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Francis Galton’s Novel: A Vision of Horrors to Come

Darwin’s cousin will never live down the dark side of his legacy. Yes, Francis Galton did some good things: weather maps, fingerprinting systems, social science work. But his baby, eugenics, was a monster that has risen again in his own words: a chilling novel that didn’t get destroyed.

His own family tried to destroy it. Francis Galton wrote a novel named Kantsaywhere that presented his vision of an ideal society, where science bred the best human stock and eliminated the unfit. Wasn’t that something his famous cousin would appreciate? Michael Marshall doesn’t think so. In New Scientist, he wrote about efforts by University College London to restore the remaining pieces and publish them on the Internet:

How do you publish a novel arguing that the unfit, weak or mentally infirm should not be allowed to breed, and only those deemed “high quality” be given the privilege of having children?

Well, you don’t. Francis Galton tried to in the first decade of the 20th century, but he died in 1911 before his eugenic novel Kantsaywhere could be published. His family promptly got hold of it and, horrified, destroyed almost all of it. (Emphasis added.)

The pieces that remain are disturbing enough. Marshall seems upset about the dryness of Galton’s descriptions of the fitness tests and principles of the society, and the impersonal coldness of the narrator; “it’s like reading a textbook,” he comments. But what a textbook. It’s not just cold and dry; it’s downright chilling:

However, even in this form, it is hard to escape a ghastly fascination with Galton’s vision of a eugenic society. What is most striking is that, in all the tests he envisions people going through before they can breed, nobody is ever tested on their sense of morality. The tests aren’t concerned with whether people are kind, sharing, empathic or cooperative. Apparently, these qualities weren’t as important to Galton’s perfect society as being able to sing in tune or write an insightful essay, both of which are systematically measured.

In that chilling disdain for emotion and feeling, Galton’s novel presaged the many inhuman horrors of the two world wars to come. (Emphasis added.)

Thank you, Michael Marshall, for stating this with feeling on a pro-Darwin news site. Hmmm; wonder how morality evolves? or kindness, sharing, empathy, cooperation, and feeling? Don’t bother looking in the Origin. Galton got the message and took his cousin’s philosophy to its (arguably) logical conclusion.

His novel-writing exercise never quite got around to “the rest of the story” — 164 million cold-blooded murders that would begin within the decade. As a result of those “unintended consequences,” Galton is no longer remembered as a legitimate scientist, but as the Father of Eugenics.