- Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race, and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain
Dan Stone's Breeding Superman ambitiously combines an examination of indigenous proto-fascism in British society with an analysis of Nietzsche's contribution to eugenics discourses. To this end, Stone positions himself against existing studies of British eugenics that distance the movement's relationship with more notorious eugenic thought in Germany. Admitting that fascism is not synonymous with "politics narrowly defined," he suggests that we consider "the whole cultural background to political fascism in Britain, a cultural background whose assumptions were more widespread than the simple high-political record of British fascism suggests" (2). Yet Stone's understanding of "culture" is restricted by his concern with fascism as a (real or potential) political movement, hence his focus on those formal ideas that, under ideal conditions, might have resulted [End Page 79] in a "fully fledged native fascism" (5). Thus rather than considering English culture in an anthropological sense, Stone focuses on ideas that most directly contributed to a homegrown proto-fascism, instances of what he calls the "extremes of Englishness." Eugenics is an obvious choice for this project, partly because of its later application by the Nazis, but also because Stone considers it "essentially reactionary" since it was "predicated on fear of degeneration .-.-. an analysis of society which saw it as somehow in decline, and hence in need of rescue" (6).
How this relates to the British appropriation of Nietzschean thought is at best tangentially established in this study. Stone claims that his five chapters are held together by the ideas of Nietzsche, which for him most exemplify the period's obsessions with pessimism, social decline, racial degeneration, and the survival of the least fit. A glance at these chapters, however, reveals only a brief engagement with the controversial philosopher. Chapter 1 examines the political thought of Oscar Levy, a German Jew who emigrated to England in 1894 before editing the first complete English edition of Nietzsche's works. Stone explores Levy's ambivalence about fascism and about his own Jewishness and demonstrates how many of his ideas are traceable to the philosopher whose cult he served with almost religious devotion. Chapter 2 investigates the long intellectual career of Anthony Mario Ludovici, a rightist friend of Levy who was among the first to translate Nietzsche into English. Despite this connection to Nietzscheanism, Ludovici's engagement with the philosopher is discussed only briefly, with Stone devoting much of the chapter to charting the persistence of Ludovici's illiberal ideas throughout his involvement with various proto-fascist movements and ideas well into the 1960s. A general discussion of how Nietzsche became associated with eugenic ideas, which might have been more usefully presented at the beginning of the book, is postponed until Chapter 3. Here Stone convincingly shows how Nietzschean concepts came into currency in eugenic circles and how it was often assumed that the philosopher had found his natural constituency in Darwinist-inspired thought. It is in this chapter that the three themes indicated in the book's subtitle are most fully elaborated. Stone promises that the next two chapters "will show how a Nietzschean vocabulary of degeneration and breeding both influenced a widely held racist world-view, on the one hand, and supported extremist fantasies of annihilation on the other" (93). Chapter 4 nevertheless says precious little about Nietzschean rhetoric and explores instead the relationship between class and race in British eugenic thought. Nietzsche does not make much of an appearance in Chapter 5 either, which describes how the notion of a "lethal chamber" appeared in eugenic thought around 1900 before being put into practice by the Nazis decades later.
As a well-written and carefully researched history of ideas, Breeding Superman rescues from obscurity some largely unknown English rightists and thus makes a useful contribution to the intellectual history of the Edwardian and interwar period. Stone is most persuasive when revealing the nastiness in British eugenics that some scholars have tried to wipe away, and should easily dispel the notion that English culture...