National Identity: the Role of Eugenics and Culture

Leora Auslander’s “’National Taste?’ Citizenship Law, State Form, and Everyday Aesthetics in Modern France and Germany, 1920-1940” described the way in which the French and German nations had dealt with the issue of identity and citizenship, specifically in terms of the Jewish populations. This text illustrated the similarities between Parisian and Berliner Jews and the larger French and German populations. These groups were marginalized in various and different ways in each country, but, through analyzing personal belongs and furnishings, Auslander discovered a cultural cohesion throughout the groups. Because the Jews and the non-Jewish French and German populations decorated their houses in much the same way (the French decorated similarly, but their style was different from that of the German populations), indicating that these populations (German or French versus Jewish) were not fundamentally different as many eugenicists had argued during this same era.

Throughout the Interwar Period especially, eugenics evolved and advanced as an area of study that gained more and more influence in politics. In Chapter Four of Breeding Superman, the author, Dan Stone argues that eugenics held a key place in British politics throughout the beginning of the 20th Century, as the Empire fought to preserve its strength. This same argument can be applied to France and Germany during this period. Both countries became more concerned with the strength of their populations, especially in light of the massive loses caused by World War I. Each of these three countries defined citizenship differently, though each definition inherently placed some groups above others. The Jews in each case were understood to be inferior to the “native” population. In France, however, this argument became more complex as there was a hierarchy between French Jews and foreign Jews. (This distinction would prove to be very important as both the Occupied and Non-occupied Zones began to deport Jews in 1942.)

Eugenics was not the sole factor in this hierarchy. Auslander explains in “’National Taste?’” that culture was another very important aspect in determining national identity. Citizenship in France became directly linked to culture as the law changed to jus soli (citizenship determined by territory of birth). That is not to say, however, that eugenics did not influence the French during this period. Eugenics shaped politics or political thought throughout most of Europe. While many aspects of eugenics were racist, as Stone acknowledges, this was not forcibly the case; today, people across the world view eugenics in a very negative light due to the policies and actions of Nazi Germany during the war.

4 thoughts on “National Identity: the Role of Eugenics and Culture

  1. I’m not completely sure what your thesis in this post is. You make a lot of really good points and connections, just be sure to summarize them clearly in your intro and conclusion and maybe organize them a little better. Also, beware of run on sentences! Your sentence, “These groups were marginalized in various and different ways in each country, but, through analyzing personal belongs and furnishings, Auslander discovered a cultural cohesion throughout the groups.” is completely accurate, however consider rewording it or splitting in up into multiple sentences.

  2. I thought this was a good compare and contrast between the two readings. It related the readings together well while also expressing many of the important points to the reader. The language and writing skills are phenomenal.

  3. I found your analysis of the relationship between furnishings and the flaws of eugenic thought interesting. Still, I think we must exercise caution when reading Auslander’s analysis. He provides little concrete evidence, for instance, that this particular style of furnishing remained in people’s homes as an expression of national identity. We must keep in mind that this furniture -made of durable natural material, rather than poor quality modern IKEA-style material- lasted for a very long time. Moreover, if it symbolizes anything, furniture -especially during this time period- represented the link between generations, with the elderly allowing their children to inherit furnishings they also inherited from their parents. Had Auslander done a more thorough job researching French Jewry, he see that he need not go to such absurd lengths to examine the unique conception of national identity possessed by French Jews. He could, for instance, skim the first volume Charles de Gaulle’s memoirs in which the general notes that those composing the Free French forces in the war’s early days did not belong to the high bourgeoisie or the French military’s high command. These men were Free Masons, royalists, far-right nationalists, and Jews. All of them shared one common feature: alienation from mainstream French society either as a result of traditional and modern prejudices – as in the case of the Jews and Free Masons, and to some extent the royalists, whose political aspirations bore little relevance in twentieth century France- and, or due to the humiliation caused by defeat at the hands of the German military (while this goes for all the aforementioned parties, it certainly turned many far-right -generally anti-Semitic and racist- nationalists into outlaws, prepared to face execution and the prospect of collaborating with those they considered inferior beings to restore their nation’s greatness). I think this case might prove more helpful in illustrating the French Jews’ understanding of national identity than Auslander’s speculation on the meaning of people’s choice of furniture. Regardless, I think this information fits well with your post and its nuanced analysis of the relationship between Jews and national identity, and their perception of their own citizenship.

  4. Overall, I think Darcy’s post is well written and she does discuss very interesting points that were brought up in the reading. However, I do agree with zimmer’s comment that there is not much of a thesis in your blog because you talk about a lot of different broad ideas. You also introduce a new idea in your final paragraph, which I think you should bring up earlier on in your blog and then you can mention it again in your conclusion. I do like that you incorporate different texts.

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