Alfred Ploetz Introduces the Term Racial Hygiene
Introduction by Hadding Scott
ALFRED PLOETZ’ 1895 work, Die Tuechtigkeit Unserer Rasse und der Schutz der Schwachen (“The Competence of Our Race and the Preservation of the Weak”), is credited by Robert Proctor as the book that started the racial hygiene movement in Germany.
Ploetz was a Darwinist but also a Social-Democrat. Social-Democracy as a form of Marxism was generally atheistic, but maintained a quasi-Christian assumption of human equality. Ploetz, as a German who had thrown off the mental thralldom of Christianity, took his freethinking in the characteristically German direction of skepticism about democracy and disbelief in human equality. These were heresies in Social-Democracy that a few years later led to the invention of National-Socialism. One might say that Ploetz was a Social-Democrat because National-Socialism had not yet been created as an option.
This passage supports my view that, yes there was an esoteric National-Socialism that was hostile to Christianity, but this esoteric National-Socialism was not the spooky mysticism or devil-worship described in some crazy literature that is promoted to Fundamentalist Christians in the US; rather it was scientific racism. Ploetz complains that Christianity has diminished the racial feeling in the masses, but on this point he contrasts “the small circle of leaders and researchers.” These were the people who embraced the un-Christian thinkers, Darwin and Nietzsche, whom you will find mentioned frequently in medical and psychological literature from National-Socialist Germany, but almost never in literature and speeches directed to the general public, which remained largely Christian and therefore not entirely reconciled to viewing man as a biological entity.
Die Tuechtigkeit Unserer Rasse und der Schutz der Schwachen
by Alfred Ploetz
(translated by Hadding Scott, 2008)
Peoples appear and vanish, some into nothing, like the Goths, others into insignificant mediocrity, like the Greeks. It was not always the worst that thus declined. The Goths, like the Greeks, had many excellent qualities; they were peoples of heroic temperament, and indeed they dwindled or withered away under influences to which they were not entirely adapted. Even today on our own border we see a people puzzlingly ill. The French as a race have stagnated; indeed they are declining in spite of the materially favorable conditions under which they live, and only the new generation of foreign immigrants upholds the French name — but not the French race.
Peoples and races are just organic life-forms, determined like beasts and plants through their component parts — cells here, men there — for which their environment is a complex of favorable or unfavorable conditions. And just as we have, by the combination of favorable conditions, created a hygiene for man, which, based ultimately on the life of his cells, teaches him how he may maintain health as long as possible and postpone death, so is it high time, based on the vital functions of men, to attempt the founding of a hygiene of the races and of all mankind, which teaches how an organic collectivity of men may keep itself as vigorous as possible and postpone its perishing as long as possible.
The word race is used among men in various ways. Thus one speaks simply of the human race and means thereby the totality of mankind. One also needs that word however for the subdivisions into which the species Homo sapiens has been divided; one speaks for example of the Caucasian and the Mongoloid race. But one also needs this word for further classifications, such as for the Germans, Romans, etc. Furthermore it is convenient for the designation of contemporary racial mixtures that only appear as unities because of a shared language or political administration, as in the case of the French race, the British race, etc.
Apart from a brief discussion of the biological races in relation to their cultural value, I will use the word simply to designate a human collectivity existing through generations, in regard to its physical and mental qualities. This is all the more feasible since collective explanations up to the ones mentioned in the previous sentence are just as valid for small as for large communities of humans, for races in the zoological sense just as well as for mixed races and modern states. […]
At first glance one could suppose that the conditions for the prosperity of a race were the same as the conditions for the prosperity of every single member of it, that racial hygiene and the customary hygiene of the individual were one and the same. This is not the case however without something further, and there are excellent researchers who even want to acknowledge a deep conflict between modern hygiene and racial well-being.
Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of natural selection, affirms this in the following words: “Hitherto it was generally assumed that beneficial influences, such as those of education, hygiene, social refinement, had a positive effect and must lead in and for themselves to a constant elevation of all civilized races. This view rests on the belief that every elevation of the individual accomplished during his life also carried over to his posterity, and that it thus will be possible, without even any selection of the better or elimination of the lower types, to create a constant progress in physical, moral, and mental qualities. But in the last years this opinion has been shaken with weighty doubt, namely by the significant researches of Galton and Weismann about the fundamental causes of heredity.”
Schallmayer expresses himself even more directly: “that the greatest conceivable advances which the therapeutic medicine of the future ever could make will probably restore the momentarily sick individual to health, but not mankind.”
The anthropologist Ammon expresses himself similarly in his interesting work about human selection: “Elimination — of the individuals most unfavorably equipped in regard to morality through administration of justice, economic misery, etc. — is a necessity, if the average level of humanity shall not decline. […].”
Actually the demand of most Darwinians entails that the struggle for existence must be maintained within human society, a verdict of hygiene that would protect all, the strong and the weak, because otherwise the society would degenerate. I would need to cite too much in order to be fair to the numerous remarks of the Darwinians on this point.
Let the words of Darwin himself suffice: “As every other beast, man has without doubt reached his present exalted state through a struggle for survival as a consequence of his rapid multiplication, and if he shall progress even higher, it is to be feared that he must remain subject to a severe struggle.”
In any case it is apparent from the remarks of these men, including even the mild-mannered Darwin, that the view that the wellbeing of our race would be best attained through the improvement of living conditions for all individuals, is certainly not universally accepted.
Therefrom follows the necessity to balance the concept of hygiene in the usual sense, individual hygiene, with another concept, that of the hygiene of a human collectivity. Thus one could speak of the hygiene of a nation, of a race in the narrower sense, or of the entire human race. In the further course of the book I will constantly, unless explicitly noted otherwise, apply the term racial hygiene in the general sense that corresponds to my use of the word race.
This seemed to me all the more permissible since, as I believe, the hygiene of the totality of mankind coincides with that of the Aryan race, which — apart from some smaller races, like the Jewish race, which is most likely for the most part Aryan anyway — represents the culture-race par excellence, the furtherance of which is synonymous with the furtherance of humanity in general.
I know not whether the term racial hygiene has ever been uttered before; it is certain however that the concept contained in it has lived for the longest time in many heads, and that it plays a great role in the spiritual battles of our days.
When in old Sparta the law ordained that newborn children should be dipped in cold mountain water and the feeblest among them exposed on the desolate heights of Taygetos, it did harm individuals, but it brought an intended benefit to the collectivity. The same idea guided Lycurgus and the other collaborators on the Spartan constitution in the ordering of many other human relationships as well. According to Plutarch, Lycurgus was a very conscious racial hygienist who also clearly recognized the importance of procreation for his purposes. In his biographies Plutarch reports the following: “In education, which he considered the greatest and most important business of a lawgiver, he started completely from the beginning and directed his attention first of all to marriages and the creation of children…. First he sought to harden the bodies of the girls through running, wrestling, and throwing the discus and spears, wherewith the fruit generated in a powerful body could germinate and prosper mightily; she herself however might achieve the necessary powers for birth and withstand the pains easily and without danger. In order however to weed out all softness, and other feminine qualities, he accustomed the girls as well as the boys to attend the festive events nude, and to dance and sing thus both at certain festivals in the present and before the eyes of the youths…. ”
What this constitution, or at least one similar to it, had achieved, was proven three and one-half centuries later by Leonidas and his band in the bottleneck at Thermopylae.
The idea of racial refinement lay also at least partly at the base of the custom of the ancient Germans, to allow the father to kill feeble, ugly, or otherwise displeasing newborns. Also the Germanic Freien and Edelfreien, like the castes of of many other peoples and ages, often understood very well how to safeguard the racial interests of their body, or at least tried.
Nowadays among the cultural nations the understanding and the care of racial interests is limited on the one hand to the ruling princely houses and the nobility, on the other hand to racehorses, hunting dogs, neat cattle, and other domestic animals.
Christianity and modern democracy with their doctrine and demands of equality have so diminished the sense of race in the masses that the conflict between the humanitarian socialist demands and racial wellbeing indeed no longer penetrates their consciousness. In the masses, I say.
In the small circle of leaders and researchers, through the advent of Darwin and the political advance of Social Democracy, the racial interest has become very vital again, and the sword-blows of great and small knights of the mind rattle merrily through the springtime air of modern science. Here socialism, here Darwinism: behind these battle-cries are concealed nothing further than individual hygiene applied to politics, which would create for each individual the most favorable possible conditions for development of the individual, and racial hygiene, which believes that it cannot forego the elimination of feeble and bad individuals for the wellbeing of the race.
Many researchers indeed have laid the emphasis in the definition of Hygiene on the wellbeing of the collectivity, as for example Professor Demme, the Berne pediatrician, in the following words: “Hygiene gathers as in a focus the collected results of scientific medical research, so far as they can find application for the wellbeing of the state and the people.” But he has become no more conscious of the conflict.
Others, again, have denied the conflict. So says Georg in his Soziale Hygiene: “Meanwhile there has been no lack of serious opponents to the newly aspiring science. First there are the orthodox Darwinians, who are not favorably disposed toward social hygiene. They reproach the foiling of natural selection, which (they say) allows the elements weak in vitality to perish in the struggle for existence, and would guarantee a strong stock…. Hereupon one responds, completely apart from the humanitarian side of the matter, that social hygiene affords no less protection to the strong and healthy than to the feeble and sick.” [Ploetz could have pointed out here that within a civilized society natural selection has already been foiled.]
Even Rosenthal and Rubner express themselves in a similar way.
It is apparent that with this denial of the conflict nothing is accomplished. The strong and healthy do not even need the protection of [individual] hygiene, at least not in the same degree as the feeble, and are only more frequently exposed to mixture with the feeble [as a result].
Even the argument that the average lifespan has increased significantly since the promulgation of hygienic measures, and that the whole race thus has not only suffered no harm, but has benefited, may not be accepted without something further. Lifespan is the result of two conflicting components, the strength of the constitution of the individuals, and sum of the harmful influences on it. The result, the lifespan, can increase because of a decrease of harmful influences, while the constitutional strength increases or at least remains constant, or while it decreases, as long as this decrease in constitutional strength is not enough to offset the decrease in harmful influences.
In other words: an earthen jar can last longer than an iron jar if it is exposed to less frequent and less severe blows than the iron jar. That we really have lost some of the iron from our constitutional strength, even Rosenthal and Georg admit, but so has a multitude of the most eminent researchers, although others disagree.
The authorization for the confrontation between individual and racial hygiene thus continues to exist, and now arises the question of which of the two we have to regard on principle as dominant.
The first standard for all human activity is the maintenance of healthy, strong, flourishing life. This standard proceeds both from the objective consideration of man as a self-maintaining attracting and repelling mechanism, and from the fundamental motives of the instinct-world, the survival-instincts, the dissatisfaction of which becomes directly apparent to our psyche as reluctance, and the satisfaction as desire. Let one look up something about this in Hauptmann’s Metaphysik in der modernen Physiologie, one of the sagest and most significant works that has appeared recently on the borderland of physiology and philosophy.
Individual hygiene also has proceeded from the survival-instincts of the individual and constructs its most refined and deepened expressions from it. As a child chiefly of the past few decades, individual hygiene has been infected a bit with the fin de siècle attitude: after us, the deluge. The effect that these quick benefits might have on the wellbeing of later generations was not of much concern.
Racial hygiene pertains precisely to the later generations, which here in relation to the descendants corresponds to the principle of individual hygiene, to desire the greatest wellbeing for the greatest number. The concept race pertains not to one generation but to many in succession, whose becoming and perishing constitute the life of the race.
Hence for each generation the immediate goal of racial hygiene is always the wellbeing of the next. Therefore the roots of racial hygiene are found in the instinct-world of individuals. Those are the instincts of parental love and concern for the great community to which one belongs, be it family, tribe, folk, or all mankind; thus even patriotism and the love of humanity, which mostly is nothing further than the love for its Aryan portion.
The parents who seek to beget and to raise their children under the most favorable possible conditions. The nobleman who approaches the choice of his wife according to the survival-interests of his stock. The patriot who with self-denial undertakes sacrifices that are necessary for the prosperity of his people also in a more distant time. The philanthropist who dreams of a golden age where a better, more fortunate generation flourishes. And the artist who would like to see human beauty not only in marble and canvas but much more lordly in flesh and blood. They all have a sense for the future of the race and are ready to make sacrifices for it in the present. They live, as Nietzsche says, more for the Childrenland than for the Fatherland.
All these motives constitute mental survival-adaptations for the type, but they also determine individual experiences of desire and revulsion; the proficiency of posterity is the goal.
Opinions vary greatly about the content of human happiness. It would be trivial to argue about it at length. But agreement might indeed prevail on the point that there is a foundation of shared necessary conditions for the happiness of all, such as health, physical and mental strength, entitlement to a certain minimum of economic goods, etc., and that there are in addition a series of desirable conditions, the realization of which is not really absolutely necessary for the enduring welfare of everyone, but is experienced as a very desirable bonus, as for example beautiful bodily forms, a handsome dwelling, a fine garden, artworks, etc. And here a decisive impulse sets in. The elevation of the inner conditions of happiness lying in our qualities, thus the perfection of humanity, is only in a very limited way a challenge relating to the life of the individual. External imprints, upbringing, practice of functions can only develop given talents to a certain point so that they function better for the individual in question, but the elevation of the good talents in the heredity of the next generation, thus the increase of the capital of human proficiency, is a problem of the life of the type and therefore falls completely within the sphere of racial hygiene.
Perfection must still for reasons apart from the mere maintenance of the race remain the object of racial hygiene, not only because the ways to mere maintenance pass over imperceptibly into those of perfection, but also because with all racial hygienic measures the achievement of mere maintenance, given the uncertainty of our methods, would be reached with certainty only if we strive for perfection.
The escalation of our brain-talents is the most necessary condition that we know for an improvement of our conditions of happiness. All progress in this means better discernment and thereby better governance of our own and of external nature. A tool and a weapon for that is our brain. Only an escalation of its talents from generation to generation can grant the necessary strength to humanity to wrest itself from the enfolding arms of misery.
Racial hygiene, the striving to keep the race healthy and to perfect its talents, must remain as the ruling principle, and individual hygiene along with its social and political expressions must be subordinated as soon as it seriously endangers this principle.[…]
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Source: National-Socialist Worldview