Culture & Ethics
Wikipedia on Hunter’s Civic Biology
Speaking of Wikipedia, and following up on the interview with John West by Forbes contributor Jerry Bowyer that I wrote about a little earlier, I was curious what the online encyclopedia does with Civic Biology, the 1914 textbook at the heart of the 1925 Scopes trial. What’s the “civic” aspect of biology?
Of course, there’s a page on the subject, and you guessed it, they deceptively minimize the theme of eugenics and racism in the book. The editors claim the subject is found on just “one page of the 432 page textbook.” And they concede that author George William Hunter “also believed that the Caucasian race was the highest type of all the races.”
Wait a minute. Hunter didn’t just privately “believe” such a poisonous idea. He stated it plainly on page 196, instructing high school students that “At the present time there exist upon the earth five races of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure.” He lists the races, clearly from bottom to top, starting with the “Ethiopian or negro type,” and reaching the summit with “the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.”
And the discussion of eugenics is nothing less than the capstone and punchline of his chapter on “Heredity and Variation.” The chapter works logically, hitting themes including “Charles Darwin and Natural Selection,” “Artificial Selection,“ and “Animal Breeding.” The general discussion of eugenics, “the science of being well born,” extends from page 261 to 264. That’s four pages, not one. Hunter’s “remedy” for poorly bred humans is chilling:
If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways prevent intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.
Indeed, Europe would soon make a very radical attempt at eugenics — the destruction of an entire people — hardly more than a generation after these words were published, to be taught to American school kids. But that’s a subject for another time.
Image: From page 263 of George William Hunter’s Civic Biology.