Ghosts of Galton and Eugenics Return – Society, Population and Environment in the 21st Century

We have already looked at some other key players of the past related to eugenics, population via Malthus and liberal economics of Adam Smith, now we look at Galton, if not in detail, a broad sketch of his life and later impact on society, especially in the Anglosphere.

This has been exemplified by how eugenics theory never went away, even after the Nazis post WWII, but reemerged via the US using an environmental and climate prism, with a focus upon Malthusian population obsessions; supported by ZPG, UNPD data, Anglosphere media and think tanks to avoid regulation and business constraints, while encouraging xenophobia.

Background of Galton

Francis Galton was born in 1822 a Quaker in English Midlands, to a iron related trade then later banking family, while he was something of a polymath he had a personal interest in data and weather, plus fingerprinting for crime suspects (UCL, 2020). According to Diver (2005) he may have been influenced already by Malthus‘s work on purported need for population control but while Malthus viewed population growth as problematic for class order, Galton went beyond the quantitative impacts and focused upon biology of the lower orders, on behalf of elites (with a desire to conserve their position).

Galton’s theories

Galton’s theories were seeded while at UCL University College London, linked into or were inspired by the previous work of Malthus and included focus upon traits as inherited or genetic based, to support the idea as a right of the upper classes. This led Galton to promote socio-Darwinism with the now familiar descriptor of the ‘great replacement’ and need for ‘population control’, but hidden behind more civilised themes, as it still is today e.g. the environment or employment (APA Staff, 2014 & UCL, 2020). Dyrbye (n.d.) went further in describing eugenics as more about biology and race with the need for ‘positive eugenics’ or the encouragement of good breeding from good parents; negative eugenics was needed to discourage those with sub-optimal traits and breeding.

20th Century Influence of Galton, Malthus & Social Darwinism

Galton had observed how the US and Germany used ‘negative eugenics’ regarding race while in the early 19th century he had created a ‘Eugenics Records Office’ in London, later supporting the foundation of a ‘German Society for Race Hygiene’ in Berlin (Galton Institute, 2020).

Meanwhile eugenics took off in the US, including state policy level and related to ‘positive eugenics’ and avoiding more e.g. ‘feeble minded’ and imprisonment for many. In the US early 20th century this was manifested in obsessions emerging on Malthusian population growth, immigration, borders and again the ‘great replacement’; diluting Anglo Saxon stock. However, even when discredited before and during World War II, and avoided any public profile post Nazi Germany, eugenics never went away (Oleson, 2016 & Leonard, 2005).

Mazumdar (1980) went further in claiming that Galton focused upon ‘positive eugenics’ for the need to outbreed lower orders who he deemed to be an economic drag but in the US this evolved into the practise of negative eugenics and avoidance of genes which were defective. More disturbing, according to Diver (2005) was how these US initiatives on eugenics inspired even worse from the Nazis e.g. the ‘Sterilization Law’ and the infamous ‘Nuremberg Laws; indirectly supported by research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute supported by Rockefeller and Ford Foundations.

Present day symptoms of eugenics

Although most would dismiss any idea that eugenics or related exists in this supposedly modern and enlightened age, but it does under different guises as cited earlier, especially in the Anglosphere of the UK, US and Australia. According to Fenley (2020) this emanates from ZPG Zero Population Growth founded by Paul ‘Population Bomb’ Ehrlich (and the now deceased white nationalist John ‘passive eugenics’ Tanton. The focus would be familiar, traffic congestion, pollution (and now climate), unemployment etc. but Ehrlich focused upon the global south or poor, while ignoring the developed world of higher consumption and fossil fuels (APA Staff, 2014).’

Again, the 20th century eugenics movement not only supported Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Germany but Planned Parenthood (of Rockefellers & Sanger), the pre WWII American Eugenics Society and the Population Council. Meanwhile the supposed issues of the ‘great replacement’ or ‘race suicide’ have reentered political, media and social narratives in the 21st century backgrounded by ageing monocultural electorates and the emergence of more diverse, educated and empowered younger generations, the latter are viewed as an existential threat to conservatives.

Ageing, monocultural and less tolerant citizens have been targeted with negative agitprop about population growth, immigration and net overseas migration (NOM) as climate and environmental issues of our time yet little if any compelling scientific evidence has ever been offered, but supports the ‘great replacement theory‘. Meanwhile the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), plus its NOM formula preferred by Australia and the UK, has been central yet misunderstood (with valid claims that it artificially inflates population vs. OECD data which parses out temporary churn over for more reliable long term demographic analysis).

Interestingly eugenics and its modern day manifestations also seem joined at the hip with radical right libertarian ideology represented by ‘whatever it takes’ attitude, ‘ownership’ of conservative parties and ‘dog whistling’ eugenics tropes via legacy and social media; channeling ideology and PR of Koch Network globally linked Atlas Network think tanks, seemingly in tandem with both Tanton Network and News Corp; witnessed via recent Covid19 ‘World Wide Freedom Protests‘, with familiar symmetry.

For more related blogs and article click through below:

Malthus on Population Growth, Economy, Environment, White Nationalism and Eugenics

Adam Smith – Classical Liberal Economics or Conservative Calvinist Christianity or White Christian Nationalism?

Anglosphere Triangle – Immigration – Environment – Population Growth – Radical Right Libertarians

NOM Net Overseas Migration – Immigration – Population Growth

UNPD Global Population Growth Forecasts Debunked

Reference list:

APA Staff. (2014) The Problem With the “Population Bomb”: Eugenics and Population Control [online]. APA NYU [viewed 2 November 2021]. Available from: https://apa.nyu.edu/hauntedfiles/the-problem-with-the-population-bomb-eugenics-and-population-control/

Claude Moore Health Sciences Library University of Virginia. (2004) Origins of Eugenics: From Sir Francis Galton to Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 [online]. [viewed 21 August 2021] Available from: http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/eugenics/2-origins/

Diver, K. (2005) Network of top scientists helped ‘Angel of Death’ Mengele. The Guardian [online]. [viewed 30 September 2021] Available from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/mar/22/research.germany

Dyrbye, E. (n.d.) “Eugenics” coined by Galton [online]. [viewed 21 August 2021] Available from https://eugenicsarchive.ca/database/documents/51509d16a4209be523000008

Fendley, C. (2020) Eugenics is trending. That’s a problem. Any effort to slow population growth must center on reproductive justice. The Washington Post [online]. [viewed 21 August 2021] Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/02/17/eugenics-is-trending-thats-problem/

Galton, D. & Galton C. (1998) Francis Galton: and eugenics today. Journal of Medical Ethics [online]. 24(2) 99-105. [viewed 21 August 2021] Available from doi: 10.1136/jme.24.2.99

Galton Institute, The. (2021) Eugenics and Final Years. The Galton Institute [online]. [viewed 21 August 2021] Available from https://www.galtoninstitute.org.uk/sir-francis-galton/eugenics-and-final-years/

Leonard, T. (2005) Retrospectives: Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era. Journal of Economic Perspectives [online]. 19(4) 207–224. [viewed 14 August 2021]. Available from https://www.princeton.edu/~tleonard/papers/retrospectives.pdf

Mazumdar, P. (1980) THE EUGENISTS AND THE RESIDUUM: THE PROBLEM OF THE URBAN POOR. Bulletin of the History of Medicine [online]. 54(2) 204-215. [30 September 2021]. Available from https://www.jstor.org/stable/44442948

Oleson, J. (2016) The New Eugenics: Black Hyper-Incarceration and Human Abatement. Social Sciences [online]. 5(4), 66. [viewed 14 August 2021] Available from: doi:10.3390/socsci5040066

UCL University College London, (2020) Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL – Final Report [online]. UCL [viewed 30 October 2021]. Available from:

8 thoughts on “Ghosts of Galton and Eugenics Return – Society, Population and Environment in the 21st Century

  1. From 1977, Washington Post article

    ‘Anti-Immigration Campaign Begun

    By Susan Jaco May 8, 1977

    The Zero Population Growth foundation is launching a nationwide campaign to generate public support for sharp cuts on both legal and illegal immigration to the United States…

    ….ZPG’s Washington headquarters has recently added a lobbyist so that Wirken can devote all of her time to immigration issues. This month the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is to vote on a proposal for a major grant to help finance ZPG’s anti-immigration activities….

    …..ZPG is a relatively small organization with a membership of about 8,500 – many of them academics and environmentalists – but it is influential beyond its numbers partly because it has developed such an active public relations and lobbying effort.

    The group was originally formed in an effort to bring together groups favoring “no growth” economics with people who felt traditional family planning methods were inadequate to deal with what they considered a population crisis both in the United States and abroad. Ehrlich*, author of “The Population Bomb,” was one of ZPG’s founders and is now its honorary president…’

    * This version of the article has disappeared or edited out references to Steve Bannon’s muse John ‘passive eugenics’ Tanton and ex Greenpeace and then Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1977/05/08/anti-immigration-campaign-begun/0f5c0e7b-5939-46a9-9914-887b830a12fa/

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  2. 2020: Eugenics is trending. That’s a problem. Any effort to slow population growth must center on reproductive justice. By Caitlin Fendley

    February 17, 2020

    The scientist Richard Dawkins sparked controversy when he tweeted that, aside from the moral problems, eugenics would work “in practice.” While that remark is shocking, Dawkins is hardly alone in accepting the premise at the heart of eugenic science and population-control theory. Last year, a group of 11,000 scientists signed a statement urging population control to slow human exploitation of Earth’s fragile resources. With climate change finally a topic of urgent debate, some have argued that limiting population growth — if not eugenics — could be part of saving the planet.

    The idea that people should reproduce less to preserve our shared resources is nothing new. It is an old idea with a violent history….

    …..However, the dark underbelly of population control — from eugenics in the early 20th-century United States to mass murder during the Holocaust to compulsory sterilization in India in the 1970s and China’s one-child policy — has undermined serious conversation about global family planning or strategies to combat climate change, poverty and overpopulation by addressing population growth…

    ….The English statistician Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin, coined the term eugenics in 1883 after studying the heritable qualities of human intelligence and ability…

    …..Biologist and Zero Population Growth (ZPG) founder Paul Ehrlich attempted to educate Americans about the importance of having smaller families for the sake of the environment and human quality of life. Beginning in the late 1960s, ZPG expanded its activism, arguing that overpopulation contributed to virtually all of the world’s modern ills: traffic, pollution, overcrowding and poverty, among others. Yet, not coincidentally, Ehrlich’s work initially focused on poor cities in the global south, such as the Indian state of Delhi, as the problem and the real cause for panic — rather than the consumption rates of wealthy, majority-white countries with much higher populations and rates of consumption.

    …. The link between population control and the darker uses of eugenics was never eliminated, which led to inhumane solutions across the globe. The problem? Many population-control advocates focused on coercive population campaigns that targeted the most powerless people…

    (NB: Then in this WP article on ZPG, Tanton emerges again)

    Even in the Zero Population Growth movement, anti-immigrant, pro-eugenics figures such as John Tanton found a platform for using concerns about population to advance racism, bigotry and nativism, as well as an “us” vs. “them” mentality. Tanton and others from the population movement helped pave the way for the anti-immigrant, nationalist rhetoric of the Trump administration.’

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/02/17/eugenics-is-trending-thats-problem/

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