Social Darwinism revisited

Sir Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, was ever mindful of the fate of the ancient Greeks (in particular, the Athenians), in his judgement the most gifted people in history. In Hereditary Genius (1869), he attributed their unique qualities to a ‘system of partly unconscious selection’. For the unrivalled opportunities offered by Athens had attracted foreigners of calibre, while slavery (Galton implied) protected the racial purity of the ‘high Athenian breed’. He maintained that the Athenians declined when morality deteriorated and marriage became unfashionable, the balance of the population being kept up by immigrants ‘of a heterogeneous class’. Galton’s idiosyncratic reading of ancient history persuaded him that man has the power both to improve and to damage the qualities of his own species.

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