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Monday, September 25, 2023

The Young Conservatives Trying to Make Eugenics Respectable Again

Adam Serwer
The Atlantic
Originally posted 15 September 23

Here are two excerpts:

One explanation for the resurgence of scientific racism—what the psychologist Andrew S. Winston defines as the use of data to promote the idea of an “enduring racial hierarchy”—is that some very rich people are underwriting it. Mathias notes that “rich benefactors, some of whose identities are unknown, have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into a think tank run by Hanania.” As the biological anthropologist Jonathan Marks tells the science reporter Angela Saini in her book Superior, “There are powerful forces on the right that fund research into studying human differences with the goal of establishing those differences as a basis of inequalities.”

There is no great mystery as to why eugenics has exerted such a magnetic attraction on the wealthy. From god emperors, through the divine right of kings, to social Darwinism, the rich have always sought an uncontestable explanation for why they have so much more money and power than everyone else. In a modern, relatively secular nation whose inequalities of race and class have been shaped by slavery and its legacies, the justifications tend toward the pseudoscience of an unalterable genetic aristocracy with white people at the top and Black people at the bottom.

“The lay concept of race does not correspond to the variation that exists in nature,” the geneticist Joseph L. Graves wrote in The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium. “Instead, the American concept of race is a social construction, resulting from the unique political and cultural history of the United States.”

Because race is a social reality, genuine disparities among ethnic groups persist in measures such as education and wealth. Contemporary believers in racial pseudoscience insist these disparities must necessarily have a genetic explanation, one that happens to correspond to shifting folk categories of race solidified in the 18th century to justify colonialism and enslavement. They point to the external effects of things like war, poverty, public policy, and discrimination and present them as caused by genetics. For people who have internalized the logic of race, the argument may seem intuitive. But it is just astrology for racists.


Race is a sociopolitical category, not a biological one. There is no genetic support for the idea that humans are divided into distinct races with immutable traits shared by others who have the same skin color. Although qualified geneticists have debunked the shoddy arguments of race scientists over and over, the latter maintain their relevance in part by casting substantive objections to their assumptions, methods, and conclusions as liberal censorship. There are few more foolproof ways to get Trump-era conservatives to believe falsehoods than to insist that liberals are suppressing them. Race scientists also understand that most people can evaluate neither the pseudoscience they offer as proof of racial differences nor the actual science that refutes it, and will default to their political sympathies.

Three political developments helped renew this pseudoscience’s appeal. The first was the election of Barack Obama, an emotional blow to those adhering to the concept of racial hierarchy from which they have yet to recover. Then came the rise of Bernie Sanders, whose left-wing populism blamed the greed of the ultra-wealthy for the economic struggles of both the American working class and everyone in between. Both men—one a symbol of racial equality, the other of economic justice—drew broad support within the increasingly liberal white-collar workforce from which the phrenologist billionaires of Big Tech draw their employees. The third was the election of Donald Trump, itself a reaction to Obama and an inspiration to those dreaming of a world where overt bigotry does not carry social consequences.

Here is my brief synopsis:

Young conservatives are often influenced by far-right ideologues who believe in the superiority of the white race and the need to improve the human gene pool.  Serwer argues that the resurgence of interest in eugenics is part of a broader trend on the right towards embracing racist and white supremacist ideas. He also notes that the pseudoscience of race is being used to justify hierarchies and provide an enemy to rail against.

It is important to note that eugenics is a dangerous and discredited ideology. It has been used to justify forced sterilization, genocide, and other atrocities. The resurgence of interest in eugenics is a threat to all people, especially those who are already marginalized and disadvantaged.