Racial hygiene

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Galton in his later years

Racial hygiene was a set of early twentieth century state sanctioned policies by which certain groups of individuals were allowed to procreate and others not, with the expressed purpose of promoting certain characteristics deemed to be particularly desirable. The most noteworthy example is the extensive implementation of racial hygiene policies by National Socialist Germany but similar policies were implemented throughout Europe, North America and Southern Africa.

The concept of racial purity was developed by Arthur de Gobineau. De Gobineau argued that race created culture, and that "impure" "race-mixing" leads to chaos. Racial hygiene was historically tied to traditional notions of public health, but usually with an enhanced emphasis on heredity. Francis Galton began working in 1869 in order to find a statistical science of heredity which he believed could encourage voluntary care in selecting partners, and in 1883 he introduced the term "eugenics" for this subject, but in the early 20th century a eugenics movement adopted ideas of Mendelian genetics and promoted negative eugenics to prevent those thought to be unsuitable from having children, and eugenics was used to legitimise policies of racial hygiene.

In Germany

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The German eugenicist Alfred Ploetz introduced the term Rassenhygiene in his "Racial hygiene basics" (Grundlinien einer Rassenhygiene) in 1895. In its earliest incarnation it was concerned more with the declining birthrate of the German state and the increasing number of mentally ill and disabled people in state-run institutions (and their costs to the state) than with the "Jewish question" and "de-Nordification" (Entnordung) which would come to dominate its philosophy in Germany from the 1920s through the second World War.

Eva Justin checking the facial characteristics of a Romani woman as part of her "racial studies".

In Nazi propaganda the term "Race" was often interchangeably used to describe and mean the "Aryan" or Germanic "Übermenschen" which was said to represent an ideal and pure master race that was biologically superior to all other races.[1] In the 1930s, under the 'expertise' of eugenicist Ernst Rüdin, it was this latter use of "racial hygiene" which was embraced by the followers of National Socialist ideology, who demanded Aryan racial purity and condemned miscegenation. This belief in the importance of German racial purity often served as the theoretical backbone of Nazi policies of racial superiority and later genocide. These policies began in 1935, when the National Socialists enacted the Nuremberg Laws, which legislated racial purity by forbidding sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and non-Aryans as Rassenschande (racial shame).

A key part of National Socialism was the concept of racial hygiene and during their rule the field was elevated to the primary philosophy of the German medical community, first by activist physicians within the medical profession, particularly amongst psychiatrists. This was later codified and institutionalized during and after the Nazis' rise to power in 1933, during the process of Gleichschaltung (literally, "coordination" or "unification") which streamlined the medical and mental hygiene (mental health) profession into a rigid hierarchy with National Socialist-sanctioned leadership at the top.

The blueprint for Nazism's attitude toward other races was written by Erwin Baur, Fritz Lenz and Eugen Fischer and published under the title Human Heredity Theory and Racial Hygiene (1936).

Racial hygienists played key roles in the Holocaust, the National Socialist effort to purge Europe of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Serbs, Ukrainians, Russians, mixed race, black people, homosexuals, trans people, political dissidents, the mentally retarded and the insane. The precursors for this were earlier medical experimentation on African prisoners of war in concentration camps in Namibia during the Herero and Namaqua Genocide.[2]

After World War II

After World War II, the racialist ideology was denounced as un-scientific and pseudoscience by race deniers, although there continued to be supporters of eugenics even after there was widespread awareness of the National Socialist debacle. Post 1945 eugenics proponents include Julian Huxley and Dr Marie Stopes.[3]

See also

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  3. June Rose, Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution Faber and Faber London 1993 p.244

Further reading