Russell – The Future of Science

In this article, Russell likens the progress of science to the inventions of Daedalus and the inherent selfishness of mankind as Icarus. As the myth goes, Icarus flies too close to the sun, has his wings melted and falls to his death. He predicts a similar fate for humankind if they are given the technology to fly towards the sun.

This article has many metaphors and summaries about technological development, but from reading his introduction and conclusion, one gets the impression that he is using science as an example to debate the human psyche. One impression he makes, is to talk about the consistent hope through history that mankind will develop an inherent kindness. However, by the end of the article he seems resigned to the conclusion that man will continue to use science, the most powerful of all historical progresses, to satisfy the prejudices of the masses and those in power. In his mind, only a strong global power can solve this problem, which is a confusing statement considering Russell’s lack of explanation. However, he debases this method as well, stating that the historical stagnation of the last great power, the Roman Republic, shows that the fall of civilization may the best answer to the combination of scientific progress and human flaws.

This theory is partially disproved by Stone, as he talks about one of Russell’s themes, eugenics, and describes its conclusion after the fact. His description of the Head of the Eugenics Society in Britain who changes his stand from pro-race eugenics to ‘parental obligations’ after the Holocaust, is symptomatic of the societal pressures of responsibility that the combination of scientific progress and human flaws can create (Stone, 99). However, it is hard to completely discredit Russell’s ideas as he does not give a time line for his projection of the fall of civilization. The themes, if not the specifics, of his article would be responsive of the dangers of scientific progress today.

Eugenics in Europe

Eugenics, the science of improving a countries human stock through specific breeding, had a significant impact on interwar Europe. Stone and Auslander both give their interpretations of how eugenics affected Europe. Stone discusses how, contrary to popular belief, eugenics in Britain was not exclusively targeted towards class, but how it was inadvertently also about race. Auslander explains how eugenics in interwar Europe manifests itself in the citizens aesthetic lifestyle choices, which reflects the sense of the countries nationalist philosophies.

The reality behind the eugenics movement and Britain was not that it primarily focused on class, but focused on race as well. Similar to Nazi Germany, there were also revered, racist British eugenicists. For example, Rentoul, a famous British eugenicist, saw blacks as sexual beasts that shouldn’t breed with whites. “The negro is seldom content with sexual intercourse with a white woman, but culminates his sexual furor by killing the woman, sometimes taking out her womb and eating it”. (Stone, 96) This popularized racist though process led to British sterilization laws. The main issue with claiming that the movement was solely about class, was that there was too much overlap between the lower class, which consisted of a lot of immigrants, and race.  Although many saw these eugenics views as extreme, they still had an impact on the eugenics movement. After World War II, and the newfound widespread disdain for the extreme German eugenics movement, Britain claimed that their eugenics was class oriented, and they did this to disassociate with Nazi Germany.

Auslander describes the lifestyle choices and aesthetic tastes that the French, German’s, and Jew’s had in the interwar era when the national sense of belonging came from different ideologies. For example, Auslander gives us the idea that “…in Germany…citizens are understood to be born rather than made…”. (Auslander, 110) The foundation for German citizenship came from genetics, while French citizens were “French” through cultural adaptation. This reflects the national ideology of eugenics in the time period. Germany was more exclusive in the national sense, even if you were born in Germany but had non-German parents, you were not considered German. In France, however, anyone could be considered “French” as long as you spoke French, and engaged in the proper French activities.

Eugenics had a considerable influence on nationalist ideologies, a sense of belonging, and racism during the inter-war era in Europe. When confronted with the topic of racial exclusion in Europe during this era, almost all will point directly towards Nazi Germany. While it is true that Nazi Germany was the most extreme with their execution of eugenics philosophies, they were widespread throughout Europe at the time.

Eugenics in Interwar Europe


This is a German poster for a government scripted movie, entitled the “The Eternal Jew”. It is described as a documentary, but a cursory glance at the poster reveals that it is a eugenics motivated propaganda film. The features of the Jew on the cover are deliberately depicted as ugly and evil, reminiscent of a witch from the tales of the Brothers Grimm. This movie was released in 1940, and represents the exaggerated European eugenicist view of “degenerates” (Stone, 98) during the interwar period.

The Nazi racialization of the state is well known, but according to Stone, race was a primary criterion even in Britain (Stone, 95). The image of a class based British Eugenicist Society was created by the Society after the Second World War and the disastrous culmination of racial eugenics in the Third Reich (Stone, 98-9). The difference between British eugenics and continental eugenics was their motive. Britain used eugenics to maintain the social hierarchy within the nation (Stone, 94), and to maintain supremacy over the Empire (Stone, 97). On the other hand, Italian and German ‘research’ was motivated by state ideology. Additionally, the methods implemented were very different. While Britain (Stone, 98), Italy (Willson, 84-6), and Germany (Mazower, 76) all advocated pro-natalism in a racial capacity, the former two were only able to legislate moderate laws, which were largely ineffective (Willson, 92-3), whereas the latter had more control over state policy and policing. Thus Eugenics had a greater effect in a German State that believed that blood descent, rather than assimilation, was the only claim to citizenship (Auslander, 110). Finally, while France believed that one could become a citizen through assimilation (Auslander, 110), they were still a colonial power who believed in the natural savageness of their colonial subjects.

In conclusion, it can be noted that Eugenics was an important debate in interwar Europe, but to varying degrees of implementation and success. State policies on women and families might have been influenced by these debates, but it must also be remembered that Europe had just suffered a large population loss due to the Great War. Therefore, these policies were also influenced by economic motives.

Eugenics and Citizenship

In Leora Auslander’s ‘National Taste’? she explains how the German and French populations addressed questions about the conceptions of citizenship by examining the tastes and preferences of various citizens within specific regions and also the nation-state as a whole. Although each country had its own unique concept of citizenship; the French interpreted citizenship using a just soli policy (citizenship determined by region of birth), whereas in Germany citizenship was determined by ancestral lineage and blood lines, both cultures developed their own “language of goods.” This “language of goods” enabled citizens to look beyond the mere race or appearance of a person and instead focus on their material possessions to gain a cohesiveness between distinct social groups and form a national identity. The Jewish populations were oftentimes ostracized and blamed for many of the misfortunes that proceeded WWI without just cause. In reality they were not culturally different from the non-jewish citizens, they were incorporated into either German or French societies, forming a part of the nation-state and adopting the accepted customs.  

In chapter four of Dan Stone’s Breeding Superman he examines the relationship between race and social class that existed in British eugenic theory throughout the interwar period. The racial component of eugenics has always existed, however Britain has been traditionally viewed as a government that focused primarily on the social components of eugenics while disregarding that of race. Stone explains how this is a misconception because the reality is that the racial and social components are inseparable. Many British officials believed in a racial hierarchy that saw white Europeans at the top and black Africans at the bottom. While policy makers sought to boost their respective populations, they wished to do so in a manner that limited the reproduction of the unproductive and parasitic social classes, and the ‘inferior races’ as well. The Nazi government of the Third Reich is singled out for their racist policies, and although they implemented these policies to an extreme degree, they were by no means the only country to do so. It was a common practice throughout most of Europe.



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.