John West and the Darwin-Eugenics Link

Bruce Chapman

In speeches in Washington and Philadelphia this week, Discovery Institute senior fellow and former political science professor John West has begun his program to describe the way Darwinism gave birth to the eugenics movement, and he is getting some attention. Protests are expected, but it won’t do any good for Darwinists to huff and puff about West’s linkage of Darwinism and the eugenics movement that sterilized scores of thousands of Americans deemed unfit in the early decades of the last century, the concurrent rise of the abortion movement and the extermination of hundreds of thousands of supposed social undesirables by the Nazis in Germany. Indeed, the replies given by the Darwinists in the Crosswalk article were anticipated–and rebutted–by West in his speech.

The Darwinists hate the claim of linkage to eugenics, but they cannot refute it. It is in the historical record. Eugenics was the “consensus science” of the time (attention, Chris Mooney). John West’s research is thorough and impeccable. His lectures are laying out the facts–the official publicity documents, letters, speech quotations, state and federal legislative testimony and court rulings showing that eugenics was not just connected to Darwinism, but derived from Darwin’s own work (in The Descent of Man), his cousin’s coining of the term eugenics and the work of several generations of Darwin’s followers. It was reflected in the Hunter’s high school biology text–the one in the Scopes Trial which afterwards enjoyed continued wide use in America, though you never hear that part of the Scopes story.
Instead of pretending to wax indignant at the association of Darwinism and eugenics and launching the standard personal attacks, Darwinists should offer someone to debate West about this topic. Let’s get it on national television in a fair and polite confrontation. As a pure academic exercise, as I say, the record is very clear.
OR Darwinists could simply acknowledge that eugenics is an unfortunate chapter in the history of their cause.
However, if they do that, the question will arise, what about the re-emergence of modern eugenics in the bioethics issues of today? You see, this historical topic is absolutely relevant.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.