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CONCLUSION: SCANDINAVIAN EUGENICS IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT NILS Rou-HANSEN Two waves of interest in eugenics affected Scandinavia, much like those in Britain.! The first wave peaked just before World War I, the second in the 1930s and 1940s. Eugenics was a significant issue of social policy and there was extensive public interest in the topic. Eugenics organizations, however, were weak. It was an area for expertise rather than democratic politics. Sweden was the only country with a national eugenics society. In the other countries various organizations with social causes took on some of the same tasks, for instance, the Association of Public Health in Swedish-speaking Finland, and there were groups of active people doing propaganda for the cause, such as Mjoen's Consultative Eugenics Committee of Norway. This loosely organized movement was most active and visible during the first wave. Its zenith was reached with the establishment of Herman Lundborg's Institute for Race Biology in Uppsala in 1922. But it was during the second wave that eugenics achieved its most striking results in the Nordic countries, namely, the sterilization laws of the 1930s. At the beginning of the century physical anthropology, with its concept of race, formed the theoretical core of eugenics. The Nordic countries, especially Sweden, had a leading international position in this discipline. This first phase has been characterized as "mainline" eugenics in distinction to the "reform" eugenics2 typical of the 1930s and 1940s. Mainline and reform views overlapped in time. The first emphasized racial differences and relatively simple forms of inheritance for socially important characteristics in humans. The second was antiracist and based on more sophisticated genetic theory. In Scandinavia as in other European countries before World War I there appears to have been little doubt that Europeans saw themselves as superior to other people, in particular to blacks. Notions about biological inheritance were vague. More or less explicitly Lamarckian views on heredity were generally accepted, implying that the characteristics an individual acquired during his lifetime were to some extent inherited by his offspring. 259 260 EUGENICS AND THE WELFARE STATE The distinction between mainline and reform eugenics has been criticized for obscuring the real historical dynamics in the evolution of eugenics. One recent account of the relationship between American and German eugenics during the Nazi period defines racism as discrimination between groups of people. Differences between types of eugenics in terms of their attitudes to ward Nazi population policies is admitted but the account agrees with the idea that all eugenics is inherently racist and that the ultimate consequences of mainline and reform eugenics were often the same.3 The effect of such an inclusive definition of racism is to downplay the difference between support and opposition to Nazi population policies. Genetics as a special scientific discipline with a precise and systematic theory about biological inheritance was formed only during the first decade of the twentieth century. The core of classical, often called "Mendelian:' genetics was the concept of the genetic factor, the gene, and the distinction between genotype and phenotype. The central formula of classical genetics was "phenotype =genotype + environment."4 Or, in other words, the individual organism is the product of an interaction between inherited genetic factors and the environment, two aspects equally essential to the development of the organism . With these concepts a theoretical basis was laid for a more precise analysis and assessment of the influence of specific hereditary and environmental factors under varying circumstances. The second wave of eugenic interest, developing in the 1920s and 1930s, included antiracist sentiments and demands for more precise and specific knowledge on how heredity affects the properties of organisms. The critical attitude toward the assumptions of the old mainline eugenics represented a renewal of the "social contract" of the movement. Reform eugenics became linked to birth control and other progressive social causes. Inspiration for the rejection of racism came from the democratic and socialist egalitarian ideologies of the period and from growing scientific knowledge about biological inheritance. There was no instant impact of the new insight through genetic research. It took time before new knowledge of human heredity had been convincingly established, systematized, and popularized. Only then was it fully effective in undermining eugenic policies such as sterilization. After World War II eugenics acquired a reputation for being a politically conservative or reactionary movement. But the close link between eugenics and the movement for social reforms is now well established.5 In particular, eugenic sterilization was an integral part of the social...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609170028
Related ISBN
9780870137587
MARC Record
OCLC
933516327
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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