Must eugenics be intentional?

Ron Unz refers to my favorable review of his article on Chinese Social Darwnism.  He doesn’t  like the E-word and seems to think I mischaracterized his article by using “Chinese Eugenics” in the title.  He might be right.  I’m by no means an expert on eugenics.   As I said in a comment to my original post:

I was using “eugenics” very broadly to refer to ancient eugenics, Clark’s and Unz’s selection models, and Miller’s more futuristic models. Eugenics has been happening for a very long time, so I tend to think of more in terms of the Clark model of downward social mobility / downward drift in genes, than in Miller’s more intentional model.

The gist of Unz’s criticism is that he thinks eugenics must be intentional.

But I’m not certain this is correct.

Early 20th century eugenicist Frederick Osborn thought that eugenics could be unintentional.  He thought that society could be ordered in a way that it just happened.  Regarding the modern state, Osborn, according to Wikipedia,

“argued that all that was needed was to simply wait until a specific set of social structures (a consumer economy and the nuclear family) developed to a point of dominance within capitalist culture. Once these structures matured, people would act eugenically without a second thought. Eugenic activity, instead of being an immediately identifiable, repugnant activity, would become one of the invisible taken-for-granted activities of everyday life (much like getting a vaccination).”

If I remember correctly what little I’ve read on eugenics, there seems to be recognition of accidental eugenics – circumstances set up such that it just happens without anyone intending it.

But I’m no expert.  Perhaps Unz is correct.  Thoughts?


Helmuth Nyborg, in “The decay of Western civilization: Double relaxed Darwinian Selection,” writes about dysgenic effects on society though relaxed selection pressure. There doesn’t appear to be any intentionality; I doubt most sane people would intentionally seek their own demise.

Volkmar Weiss, in “The Population Cycle Drives Human History — from a Eugenic Phase into a Dysgenic Phase and Eventual Collapse,” writes about the population structure of society bringing about eugenic and dysgenic effects.  This often doesn’t appear to be intentional.

Ron Unz responds here.

13 thoughts on “Must eugenics be intentional?

  1. Pingback: Chinese Eugenics: Ron Unz’s “How Social Darwinism Made Modern China” | Occam's Razor

  2. It was my understanding that European beauty is the result of thousands of years of selective breeding, which I thought was the definition of eugenics.
    But what do I know, I’m not a bloody scientist!

  3. It is surely appropriate to apply the word “eugenic” to deliberate mating policies and practices which are not necessarily based on any scientific or purportedly-scientific thinking but which would be acknowledged as concerned with producing good quality issue with “of course” if the practitioners, not least the potential grandparents, were asked if the way that marriage partners were sought out and chosen had anything to do with producing good quality issue.

  4. And let me add the commonplace observation that women from time immemorial have always been supposed to take care in choosing the father of their children. Some of the tests they are supposed to have used would have been almost at the subliminal level but there seems to be plenty of evidence that the symmetrical face is supposed to have been preferred because it was an indication of good health.

    In short, eugenics can be seen to creep in if either parent does any choosing and there is even a romantic imagination of the children being strong and brave like the potential father or beautiful like the potential mother.

  5. Nyborg is wrong about relaxed selection. Humans are undergoing selection for the current environment, which in the West is the welfare state, not the paleolithic and neolithic. That the welfare state selects against many (paleolithic) characters we value is not an argument against selection. Nyborg apparently doesn’t understand Darwinian selection.

  6. Well, I admit it’s really just a matter of semantics. I’ve always considered “eugenics” to represent a *conscious* breeding effort, aimed at a deliberate goal.

    But here’s an argument I could make. Dysgenics is obviously the opposite of eugenics, but I can’t see how “dysgenics” could even be defined absent a conscious goal. For example, suppose conditions exist that favor the selection of individuals (people or animals) that are stupid, physically weak, but have lots of offspring, which shifts the species in that direction. From the perspective of blind natural selection, such trends are just as successful and beneficial as those in the opposite condition. It’s just when we impose a set of conscious goals that we can call the result “dysgenic.”

    Anyway, that’s my perspective….

    • Mr. Unz,

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment.

      My superficial analysis would be that while one could make the case for intentional eugenics or intentional dysgenics, dysgenics in historical practice would usually be unintentional.

  7. Pingback: Unz on China: Debating the “Clark-Unz Model” | Ron Unz – Writings and Perspectives

  8. Pingback: China: Debating the “Clark-Unz Model” | The American Conservative

  9. Pingback: China: Debating the “Clark-Unz Model” | Tony Johnson

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