Thursday, April 19, 2018

PE of Fash Week III: Eugenics and the Alt-Right (Reading List)

This class is intended to address what I consider to be the closest historical precedent to the alt-right: the eugenics movement. I say this not only by manner of ideological comparison, nor only manner of social insertion. I say this because the core organizations the bred the original alt-right - VDare, New Century Foundation (American Renaissance), and the National Policy Institute - are part of a non-profit financial network that has preserved eugenics since its decline following the discovery of DNA and the sequencing of the human genome.

The "required" readings cover the history and present of the eugenics movement. The Belkhir & Duyme piece explores the core assertions and fallacies of the eugenics movement both in its historical manifestation, but also in the present day. The Smedley & Smedley piece adds color to the Belkhir & Duyme piece, going beyond the mere refutation of biological, especially genetic, origins of social identity and aptitude constructs to give an accounting of the historical and social origins of these constructs using race as its case study.

The piece by Baker is presented as a means of focusing on how eugenics functioned logistically to popularize their approach. Baker's piece, which highlights the attempts by the organized eugenics movement to appeal to Christianity, is especially illustrative given that the movement ultimately wasn't able to get enthusiastic support on the basis of tying eugenic beliefs to Christianity. However, in the process the movement underwent numerous, ultimately cosmetic changes, hiding and repackaging core principles to appeal to an audience averse to themes of biological evolution, birth control, and selective breeding.

Doing so was part of a broader shift in the eugenics movement from having an enthusiastic, almost evangelical, devotion to the Malthusian principles - known as "mainline eugenics" in historical accounts of the movement - toward a softened movement that focused on discrete policy issues rather than sweeping social changes. This latter movement has come to be known as "reform eugenics" and was responsible for boosting the movement beyond its most fanatical adherents - often at the expense of original members.

In this regard, the plight of the eugenics movement resembles that of the alt-right which makes sense since the two movements are connected institutionally across time by their shared funding networks. As the article I published lays out, the core ideas of the eugenics movement provided the intellectual rallying point that allowed the alt-right to attract such a broad section of the anti-establishment right.

"Required" Readings

Graham J. Baker 2014 Christianity and Eugenics: The Place of Religion in the British Eugenics Education Society and the American Eugenics Society, c. 1907-1940

This article reviews the attempts by the eugenics movement in the US and Britain to do outreach to Christians. What might not come through in the article is that by and large, the effort was an abysmal failure.

Audrey Smedley and Brian D. Smedley 2005 Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem is Real

This article reviews and debunks claims made by contemporary eugenicists in light of the existing literature on genetics and social science.

Jean Ait Belkhir and Michel Duyme 1998 Intelligence and Race, Gender Class: The Fallacy of Genetic Determinism

This article traces the historical development and opposition to eugenic theories from their foundations in social myth about the heritability of intelligence on the basis of race, gender, and class.

My Writing

The Alt-Right is an Unstable Coalition - with One Thing Holding It Together

My article "The 'Alt-Right' is an Unstable Coalition - But There's One Thing Holding It Together" in Red Pepper Magazine traces the historical development of the alt-right, particularly as curated by Richard Spencer, and makes the case that its ability to unify such a diverse segment of the right came from its embrace of a variety of eugenic theories.

Popular Pulbications

Robert M. Young Racist Society, Racist Science
Corey Pein Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich
Jack Smith IV Jordan Peterson is the Rising Self-Help Guru of Young Conservatives. Here's What He's Telling Them
Ezra Klein Sam Harris, Charles Murray, and the Allure of Race Science"


The Myth of Race, Debunked in 3 Minutes
Mark Largent - Eugenic Sterilization in Oregon, 1909-1983
Steven Jay Gould On Intelligence Tests (IQ), The Nature-Nurture Controversy

Book for Further Reading

Mark Largent 2007 Breeding Contempt: The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States
Daniel Kevles 1985 In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity