Friedrich Nietzsche

Pope Pius XI  (p.1922-1939)

1. EUGENICS. 1.1. Mendel; 1.2. Darwin; 1.3. Galton; 1.5. Nietzsche; 1.5. US Sterilization Laws




1.1.  ABBOT GREGOR MENDEL, (1822-1884)
The Father of Modern Genetics



  ABBOT GREGOR MENDEL Inheritance Patterns in Garden Peas

Abbey of St. Thomas, Brno, Czech Republic Abbey Library

THE Augustinian Abbot Gregor Mendel published the results of his experiments on garden peas from 1856-1863.  He kept track of seven inheritable characteristics and summarized his findings using careful and detailed mathematical analysis. His findings included the designation of certain inherited characteristics as dominant or recessive.  The significance of Mendel's findings for the developing science of genetics was not appreciated until the turn of the century.  In retrospect, it seems ironic that one of the factors that rendered his findings obscure was his detailed mathematical analysis of his data.  Although this is regarded today as an essential element of any serious, published scientific research, the majority of physicians and biologists in the nineteenth century found the mathematics of statistical analysis intimidating, if not impenetrable.  It would not be until the twentieth century that the mathematics of statistics would be a required subject for all prospective scientists.



1.2.  CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882)
Evolution and the Origin of the Species



  CHARLES DARWIN The Voyage of the Beagle Darwin in Later Life

ALTHOUGH Darwin emphasized the necessity for compassion, even when it appears to contradict natural selection, later “Social Darwinists” reinterpreted select passages from the following text:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.  We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one up to the last moment. ...  Vaccination has preserved thousands who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to smallpox. Thus, the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man....  Excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

[Yet,] the aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the [otherwise good] instinct of sympathy....  We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind ... (501f)

From Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871)]



1.3.  FRANCIS GALTON, (1822-1911)
Founder and Promoter of The Eugenics Society



Sir FRANCIS GALTON   Galton's statistical analysis of inheritance

Galton on the Inheritability
of Genius
Marie Stopes, disciple of Galton: British Champion of Birth Control and lifelong member of the Eugenics Society

ENGLISH social scientist, [cousin of Darwin, who disapproved of many of Galton's views] made significant contributions to the fields of statistics and heredity, including the first significant twin study in 1883.  Described as a virulent racist, he popularized the phrase “nature and nurture” emphasizing the sole importance on intelligence of heredity; he denied the significance of environment on intelligence. [Britannica 98: Galton proposed that a system of arranged marriages between men of distinction and women of wealth would eventually produce a gifted race.] He also coined the term “eugenics” in 1883 and effectively founded the eugenics movement, although his ideas were not widely accepted until the turn of the century and the rediscovery of Mendel's laws of inheritance.  Galton founded the Eugenics Society.  His ideas were influential on Marie Stopes, an early proponent of contraception in Britain, who had met Galton as a young woman, and who remained a supporter of eugenics and a member of the Eugenics Society throughout her life..

The subject of Race Improvement, or Eugenics, with which I have much occupied myself during the last few years, is a pursuit of no recent interest . . . I think that stern compulsion ought to be exerted to prevent the free propagation of the stock of those who are seriously afflicted by lunacy, feeble- mindedness, habitual criminality, and pauperism, but that is quite different from compulsory marriage. How to restrain ill-omened marriages is a question by itself, whether it should be effected by seclusion, or in other ways yet to be devised that are consistent with a humane and well-informed public opinion. I cannot doubt that our democracy will ultimately refuse consent to that liberty of propagating children which is now allowed to the undesirable classes, but the populace has yet to be taught the true state of these things. A democracy cannot endure unless it be composed of able citizens; therefore it must in self-defence withstand the free introduction of degenerate stock.

From Francis Galton, Memories of My Life ,
ch, 21, “Race Improvement.”




1.4.  FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900)



Nietzsche in 1885 The University of Basel where Nietzsche held the chair of philology from 1869-1879

THE pseudo-science of eugenics attempted to twist Mendel’s science of heredity and fuse it in a muddled way with Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of a philosophical “superman” (Übermensch) who would evolve beyond the constraints of bourgeois Christian morality and unlock the true potential of human beings.  Nietzsche introduced the Übermensch in Also Sprach Zarathustra: he meditated on the coercive social methods that may be necessary for the creation of this new humanity in his The Will to Power.

1.4.1 Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Also Sprach Zarathustra

Behold, I teach you the Superman: he is that sea in which you may drown your great contempt.

Seht, ich lehre euch den Übermenschen: der ist diess Meer, in ihm kann eure grosse Verachtung untergehn.

What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour in which your happiness, too becomes disgusting [to you], and so also your reason and your virtue.

Was ist das Grösste, das ihr erleben könnt? Das ist die Stunde der grossen Verachtung. Die Stunde, in der euch auch euer Glück zum Ekel wird und ebenso eure Vernunft und eure Tugend.

The hour when you say, “What is good is my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched self-complacency. But my happiness should justify existence itself!”

Die Stunde, wo ihr sagt: “Was liegt an meinem Glücke! Es ist Armuth und Schmutz, und ein erbärmliches Behagen. Aber mein Glück sollte das Dasein selber rechtfertigen!”

The hour when you say, “What good is my reason? Does it yearn for knowledge as the lion his food? It is poverty and filth and wretched self-complacency.”

Die Stunde, wo ihr sagt: “Was liegt an meiner Vernunft! Begehrt sie nach Wissen wie der Löwe nach seiner Nahrung? Sie ist Armuth und Schmutz und ein erbärmliches Behagen!”

The hour when you say, “What good is my virtue? As yet it has not inspired me to [passionate] rage. How weary I am of my good and my evil! All that is poverty and filth and wretched self-complacency.”

Die Stunde, wo ihr sagt: “Was liegt an meiner Tugend! Noch hat sie mich nicht rasen gemacht. Wie müde bin ich meines Guten und meines Bösen! Alles das ist Armuth und Schmutz und ein erbärmliches Behagen!”



1.4.2.The Will to Power:

An Attempt to Re-evaluate All Values

Der Wille zur Macht: Versuch einer Umwertung aller Werte

Book 3 – Principles of a New Evaluation

Drittes Buch, Prinzip einer neuen Werthsetzung

§ 733, (1888)


On the future of marriage:—an additional tax (on inheritance), also additional war service for bachelors from a certain age onwards and increasing (within the community);

advantages of all kinds for fathers who bring many boys into the world: possibly a plural vote;

a medical certificate preceding every marriage and endorsed by the communal authorities, several definite questions must be answered by the couple and by doctors (“family history”—);

as an antidote to prostitution (or as its ennoblement) : marriages for a period, legalized (for years, for months), with guarantees for the children;

every marriage warranted and sanctioned by a certain number of trusted men of the community, as a matter of concern to the community.

Zur Zukunft der Ehe: – eine Steuer-Mehrbelastung (bei Erbschaften), auch Kriegsdienst-Mehrbelastung der Junggesellen von einem bestimmten Alter an und anwachsend (innerhalb der Gemeinde);

Vortheile aller Art für Väter, welche reichlich Knaben in die Welt setzen: unter Umständen eine Mehrheit von Stimmen;

ein ärztliches Protokoll, jeder Ehe vorangehend und von den Gemeinde-Vorständen unterzeichnet: worin mehrere bestimmte Fragen seitens der Verlobten und der Ärzte beantwortet sein müssen (»Familien-Geschichte« –);

als Gegenmittel gegen die Prostitution (oder als deren Veredelung): Ehen auf Frist, legalisirt (auf Jahre, auf Monate), mit Garantie für die Kinder;

jede Ehe verantwortet und befürwortet durch eine bestimmte Anzahl Vertrauensmänner einer Gemeinde: als Gemeinde-Angelegenheit.

§ 734
(Summer-Fall 1888)


Also a commandment of the love of humanity.— There are cases in which a child would be a crime: in the case of those who are chronically ill and neurasthenics of the third degree. Auch ein Gebot der Menschenliebe.– Es giebt Fälle, wo ein Kind ein Verbrechen sein würde: bei chronisch Kranken und Neurasthenikern dritten Grades.
What then can be done?— Was hat man da zu thun? –
One might at least try encouraging them to chastity, perhaps with the aid of Parsifal music: Parsifal himself, this typical idiot, had only too many reasons not to propagate himself. The trouble is that a certain inability to “control” oneself (—not to react to stimuli, even to very slight sexual stimuli) is one of the most regular consequences of general exhaustion. One would be mistaken, for example, to think of a Leopardi as chaste. Solche zur Keuschheit ermuthigen, etwa mit Hülfe von Parsifal-Musik, mag immerhin versucht werden: Parsifal selbst, dieser typische Idiot, hatte nur zu viel Gründe, sich nicht fortzupflanzen. Der Übelstand ist, daß eine gewisse Unfähigkeit, sich zu »beherrschen« (– auf Reize, auf noch so kleine Geschlechtsreize nicht zu reagiren) gerade zu den regelmäßigsten Folgen der Gesammt-Erschöpfung gehört. Man würde sich verrechnen, wenn man sich zum Beispiel einen Leopardi als keusch vorstellte.
The priest [and] the moral [philosopher] are playing a losing game in this case; it would be better to send the person off to a drug-store.  Der Priester, der Moralist spielen da ein verlorenes Spiel; besser thut man noch, in die Apotheke zu schicken.

In the end, society has a duty here: few more pressing and fundamental demands can be made upon it. Society, as the great trustee of life, is responsible to life itself for every unsuitable [verfehlte] life—it also has to atone for them: thus it ought to prevent them.

 Zuletzt hat hier die Gesellschaft eine Pflicht zu erfüllen: es giebt wenige dergestalt dringliche und grundsätzliche Forderungen an sie. Die Gesellschaft, als Großmandatar des Lebens, hat jedes verfehlte Leben vor dem Leben selber zu verantworten, – sie hat es auch zu büßen: folglich soll sie es verhindern.

In numerous cases, society ought to prevent procreation: to this end, it should be prepared, without regard for heritage, status, or spirit, to employ the most rigorous means of constraint, deprivation of freedom, in certain circumstances castration. Die Gesellschaft soll in zahlreichen Fällen der Zeugung vorbeugen: sie darf hierzu, ohne Rücksicht auf Herkunft, Rang und Geist, die härtesten Zwangs-Maßregeln, Freiheitsentziehungen, unter Umständen Castrationen in Bereitschaft halten. –
The Biblical prohibition “thou shalt not kill!” is a piece of naiveté compared with the seriousness of the prohibition of life to decadents: “thou shalt not procreate!”— Life itself recognizes no solidarity, no “equal rights,” between the healthy and the degenerate parts of an organism: one must excise the latter—or the whole will perish — Sympathy for decadents, equal rights for the ill-constituted—that would be the profoundest immorality, that would be anti=nature itself as morality! Das Bibel-Verbot »du sollst nicht tödten!« ist eine Naivetät im Vergleich zum Ernst des Lebens-Verbots an die décadents: »ihr sollt nicht zeugen!«... Das Leben selbst erkennt keine Solidarität, kein »gleiches Recht« zwischen gesunden und entartenden Theilen eines Organismus an: letztere muß man ausschneiden – oder das Ganze geht zu Grunde. – Mitleiden mit den décadents, gleiche Rechte auch für die Mißrathenen – das wäre die tiefste Unmoralität, das wäre die Widernatur selbst als Moral







The Harry H. Laughlin Papers January 1, 1935.  Harry Hamilton Laughlin was director of the Eugenics Records Office in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York from 1910 to 1940

Sofair, André N., et.al. “Eugenic Sterilization and a Qualified Nazi Analogy: The United States and Germany, 1930-1945,” Annals of Internal Medicine, 15 Feb. 2000. Vol. 132 no. 4, pp. 312-319

THE history of state-sponsored sterilization in the United States began with legislation in Indiana in 1907. By 1926, 23 states had enacted sterilization laws, which were motivated mainly by eugenic and therapeutic concerns. Eighteen of these states mandated involuntary sterilization of certain mentally defective persons or certain kinds of criminals. In Oregon, Montana, and Idaho, laws provided for both voluntary and involuntary sterilization, and in Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine, laws provided for voluntary sterilization alone. In all but one of these eight states with voluntary laws (Idaho), consent was not required from a patient if he or she was incapable of giving it; written consent from a relative or guardian was sufficient. Such “voluntary” laws would therefore be more aptly described as nonvoluntary. Most states confined compulsory sterilization to inmates of public mental institutions, in which the proportion of poor and minority residents was greater than that in the general population; for instance, inmates sterilized in Virginia and California were disproportionately black or foreign-born, respectively.


California and eight other states were responsible for most of the eugenic sterilizations performed under state laws.

The cumulative number of sterilizations in these states by 1943 was

16,553 in California,

4472 in Virginia

2706 in Kansas

2388 in Michigan

2111 in Minnesota

1597 in Oregon

1372 in Wisconsin

1346 in North Carolina

1231 in Indiana


By 1944, 30 states with sterilization laws had reported a total of more than 40,000 eugenic sterilizations; of those sterilized,

20,600 were reported as insane and

20,453 as feebleminded.

In the pre-Nazi period, German eugenicists expressed admiration for U.S. leadership in instituting sterilization programs and communicated with their U.S. colleagues about strategies


Despite waning scientific and public support and the history of the human rights abuses of Nazi Germany, state-sponsored sterilizations in the United States continued long after the war, totaling approximately 22000 in 27 states between 1943 and 1963.




May 2, 1927 - Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes



The case of Buck v. Bell decided on this day is a now-notorious Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of a compulsory sterilization law in Virginia. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in explaining his decision, famously –or infamously– said “three generations of idiots is enough.”

Carrie Buck was an 18-year-old confined in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. The superintendent said she had the mental age of a 9-year-old (although evidence now disputes that judgment). The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the sterilization order, 8–1, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes writing the Court’s opinion.

In the 1920s, the idea of eugenics was broadly supported by the medical and scientific communities. Partly as a result of Nazi policies in Germany, however, thinking about developing a “pure” race changed radically, and the Buck decision is now generally reviled by civil libertarians and human rights activists. See the case of Skinner v. Oklahoma, decided on June 1, 1942, in which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an Oklahoma law requiring the sterilization of certain criminal offenders.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes for the Court:

“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”




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