Roper Allen G. - Ancient Eugenics

Author : Roper Allen G.
Title : Ancient Eugenics
Year : 1913

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The preface to a history of Eugenics may be compiled from barbarism, for the first Eugenist was not the Spartan legislator, but the primitive savage who killed his sickly child. The cosmic process was checked and superseded by another as ruthless as Nature's own method of elimination. The lower the community, the more rapidly it reproduces itself. There is an extravagant production of raw material, and the way of Nature, " red in tooth and claw," is the ruthless rejection of all that is super fluous. When there is no differential birth-rate, the result of foresight and self-control, and the attain ment of a higher level of civilization, Nature adjusts the balance by means of a differential death-rate. In the days when human or animal foe threatened on every side, when " force and fraud were the two cardinal virtues," and the life of man was " solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," natural selection must have been ruthless and severe. Some concep tion of the wasteful processes of Nature dawned upon the savage mind. While they lived their short lives, the weakly, the deformed, and the superfluous were a burden to the tribe. Human law, super seding natural law, strove to eliminate them at birth. This was the atavistic basis on which subsequent Eugenics was built. In Greece, the theory underwent a logical development. Even in a later age of dawning civilization, war confronted men with this same problem of the ruthless extermination of the unfit. It was recognized that the occurrence of the non-viable child was inevitable, but remedial legislation, reaching a step further back, essayed by anticipation to reduce this waste of life to a minimum. It was realized that to increase the productivity of the best stock is a more important measure than to repress the productivity of the worst. Out of the Negative aspect of Eugenics develops the Positive. With the advance of civilization, conditions become increasingly stable: war is still imminent, but, instead of being an essential element of existence, it is regarded as a necessary evil. Nature, forging additional weapons, hastens the elimination of the unfit by disease. Some form of Eugenics is still necessary, but in the altered conditions a new ideal is born. The conception of a race of warriors merges into the ideal of a state of healthy citizens. All these formulations of Eugenics are aristocratic and parochial; they are to benefit the people of a single state, and only a section within that state. Any wider conception of racial regeneration was impossible to a people who dichotomized the state into free citizens and living instruments, the world into Greeks and barbarians. The breakdown of the city states brought a cosmopolitanism which, instead of widening the ideal of humanity, centred itself on the interests of the individual. Modern Eugenics is based on Evolution- not a passive form, but one that concedes some latitude to the guiding action of the human will (Galton, " Essays in Eugenics," p. 68.). Without some such postulate, egotism becomes a rational creed amid the social welter and world weariness of a deliquescent civilization. Man is cut off sharply and definitely from all that went before and all that follows. Only the isolated ego remains, "a sort of complementary Nirvana," and the philosophy of "Ichsucht" of selfcentred individualism ends in Hedonism or ascetic alienation from an inexplicable universe. No scheme of social reform can bear fruit in such an atmosphere of philosophic negation. Like Plato's philosopher, man shelters from the tempest behind the wall. Three conceptions of the cosmic process are possible. We may maintain that there is no such thing as progress, that life is a mere pointless reiteration of age after age till there comes the predestined cataclysm; we may believe in a primeval age of innocence and happiness, a golden age, or a state of nature disablement ideal; finally, we may trust in the gradual evolution of mankind towards a terrestrial Paradise, hoping that " on our heels a fresh perfection treads, a power more strong in beauty, born of us, and fated to excel us as we pass in glory that old darkness." This conception of man as heir of all the ages, though vaguely anticipated by Anaximander, was impossible to an age which knew nothing of biology. No system of Eugenics is likely to flourish side by side with the belief in an unprogressive or degenerate humanity, steadily and inevitably declining from primordial perfection. So long as the city state survived, patriotism prevailed over pessimism, and ideals of regeneration were more than the idle dreams of the philosopher. But the growing prominence assigned to the theoretic life shows the gradual growth of despair. After Aristotle, Eugenics takes its place among the forgotten ideals of the past. ...

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