| More

The Rhetorical Biopower of Eugenics: Understanding the Influence of British Eugenics on the Nazi Program

Views: 2376 Downloads: 457
Amanda M. Caleb


The relationship between the British and Nazi eugenics movements has been underexamined, largely because of the more obvious ties between the American and Nazi programs and the lack of a state-sponsored program in Britain. This article revisits this gap to reinsert the British eugenics movement into the historiography of the Nazi program by way of their shared rhetoric. To do this, I employ Foucault’s concepts of biopower and power/knowledge, arguing that biopower exists in rhetorical constructions of power and identity, which the eugenics movements employed at national and individual levels to garner support and participation, particularly from women. The article is not an exhaustive account of the rhetorical overlaps between the two movements, but rather serves as a model of how one might understand eugenics as a rhetoric of biopower.


eugenics; Nazis; British; biopower; power/knowledge; class; feeblemindedness; race

Full Text:



Benz, Ernest. “Escaping Malthus: Population Explosion and Human Movement, 1760-1884.” In The Oxford Handbook of Modern German History, edited by Helmut Walser Smith, 195-210. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

“The Borderland of Imbecility.” The British Medical Journal 2, no. 1770 (1894): 1264.

Chesser, Elizabeth Sloan. Women, Marriage, and Motherhood. London: Cassell, 1913.

Crowe, David M. The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath. Boulder: Westview Press, 2008.

Dendy, Mary. The Problem of the Feeble-Minded. London: John Heywood, 1908.

Devereux, Cecily. Growing a Race: Nellie L. McClung and the Fiction of Eugenic Feminism. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will to Knowledge. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Galton, Francis. “Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims.” The American Journal of Sociology 10, no. 1 (1904): 1-25.

Galton, Francis. English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture. London: Macmillan, 1874.

Galton, Francis. Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development. London: Macmillan, 1883.

Günter, Erna, “Wir Frauen im Kampf um Deutschlands Erneuerung.” Frauen Warte 2, no. 17 (1934): 507. Translated by Randall Bytwerk. Calvin German Propaganda Archive.

Harvey, Elizabeth. Women and the Nazi East: Agents of Witnesses of Germanization. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Hasian, Jr., Marouf Arif. The Rhetoric of Eugenics in Anglo-American Thought. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1996; 2017.

Heffernan, Michael. “Fin de Siècle, Fin du Monde? On the Origins of European Geopolitics; 1890–1920.” In Geopolitical Traditions: A Century of Geopolitical Thought, edited by Klaus Dodds and David A. Atkinson, 26-51. London: Routledge, 2000.

Hitler, Adolf. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf. Edited by Gerhard L. Weinberg. Translated by Krista Smith. New York: Enigma Books, 2006.

Jackson, Mark. The Borderland of Imbecility: Medicine, Society, and the Fabrication of the Feeble Mind in Late Victorian and Edwardian England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

Jackson, Mark. “‘Grown-up Children:’ Understandings of Health and Mental Deficiency in Edwardian England.” In Culture of Child Health in Britain and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century, edited by Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Hilary Marland, 149-168. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003.

Jones, Greta. “Women and Eugenics in Britain: The Case of Mary Scharlieb, Elizabeth Sloan Chesser, and Stella Browne.” Annals of Science 51 (1995): 482-502.

Kevles, Daniel J. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.

Klautke, Edbert. “‘The Germans Are Beating Us at Our Own Game’: American Eugenics and the German Sterilization.” History of the Human Sciences 29, no. 3 (2016): 25-43.

Larson, Edward J. “The Rhetoric of Eugenics: Expert Authority and the Mental Deficiency Bill.” The British Journal for the History of Science 24, no. 1 (1991): 45-60.

Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books, 1986; 2000.

Logan, Deborah A. Harriet Martineau, Victorian Imperialism, and the Civilizing Mission. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Malthus, Thomas. An Essay on the Principle of Population, or a View of its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness. London: T. Bensley, 1803.

Mosse, George Lachmann. Intellectual, Cultural, and Social Life in the Third Reich. Translated by Salvator Attanasio. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.

Pearson, Karl. National Life: From the Standpoint of Science. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1901.

Proctor, Robert Neel. “Nazi Biomedical Policies.” In When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics and the Holocaust, edited by Arthur L. Caplan, 23-42. Totowa: Humana Press, 1992.

Rentoul, Robert Reid. Race Culture; Or, Race Suicide? (A Plea for the Unborn). London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., 1906.

Richardson, Angelique. Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Rupp, Leila J. “Mother of the ‘Volk:’ The Image of Women in Nazi Ideology.” Signs 3, no. 2 (1977): 362-379.

Saleeby, Caleb William. Parenthood and Race Culture: An Outline of Eugenics. New York: Moffat, Yard, and Company, 1909; 1915.

Saleeby, Caleb William. Woman and Womanhood: A Search for Principles. London: Mitchell Kennerley, 1911.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “More on Power/Knowledge.” In Rethinking Power, edited by Thomas E. Wartenberg, 149-173. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Stephenson, Jill. Women in Nazi Germany. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Taylor, Chloë. “Foucault and Familial Power.” Hypatia 27, no. 1 (2012): 201-218.

Torrey, Edwin Fuller, and Robert H. Yolken. “Psychiatic Genocide: Nazi Attempts to Eradicate Schizophrenia.” Schizophrenia Bulletin 36, no. 1 (2010): 26-32.

Weikart, Richard. From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Woodhouse, Jayne. “Eugenics and the Feeble-Minded: The Parliamentary Debates of 1912-14.” History of Education 11, no. 2 (1982): 127-137.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Comments on this article

View all comments
 |  Add comment

Copyright (c) 2019 Amanda M. Caleb

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.