Eugenics and National Identity

In Breeding Superman, Dan Stone aims to describe and resolve the confusion that still surrounds eugenics in inter-war Britain.  Many people are under the impression that the study of eugenics in Britain was based primarily on class, and was less focused on race.  However, Stone argues vehemently against this belief, stating that race and class eugenics were virtually interchangeable in Britain.

Stone notes several influential British eugenicists, including Robert Reid Rentoul, Charles Armstrong, and C.P. Blacker, all of whom advocated on behalf of racist eugenics.  The racist opinions of these men greatly impacted Britain’s overwhelming fear of miscegenation.  When describing the extremist eugenicists, Stone states, “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” (99).  Eugenicists also upheld the belief that Britain was not concerned with race, but only class eugenics.  This ideal was promoted to ameliorate Britain’s image in terms of the eugenics.  Contrary to popular belief, the history of inter-war Britain was far more racist than many people care to realize, and this is due in large part to various racist eugenicists.

In “National Taste? Citizenship Law, State Form, and Everyday Aesthetics in Modern France and Germany, 1920-1940,” Leora Auslander addresses the nation-state from various viewpoints, and how citizens and groups are impacted by state policies—specifically pertaining to Jews in France and Germany.

While France aimed to create a more central government, and encouraged all its citizens to emulate French culture, Germany allowed its citizens to have much more independence, as it had recently merged twenty-two monarchies and three republics.  In response to these cultural guidelines, French and German Jews responded appropriately; French Jews chose to adhere “to a common, distinctively French culture,” while German Jews focused less on remaining civilized (123).  This is significant, because both the French Jews and the German Jews felt obligated to accurately represent their country, as a means of national identity.

Both Stone and Auslander describe the issue of national identity, through eugenics and everyday cultural expectations.  However, both arguments are similar because they depict the hysteria that can surround one nation’s self-image.

3 thoughts on “Eugenics and National Identity

  1. This is very, very well written however it seems like more of a summary of the two separate chapters rather than a comparison of the two. There are a lot of good connections the reader could draw from this post, so instead of glossing over them in the last paragraph include them!

  2. I agree with Zimmer that this post reads more like a summary. Still, it raises some interesting questions. For instance, we might find it interesting to research how this interchangeability of race and class affected views of the Irish over time. The author discusses West Indians in the piece, and I think we might find some interesting parallels.

  3. This is a well written post. The author has a clear thesis and does a good job at comparing the two works. I do agree though however, that this blog is more of a summary. If you could try and input your own analysis of the two texts I believe it would make your blog seem less like a summary.

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