Classic Essays

Francis Galton: The First Eugenicist


They have made a pariah out of the man who may have had the highest IQ of all time.

WHAT little Homo americanus knows of the social and behavioral sciences is based largely upon the works of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, the two learned Elders whose massive tomes, largely unread, are carefully and religiously filtered down to college students by the abridgement and bowdlerizations of a band of true-believing apostles. Thanks to the promotional needlings of Madison Avenue print merchants such works as Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization and Norman Brown’s Life Against Death are almost as common among university literati as roach clips and venereal disease. The basic thesis of both books upholds the classic Marxist-Freudian line — first copulate, then share the wealth!

Sir Francis Galton (pictured), who is to Freud and Marx as T.S. Eliot is to Allen Ginsberg, has had no claque of fanatics to toot his far more intelligent horn. Frozen in the deep Siberian silence in which CBS, NBC and ABC enshroud ” dangerous thinkers,” Galton remains number one on the most unwanted list of contemporary social science. Accordingly, it is no surprise that ordinary (and so many are ordinary) college students and faculty members have simply no idea who Galton was or what he did. Upon the mere mention of his name the rare academicians who are dimly aware of his existence are likely to fly into a typical liberal pet, as they whine and whinny about “racism and elitism.” Such gross ignorance is all the more remarkable in view of the evaluation given his work by a pair of very respected historians of the behavioral sciences. J.C. Flugel and D.J. West in A Hundred Years of Psychology (p. 111) state that never in the history of psychology “do we meet an investigator so brilliant, so versatile, so wide in his interests and abilities, so little bound by prejudice or preconception. Compared to him, all others … are apt to appear a little ponderous and pedantic, a little blindered in their outlook.”

E.G. Boring in his classic A History of Experimental Psychology (p. 487) credits Galton with founding “the psychology of the individual differences in human capacities,” adding that Wilhelm Wundt (another great thinker who has become a MIA in the media’s war against the hereditarian school) “wanted to improve psychology; Galton the human race.”

Early Life

Born in 1822, Galton could trace part of his family back to pre-Norman times. His grandfather was a successful Quaker banker who anticipated the trichromatic theory of color vision. Galton’s father, also a banker, married the daughter of Erasmus Darwin, thereby making Francis and Charles Darwin cousins. At age four the toddling Galton wrote his sister, “I can read any English book. I can say all the Latin substantives and adjectives and active verbs beside fifty-two lines of Latin poetry. I can cast up any sum in addition and multiply by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10. I can also say the pence table. I read French a little and I know the clock.” In view of all this precocity, Lewis Termin estimated Galton’s IQ to be 200!

Young Galton was unhappy with his early education because it consisted primarily of Latin, Greek and the study of religion, and put little importance on science and mathematics. Never an ivory tower intellectual, Galton from childhood on was an avid tinkerer and inventor. Among other things he built a working model of a flying machine and a steam-powered rotary engine, developed a semaphore system, a teletype and stereoscopic and weather maps, and was the first to categorize fingerprints.

Parental influence led to his studying medicine, which he had little use for. Only after a wearing struggle did he persuade his father to allow him to take a mathematics degree at Cambridge. In 1844, when his father died, Galton received a tidy inheritance, which relieved him of the tiresome necessity of becoming a doctor and earning his own keep.

Inspired by his cousin’s adventuresome voyage on The Beagle, Galton traveled to Egypt, Sudan, Syria and the Holy Land, where he tried unsuccessfully to raft down the Jordan river. In the course of his travels in the Near East he developed a life-long admiration for Islam as a practical code of human behavior. In 1850 he led an expedition to southwest Africa, which may soon become the sovereign state of Namibia, where he not only made precise geographic observations, but put down a local rebellion and literally forced a system of law and order upon the natives.

It was at this time that Galton was struck by the profound differences, both physical and mental, between Africans and Europeans. One of the most intriguing differences was the steatopygia (excessive fat deposits on female buttocks) of the Hottentots, which he had some difficulty in measuring, as he revealed in the following letter:

The sub-interpreter was married to a charming person, not only a Hottentot in figure, but in that respect, a Venus among Hottentots. I was perfectly aghast at her development and made inquiries upon that delicate point as far as I dared among my missionary friends . . . . I profess to be a scientific man and was exceedingly anxious to obtain accurate measurements of her shape; but there was a difficulty in doing this. I did not know a word of Hottentot, and could therefore never have explained the lady what the object of my foot-rule could be; and I really dared not ask my worthy missionary host to interpret for me . . . . The object of my admiration stood under a tree, and was turning herself about to all points of the compass, as ladies who wish to be admired usually do. Of a sudden, my eyes fell upon my sextant; the bright thought struck me, and I took a series of observations upon her figure in every direction, up and down, crossways, diagonally and so forth, and I registered them carefully on an outline drawing for fear of any mistake; this being done, I boldly pulled out my measuring tape, and measured the distance from where I was to the place she stood, and having thus obtained both base and angles, I worked out the results by trigonometry and logarithms.

Galton’s work in southwest Africa earned him the prestigious Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Later, as an officer of the society, he attempted to mediate between Sir Richard Burton and J.H. Speke in their famous altercation over the source of the Nile. Though poles apart in temperament, Galton admired Burton and obtained a pension for lady Burton upon her husband’s demise. In his winter years, Galton looked back with fond amusement on his attempt to introduce atheist Burton to Bishop Wilberforce, the pious anti-Darwinist.

In 1853 Galton married Louisa Butler, daughter of Reverend George Butler, a distinguished academician. The marriage, based more upon social considerations than romance, proved highly successful from the standpoint of the enduring affection it generated between the partners. But it was also a tragic and ironic failure. It produced no offspring to receive and transmit the extraordinary genes of a man who placed such importance on heredity.

The Influence of Darwin

Predictably, Darwin’s Origin of Species had a profound effect upon his brilliant relation. Galton wrote in his diary:

[T]he publication … marked an epoch in my own mental development, as it did in human thought generally. Its effect was to demolish a multitude of dogmatic barriers by a single stroke and to arouse a spirit of rebellion against all ancient authorities whose positive and unauthenticated statements were contradicted by modern science.

With Darwin’s epochal work as his Bible, Galton turned his computer mind to a systematic study of human variation, the first fruits of which were published in 1865 in an article in MacMillan’s Magazine. Four years later he offered a complete roundup of his ideas on the inherited basis of differing human capabilities in his greatest effort Hereditary Genius. Darwin responded by writing, “I do not think I ever in all my life read anything more interesting and original.”

Extremely impressed by the Belgian scientist Quetelet’s demonstration that various physical measurements (such as chest expansion) were distributed among human beings in accordance with Gaussian or normal curves, Galton felt that mental ability or intelligence would have a similar distribution. But how was he to measure intelligence? At the time no one had ever heard of such a thing as IQ. Examining the grades obtained by Cambridge University students on a mathematics examination, he found that the more the grade diverged from the mean the less its frequency. Differences in mental ability therefore seemed to follow a Gaussian pattern.

Galton next decided that life itself can be considered as a kind of “living test.” Consequently, men’s reputations and achivements should follow a similar distribution, with only a very few human beings reaching the highest levels of eminence. After examining and grading the lives of scores of great men, Galton went on to discover the source of this greatness by showing that eminent men tend to come from eminent parents, who tend to have eminent children in a far greater degree than predicted by chance. In Hereditary Genius Galton proved this to be true for English judges, ministers, military commanders and statesmen.

Galton’s emphasis on the hereditary nature of intelligence caused controversy even in his day. Critics said that eminence could just as easily be environmental in origin. In the unique, open-minded spirit of Western science, Galton tested the environmental hypothesis by looking at the institution of papal nepotism. Popes had long had the habit of adopting a young relative and giving him all the material and environmental benefits of an exalted upbringing. Despite this advantage, Galton found that such individuals failed to achieve a level of success equal to that of the true sons of eminent men. In answer to nitpickers who contended he had stacked the deck by only selecting those superachievers whose circumstances of birth would fit his own theories, Galton demonstrated that inheritance played just as decisive a role in producing the eminent men chosen by philosopher Auguste Comte to serve as eponyms for his calendar.

Galton, however, did not totally favor nature over nurture. He drew attention to the importance of environmental factors, particularly maternal influences, in developing scientific aptitude. He based this conclusion on the answers given by scientists in response to another of his inventions, the psychological questionnaire.

Racial Evaluation

The most controversial part of Hereditary Genius was the chapter on the “Relative Worth of Races.” By using the ratio of eminent men to the total population as an index of the eminence of the race itself, Galton felt it was possible to grade populations as well as individuals. Astonished by the high number of eminent men in Periclean Athens, Galton argued that the average intelligence of Athenian citizens was superior to that of Victorian Englishmen. The paucity of black men of genius induced Galton to claim that blacks had a lower average intelligence than whites. Allowing for a certain amount of overlap, he calculated that 90% of the blacks would fall below the mean white intelligence. Here it might be noted that Audrey Shuey’s Testing of Negro Intelligence summarizes the results of hundreds of IQ tests, which consistently demonstrate that about 85% of American blacks (many of whom are of partial white ancestry) fall below the white average.

In Natural Inheritance (1889) Galton studied the mechanisms of what he described as latent and patent inheritance, thereby anticipating the current distinctions of phenotype and genotype. His interest in “particles of inheritance” brought him close to anticipating the modern concept of continuity of the germ plasm. In a series of ingenious experiments involving blood transfusions he discredited the theories of pangenesis and of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. On the other hand, his attempts to breed various physical traits in a variety of peas did not seem to agree with Mendel’s discrete, segregated forms of inheritance. It took another great scientist, R.A. Fisher, to combine the two, showing that Galton’s results are correct for multiple gene traits (such as height and intelligence) while Mendel’s view holds for simple traits (such as eye color and blood group).

Twin Studies

Galton’s Inquiries into Human Faculty (1883) was a brilliant collection of psychological studies of mental imagery, the gregarious and slavish instincts, and the efficacy of prayer. The book also contained a short treatise on composite photography, in which the author touched on the method of signal to noise extraction utilized in modern radar systems. But by far the most significant and innovative section of the work was devoted to the study of twins.

Twins are of two types — identical or monozygotic (MZ) and fraternal or dizygotic (DZ). The former derive from a single ovum fertilized by a single sperm; the latter from two separate ova fertilized by two separate sperm. Since the former are genetically identical, Galton reasoned that whatever differences they have must be due to environment, while DZ twins differ both genetically and environmentally. By comparing the differences between the two types of twins Galton was sure he could assess the relative effects of birth and upbringing. After completing this trail-blazing research he wrote, “[T]here is no escape from the conclusion that nature prevails enormously over nurture. . . .” Arthur Jensen’s summary of recent twin and other kinship studies indicates that 80% of the variability in IQ test scores can be attributed to genetic sources. Once again, Galton was right on the money.

Galton also sought a means of directly measuring intelligence. His hypothesis, simply stated, was that smart brains work faster than ordinary brains. This being the case, reaction time would prove to be a measure of intelligence. Unfortunately, his work in this area proved to be a failure. Only recently have experimental psychologists devised sophisticated techniques to separate decision-making time from simple reflex time. It turns out that the decision-making time is significantly related to IQ. Arthur Jensen, for example, has recently found significant racial differences in favor of whites in this area.

Inquiries into Human Faculty also contains Galton’s investigations into free association and the unconscious. When he decided that much of the material he was uncovering was highly unpleasant, he did not pursue it further. Sigmund Freud never once referred to Galton’s research which previewed some of the chief Freudian theories and which first appeared in the English periodical Brain (July 1878). Freud did, however, refer explicitly to articles by Hughlings Jackson in the January and October 1878 issues of Brain. Did the Grand Old Shaman rush in where Galton found it too distasteful to tread?

One of Galton’s greatest contributions to social science came in December 1888. In a paper of only ten pages he invented the correlation coefficient which has provided psychology with one of its most powerful mathematical tools. In one sense, this all-important innovation can be said to have made social science possible. As Karl Pearson pointed out, Galton’s paper triggered a small-scale revolution in scientific methodology by introducing the concept of partial causation.

The Final Years

Galton devoted the last years of his life to eugenics. He hoped to encourage the reproduction of the more capable elements of society and to discourage the reproduction of the less capable. He wanted to replace the cruel selection of nature by a humane and human selection process. For those unworthy of reproduction he proposed “a refuge and celibate monastery.” The worthy reproducer should be encouraged to greater efforts of procreation by financial and other rewards. Instead of listening, the world now practices a population program that can only be described as reverse Galtonism.

In 1909 Galton felt the touch of Edward VII’s sword and became Sir Francis Galton. A year later he received a far more important distinction, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society, which at the time had only been awarded to four other Englishmen. In January 1911, Galton died, leaving most of his estate to endow a chair of eugenics at the University of London.

Galton’s work was ably carried on by Karl Pearson in England. In America, Madison Grant founded the Galton Society, whose members included Henry Fairfield Osborn and E.L. Thorndike — the latter perhaps the greatest psychologist America has ever produced. When World War II erupted, a lead curtain was dropped on eugenics and the study of racial differences. Only recently and ever so slightly — has the curtain been lifted. Of those most responsible for stifling the advance of racial studies Galton said next to nothing in his books, and his biographers have said less. Even John Baker in his excellent work Race states that Galton’s meager references to the Jews was complimentary. To the Swiss botanist de Candolle, however, Galton wrote in 1884, “It strikes me that the Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations, and that there is need of evidence that they are capable of fulfilling the varied duties of a civilized nature by themselves.”

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Source: Instauration magazine, February 1977

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5 September, 2015 6:46 am

As a Frenchman, I also wish to mention the name of one of the greatest Racial and Eugenic thinkers of all times: Georges VACHER de LAPOUGE!! His landmark works: “L’ARYEN: SON RÔLE SOCIAL”, and “LES SELECTIONS SOCIALES”, are A MUST READ for any person concerned by Race, Eugenics and White Survival!! I do not know if these two works were ever translated in English??
Georges VACHER de LAPOUGE was of course a great admirer of GALTON and DARWIN! He, in turn, was also a great influence on many German Racial Scientists of the pre-second world war era, the most famous of them being the great German Nordicist Hans F.K. GÜNTHER, who considerably influenced the Racial-Eugenic policies of the Third Reich.