Science and Fear

While science has brought about much great advancement in human history, it has also had the potential to be destructive.  In his article Icarus, or The Future of Science, Bertrand Russell argues that humanity would use scientific advances for darker purposes, such as to “…facilitate centralization and propaganda,” and as a result, “…groups become more organized, more disciplined, more group-conscious, and more docile to leaders” (Russell).  He argues that through technological developments, governments are able to have more control over all aspects of peoples’ lives.  These ideas almost predict the practices of Soviet Russia under the rule of Stalin, where the government closely monitored the people and punished those whose ideals did not agree with those of the state.  Russell’s fears are echoed in the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, in which a mad psychiatrist develops a means for a somnambulist to carry out murders for him.

One of the main themes of both the film and the article was human passion.  When describing his progress with the somnambulist in his journal, Caligari writes that “the irresistible passion of my life is being fulfilled.”  In the conclusion to his essay, Russell discusses the idea that science doesn’t give man passions, but it does give him the means to follow that which is already within him.  What struck me about this focus upon passion however was how both sources described human passion as if it is a terrible thing, focusing only upon evil fixations and how they could be driven out of control.  Usually, a passion is thought of as something good, and advancements in science could be used to turn these passions into realities as well.

Another aspect of Russell’s article that fascinated me was his idealization of a “world government,” a concept  which he glosses over its flaws.  He takes the stance that it would eventually rid the world of all its overarching problems, however I find myself disagreeing with this stance.  Wouldn’t the entire world coming together under one government cause some problems to occur on a larger scale?  His passion about this idea deviates from the cynical tone of the rest of the article.

Discussion Question:  Do you think that the goals of Russell’s hypothetical world government are similar to those of Nazi Germany?

Eugenics in Interwar Europe

“Eugenics is the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage,” states Francis Galton in his article, Eugenics: It’s Definition, Scope, and Aims in July 1904. Eugenic ideas spread through out Europe following the First World War. While eugenics is supposed to be about race quality, it became prevalent in interwar Europe mainly due to fear, and the need to transfer blame.

In National Self-Sufficiency, John Maynard Keynes states that England’s vast trading network was “the explanation before man and the justification before Heaven of her economic supremacy.” This statement reflects the views of most European countries; their respective races were superiorto all others. After WWI, Europe began to lose control of its colonies. For example, the British were facing resistance to their rule in India. In addition to this, natives of those colonies were immigrating to the mother nations; there were Algerians in France and Chinese in England, to name a few. To nations that had been mainly of homogenous race up to this point, this immigration was a shock and an unwelcome change. Fear began to spread among whites of these people with different skin color, culture and language. Whites needed a way to establish themselves as the superior race and to keep their race pure. Thus, they turned to eugenics.

Not only was Europe physically destroyed by WWI, the global economic crisis of 1929 ruined its still weak economies. A general sense that someone needed to be blamed was felt through out the continent; who better to blame than these new races or less superior races within European nations? Especially in Germany, who shouldered the majority of the blame, according to the Treaty of Versailles, for WWI, this need was felt; the blame was placed mainly the Jews. During WWI, Jews held the majority of the seats in German parliament, and were the ones who agreed to a cease-fire. After the war, German officers came forward and said that they could have won if it weren’t for the armistice. This fueled hatred for the Jews. Eugenics became popular as a scientific way to justify this hatred. In this German eugenics propaganda poster, Germans are being told that they must take the burden for degenerates and those who are not as genetically fit. Taking these attitudes into account, it is not surprising that the Holocaust occurred.

Eugenics was a recognized science in Europe during the interwar period. Eugenists and those who supported eugenics were not extremists, but were close to mainstream thought. Eugenics was driven by fear and the search for an outlet for blame, and was itself an underlying factor in the Second World War.

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