You wouldn’t think I could get into much trouble, reading a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers. The one I’m reading now is Gaudy Night, set at a women’s college in Oxford. It’s important to remember, at all times, that this was published in 1936.
Consider this bit of conversation. One character, opposed to capital punishment, says murderers must be “kept from doing further harm. But they ought not to be punished and they certainly ought not to be killed.”
To which one of her fellow academics replies, “I suppose they ought to be kept in hospitals at vast expense, along with other unfit specimens… Speaking as a biologist, I must say I think public money might be better employed. What with the number of imbeciles and physical wrecks we allow to go about and propagate their species, we shall end by devitalizing whole nations.”
“Miss Schuster-Slatt [an American] would advocate sterilization,” said the Dean.
“They’re trying it in Germany, I believe,” said Miss Edwards [the biologist]. ****
Hello? Did someone invite Heinrich Himmler to give a series of guest lectures at this college?
Well, no. They were just talkin’ eugenics, which was Settled Science once upon a time, between the world wars. The West–primarily Britain and America–was talkin’ it, and passing laws against reproduction by “the unfit”; but in Nazi Germany they shifted eugenics into high gear and started killing people. After all, it’s a sure way of getting rid of the unfit.
And Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood, to get rid of the unfit by means of abortion.
So we had all this Nazi stuff floating around in our culture, believed in by the best and smartest people, no one dared venture into Eugenics Denial for fear of being mocked and cast out of polite society.
A lot of people shut up about eugenics after it became well known how the Nazis put it to work. The word “eugenics” fell out of use. Nobody wanted to sound like Himmler.
But it was there–respected, exalted, socially acceptable, absolutely a part of our culture. In Gaudy Night we see it in Britain in 1936, before the Nazis started bombing London.
We see it even more vividly in Agatha Christie’s Curtain, written during World War II but not published till 1975. The ideas most commonly associated with the Third Reich were deemed respectable in Britain–even while the Germans were attacking and it was an open question whether Britain would survive.
The evils of our own day have deep roots. Very deep indeed.
May Jesus Christ defend us.