national life, and feed the springs of our national service. (p. 26)

Apart from the interesting shift from 'Britain' to 'England' at this almost liturgical moment, Horton's argument ties together the long-standing military tradition of sacrificing oneself for the greater good with the eugenicist's argument that the protection of the national 'germ-plasm' is of far greater importance than the life of the individual. As he puts it later in the book, 'Eugenics becomes a matter of patriotism' (p. 38).

Here one can see how the eugenics movement appealed to those who had been involved with the 'national efficiency' campaign of the turn of the century. The most famous advocate of national efficiency was the journalist Arnold White, whose book Efficiency and Empire (1901) was the movement's central text. White went on to become a member of the Eugenics Education Society (as the Eugenics Society was originally called), and he contributed an article to the first volume of the Eugenics Review as well a number of pieces on eugenics for The Referee under the pen-name 'Vanoc'. [48] White too was a vigorous anti-aliens campaigner, and wrote a considerable amount on the Jews. [49] It is clear that the class-prejudices of the mainstream eugenicists were invariably accompanied by racial prejudices; indeed, one could go so far as to say that the two forms of prejudice were inseparable, and fed one another. Most importantly, they were not perceived to be discrete issues by the eugenicists themselves.


Even members of the Eugenics Society, who are usually considered as the epitome of middle-class respectability, as well as the real motor of the British eugenics movement, often reveal more of a concern with racial degeneration than with the threat to their middle-class way of life. Racial degeneration in this context is not synonymous with Nazi biologism, but nor is it simply the same thing as 'nation' (understood in a non-racialised sense). Race, in particular the standing of the British race in the world, was a key concern of the Eugenics Society's members.

Major Leonard Darwin, for example, Charles Darwin's son, was president of the Eugenics Society from 1911 to 1928. Despite the clash between Pearson and the society, their statements about race and nation overlap considerably. The thrust of Darwin's major book, The Need for Eugenic Reform (1926), was to insist on the importance of heredity, and the need to sacrifice immediate interests for the health of future generations. One of the greatest threats to this health was miscegenation which, though he accepted that 'evil social effects' were a factor in explaining the treatment of 'half-breeds', Darwin said (following Popenoe and Johnson's 1918 Applied Eugenics) usually brought about a situation in which 'the mixed stock may in some instances be worse than both parent stocks'. In the case of 'mulattoes', Darwin argued, again in the manner of the American eugenicists, that even if the level of the black was raised, the level of the white was lowered, and so the cross should be prevented. [50]

Two years later, Darwin presented these findings in a smaller book aimed at a popular audience. In What is Eugenics?, he again set out to explain how farming methods can guide human action regarding hereditary transmission. Here he did in fact apply a more class-based analysis than in The Need for Eugenic Reform, but Darwin still appealed to patriotism and the role of the 'best citizens' in sending their sons to fight during the First World War as exemplars. Here, although it is clear that the lower classes, especially criminals, drunkards and the feeble-minded, were his targets, the ultimate value of eugenics was grounded not in any particular class but in the race: 'Sacrifices for our country's good 'must often include the abandonment of personal pleasures and of social ambitions. The path of duty is the road to racial progress.' [51]

Another leading light in the Eugenics Society was Caleb Saleeby, converted to socialism by Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1910, and, thanks to his attacks on biometrics -- which 'is so called because it measures everything but life, [52] -- a particular thorn in the side of Pearson. Saleeby devoted considerable attention to the question of race-regeneration, stressing that this was not a partisan programme: 'Those who seek to save the race by setting class against class, or sex against sex, or creed against creed, are condemned at the outset: no class or sect or sex within the social organism can be saved alone.' [53]

Who then did Saleeby target? Although he wanted to raise his readers' consciousness of the threat posed by the feeble-minded, he never succumbed to the violence of a Rentoul or a Ludovici. He advocated 'permanent care' of the feeble-minded and for education in parenthood for those of healthy stocks. Like most eugenicists, however (Pearson is the important exception), he was an anti-feminist, insisting that 'the cause of woman, which is the cause of man, and the cause of the unborn, is by nothing more gravely and unnecessarily prejudiced and delayed than by this [feminist] doctrine of sex-identity'. He opposed feminism and supported parental eugenic education because of his belief in the power of science to aid in the breeding of a stronger race: 'The parental instinct is connected subtly with the racial instinct; and it is undisputed that, except in utterly degraded persons, the object of the feelings which are associated with the racial instinct becomes the object of the feelings which are associated with the parental instinct.' [54]

Saleeby abhorred all forms of coercive or repressive eugenic schemes, [55] was open-minded about the relative import of heredity and environment, and never made scaremongering statements about the inescapability of degeneration. Yet he was not without his prejudices. Nor was his thought without limits. And although Saleeby may have argued that these limits were set by science, this was far from being the case. On the question of 'inter-racial aspects', for example, he was adamant:

I mistrust not only the brilliant students who, unhampered by biological knowledge, pierce to the bottom of this question in the course of such a [lecture] tour, but also the humanitarian bias of those who, like M. Finot, or the distinguished American sociologist, Mr. Graham Brooks, would almost have us believe that the negro is mentally and morally the equal of the Caucasian. [56]

And, like Galton, Saleeby believed that eugenic knowledge, though 'significant for all races and nations', was 'of unique significance for us Britons', because the British had an empire to care for. [57]

But among prominent Eugenics Society members, perhaps none put forward the imperial and racial, as well as class, defence of eugenics with more clarity than Ferdinand Schiller. Writing in the 19208 and 1930s, Schiller rehearsed the argument that civilisation was 'a deteriorating agency' that 'carries within it the seeds of its own decay and destruction'. [58] Without reform of these humanitarian values, Schiller forecast catastrophe.

The biggest threat to civilisation, according to Schiller, fell on the middle classes: 'One of the chief effects, therefore, of endeavours to improve social conditions by our present methods is to deteriorate the race. And they do this in a twofold manner: they eliminate the middle class, and they promote the survival of the unfit and defective.' [59] Once again, however, despite Schiller's explicit class bias, his concern is primarily for the empire; like the Whethams, Schiller expends considerable effort explicating the ruin of Rome, ascribing it to 'the Extirpation of the Best'. In his book of 1932, Schiller joined forces with a by now out-of-date aristocratic revivalism, but also emphasised the importance of eugenics by setting domestic degeneration into an international context. Schiller, as well as worrying about the threat to the middle classes, was just as concerned about the fate of the white race: 'At the moment worldwide race wars of extermination ( ... ) might end in the triumph of whites, if they were united; but they are so unlikely to unite, and hate each other so cordially, that their future looks by no means bright.' [60] Schiller's class considerations went hand in hand with his racial ones.

Schiller typifies the 'respectability' of the Eugenics Society, though he maintained his position with rather more stentorian confidence than others such as Darwin. To show that Schiller's racism was also not untypical no clearer case can be found than that of A.C. Gotto, a participant in a Eugenics Society discussion on the topic of 'Eugenics and Imperial Development'. She had the following to say on the subject of miscegenation:

I agree that our whole instinct warns us not to allow crosses to be made between races which differ widely from one another; and I certainly hope that science will prove this instinct to be correct, because although, like a good many other people, I am quite ready to look upon the coloured races as our brothers, I do not want to look upon them as our brothers-in-law. [61]

The transcript of the discussion records laughter at this point, the culmination of numerous examples of racial stereotyping and anti-miscegenation statements by respected Eugenics Society members, including Leonard Darwin and E.J. Lidbetter.

The point of these citations is not to suggest that race was the sole concern of the British eugenicists, for it was not. The aim is to correct a widely held view that race was of little or no concern to British eugenicists, and to show that racial prejudice formed an intrinsic part of a whole worldview in which the superiority of the white race and a domestic ruling elite -- either middle-class technocratic or aristocratic, depending on the writer -- was firmly interconnected with a distaste for labour, socialism, feminism and, usually, liberalism.

Lest this be thought to be a passing interest, which gradually faded away during the interwar years, an instructive example of race-crossing investigations from the Eugenics Society archives provides evidence that an interest in these matters survived long after they had been rejected by mainstream scientists. In the mid-1920s the geographer Professor H. J. Fleure, a prominent member of the Eugenics Society's Research Committee, and his assistant, a Miss Fleming, undertook research into race-crossing in Liverpool. With the full co-operation of ~he local Women Police Patrols, who helped locate children of Anglo-Chinese descent, and clergy, especially Revd J.H.G. Bates of St Michael's Vicarage, Grenville Street, the pair went to undertake 'anthropological measurements on slum children who are hybrid British-Chinese'. Rev. Bates was especially enthusiastic about the work, writing to Hodson that in his area the problem of race-mixing was 'more urgent than is generally realised', though in this case it concerned the 'Anglo-Negro' rather than 'the problem of the Anglo-Chinese'. According to Bates, the 'Anglo-Negro girl is in a deplorable state. Her condition has to be studied on the spot.' He went on to claim that, despite his lack of expertise on the matter, 'The moral question is one to be carefully understood: further my experience is that Anglo-Negro offsprings are generally T.B.' [62]

At about the same time the society produced a memorandum in which, asserting its political disinterestedness and accepting the lack of information on the effects of 'racial admixture', it nevertheless claimed that the 'racial type' was being diluted by 'undesirable' foreigners. In the 19508 the society took up this issue again, with the arrival of West Indian immigrants to Britain. As before the war, anti-immigration claims were made without scientific knowledge (this was acknowledged), but with the assertion that the writers were working for objective science. In one paper, for example, G. C. L. Bertram argued that there was a difference between 'white' and 'coloured' races, without setting out in what that difference consisted. He went on to argue for the need, on eugenic grounds, to prevent further immigration, even though this meant 'no implication that race-mixture in itself is bad, since we don't know enough about this yet'. Although he was anxious about this paper being in the public domain, it was published with the Eugenics Society's blessing in 1958. [63] Even after this point, research was carried out by the society into the effects of white/black hybridisation in Liverpool, and into the fertility of immigrants in the Sparkbrook area of Birmingham. [64]


According to Mazumdar, 'The all-important problem of the British eugenists was the inheritance of pauperism. The specific pathology of pauperism was feeble-mindedness, which provided the biological basis for its inheritance.' Hence she goes on to argue that Ernest Macbride's racism was 'very unBritish' and 'not heard very often in London, where it was the poor who were dangerously fecund, not the Mediterranean races'. But this rather misses the point. For in London, a large proportion of the poor were immigrants, as is both implicitly and explicitly clear in the negative stereotypes employed in most attacks on them. The fact that British eugenicists often refrain from naming Jews and other 'aliens' explicitly, using coded language instead, does not render the sentiment any less real. Besides, as I have shown, most felt no such compunction, and expressed their racism freely.

Similarly, Mazumdar's description of Chatterton-Hill's Nietzschean form of eugenics as being in 'the Continental form of race, rather than class conflict', [65] again seeks to draw a distinction between German and British eugenics which in reality was not so marked. The institutions of both countries shared their information and expertise; in fact the Germans owed a great deal to the achievements of Galton and Pearson, whom they held in veneration. The Archiv fur Rassen- und Gesellschaftsbiologie explicitly acknowledged its debt to the publications of the eugenics institutions at UCL, as did many other scholars in private correspondence. The divide between British and German eugenics did not come when Chatterton-Hill was writing in 1907, but only during the 1920s and 1930s, as British eugenicists became aware of the dangerous implications of the Aryan myth. [66] And the fact that even liberal-left, anti-racist scientists such as J.B.S. Haldane and Lancelot Hogben could borrow their methodologies from German race scientists such as Fritz Lenz Erwin Baur and Eugen Fischer -- who in their widely used textbook Human Heredity (1928) argued for the dangers of race-crossing -- shows that even in the 1930s assumptions underlying the science had still not been questioned. [67] Scientists such as Hogben and Haldane may have rejected the class element of British eugenics, but the racist presuppositions that had always also been there -- that is, that race-crossing was a subject of serious research -- they did not question, despite their anti-racist polemics. Hence despite their vigorous attack on Nazi race theories, 'they stopped short of denying hereditary mental differences or condoning all racial intermingling'. [68] In a chapter devoted to exposing 'The Biology of Inequality', for example, Haldane noted that 'although pure lines do not exist in man there are nevertheless human groups which breed true, or very nearly true, for certain physical characteristics', by which he meant primarily skin colour, as though the genetic differences between black and white skin were more significant than genetic differences within any selected group. [69] Hogben, a socialist and vigorous anti-racist, may also be held partially responsible for the view of British eugenics as a class-oriented enterprise, for he attacked the eugenicists in his own class terminology, for 'decking out the jackdaws of class prejudice in the peacock feathers of biological jargon'. [70] Even so, like other radical scientists'such as Haldane and Julian Huxley, Hogben continued to believe, even in the 'face of the increasing complexities of genetic research, that heredity was the prime factor in determining people's characteristics, both intellectual and physical. [71] There was thus no absolute break between the educational, middle-of-the-road, failed legislative programmes of the Eugenics Society and the vociferous and often violent recommendations of extremists such as Rentoul, Armstrong and Ludovici. Rather, they represented different articulations of the same position along a eugenic parabola, a parabola which encompassed right and left, reactionary and progressive.

British eugenicists were indeed vociferous; they were also, in terms of legislation, ineffectual. But their ideas grew out of existing popular prejudices, especially those concerning the hierarchy of races and Britain's God-given imperial role, and provided these same prejudices with scientific justifications which permeated British society for many years. The anti-racist eugenicists of the 1930s may have dispensed with the class-prejudices of the Eugenics Society, but in terms of proposing a science that would inevitably lead to invidious hierarchies being drawn up among social and ethnic groups, they represented a continuation of the eugenics that had gone before.

A quarter of a century ago, in a book which was a great stimulus to work on British eugenics, G. R. Searle argued that, despite the attractions that eugenics held for anti-alien campaigners, antisemitism was apparent in only 'a handful of eugenists', that an 'account of the "racialist" strand in the British eugenics movement can be pressed too far', and that, with the exception of Pearson, 'no serious attempt was made by any eugenist . . . to justify British rule in Africa and Asia on biological grounds'. [72] This chapter has shown that actually there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

There is also an important point to be made here about the sociology of knowledge, especially the transmission of scientific knowledge. Searle claimed that 'There were elements in eugenical thinking which prevented the elaboration of full-blooded theories of race. For a start, even a rudimentary understanding of genetics would have been enough to disabuse eugenists of the popular belief in the existence of 'pure' races.' [73] To be sure, in the early days, eugenicists such as the American Charles Davenport could be forgiven for thinking that simple Mendelian laws of inheritance could be applied to human beings. Yet very soon the knowledge was available which should have scotched such simplistic applications. [74] The knowledge was, however, ignored, not just by extremists, but also, as we have seen, by left-wing, anti-racist scientists, and even mainstream scientists such as Ronald A. Fisher, who advocated eugenics long after a more sophisticated understanding of human heredity had, thanks to the Hardy-Weinberg principle, been arrived at. Indeed, they even utilised the principle in order to bolster their defence of eugenics. [75] What this failure to act indicates is the fact that scientific knowledge does not necessarily win out over prejudice, that science can even strengthen prejudice in unexpected ways, among scientists just as easily as lay people.

A final example illustrates this point. In 1921 the novelist R. Austin Freeman contributed to the literature on degeneration with a book, Social Decay and Regeneration, which was praised in a preface by Havelock Ellis. Freeman shows how class-prejudice was key but not sufficient for eugenicists. Certainly, and in defence of the argument mounted by Searle, MacKenzie and Mazumdar, Freeman attacks the Labour movement, and ends his book with an appeal to the 'Voluntary Segregation of the Fit', 'most of whom,' he asserts, 'would probably come from the Middle class', for the simple reason that this class contains the highest proportion of 'mentally and physically fit persons'. [76] Yet the most vigorous and linguistically spirited section of the book is that in which Freeman deals with the 'alien sub-man'. Introducing this 'profoundly sinister social phenomenon', Freeman notes that

For many years past there has been flowing into this country a steady stream of men and women of the lowest type -- the very dregs of inferior populations ... These hordes of unclean wastrels, including a large proportion of diseased, destitute, and criminal persons, were permitted freely to settle on this land like swarms of pestilential flies. (p. 265)

When, Freeman says, one accounts for the fact that these foreigners control certain crimes, 'such as procuration and the "white slave" traffic', and when one notes that by intermarrying, aliens are lowering the quality of the population at large, 'we shall conclude that the alien sub-man, diffusing racial as well as personal inferiority, is an even more potent anti-social factor than the indigenous variety' (p. 267, my emphasis). Hence, when promoting his middle-class eugenic colonies, Freeman stresses from the outset that they will be restricted 'to persons of pure English ancestry' (p. 317). Eugenics was a concern of the middle classes, but this concern was articulated primarily through a racist worldview.
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Re: Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwar

Postby admin » Wed Aug 27, 2014 3:12 am

CHAPTER FIVE: The 'Lethal Chamber' in Eugenic Thought

As we have seen, before the First World War, and in some circles until well into the interwar period, eugenics -- literally, 'well born' or 'good stocks' -- was the height of sophisticated, 'progressive' thought. [1] Across Europe, the novels and plays of the period, such as H. G. Wells's The New Machiavelli (1911) and George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman (1905), are suffused with the language of race-regeneration and fears of physical deterioration. In Arthur Schnitzler's novel, The Road to the Open (1908), Berthold Stauber, a young and enthusiastic Viennese Jewish physician, tells his father, the humane Dr Stauber, that 'You need only consider, father, that the most honest and consistent social hygiene would have the direct result of annihilating diseased people, or at any rate excluding them from all enjoyment of life, and I don't deny that I have all kinds of ideas tending in that way which may seem cruel at the first glance.' He went on to say that 'You needn't be afraid, father, that I shall begin straight away to preach the murder of the unhealthy and superfluous. But theoretically that's certainly what my programme leads to.' [2] Although primarily a conservative ideology, both left and right were attracted to eugenic proposals. These ranged, from 'positive' measures such as the encouragement of 'hygienic marriage', that is, marriage between two people of good stock, to 'negative' measures such as sterilisation or segregation in order to ensure that the unfit, feeble-minded and morally degenerate did not have children. In this chapter I will consider eugenics in general, before concentrating on one aspect of its rhetoric which to a post-Second World War audience is perhaps even more shocking than it was to an Edwardian one.

Eugenics was felt to be a modern, scientific enterprise, marking Edwardian Britain off from the more relaxed, self-confident style of its Victorian forebear. The Victorians were presented with the self-evident nature of British superiority, in the achievements of industry and empire. But the Edwardian period saw the emergence off ears of British decline, especially after the military shock of the Boer War and rapid German economic growth. E.E. Williams's scaremongering tract, Made in Germany, published in 1896, provided a taste of things to come. In the following decade, it became almost axiomatic that the British 'race' was suffering from a degeneration which only hard-nosed, coolly implemented scientific measures could repair. The rallying cry of 'national efficiency' brought together tariff reformers, advocates of conscription, rearmament both military and moral, as well as those whose fears centred more on the threat to the purity of the race posed by miscegenation, and the influx of 'aliens' into Britain, which at this time was basically a euphemistic synonym for Jews. [3] Despite the fact that the 1904 Inter-Departmental Commission on Physical Deterioration reported that there was actually no evidence for degeneration, the very existence of such a commission seemed to justify people's fears.

Among eugenicists, opinions differed as to the validity of the science founded by Francis Galton, and now heavily influenced by the genetic laws of the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), whose work (dating from 1865) was re-discovered in 1900. With the same end in mind -- race-regeneration -- scientists differed as to how to go about attaining it. The debates can be confusing to our contemporary notions of what is progressive and what is reactionary; some of the most 'progressive' thinkers -- such as F.C.S. Schiller or W.C.D. and C.D. Whetham [4] suggested that the laws of heredity were indeed iron laws, that they could be used to isolate degenerate strains from healthy ones, hence establishing a scientific basis for eradicating the threat posed to the nation by the former. More 'conservative' figures - such as Arthur Balfour or G.K. Chesterton [5] -- remained suspicious of the new science of genetic heredity, and maintained that environmental circumstances were also important, if not more important, for dealing with degeneration. These latter thinkers tended still to be under the influence of Lamarckian views of heredity, which insisted that acquired characteristics could be inherited; in other words that notions such as the 'racial instinct' or 'race-memory' were to be taken seriously. As we will see, some figures managed the trick of combining both of these ways of thinking in order to justify views which, after the First World War, were coming to seem less like progressive ideas and more like violent justifications of class or race hatred.

The question of the role of genetics in heredity, for example, was perhaps the most pressing one for those concerned with the science of eugenics in the period before the First World War. Caleb Williams Saleeby, one of the early founders of the Eugenics Education Society, produced a number of books before 1914 which tried to convince the public of the beneficence of the enterprise he proposed to undertake. Claiming that 'Our end is a better race', he promised at the outset that the way to achieve this was through 'selection for parenthood based upon the facts of heredity'. This, he said, was 'Our primary idea'. Going on to attack those who were 'unhampered by biological knowledge', he went on to state that such a project was not a purely Mendelian one; rather it derives just as much from the teachings of Lamarck: ' ... the key to any of the right and useful methods of eugenic education is to be found in the conception of the racial instinct as existing for parenthood, and to be guarded, reverenced, educated for that supreme end'. [6]

Carefully steering a course between genetics and environment was the hallmark of Saleeby's work. In his following book, part of the series 'New Tracts for the Times' published by Cassell -- which included titles such as National Ideals and Race-Regeneration by the Revd R.F. Horton, and Womanhood and Race-Regeneration by Mary Scharlieb -- Saleeby argued that 'for the regeneration of the race we desire the best hereditary possibilities and the best conditions for their development: only the product of the best "nature" and the best "nurture" will give us the best race'. As though responding to attacks on eugenics, Saleeby went on to defend the justice of his proposals by asserting that his understanding of eugenics was in no way an attempt to harm people: 'We cannot raise the race by degrading individuals. Whatever lowers the humanity of fathers and mothers, whatever elevates the physiological above the psychological, the body above the mind, is an enemy of the race and no method for its regenerators.' [7]

In 1910 Saleeby had been converted by Sidney and Beatrice Webb from being an advocate of conservative eugenics to an advocate of more socialist proposals. By the time of his last book published before the First World War, it is interesting to note that heredity in his work takes on a greater role than previously. Although he remains cautious about advocating a purely 'positive' eugenics, which he associates with Galton, 'we must not neglect whatever may be possible in this direction'. As an example, he cites the case of 'energy ... apparently a quality transmitted by heredity ... [which] may prove to have a simpler genetic basis than many valuable qualities'. As if to defend his progressive credentials, Saleeby asserts, in an ironically ill-timed passage, that 'The conspicuously dysgenic or degenerative action of war can scarcely be allowed to injure civilized races much longer, and the influence of the true eugenist will always be found on the side of peace and its illustrious champions.'[8]

By contrast with Saleeby's middle-way approach, James Marchant, the director of the National Social Purity Crusade, made unabashed claims about heredity in order to make his arguments as forceful as possible. Writing at exactly the same time as Saleeby, Marchant appeared at first to be treading a similarly cautious path: 'to avoid even momentary misunderstanding it must be immediately prefaced that the inheritance of vicious tendencies may be kept in check if not wholly stamped out; they are not inevitably bound to issue in evil deeds; they may be sterile tendencies'. Yet he went on in the very next sentence to state baldly: 'Yet heredity plays havoc with the lives of men ... The consequences of transgression follow with leaden footfalls which echo down the long corridor of time from generation to generation.' Hence, the whole discussion of vice, particularly to be found in the cities, such as the white slave traffic (in which, incidentally, 'The traders are mostly foreigners, Germans and Jews predominating ...') is set out as the consequence of degenerate hereditary inheritances. Although Marchant's proposals for alleviating the situation are unclear, he has little time, in his role as Promoter of Public Morals, for the weak-willed, apologetic arguments of those who stress environmental factors as belonging to the social fabric. [9]

It is obvious that there was no clarity on such matters, however, since Marchant re-entered the debate during the war with an argument which, while devoted to the same goal of social purity, owed more this time to Lamarck than to Mendel. Indeed, now he attacked genetics per se; taking on 'Mendel's so-called laws', Marchant eulogised instead (somewhat in the manner of Durkheim) the social inheritance: 'Man enters into a great inheritance of customs and traditions, laws and religion, art and literature, which, even if we grant a great deal to heredity, exercise-an immeasurable and decisive influence over him.' He then went on to disparage at length the purely heredity-based argument of Madison Grant's book The Passing of the Great Race (1917), a book which argued that the deterioration of England was 'due to the lowering proportion of the Nordic blood and the transfer of political power from the vigorous Nordic aristocracy and middle classes to the radical and labour elements, both largely recruited from the Mediterranean type'. Rather than see everything in such terms -- which illustrated 'the extreme use this modern doctrine of heredity is put' to -- Marchant's argument turned full circle from his 1909 book. Noting that the young needed to be taught the 'virtues of sex', not to have them hidden from them, he went on to argue that his aim was 'to accustom the young to regard the sex instinct as a "racial instinct", as something which exists, as it in reality does, not primarily for the individual but for the race. It is a trust for posterity ... the racial act is for the race.' [10] One wonders today what choice there really is between Grant and Marchant, who undoubtedly had the same end in mind. [11]

Indeed, it was easy for racist propagandists to seize upon such scientific inquiries in order to make their case seem watertight, especially when the scientists themselves, notably Galton's protege Karl Pearson, were convinced of the degenerating effects of immigrants. There was only a difference of degree, not of substance, between Pearson's investigations with Margaret Maul (of the Galton Laboratory) into the racial qualities of Jewish schoolchildren (see Chapter 4), or the Eugenics Society's Memorandum on Alien Immigration, which dressed up their prejudice in the language of objective research, and the vehemently racist propaganda leaflet Are you an Englishman? Then Read This! published around 1925. Pearson, engaged in statistical research, concluded after exhaustively correlating relationships between, for example, head shape and intelligence or hair colour and intelligence, found that, 'Taken on the average, and regarding both sexes, this alien Jewish population is somewhat inferior physically and mentally to the native population.' Crucially, there was little to be done to alter this state of affairs: 'The intelligence of these aliens is given; it is the product of their racial development and the action which environment has exerted in selecting for survival or destroying during long years of history the more or the less intelligent of their race.' The Eugenics Society's memorandum, from around 1925, claimed that it was 'very undesirable that aliens, so unlike ourselves as to produce a definitely half-caste progeny, should mix with the community. The presence of negroes particularly is an evil ...' but did not explain why. Indeed it went on to admit that there was 'great difficulty in discovering reliable information as to racial admixture, since statistics only show nationality and thus include as British persons who are racially foreigners'. Are You an Englishman?, sent to the Eugenics Society by the anti-alien campaigner E. Bloomfield -- with whom, to their credit, the Society declined to have further contact - simply took such claims and presented them in a more earthy fashion:

one of the causes of industrial unrest and the cause of unemployment was the continuous immigration of low grade aliens, whose instincts and traditions, that is to say whose inherited race memories, these themselves the outcome of biological and therefore ineradicable causes, made it impossible for the Southern European and Eastern races ever to assimilate with our own Nordic stock. [12]

The mutually exclusive combination of Lamarckianism and Mendelism was no barrier to racism.

An equally heated debate raged concerning the best eugenic methods to be employed in order to promote race-regeneration. Havelock Ellis, for example, unquestionably a progressive figure in the history of sexology, supported 'the extirpation of the feeble-minded classes' but thought it best to do so 'without any risky experiments in legislation'. He believed he could achieve his goal 'by specially training the feeble-minded, by confining them in suitable institutions and colonies, and by voluntary sacrifice of procreative power on the part of those who are able to work in the world ...' At the same time he supported 'the higher breeding of the race, as it may be exercised by the fully sane and responsible classes'. [13]

The following year Ellis argued for the same need to nurture the race, but did so in what appeared at first to ,be more careful tones. Early on in his book, The Task of Social Hygiene, he argued against those who believed the race to be degenerating, saying that there 'is not the slightest evidence' for the theory 'that the bad stocks are replacing the good stocks'. Indeed, he proposed the term 'aggeneration', since 'Regeneration implies that there has been degeneration, and it cannot be positively affirmed that such degeneration has, on the whole, occurred in such a manner as to affect the race.' Furthermore, Ellis went on -- in the vein of Saleeby -- to defend eugenics against those who saw it as leading to the establishment of stud farms and the breakdown of traditional moral norms. 'As things are,' he wrote, 'even if we had the ability and the power, we should surely hesitate before we bred men and women as we breed dogs or fowls. We may, therefore, quite put aside all discussion of eugenics as a sort of higher cattle-breeding.' Nevertheless, he had by this stage in the book already set out his position on the 'feeble-minded', an 'evil that is unmitigated'. The 'unquestionable fact that in any degree it is highly inheritable renders it a deteriorating poison to the race'; the 'very existence itself' of 'this feeble folk' is 'an impediment'. [14] To today's reader, the apparently measured message of Ellis's beginning is severely tempered by such candid statements.

Even so, Ellis's prescriptions for society seem mild when contrasted with the out-and-out defenders of degeneration theory, whose answers brooked no moral objection. A good example is again provided by Anthony Ludovici. Taking Nietzsche's call for the 'transvaluation of all values' as his starting point, Ludovici devoted himself to proving how contemporary, liberal ideals promoted only the weak, effeminate and degenerate, and how the response necessitated an unprecedented degree of harshness. 'This principle of Nietzsche's,' he asserted, 'which, if we banish squeamish prejudices, we know to be our principle also, is simply the time-honoured law, that some race, some few must suffer, if an ideal race is to be attained at all.' [15]

In the late 1960s Ludovici was still convinced that the English race was degenerating. In the interwar period, when scientific racism was (as Elazar Barkan put it) in retreat in English and American thought (although mainstream eugenics was not), Ludovici espoused some of the most outrageous ideas for race-regeneration, methods which, in tracts such as Violence, Sacrifice and war (1933) and The Choice of a Mate (1935), do not shrink from advocating mass-murder. In the former work, for example, Ludovici wrote that since violence and sacrifice were social inevitabilities, 'the time has come ... consciously to select the section or elements in the world or the nation that should be sacrificed'. Who did Ludovici mean? He was, fortunately for us, only too ready to reveal that 'a great and brave nation ... will not hesitate to abandon all such suicidal solutions [to violence] as homosexuality, heterosexual vice, birth control, infanticide, emasculation, etc., and will distribute the burden of sacrifice over inferior races abroad, and inferior human products in all classes at home'. [16] It is clear, then, that despite the general trend away from exaggerating the possibilities of positive eugenic measures in interwar Anglo-Saxon thought, there were people keeping the dream alive of an engineered super-race. As if in direct response to Ellis's hesitation before treating people as dogs or fowl, Ludovici asked: 'What breed of sheep, what breed of horses, what breed of common barn-fowl, could have been abandoned to the promiscuous mating alone (not to mention other errors) to which modern man has long been abandoned, without suffering ultimate degeneration?' [17]

Ludovici -- though extreme in his views -- was by no means alone. At the turn of the century the well-known nationalist journalist Arnold White stridently asserted that 'The best specimens of a race, whether among men, pigeons, orchids, or horses, are only to be found where the laws of breeding and of culture are carefully obeyed.' [18] We will encounter both Ludovici and White again later on. Though intemperate in his claims and intolerant in his attitudes, Ludovici was actually not so far removed from the establishment where the scientific possibilities were concerned. As late as 1939, for example, the 'Geneticists' Manifesto', signed by seven eminent participants in the Seventh International Genetical Congress in Edinburgh, demanded the rejection of race-prejudice and was in general nothing like as incautious as Ludovici in its claims for genetics. Nevertheless, it still asserted, among other things, that both negative and positive eugenic birth-control measures were necessary and possible, and that 'conscious guidance of selection is called for' in reproduction. [19] In this their statement remained true to the goals of Galton: eugenics'

first object is to check the birth-rate of the Unfit, instead of allowing them to come into being, though doomed in large numbers to perish prematurely. The second object is the improvement of the race by furthering the productivity of the Fit by early marriages and healthful rearing of their children. [20]

It is important to remember that not all advocates of eugenics were anything like as sure of the movement's panacea-like qualities as was Ludovici. Most in fact were still afflicted with the effeminate characteristics of liberalism which Ludovici was working so hard to overturn, and torn between the need for state intervention and the protection of individual liberty. [21] Valere Fallon, for example, professor at the Philosophical College of the Society of Jesus at Louvain, was a promoter of eugenics whose enthusiasm for the new science had to be kept in line with the tenets of Catholicism. In several articles from 1921 and 1922, which appeared in English in 1923 in an attempt to win over English Catholics to eugenics, Fallon endorsed the view that the increased luxury of modern civilisation tended to bring about the deterioration of physical vigour; indeed, 'It is even maintained, and with a certain amount of plausibility, that humanity is degenerating, and that the proportion of abnormal, defective, degenerate, backward, and weak people is on the increase.' He explicitly warned, however, that euthanasia and sterilisation were contrary to Catholic teaching, and attacked those who supported

the intensifying of the struggle for life, understood not merely as economic rivalry, but literally as implying the destruction of the multitude of weaklings and defectives in order to bring about in all its rigour the survival of the fittest, and to open the way for the elite -- the happy few indeed! -- to aspire to a greater well-being with more facility.

The role of eugenics, then, was primarily preventive. Although Fallon naturally could not endorse birth control (he eagerly condemned neo-Malthusianism), he pondered the possibility of a law to 'forbid the marriage of persons whose offspring would certainly create a grave danger or heavy burden upon society'. [22]


Ordinarily, these debates between eugenicists of various schools can be approached using conventional historiographical approaches, such as the history of ideas, with its way of historicising ideas so that the same word or phrase can be shown to have changed in meaning over time. This historicisation is certainly possible with the term 'eugenics' itself. With care, one can show how that word was used to promote many different types of social projects, [23] from those which would still be considered beneficial today (basic hygiene measures or care of the mentally ill, for example), to those which would be considered objectionable on the grounds of changed moral standards (the views of the promoters of the National Social Purity Crusade with its restrictive sexual mores, for example). Eugenics today carries an unmistakable stigma of evil, even though much of what we object to in the literature of its heyday is really the vocabulary ('race-regeneration', 'national purity') or tone rather than the measures under discussion. In Saleeby's 1911 book, The Methods of Race-Regeneration, for example, the injunction to 'segregate' the 'naturally defective' is essentially still the basis of contemporary dealing with the mentally ill, whether this be physically through asylums or socially/psychologically through 'care in the community'. The current celebration of the human genome project seems once again to have given rise to a belief that a genetic explanation can be found for everything, and the return of eugenics -- now under more consumer-friendly names -- is already upon us.

There is, however, a good reason for the attachment of 'evil' to eugenics, and that of course is the role of 'racial science' in the Third Reich's policies of euthanasia and, following on from these, the genocide of the Jews and Sinti and Roma, Today's discussions about euthanasia or genetic engineering, for example, are stamped by a certain heightened emotional tone which very easily spills over into hysteria. Even serious students of the topic are not immune from bringing Nazism into contemporary debates, or vice-versa, as Michael Burleigh's out-of-place discussion of the views of Peter Singer in the epilogue to his otherwise superb book on Nazi euthanasia policies shows. [24]

Racial science was not the only strand of thought that fed into the Holocaust. Equally important were 'irrational' notions of hatred, fear of pollution, and what a number of scholars as diverse as R.G. Collingwood and Georges Bataille identified as an 'excess energy' which exists in 'rationalised' societies, ready to burst out at moments of crisis. [25] Nevertheless, even the most outrageous forms of behaviour were legitimised by the Nazis under the veneer of scientific objectivity (Hitler spoke of eradicating the Jewish 'bacillus'), and there is no doubt as to the seriousness with which many scientists, from agriculturalists and demographers to chemical biologists, believed in the notion of the Volkskorper, the national body, which could be treated like an individual body, to be cared for ordinarily and, when diseased, cauterised. The gas chambers were the end result of a complex process of intermingled ideological, military and circumstantial developments, but the language of eugenics and racial hygiene was certainly part of the legitimising process for them. It helped to prepare the way, so to speak. [26]

And here we encounter a problem with the terminology which renders it not so easily historicisable. There has for some time now been a debate as to the possibility of historicising the Holocaust, a debate which is illustrative of the problem of representing the Holocaust more generally using conventional historiographical tools, and the wider problem of the 'crisis of history' in the face of the postmodern challenge, a challenge which insists that language 'constructs' the truth of its subject-matter just as much as it reflects it.

There is an added problem in this case, a problem that until now has gone unnoticed both by students of the history of eugenics and by students of the Holocaust. It does not solely concern the problem of representation, but the problem of how ideas do not change over time, how ideas do travel across national settings, and how they become actualised. It also concerns an aspect of the Holocaust which is believed to render it particularly horrific: the fact that it was unprecedented, the fact that the industrial method of murder could have been neither envisaged nor comprehended, either by those who were its victims or by the so-called 'bystanders'. An archetypal example of this is recorded from when the Polish underground courier, Jan Karski, reported to American Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter, and Polish ambassador to the US, Jan Ciechanowski. After telling in great detail of his clandestine visits to the Warsaw Ghetto and of what was happening to the Jews upon their deportation from there, the following occurred:

Frankfurter silently got up from his chair. For a few moments, he paced back and forth in front of Karski and the ambassador, who looked on in puzzlement. Then, just as quietly, the justice took his seat again.

'Mr. Karski,' Frankfurter said after a further pause, 'a man like me talking to man like you must be totally frank. So I must say: I am unable to believe you.'

Ciechanowski flew from his seat. 'Felix, you don't mean it!' he cried. 'How can you call him a liar to his face! The authority of my government is behind him. You know who he is!'

Frankfurter replied, in a soft voice filled with resignation, 'Mr. Ambassador, I did not say this young man is lying. I said I am unable to believe him. There is a difference.' [27]

It is true that the Nazi path to the gas chamber was a twisted one, a path which (once the actual murder process started) began with the face-to-face shootings of the Einsatzgruppen (the mobile killing squads which accompanied the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union), 'progressed' through the gas-vans of Serbia and Chelmno, and then into the carbon monoxide gas chambers of the Operation Reinhard death camps (Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka), based on those used in the 'euthanasia' programme, before ending with the most technologically sophisticated version in Auschwitz, the zyklon B gas chamber.

As if this history, which is well known, were not horrific enough in itself, it seems that we must question the extent to which such a thing was, in fact, unimaginable to the minds of civilised Europeans. For in the English literature on eugenics there existed for some forty years before the Holocaust a notion -- the 'lethal chamber' -- which can be differentiated from the Nazi gas chambers 'only' in the fact that the English versions never went into operation. In the rest of this chapter I will defend this claim, and think about whether the time difference between the first mention of the 'lethal chamber' in England and the operation of the Nazi gas chambers in occupied Poland confounds normal historiographical suppositions of change over time, and whether the English idea and the German actualisation of it are in any way related.


The brief discussion of eugenics in Britain which forms the first part of this chapter was necessary in order to emphasise the fact that 'eugenics' was really an umbrella term for a rich variety of ideas. It also serves the purpose of reminding us that, although we concentrate on it for good reason, the history of eugenics in Germany is by no means unique; indeed, it borrowed some of its ideas from abroad.

One of the most shocking of these ideas is that of the gas chamber. There are very few advocates of mass-murder of any sort, particularly not by gassing, to be found in the literature on eugenics. But it seems that in the British consciousness, fuelled by the hyperbole of the press, there was concern that this was exactly the end to which eugenics would lead. From the reassurances to be found in the writings of those who defended eugenics, it seems clear that the idea of the 'lethal chamber', though never set out in any detail, was a widely propagated one from which eugenicists had to distance themselves. At work here we see the defenders of traditional values fighting to ridicule the eugenicists, who in the years before 1918 were at the forefront of progressive thought.

It is unclear where the phrase comes from. Yet the fact that Arnold White felt the need to mention it in an article which later became part of his highly influential book which was cited above, Efficiency and Empire (1901), is revealing. Railing against the same sort of weak character that Ludovici later chose as his target, one which took unnecessary pity on the weak, White wrote the following:

There is no sign of a reaction against the cant that loads the dissolute poor with favours, while brave men and women who refuse to be proselytised prefer to die of hunger in a garret rather than sue for alms. In changing our present methods, however, we must carry with us public opinion. Flippant people of lazy mind talk lightly of the 'lethal chamber,' as though diseased Demos, half conscious of his own physical unfitness, but electorally omnipotent, would permit a curtailment of his pleasures or the abridgement of his liberty. [28]

When White wrote these words in 1899 this sort of defence was necessary, for his advocacy of 'efficiency' could easily be caricatured as being a call for some kind of mechanised or engineered society, inimical to the tradition of 'British liberty'. This is far from being a proposal to establish gas chambers, but a hyperbolic way of demonstrating the acceptably considered opinions of his own book. But today the passage is striking for another reason. Here, forty years before the operation of the first Nazi gas chamber, White introduces the notion of a 'lethal chamber' into his text in the apparently safe knowledge that his readers will know what he is talking about.

Some years later the phrase reappears in another book by White. In a collection of articles produced for the Referee under the pen-name Vanoc, White devoted a whole section to race-regeneration and related matters. In one article, 'Race Culture', he defended the advantages to be won from a policy of eugenics:

I admit that the word 'Eugenics' is repellent, but the thing is essential to our existence. To produce sound minds in sound bodies by impressing on all classes the dignity, the privileges, and the responsibilities of British parenthood is the race-improver's aim. Naturally we are misrepresented ... It is not a fact that Scotland Yard will be invoked to effect the union of the fit, and it is also an error to believe that the plans and specifications for County Council lethal-chambers have yet been prepared. [29]

Again the implication is that word has been spread that this is precisely what the county councils intend to do; at least, the eugenicists have been the butt of jokes accusing them of unrealistic and dangerous dreams of social engineering, what A.F. Tredgold, a member of the Eugenics Education Society's council, called 'dark mutterings regarding "lethal chambers"', mutterings that White for one felt the need to dismiss as absurd. [30]

The term 'lethal chamber' also appears in the work of Caleb Williams Saleeby, the influential member of the Eugenics Society whose books have already been discussed. Because of his position, Saleeby undoubtedly felt more vulnerable than most to the attacks of anti-eugenicists; hence he felt obliged to distance himself from the wilder accusations levelled against his new science. 'Thus,' he wrote,

we need mention, only to condemn, suggestions for 'painless extinction', lethal chambers of carbonic acid, and so forth. As I incessantly have to repeat, eugenics has nothing to do with killing; natural selection acts by death, but eugenic selection by birth ... No form of actual or constructive murder (such as the permission of infant mortality) has any place here, for all these proposals to kill miss the vital point, which involves the distinction between the right to live and the right to become a parent. [31]

Once again, it is clear that Saleeby is responding to those who have sought to besmirch the good name of eugenics by imputing to it intentions of the most abhorrent variety.

The timing of these replies from the eugenicists is no surprise: on 3 March 1910 Bernard Shaw, one of the more wayward supporters of eugenics with his notion of a 'democracy of supermen', delivered a lecture to the Eugenics Education Society. Confirming the fears of those who wished the Society to develop a reputation as a serious scientific institution, Shaw's talk resulted in the press ridiculing eugenicists as advocates of 'free love' and 'lethal chambers'.

Such an outcome was not entirely unforeseeable, given Shaw's well-known volatility. Indeed, a week before the talk, at a time when relations between the Galton Laboratory and the Eugenics Society were already strained, Karl Pearson wrote to the aged Francis Galton, with the hope 'that he will be under self-control and not be too extravagant'. [32] The hope was to be misplaced. One month before Shaw's talk a lecture by C. W. Wilson to the Birmingham Rationalist Association on the subject of eugenics gave rise to 'much wild and absurd talk about lethal chambers, the right to live, and forcible marriages'. [33] In the case of someone so famously outspoken as Shaw, the outcome was sure to be far greater negative publicity. Either the press believed Shaw to be serious, and vilified him, or recognised the tongue-in-cheek nature of his lecture, and underscored it.

Shaw (as reported by the Daily Express) spoke of revising the normative view of the sacredness of human life, abolishing marriage and 'going further in the direction of political revolution than the most extreme Socialist at present advocates in public'. The most shocking part of his speech, came, however, when he turned to the implementation of eugenic measures:

We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living, and to leave living a great many people whom we at present kill. We should have to get rid of all ideas about capital punishment

A part of eugenic politics would finally land us in an extensive use of the lethal chamber. A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other people's time to look after them.

The Daily Express was outraged, apologising to its readers for printing such material, only justifying it by stating that it 'indicates the lengths to which the Socialists, of whom Mr. Bernard Shaw is a leader, will go'. [34]

Other newspapers were equally repulsed by Shaw's talk, though most reported it drily, without comment, other than that which was implied in the headline 'Lethal Chamber essential to Eugenics' as used by the Daily News and the Birmingham Daily Mail. This latter paper, though, was not unduly worried by Shaw's prognostications: 'This is all very shocking, but it is also Shavian, and as some centuries must elapse before Society has fitted itself for such a wildly "ideal" doctrine as this, no one need trouble himself seriously about it.' Among the many other papers that reported the talk, only The Globe and the Evening News also recognised it as a skit on the dreams of the eugenicists, although the Illustrated London News offered a reading that saw Shaw as driving the final nail into the coffin of eugenics, ending with the thought that 'The only daring suggestion for the improvement of the human race that Eugenics suggests to us is that the world would be a jollier place if there were fewer cranks in it.' [35]

It was because of these attacks in the press that the eugenicists sought to employ the language of the 'lethal chamber' in order to make their actual views appear more reasonable, a policy of stealing their enemies' weapons, so to speak. Hence a widely reported series of lectures at Bedford College for Women, which sought to dispel such 'wild' rumours. The Yorkshire Daily Post had this to say about a talk by Dean Inge:

Nothing has been more noticeable of recent years than the advance of the study of eugenics. Some have seized hold of this to advocate the abolition of the marriage tie, the institution of a State lethal chamber, and other equally absurd ideas. It was therefore timely that the Bedford College for Women should arrange a course of lectures to put the science in the right perspective. [36]

A few days later, the Daily Sketch reported that Dr Saleeby had 'wiped down' Shaw in his comments on Shaw's speech; and in response to J.W. Slaughter's speech of 21 March the Manchester Dispatch wrote the following:

The way of the parent must be made easy, but apart from this we must exterminate the undesirable sections of humanity. The establishment of lethal chambers and the resort to surgical measures are, however, the plans of 'wild eugenicists' in the opinion of Dr. Slaughter. These undesirables must be kept apart from the community -- kept in comfort, not treated harshly - - and with safeguards against the reproduction of the species. [37]

Unsurprisingly, the strategy of referring to the worst excesses of anti-eugenics caricaturists in order to appear reasonable was one that seems to have had limited success. Saleeby tried it once again before the war, but even after 1918, when eugenicists in Britain increasingly accepted the arguments of the progressive- minded environmentalists, eugenics largely failed to influence policy (the exception being the debate over the sterilisation of mental defectives). [38] But in 1914, just before the outbreak of war, Saleeby sought to defend the inherent moderation of eugenics in its pure form:

Since Galton's death eugenics has been used as an agent of class prejudice, an argument against love, a reason for cruel and wicked surgical operations, for defending the neglect of infancy, and for wild talk about lethal chambers and stud farms. Such prostitutions of eugenics are the very substance of irreligion, and a materialistic 'philosophy' is at the heart of them. [39]

Remarkably, Saleeby's twin nightmare of 'lethal chambers and stud farms' sum up the two aspects of Nazi eugenics policy: the 'negative' policy of genocide -- the Holocaust -- and the 'positive' policy of the Lebensborn, Himmler's nascent project to promote 'sound breeding' among SS members (although in reality there never were SS stud farms, as we have been encouraged to believe by popular literature).

The point of this is no more than to point out that in England, decades before the Nazis began gassing Jews to death by the million, the fantasy of the lethal chamber was already being mooted. In the early years of eugenics, it was not uncommon for its advocates to recommend that 'The surest, the simplest, the kindest, and most humane means for preventing reproduction among those whom we deem unworthy of this high privilege, is a gentle, painless death; and this should be administered not as a punishment, but as an expression of enlightened pity for the victims ... ' [40] In the literature cited here, the term 'lethal chamber' serves less a fantastic than a rhetorical quality: defending eugenics against its denigrators. But there is no doubt that the reason for the term's continued use is to be found in the imaginative shock which it presents to the person who hears or reads it. Why then were people so shocked during the war, when the news of the mass-murders began to seep out of the occupied eastern territories, or after the war, when the newsreels confirmed what so many had wanted to disbelieve?

The answer might be the fact that the term 'lethal chamber' passes out of common parlance in interwar Britain. I have already noted that the wilder claims for eugenics gradually fell from favour after 1918; there are few references to lethal chambers after that point. Nevertheless, the idea only died slowly. In 1919 an investigation into male prostitution elicited this comment from W.J.H. Brodrick:

The professional boys are about the most degraded being you could find. They have no talk except obscenity; no ideas except unnatural vice; they are usually diseased and a pest and a nuisance to everybody with whom they come into contact. Personally I should be glad to see them put in a lethal chamber and have done with it. [41]

Shaw returned to the theme in 1922, this time with slightly more reasoned backing for his assertions, in his preface to Sidney and Beatrice Webb's English Local Government, under the heading of 'The Lethal Chamber'. On the question of 'incorrigible villains', Shaw argued that the 'most obvious course is to kill them'. In response to the predicted objection that the state should not be setting an example of killing, Shaw argued that imprisonment already did this:

imprisonment is as irrevocable as hanging. Each is a method for taking a criminal's life; and when he prefers hanging or suicide to imprisonment for life, as he sometimes does, he says, in effect, that he had rather you took his life all at once, painlessly, than minute by minute in a long-drawn-out torture.

Although Shaw was not as outspoken here as in his infamous 1910 speech, his conclusions were probably all the more worrying for that:

The moment we face it frankly we are driven to the conclusion that the community has a right to put a price on the right to live in it ... If people are fit to live, let them live under decent human conditions. If they are not fit to live, kill them in a decent human way. Is it any wonder that some of us are driven to prescribe the lethal chamber as the solution for the hard cases which are at present made the excuse for dragging all the other cases down to their level, and the only solution that will create a sense of full social responsibility in modern populations? [42]

Probably the most public reference to the notion of the lethal chamber can be found in a book by Leonard Darwin, second youngest and longest-surviving son of Charles Darwin, and president of the Eugenics Society. In his 1926 book The Need for Eugenic Reform he devoted a whole sub-chapter to the idea of the lethal chamber as one of the possibilities for the elimination of the unfit. He objected to the lethal chamber for these reasons:

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 the fear not only that they themselves would be thus 'eliminated', but also that that might be the fate of some beloved relative ... 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.

Also condemning sterilisation, Darwin favoured 'conception control' above all. [43] But it is the fact that he felt the need to devote not inconsiderable space to the lethal chamber that is so interesting; even in the interwar years, it seems that the idea still existed, at least to the extent that those who wanted eugenics to be taken seriously had to prove their distaste for it. Even a radical hereditarian like Charles Armstrong -- who believed that 'It is chiefly "humanitarian" legislation that is now deliberately destroying our fine stock' -- felt it necessary to stress in the rush to 'diminish the dangerous fertility of the unfit' that it was sterilisation rather than the other two options of segregation or the lethal chamber that was preferable. [44]

The only other reference I have found for the interwar period appears in the fringe context of an Imperial Fascist League meeting in 1937. Richard Thurlow, in his ground-breaking book Fascism in Britain, gives the details: Henry Hamilton Beamish, vice-president of the IFL (and founder of the Britons in 1918) gave a talk entitled 'National Socialism (Racial Fascism) in Practice in Germany' in which he lauded Hitler's Germany for having identified 'the enemy'. He then added, as Thurlow notes, 'with chilling prophecy', that 'it would be the task of a great leader, Hitler for preference, to march into Russia in the next five years and place one half of the population in the lethal chamber and the other half in the zoo'. [45]

The use of the phrase by an extremist like Beamish would not be so interesting were it not for the fact that it clearly has an intellectual heritage going back to the turn of the century. By the 1930s Beamish already -- in England, at any rate -- sounded like the champion of a lost cause; but in Germany the cause was of course gaining ground. Before the First World War, the work of Galton and his successor Karl Pearson had long since argued for the importance of genetic over environmental factors in determining human heredity; by the time of Beamish's lecture in 1937 or Ludovici's published plans for selective breeding programmes, such an extreme, one-sided position was, scientifically speaking, outdated. G. R. Searle is certainly correct to state that demands for the use of the lethal chamber 'were never seriously put forward by British eugenists'; [46] nevertheless, the whole language of racial deterioration, elimination of the unfit, and scientific, objective and hence unalterable descriptions of the evils of miscegenation, hybridisation and degeneration fed deftly into the programmes of racists. Besides, the idea of the lethal chamber was certainly kept alive precisely by those same eugenicists who sought to fight off any association with it, just as it was in the imaginative literature of H.G. Wells, who in 1933 fantasised about a gas attack on Berlin in 1940, describing in detail the corpses laid out on Unter den Linden, a scene whose ironic value needs no comment today, since it bears so uncanny a resemblance to descriptions of bodies in the Nazi gas chambers. [47]

These ideas ultimately penetrated rather more deeply in Germany than in Britain. George Mosse has shown the considerable success with which the Archiv for Rassen-- und Gesellschaftsbiologie (Journal for Racial and Social Biology), founded in 1904, propagated Galton's and Pearson's ideas. It followed with especial interest developments at Pearson's Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics, founded at University College London in the same year. [48]

While eugenics, or at least the laws of heredity in relation to race, had become scientifically acceptable by 1914, it was to be in 1930s Germany rather than in Britain that the language of the Volkskorper became the basis for a state-sanctioned programme of 'national purification'. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this chapter, and have anyway been discussed many times over elsewhere. Here I want only to ask, since the field of eugenics was established in Britain, and was eagerly taken on board by German scientists, might it not also be the case that the notion of the 'lethal chamber', which had existed in British literature on eugenics since the turn of the century, also fed into the fantasies which eventually led to the gas chambers? If so, and far more research would be required to prove it, can the notion of the 'unimaginableness' of the Holocaust be modified? Could it be that, in Britain especially, the Nazi project should have been recognised as akin to an earlier British concern?


That the idea of the 'lethal chamber' was a British concern is shown in a rather shabby example of postwar extreme-right writing. Anthony Ludovici was almost eighty when, in 1961, he published Religion for Infidels, an attack on the weak, effete ethics that had been spread by the teachings of Christianity. The book reiterated what had been Ludovici's favourite theme since the beginning of his writing career: degeneration, this time presented as one of 'the most disastrous results of Christianity's disregard for biological attributes in the estimation of human worth'. [49]

It is when Ludovici turns to his solution to this ongoing biological deterioration that the text becomes interesting in this context. It is worth citing at length:

Then what is your remedy?' the reader asks; and, in the defiance of his tone, I sense his assumption that he knows my answer and has the appropriate retort ready. What he expects me to say is, 'A lethal chamber for the human rubbish we are salvaging at the cost of the dwindling minority of the sound and promising,' and if! hint at such a thing, he is prepared at once to retort that the decent English public would never tolerate such 'Nazi' or 'fascist sadism.'

Incidentally, it should be noted that when the average person formulates this sort of reply, he not only shows himself incapable of going further back in history than World War II -- as if thought on this question began then -- but also betrays his expectation of immediate applause from every moron in the nation, whose alleged inability to suffer the violent elimination of even selected lower-grade defectives, is compounded with the patient, not to say, cheerful, endurance of the death of thousands of quite unselected and presumably sound adults and children on our highways every year.

But Ludovici claims that he has 'no intention of proposing ... a lethal chamber', if only because this would 'confirm people in their Christian sophistries'. It is because, he says, 'the "lethal chamber" solution is the only one popularly conceived as possible for relieving society of the crushing burden consisting of its biological trash and dregs, and of cleansing the national stock and protecting it from further contamination, [that] nothing whatsoever is done about it ...' If only people would listen to his solution, a 'transvaluation of all values' which would harden spirits against the depraved and degenerate, the problem would automatically take care of itself:

Men must learn again to feel in their hearts contempt and repugnance for biological depravity; and when this lesson has been learnt and the taste displayed in mating correspondingly chastened, there will be no need to argue over the pros and cons of a lethal chamber for human rubbish, for morbidity and defect will insensibly and inevitably diminish to the extent of ceasing to be a social problem. [50]

There is a certain ambivalence here; either way, it is not attractive. Ludovici knows he cannot defend the 'lethal chamber' option, though one senses he has no particular objection to it, but his proposed solution arrives at the same end. In the year that Raul Hilberg published The Destruction of the European Jews, the major landmark in the historiography of the Holocaust, a British right-wing thinker was, in so many words, advocating the elimination of the 'unfit'. It seems that although the British never put into operation the lethal chamber they invented, leaving it to the Germans to claim that notoriety, a few among them were so impressed by the results that they could still appeal to it after the war as the benchmark by which their own projects of biological regeneration should be judged. The 'lethal chamber', though it was realised by the Germans, was, like eugenics in general, certainly also a British problem.
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