Today most people look at the eugenics movement with abhorrence (although there remain pockets of support) . Yet it was a widely accepted and popular movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which reached its conclusion when Hitler tried to efficiently effect what he perceived to be racial purity. Eugenics can be described correctly with the word enormity: a monstrous evil.
Today’s climate change activism strikes a very similar chord to eugenics. Under both there was concern about environmental degradation, overpopulation and the running out of resources. From Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist
… they wailed that society had reached a turning point; we had seen our best days.
The runaway bestseller of the 1890s was a book called Degeneration, by the German Max Nordau, which painted a picture of a society morally collapsing because of crime, immigration and urbanisation: ‘we stand in the midst of an epidemic, a sort of Black Death of degeneration and hysteria.’ An American bestseller of 1901 was Charles Wagner’s The Simple Life, which argued that people had had enough of materialism and were about to migrate back to the farm. In 1914, Britain’s Robert Tressell’s posthumous The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists called his country ‘a nation of ignorant, unintelligent, half-starved, broken-spirited degenerates’. The craze for eugenics that swept the world, embraced by the left and right with equal fervour, after 1900 and caused the passage of illiberal and cruel laws in democracies like America as well as autocracies like Germany, took as its premise the deterioration of the blood lines caused by the overbreeding of the poor and the less intelligent. A huge intellectual consensus gathered around the idea that a distant catastrophe must be averted by harsh measures today (sound familiar?).
Ridley then quotes Churchill in a memo to the Prime Minister in 1910:
The multiplication of the feeble-minded is a very terrible danger to the race.
And Theodore Roosevelt:
I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding; and when the evil nature of these people is sufficiently flagrant, this should be done. Criminals should be sterilized and feeble-minded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them.
Isaiah Berlin wrote
Disregard for the preferences and interests of individuals alive today in order to pursue some distant social goal that their rulers have claimed is their duty to promote has been a common cause of misery for people throughout the ages.
Just as critics of eugenics were treated a pariahs, so too have climate change activists tried to exclude their critics. In both, there is a kind of evil Utopian dream where the State can make and mold society along some perceived rational lines.
I expect that people in 2050 will look back at the climate change movement with the same abhorrence that we look back at the eugenics movement. Both are examples of hubris, where so-called elites of society get carried away with their own brilliance and go well beyond their levels of competence. These are intelligent people who lack wisdom. Some climate change activists are in it for the money. Some are there for convenience. Some are there for the power. Some are just plain mad. But they are collectively responsible for a monstrous evil – an enormity. The people today suffer from this hubris, just as those of the past have borne the brunt of mad and bad schemes.