Racial hygiene  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Racial hygiene (often labeled a form of "scientific racism") is the selection, by a government, of the putatively most physical, intellectual and moral persons to raise the next generation (selective breeding) and a close alignment of public health with eugenics. In the past, this has been done by using deportation, segregation, compulsory sterilization, and even genocide of persons or groups with various mental disabilities, ethnicities, handicaps, criminal backgrounds, religious affiliations, etc.

Racial hygiene was historically tied to traditional notions of public health, but usually with an enhanced emphasis on heredity. The use of social measures to attempt to preserve or enhance biological characteristics was first proposed by Francis Galton in his early work, starting in 1869, on what would later be called eugenics. In the early twentieth century, the idea that human heredity required active vigilance, and perhaps coercive measures (such as compulsory sterilization) had many mainstream scientific and political supporters; Winston Churchill was an advocate, as was Alexander Graham Bell, Marie Stopes, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge.

It was the German eugenicist Alfred Ploetz who introduced the term Rassenhygiene in his "Racial hygiene basics" (Grundlinien einer Rassenhygiene) in 1895. In its earliest incarnation it was concerned more with the declining birthrate of the German state and the increasing number of mentally ill and disabled in state institutions (and their costs to the state) than with the "Jewish question" and "de-nordification" (Entnordung) which would come to dominate its philosophy in Germany from the 1920s through the second World War.

One of the confusing aspects of "racial hygiene" is that "race" was often interchangeably used to mean "human race" as well as "German race" as well as "Aryan race" — three quite different concepts with three quite different implications. In the 1930s, under the expertise of eugenicist Ernst Rüdin, it was this latter use of "racial hygiene" which was embraced by the followers of Nazi ideology, who demanded "Aryan" racial purity and condemned miscegenation. This belief in importance of German racial purity often served as the theoretical backbone of Nazi policies of racial superiority and later genocide. These policies began in 1935, when the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg Laws, which leglislated "racial purity" by forbidding marriage between non-Jewish and Jewish Germans . A key part of Nazism was the concept of racial hygiene and during their rule the field was elevated to the primary philosophy of the German medical community, first by activist physicians within the medical profession. This was later codified and institutionalized after the Nazis came to power in 1933, during the process of Gleichschaltung (literally, "coordination" or "unification") which streamlined the medical profession into a rigid hierarchy with Nazi-sanctioned leadership at the top.

Racial hygienists played key roles in the Holocaust, the Nazi effort to cleanse Europe of Jews, Communists, Gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents, the mentally retarded and insane. After World War II, such attempts have been widely reviled as cruel and brutal, and the racialist ideology behind them as un-scientific and pseudoscience. Still, some racial hygiene policies persevered. For instance, the state-led forced sterilization of Roma in Norway, which started in 1934, wasn't stopped until 1977.

In Australia, a policy of removing biracial, so-called "half-caste" children from Aboriginal mothers, overseen by A. O. Neville, was justified under the principle of "biological absorption" through selective breeding. The policiy of removing children from Aborginal communities and subjecting them to forced cultural assimilation, which ended in 1969, had the aim of ensuring the gradual disappearance of a distinctive Aboriginal population through destroying Aboriginal culture and promoting interracial marriage with white Australians. The Aboriginals who were subjected to these traumatizing state policies are today known as the Stolen Generation.

See also

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