Mencken On Eugenics

The error of the eugenists lies in the assumption that a physically healthy man is the best fitted to survive. This is true of rats and the pediculae, but not of the higher animals, e. g., horses, dogs and men. In these higher animals one looks for more subtle qualities, chiefly of the spirit. Imagine estimating philosophers by their chest expansions, their blood pressures, their Wassermann reactions!

The so-called social diseases, over which eugenists raise such a pother, are surely not the worst curses that mankind has to bear. Some of the greatest men in history have had them; whole nations have had them and survived. The truth about them is that, save in relatively rare cases, they do very little damage. The horror in which they are held is chiefly a moral horror, and its roots lie in the assumption that they cannot be contracted without sin. Nothing could be more false. Many great moralists have suffered from them: the gods are always up to such sardonic waggeries.

Moreover, only one of them is actually inheritable, and that one is transmitted relatively seldom. But among psychic characters one finds that practically all are inheritable. For example, stupidity, credulity, avarice, pecksniffery, lack of imagination, hatred of beauty, meanness, poltroonry, petty brutality, smallness of soul…. I here present, of course, the Puritan complex; there flashes up the image of the “good man,” that libel on God and the devil. Consider him well. If you had to choose a sire for a first-rate son, would you choose a consumptive Jew with the fires of eternity in his eyes, or an Iowa right-thinker with his hold full of Bibles and breakfast food?


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