N.Y. Times Aug. 23, 1932
Birth Control Peril to Race, Says Osborn
'Birth Selection' the Remedy In Crisis of Over-Population, He Tells Eugenics Congress.
Fears Survival of the Unfit
Dutch Scientist Denies Sexes' Equality, Urges Women to Be Won Over to Big Families.
Birth selection rather than birth control as the best means for the improvement of the human race was advocated last night by Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn, in a prepared address read for him by Dr. William K. Gregory of the American Museum of Natural History, before a distinguished gathering of scientists from many parts of the world, during the general assembly of the Third International Congress of Eugenics. The congress opened here yesterday morning at the museum and will continue until tomorrow night.
Dr. Osborn was unable to deliver the address in person, being detained on a scientific trip to the West. Birth control, Dr. Osborn said, is a negative rather than a positive factor in human betterment. Even if all classes could be persuaded to practice it equally, its effects would at best be only neutral. At present its effects are distinctly bad, since the ablest and most intelligent are the ones who practice it, while the least fit do not. If not checked, he added, it may in the end prove a double-edged sword, eliminating alike the fit and the unfit.
Analyzing the present world crisis, from observations on a recent tour around the world, Dr. Osborn said the situation resolved itself into six "overs" - overdestruction of natural resources; overmechanization of industry; overconstruction of means of transport; overproduction of food and other commoditiesl overconfidence in future demand and supply; and overpopulation , with consequent permanent unemployment for the least fitted.
"The Only Permanent Remedy"
"Prisons, reformatories, asylums, great public financial offerings, great national and local appropriations, great tides of human kindness and generosity are merely palliatives and temporary expedients," Dr. Osborn said. "They may for a time gloss over the cataclysm; they cannot permanently cure it or avoid its recurrence.
"The only permanent remedy is the improvement and uplift of the character of the human race through prolonged and intelligent and humane birth selection aided by humane birth control. This is the keynote of our Third Congress."
Discussing the reality of overpopulation, Dr. Osborn said that even the lives sacrificed in the World War are entirely negligible compared with the natural increase of mankind when no longer checked by disease, by infant mortality and by internecine wars. The International Statistical Institute estimates that the world added 125,550,000 to its total population in the years 1920-1928.
"Birth selection, as distinguished from birth control," Dr. Osborn continued, "is known as 'positive eugenics,' of which eugenically administered birth control should be only a subsidiary 'negative' principle. As conceived by Galton it is a positive force in the uplifting of society as a whole by improving human quality as distinguished from human quantity.
It aids and encourages the survival and multiplication of the fittest; indirectly it would check and discourage the multiplication of the unfittest. As to the latter, in the United States alone if is widely recognized that there are millions of people who are acting as dragnets or sheet anchors on the progress of the ship of State. Some radicals propose that they should all be sterilized so as to inhibit the multiplication of their kind. This would be the negative or birth-control method of birth selection.
"A Two-Edged Sword"
"Birth control, primarily designed to prevent the overpopulation of the unfittest or dysgenic, may prove to be a two-edged sword, eliminating alike the fittest and the unfittest. Whatever its benefits in limiting the unfittest, birth control is always in danger still more of limiting the fittest and thus becoming postiviely dysgenic or against the interests of the race as a whole in which it is practiced. I have in mind the French, among whom birth control has been practiced in the upper classes for centuries, with disastrous racial results. My doubts about the present propaganda and purpose of the birth control movement are that they are so largely negative and death-dealing rather than positive and birth-encouraging.
"Only by some wise and selective means of limiting the number of births can the world find a solution for its disturbed economics. I return from a tour around the world more impressed than ever with the principle of 'not more but better and finer representatives of every race.' I hold that true for America as well as for foreign stocks.
"For the time at least I am very doubtful about birth control. In fact, on eugenic as well as on evolutionary lines, I am strongly opposed to many directions which the birth-control movement is taking, chiefly because I believe them to be fundamentally unnatural and hence destined sooner or later to fail of their more or less benevolent purposes.
"Finally, it must be clearly understood that we eugenists are chiefly concerned with birth selection measures which go to improve the general physical, moral and intellectual qualities of mankind, while measures which are designed to serve personal, individual ends and more or less temporary social demands are outside our province. Positive eugenics strive to improve racial quality on the one hand by increasing breeding and offspring among the eugenic element, and on the other negative eugenics by diminishing breeding and offspring among the dysgenic element.
What the Eugenic Element Is.
"The eugenic element of the population includes that portion which is able to exert the greater amount of physical and mental energy, by so doing the better to pull its own weight in the social group, and through a superior moral, temperamental and intellectual endowment to make the greater contribution to the understanding of human life conditions, to cultural progress and to general racial improvement. It would be a mistake, however, to regard this element as confined to a narrow class of intellectual superiority, fully granting this class to be highly essential. Many diverse abilities and aptitudes are required for the consistent and balanced development of humanity.
"In short, the eugenic element of the population may be defined as that portion of existent humanity which is competent to produce the best resultant evolution of the species.
"The birth-control propagandists claim to be benefactors of womankind whose great object is to relieve women of unnecessary suffering and unnecessary burdens. The attempt to relieve womankind of what may be termed the prehistoric and historic burden of the female of the species naturally enlists the sympathy both of the individualists of our time, who are ready to support any measure to give women greater freedom of profession and of action, as well as of the sentimentalists, who do not realize that women's share in the hard struggle for the existence of the race is a very essential element in the advance of womankind.
"The relief of the struggle for existence pressure fro[sic] many animal or plants organism is an extremely dangerous experiment, for it may be said without exaggeration that the struggle for existence is the sine qua no of every great human or aminal quality.
"Campbell recalls the fact that 'The continuance of the race and the quality of the race rests primarily with women. In short, women are more essential to race survival than men. *** In any woman who possesses valuable traits which she has inherited and which she can pass on to offspring, the disposition to evade this obligation is a manifest racial delinquency. In order that those who are racially minded might more often be saved from what they would later regret as a major error in their lives, it is highly deisrable that all intelligent individuals, particularly women, should understand these and other simple biological facts as early as the period of adolescence.'
"I owe to Thomas Huxley the two outstanding principles of my own naturalistic philosophy; first, that nothing which is true can be harmful to the body, to the mind or to the soul; second, that whatever is natural in the wondrous and beautiful order of nature cannot be fraught with danger. On the contrary, whatever is unnatural may not be essentially immoral but may be fraught with hidden dangers. Herein lies my general purpose and standpoint with regard to the main subject of this article. Birth-selection is natural; it is the order of nature. Birth control is not natural and while undoubtedly beneficial and benevolent in its original purpose it is fraught with danger to society at large and threatens rather than insures the upward ascent and evolution of the human race.