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Eugenics is an applied science and/or social movement which advocates the improvement of (human) hereditary traits. The goals have included preventing diseases, improving physical and mental traits, saving society's resources, lessening human suffering, and counteracting dysgenics.

Earlier proposed means of achieving these goals focused on selective breeding, while modern ones focus on prenatal testing and screening, genetic counseling, birth control, in vitro fertilization, and genetic engineering. Dissemination of information regarding eugenics and dysgenics has also been considered important.

Misuse of the word "eugenics" is not uncommon by critics, who may incorrectly use it as a synonym for racism, National Socialism, and so on.


The word eugenics etymologically derives from the Greek word eus (good or well) and the suffix -genēs (born), and was coined by Francis Galton in 1883.


Certain early historical practices may have had eugenic effects, but before an accurate understanding of genetics it is not clear that such effects were intended. However, humans must early have realized that at least the physical appearance of the offspring of humans and animals is influenced by the characteristics of the parents. Early agricultural treatises described selective breeding of animals and plants.

Plato's The Republic proposed human eugenic policies based on the selective breeding of animal livestock, which was well-known in ancient Athens. Proposed eugenic policies can also be found in later writings, such as the City of the Sun (1602) by Tommaso Campanella.[1]

The modern field and term were first formulated by Francis Galton, drawing on the recent work of his cousin Charles Darwin. In particular, Galton was concerned with dysgenics in modern societies, due to the earlier natural selection being dramatically changed by the scientific/industrial/agricultural revolutions, and Galton saw eugenics as a method for counteracting such effects.

From its inception, eugenics as an applied science and social movement was supported by many prominent people. Funding was provided from many prestigious sources. It was supported from both the left and the right. The eugenics movement included a disproportionate number of women. A variety of eugenic methods were proposed and/or implemented.[2]

The decline of the eugenics movement in Western countries is often argued to be due to the association with the eugenic theories and practices of National Socialist Germany, such as those promoted by Ernst Rüdin. It is sometimes even assumed that eugenics ceased to be practiced worldwide after the Second World War. However, many other countries had eugenic policies, such as involuntary sterilizations, both long before and long after the Second World War. See also the section on "National Socialist Germany" below for more details on this subject.

Another view is that the support for eugenics in the Western World was relatively strong into the 1960s. "Then in the late 1960s, the majority of Jewish social scientists and journalists in Europe and North America did an about-face, reversing their position to one of harsh denunciation of eugenics, and since there was no organized opposition, their beliefs became both the academic orthodoxy and the “conventional wisdom.” This has lasted about 50 years to the present day." One argued explanation for this is the birth of the Holocaust Memorial Movement. Another argued explanation is that genetics denialism, which must also deny the significance of eugenics, increased in influence during this time period. It has also been argued that some eugenics and genetics opponents must have known that the opposition lacked scientific support, but the opposition to eugenics/genetics (which was perceived as having contributed to the Holocaust) was perceived as morally right, even if this meant deliberate lying.[3]

It has even been argued that some Jewish opponents may have had other motivations: "The fact that Jewish activists have dominated the anti-eugenics movement in the West and that they tend to hold hostile views toward the traditional people and culture of the West suggest that their opposition to eugenics may also have another motive lurking in the background besides their hatred for anything associated with National Socialism: facilitating the genetic decline of the West as an outgroup. Jewish promotion of massive non-White immigration may also be similarly motivated."[3]

Other forms of opposition to eugenics are religiously motivated. This may be due to factors such as religious opposition to contraception, to abortion (including also of embryos and therefore several modern eugenic methods), and to genetic changes generally due to creationist beliefs. Regardless, when eugenics and religion previously both were stronger forces in Western countries, then the eugenics movement sometimes had religious support, for reasons such as altruism and concern for weakest members of society, demonstrating that the situation can change.

Other suggested factors in the decline of support include decline in share of the population with experience of farming and the breeding of animals done there, many eugenics supporters being killed during WWI, and opposition by leftist and religious ideological egalitarians. "Socialism thrives on two unattractive emotions: envy and guilt. The envy of the have-nots blinds them to the fact that the haves probably got that way because they were talented and hard-working. The guilt of the haves, some of whom may have inherited wealth from talented ancestors, is fueled by have-not theories of biological equivalence. Studies that show how much of a person’s intelligence and even personality are governed by genes rather than environment or class are terrible threats to egalitarianism."[4]

Regardless, in several countries (including Israel), eugenics continues to be practiced. See the section "Specific countries/groups" below.

Developments in genetic and reproductive technologies at the end of the 20th century have raised many new questions and concerns about what exactly constitutes the meaning of eugenics and what its ethical and moral status is.

Eugenics and the Industrial Revolution

"Dutton and Woodley focus on the last millennium or so of European civilization. During most of this evolutionarily recent period as well, there has been positive selection for intelligence. That is because higher intelligence usually translates into socioeconomic success (correlating at 0.7), which tends to result in larger families. In A Farewell to Alms (2007), economic historian Gregory Clark has carefully documented this pattern in England from the fifteenth century (as far back as the records allow). He calls it “the survival of the richest.” Dutton and Woodley summarize: "Between the 1400s and the mid-19th century, in every generation, the richer 50% of the population had more surviving children than the poorer 50%. As economic status and intelligence are positively correlated, this led to us becoming more and more intelligent every generation." To test this hypothesis, Clark looked to a number of proxies for intelligence, including literacy, numeracy and even interest rates (which tend to go down as intelligence rises because smarter populations display lower time preference, resulting in less demand for loans). The results confirm the hypothesis: intelligence continued to rise "until the most intelligent people—the outlier, super-clever geniuses—were so numerous and so capable that their innovations actually allowed us to take control of our environment to an unprecedented extent. Here we had the Industrial Revolution".[5]

Animal and plant eugenics

Selective breeding and other methods used by humans, in order to improve the genetics of animals and plants, have a very long history and may be considered a form of non-human eugenics. Such non-human eugenics has not decreased after WWII, but has instead become increasingly more sophisticated, as knowledge of genetics has improved.

Almost all foods consumed by humans have to some degree been changed by such agricultural practices from their original "wild" forms. However, recent advanced methods such as genetic engineering, instead of the traditionally used methods, such as selective breeding have caused various concerns, such as regarding safety and unintended consequences.

Positive and negative eugenics

Eugenic policies have often been conceptually divided into two categories: positive eugenics, which encourage "more fit" to reproduce more often; and negative eugenics, which discourage or prevent "less fit" from reproducing.

However, this categorization, based on the method of selective breeding, does not necessarily apply to modern methods such genetic engineering.

Designer babies

Lynn and Harvey (2008) suggested that designer babies (through methods such as genetic screening of embryos or through direct genetic engineering of embryos) may have an important role in counter-acting dysgenics in the future. Initially this may be limited to wealthy couples, who may possibly travel abroad for the procedure if prohibited in their own country, and then gradually spread to increasingly larger groups. Alternatively, authoritarian states may decide to impose measures such as a licensing requirement for having a child, which would only be given to persons of a certain minimum intelligence. The Chinese one-child policy, although not having a stated eugenic purpose, is an example of how fertility can be regulated by authoritarian means.[6]

Criticisms and counter-criticisms

  • Race. Eugenics is sometimes perceived as being intrinsically linked to race, possibly in part by being associated with the use of selective breeding by humans in order to create and improve animal breeds, but eugenics can be applied to arbitrary groups, such as all the inhabitants of a certain area, or even theoretically to the whole human species.
  • Genetic denialism. Various movements which support genetics denialism (both racial and non-racial) are by default opposed to eugenics having an effect on such differences. However, as demonstrated by, for example, the many different dog breeds created by humans, it is possible to influence both physical and psychological characteristics. There is arguably no reason for why not also human characteristics could be changed by eugenics.
The heritability of running speed among horses (a very important characteristic for many horse breeders) has been found to be between 15-35%. This is lower than the lowest estimates for intelligence or psychopathy among humans.[7]
  • Social Darwinism. Eugenics is often conflated with social Darwinism. However, social Darwinism is typically an ideology which sees Darwin's theory of natural selection as a model for certain aspects of human society. Eugenicists have usually not advocated natural selection as a eugenic method, due to problems such as slowness, uncertainty regarding the results, and often painfulness for those involved. Instead, proposed eugenic measures may be seen as alternatives to the "social Darwinist" solution (natural selection due to diseases, starvation, and so on) to problems such as dysgenics.
  • Coerciveness. Eugenics is often perceived to be associated with forced measures, such as involuntary sterilizations, but many forms are voluntary, such as parents wanting to avoid their children having certain genetic diseases common among relatives. The early eugenic movement disseminated information to the public regarding dysgenics and eugenics in order to increase voluntary eugenics. Some measures, such as ones involving financial incentives or disincentives may or may not be perceived as coercive, but such measures are commonly used in other situations in order to encourage or discourage behaviors seen as beneficial or harmful for society. Furthermore, if, for example, a genetic disease could have been prevented by eugenics, but was not, then an unborn child may be viewed as being "coerced" into having this genetic disease.
  • Involuntary sterilizations. Eugenics has historically been associated with involuntary sterilizations of, for example, persons with argued very low intelligence, historically justified for argued reasons such as the well-being of society and offspring. This has also been used as one of the main criticisms of eugenics, for reasons such violating the rights of individuals to have children. However, modern or future methods, such as embryo selection and genetic engineering, could in theory reduce or completely prevent transmission of negative parental genetic characteristics, assuming a controlled conception.
  • Mass murder. Some claimed mass murders are sometimes blamed on eugenics. However, eugenics at most require sterilization in order to prevent transmission of perceived negative genetics to future generations. Thus, these mass murders (assuming they in fact occurred) would have had non-eugenic perceived motivations.
  • Affordability. The costs of genetic analyses and genetic manipulations have been dramatically reduced through technological developments. This affects the cost of potential eugenic methods and will likely continue to do so in the future. As such, potential eugenic methods will become affordable for increasingly larger groups of people in the future. A prohibition of eugenics in one country would in practice only make it more expensive and less available for the poor, as long as it is possible to travel abroad to another country where it is legal.
  • Inbreeding depression. In animal selective breeding, it is not unusual to breed very closely related animals in order to increase the chance of "fixing" a desired trait. However, this also increases the risk of various negative effects due to inbreeding depression. This is sometimes used as an argument against eugenics in general, but is accurately a problem only with this particular method of selective breeding.
  • Reduced genetic diversity. Eugenics may cause reduced genetic diversity, since a particular genetic alternative may be seen as the best and therefore usually selected. This has occurred in agriculture where monoculture is common. An important reason for high genetic diversity existing in "wild" species is because this enables a better genetic response to changes in the environment. However, genetic engineering, other eugenic methods, as well as technology in general could likely relatively quickly respond to a changing environment, without a high genetic diversity being necessary, if in the future eugenics should have significantly reduced overall human genetic diversity. At present, any realistic form of eugenics would only change overall human genetics and genetic diversity slowly. Also, just as there exists an enormous number of different species, which are all well-adapted genetically to different ecological niches, it may also be the case that a well-functioning human society has people with many different kinds of genetic characteristics adapted to different requirements. As such, an optimal eugenics would not necessarily reduce many kinds of human genetic differences.
  • Gene interactions. The same gene variant may have different effects depending on the interactions with other gene variants. A common example is recessive genes, where having two recessive alleles can cause a recessive genetic disease, but only having one such allele may in some cases have positive effects for a person. Thus, removing such gene variants from a population in order to prevent recessive diseases may have negative effects for those not having these diseases. However, this is an argument for preventing persons from having two such recessive alleles, while at the same time allowing persons to have one such recessive allele, rather than an argument against eugenics. More generally, it is an argument for that eugenics should consider gene interactions rather than only isolated gene variants and encourage positive gene interactions and discourage negative gene interactions.
  • Unintended consequences. Another argument against eugenics is that human genetics have very complex and interacting effects, and it often unclear what effects, in particular long-term effects, a genetic change will have. Counterarguments include that genetic knowledge has increased very rapidly and likely will continue to do so, which will improve predictive ability. That there may be unforeseen negative consequences applies to all new technology. Furthermore, in some cases, such as certain very harmful genetic diseases which cause painful deaths to all infants or children having these diseases, it is extremely likely that an individual would benefit from not having such a genetic disease. Also, methods such as cloning of geniuses would likely ensure generally beneficial genetic interactions, even if exact knowledge of how the genetic interactions occur is lacking.

Legal abortion

Legal abortion has been argued to have eugenic effects.[8]

Specific countries/groups

National Socialist Germany

Claimed applications of eugenics in National Socialist Germany are among the most often used criticisms against eugenics.

See the article on Action T4 regarding this subject.

See the article on the Lebensborn organization regarding this subject.

See the articles on Ernst Rüdin and Hans F. K. Günther on these German eugenicists.

"Racial hygiene" was a term for eugenics in National Socialist Germany, but the term was created already in 1895 and equivalent translated terms were also used in some other countries than Germany, without the terms referring to mass killings.

Deliberate genocide of Jews during the Holocaust is disputed by Holocaust revisionists, but also revisionists agree that Jews were persecuted. Such actions have often been claimed to have had eugenic motivations. This view has been criticized. Richard Lynn (not a Holocaust revisionist) thus writes that "Hitler did not regard the Jews as genetically inferior. No one could have reached such a conclusion in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s because it was a matter of common knowledge and observation that the Jews were exceptionally talented. Jews were prominent in business, the professions, and intellectual life. Although they constituted only approximately 1 percent of the population, Jews won 10 out of 32 Nobel Prizes awarded to German citizens between 1905 and 1931 and were thus overrepresented among this highly elite group by a factor of approximately 30 (Gordon, 1984). Anyone who asserted that the Jews were genetically inferior and hence eugenically undesirable would have forfeited all credibility, and Hitler certainly did not do so. [...] Hitler believed that the Jews and the Aryans were the two most talented races and that they were in competition to secure world supremacy. Thus, he wrote in Mein Kampf that the Jews are "the mightiest counterpart to the Aryan" (p. 64). He feared that the outcome of the struggle between these two peoples might easily be "the final victory of this little nation" (p. 300). [...] The correct understanding of Hitler's views on the Jews has been summarized by MacDonald (1998): "Hitler believed that races, including the Jews, are in a struggle for world domination, and he had a very great respect for the ability of Jews to carry on their struggle" (p. 146). The frequent assertion that Hitler exterminated the Jews on eugenic grounds is a misunderstanding of his position."[1]

A 2008 study stated that "The author investigates the charge that eugenics represents a “slippery path” that led to the Holocaust, and concludes that this widely popularized allegation is not supported by the facts. In a documented “timeline” he shows that during the period 1927 through 1939 many of the leading proponents of the eugenics movement were Jewish, and that the 1930s movement aimed at the political and genetic exclusion of Jews from Germany."[9]

Ideological views which include that different groups are in necessary and justified struggles with one another are no new phenomena created by eugenics (or the science of genetics). Such views can be found, for example, in the Jewish Bible, which approvingly describes exterminations of various perceived enemies of Jews, and in ideological justifications for communist exterminations of groups perceived as obstacles to the future communist utopia, despite communists opposing eugenics and even genetics and Darwinian evolutionary theory by supporting Lysenkoism.

Also, extensive eugenics existed and continue to exist in many other countries (including Israel), both before and after the Second World War, without this causing mass murder.

Attitudes towards eugenics after WWII in different countries

In 1994-1996, a survey was conducted asking geneticists and physicians around the world whether they agreed with the statement “An important goal of genetic counseling is to reduce the number of deleterious genes in the population.” The percentage agreeing with the statement in different countries:[7]

  • China 100%
  • India 87%
  • Turkey 73%
  • Peru 71%
  • Spain 67%
  • Poland 66%
  • Russia 58%
  • Greece 58%
  • Cuba 57%
  • Mexico 52%
  • Major Western Democracies <33%

Jewish and Israeli eugenics

See the article on Jews and intelligence regarding possible "eugenic" explanations for a high Jewish intelligence. As for other historical cases before modern genetic science, it is dubious that such possible practices had a conscious goal of genetic improvement.

Jewish participation in modern eugenics has been argued to show a consistent support in Israel from its birth in 1948 to the present, and among the majority of Jews in the West until the late 1960s, at which time most Jewish social scientists and journalists reversed their previous support to vehement opposition.[3]

"Unlike the U.S. situation, this anti-eugenics view never even got off the ground in Israel. Behavioral scientist Aviad Raz (b. 1968) of Ben Gurion University is quite open in pointing out that both the word ‘eugenics’ and the actual practice of eugenics enjoy broad approval in that country, and objections to eugenics – at least as far as genetic screening combined with eugenic abortions – are a ‘non-issue’ in Israel: Eugenic ideologies and practices have persisted in Israel, in a thinly disguised mode, even after the holocaust, because they were an inherent and formative part of Zionism . . . [P]renatal genetic testing was eugenic and was indeed supported precisely for that reason, since ‘eugenic’ for them meant the improvement of the health of progeny and carried positive rather than negative connotations."[3]

In Israel, eugenics, abortion, and various modern reproductive/genetic technologies have been argued to not be controversial issues unlike in many Western countries, encouraged by the government, and widely used by the population. "(It should be noted, however, that Palestinians are not encouraged to take part, as their fertility is seen as a threat to the state.)"[3]

See the "History" section above regarding opposition by Jews to eugenics in Western countries.


In mainly East Asian Singapore, under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, higher earners were given tax breaks for children and a government unit was set up to bring college graduates together in social settings, like dances and cruises, to encourage relationships and procreation. In three short years, the results were impressive. Between 1987 and 1990, births to college educated women went from 36.7 percent of all births to 47.7 percent.[7]


Imperial examination system

The historical imperial examination system in China, and similar systems in other East Asian countries, have been argued to have had (unintended) eugenic effects, by increasing opportunities for those with high IQ, although it has been questioned how large a share of the population was affected by this. Another historical "eugenic" explanation causing increasing IQ involves East Asian (and European societies) allowing high social mobility and favoring high IQ, which would over time have replaced the lower classes with downward mobile people, who still had a higher IQ than the previous members of the lower classes, who would often have been unable to reproduce successfully and thus became genetically extinct.[10][11][12]

One-child policy and negative demographics

The previous one-child policy of China, although not officially eugenic, is an example of how fertility can be successfully regulated by an authoritarian state.

The policy has been argued to have concealed eugenic intentions, by reducing the claimed high and more dysgenic fertility of groups such as rural peasants. With the 1995 Maternal and Infant Health Law (known as the Eugenic Law until Western opposition forced a name change), China forbade people carrying heritable mental or physical disorders from marrying, and promoted mass prenatal ultrasound testing for birth defects. China has also been argued to emphasize "biopower": creating the world's highest-quality human capital in terms of the Chinese population's genes, health, and education. With the relaxation of the one-child policy, wealthier couples can now pay to have an extra child.[13] Critics of the theory of such hidden eugenic intentions have argued that the one-child policy is only strictly enforced among the wealthier and more successful urban Chinese, that enforcement is much more lax among rural peasants, and that minority groups are completely exempt, which has caused their share of the population to increase considerably over the last three decades.[10]

In 2016, China changed its one-child policy to a two-child policy and may soon remove also this limitation. Despite this, birth rates in China have continued to decline. Various incentives to reverse this have been implemented and proposed. More coercive measures may be implemented if these do not work.[14]

Dysgenics and the Flynn effect

A 2016 study on China stated that dysgenic fertility had negative effects on average IQ.[15] A 2017 study found dysgenic effects on IQ also in Taiwan, with the effect being stronger for younger adults.[16] However, Richard Lynn has argued that the Flynn effect will continue China, and "as intelligence continues to increase in China and decline in Europe and the United States, China is likely to emerge as the world’s superpower in the second half of the 21st century."[17]

Recent argued and possible future eugenics

"Although eugenics is today anathema throughout the Western world, “[i]n China it is alive and well. The Maternal and Infantile Health Care Law went into effect on 1 June 1995. A media mention states ‘The official Xinhua News Agency reported that China currently has more than 10 million disabled people whose births could have been prevented if such a law had been in effect.’”In another article, “Reproduction Technology for a New Eugenics,” Dr. Whitney reports that “in June of 1999 China opened a government-run ‘notables’ Sperm Bank that accepts donors in three categories: intellectuals with at least a master’s degree, top businessmen, and successful artists, entertainers, and athletes. . . Clinic officials are quoted as saying that they would select sperm with high-quality characteristics’ to fulfill a popular demand for ‘attractive, intelligent children.’”"[18]

Currently, the Chinese state is conducting massive research projects on the genetics of human mental and physical traits. This includes research on the genetics of IQ. The results have been argued to "probably be used mostly in China, for China. Potentially, the results would allow all Chinese couples to maximize the intelligence of their offspring by selecting among their own fertilized eggs for the one or two that include the highest likelihood of the highest intelligence. Given the Mendelian genetic lottery, the kids produced by any one couple typically differ by 5 to 15 IQ points. So this method of "preimplantation embryo selection" might allow IQ within every Chinese family to increase by 5 to 15 IQ points per generation. After a couple of generations, it would be game over for Western global competitiveness."[13]

A 2017 article described very rapid growth in China of genetic research and genetic testing/procedures (such as "PGD") to avoid passing on mutations that can disease or disability. Clinics licensed to do such procedures can currently only use it to avoid serious disease or assist infertility treatments. "To many fertility specialists, what’s most striking about China’s adoption of PGD is the speed and organization of its uptake. China already seems to provide more procedures than the United States, and with growth estimated at 60–70% per year, is on target to catch up in per capita terms in the next few years." More generally, "The Chinese word for eugenics, yousheng, is used explicitly as a positive in almost all conversations about PGD. Yousheng is about giving birth to children of better quality. Not smoking during pregnancy is also part of yousheng." [19]

A review on Richard Lynn's book Eugenics: A Reassessment stated that "the attitudes in China are the most favorable and when that is combined with the advantages of an authoritarian government, a lack of dysgenic immigration, and a high IQ starting point it’s not hard to believe that the Chinese will continue to be the most enthusiastic and efficient users of biotechnology.

So how will this nation of a billion people treat the rest of the world after it’s raised its IQ to 150+? Lynn might be too optimistic here. He believes the Chinese will colonize the world and try to improve the IQs and living standards of their subjects. The Europeans will be kept around for their biological uniqueness and admired for their cultural accomplishments, the way that the Romans subjugated the Greeks but appreciated their philosophy and art. If the Chinese decide that the Europeans should be preserved they’d be doing more for them than whites are currently doing for themselves. A global eugenic superstate led by the Chinese will be the "end of history."

Lynn’s forecasts the next 100 years with a stone-cold detachment. The first government to utilize the power of biotechnology will take over the world. Thanks to third world immigration and egalitarianism, the decline of the West seems inevitable and eugenic policies unlikely. The future of humanity being in the hands of the dictators in Beijing may not be the most comforting idea in the world, but at least the reader of Eugenics may be convinced that intelligence and civilization will continue somewhere."[7]

See also

External links

Article archives


  1. 1.0 1.1 Richard Lynn. (2001). Eugenics: A Reassessment. Praeger
  2. Ending a Historical Taboo
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Against Good Breeding: Understanding Jewish Opposition to Eugenics.
  5. "The Rise and Decline of the West: Review “At Our Wit’s End” by Edward Dutton and Michael A. Woodley of Menie
  6. Lynn, R.; Harvey, J. (2008). "The decline of the world's IQ". Intelligence 36 (2): 112.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Richard Hoste. The Coming Chinese Superstate: Richard Lynn’s Eugenics. The Occidental Quarterly. Jul 2, 2009
  8. Heretical Thoughts on Abortion & Eugenics.
  9. Eugenics and the Holocaust: 1927-1939
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ron Unz. China: Chinese Eugenics?
  11. Peter Frost. East Asia's Farewell to Alms. Evo and Proud.
  12. Peter Frost. Does the Clark-Unz model apply to Japan and Korea?
  13. 13.0 13.1 Geoffrey Miller. Chinese Eugenics. 2013. Edge.
  14. China Stepping Up Measures to Boost the Birth Rate
  15. Wang, M., Fuerst, J., & Ren, J. (2016). Evidence of dysgenic fertility in China. Intelligence, 57, 15-24.
  16. Chen, H. Y., Chen, Y. H., Liao, Y. K., Chen, H. P., & Lynn, R. (2017). Dysgenic fertility for intelligence and education in Taiwan. Intelligence, 63, 29-32.
  17. A Conversation with Richard Lynn
  18. The Scientific and Social Policy Implications of Racial Differences
  19. China’s embrace of embryo selection raises thorny questions
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