Racism, Social Science, & Eugenics from Plato to Neoconservatives
A Talk by Dave Kingsley, PhD
Dangerous Ideas That Have Been Around a Long Time and Are Still With Us
The purported inferiority of low income and various ethnic groups is a very old and ugly idea and yet it remains potent and influential in the U.S. In spite of its two most atrocious manifestations in Western Civilization – U.S. Slavery and the Nazi Holocaust – it continues to return through a variety of iterations designed to make it more palatable. In the past, as well as the very recent past, it has resulted in major public policy, which is decimating low income populations.
Somewhat further back in U.S. history, racialist and classist theories have been justification for slavery, extermination, apartheid, miscegenation, and forced sterilization of poor and minority men and women. Most recently, it has been the raison d’etre for mass incarceration, slashing of the safety net (food stamps, housing, medical care, employment, and other basic needs), and general abandonment and neglect of the poorest peoples and the neighborhoods in which they live.
Eugenics: What Does Biology Have to Do With It?
Eugenics is the theory and practice of identifying and, through extermination, sterilization, or separation, eliminating and ridding society of “undesirables.” It is a term coined in the late 19th Century (combining the Greek words “eu,” which means “good,” and “genics,” meaning genes). The flip side of eugenics is “dysgenics,” which refers to a deterioration in the quality of “the gene pool.” In its latest iteration, the view that dysgenic forces are a threat to America has been successfully promoted by neoconservatives – a group I believe to be the most dangerous, but most effective, political movement in the United States today.
Belief in biological determinism – that I.Q. scores, criminal behavior, and position on the economic ladder are due to genes – is the sine qua non of the eugenics movement. One would think that this nasty idea would have gone away with the defeat of Nazi Germany and the tragedy it wrought. But it didn’t. A very elite group of social scientists with Ivy League pedigrees and connections to powerful politicians, wealthy foundations, and key positions in government and major institutions have brought it back with a vengeance.
Neoconservatives: A Powerful Force in U.S. Government & Policy
The neoconservative movement includes prominent, combative, social scientists from elite institutions who have a great amount of admiration for Plato’s Republic and who have concocted a body of racist, classist pseudo-science. Essentially, they have repackaged and remarketed eugenic ideas. Indeed they have been successful in leveraging the mass media (including the “liberal” New York Times) and politicians. Their theoretical framework has been translated into policy by both Republican and Democrats.
Starting with the 1960s social science of Moynihan (“tangle of pathology” in the black family”), Banfield (“the unheavenly city), Arthur Jensen (the hereditary nature of IQ), and others, neoconservatives were able to push the idea along through the 70s, and 80s. Neo-eugenic, neoconservative, scientism culminated in the 1990s with The Bell Curve, and Body Count (think young, black “superpredators”).
Although neoconservative prominence and power blossomed during the Reagan and Bush I administrations, their greatest success came with disgraceful crime and welfare legislation during the Clinton Administration. Today, neoconservatives hold key positions in government, control powerful and prominent “think tanks,” such as The American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute. They are a prominent voice on the Council on Foreign Relations. Neocon publications include The Weekly Standard, and Commentary. You will see them serving on boards of powerful lobbying groups such as the liberal New America Foundation (David Brooks) and the ultra-conservative Independent Women’s Forum (Midge Decter). They are far more likely to be invited onto PBS News Hour (think David Brooks) and other media/news programs than someone as far left as Bernie Sanders.