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Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain

Volume: 6
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Breeding Superman
    Book Description:

    Before the First World War there existed an intellectual turmoil in Britain as great as any in Germany, France or Russia, as the debates over Nietzsche and eugenics in the context of early modernism reveal. With the rise of fascism after 1918, these debates became more ideologically driven, with science and vitalist philosophy being hailed in some quarters as saviours from bourgeois decadence, vituperated in others as heralding the onset of barbarism. Breeding Superman looks at several of the leading Nietzscheans and eugenicists, and challenges the long-cherished belief that British intellectuals were fundamentally uninterested in race. The result is a study of radical ideas which are conventionally written out of histories of the politics and culture of the period.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-269-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The Extremes of Englishness
    (pp. 1-11)

    The standard explanation for the failure of fascism in Britain is the Whiggish one, that British parliamentary institutions were too strong and well developed to fall prey to such an ephemeral movement. This explanation is based on the argument that fascism was a foreign invention, alien to British ways. British fascists, in particular Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF), were basically imitators, in thrall to Mussolini and, later, Hitler. No such peculiar imports would ever succeed on British soil. As a letter writer to theNew Ageput it in response to an article by Oscar Levy...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Oscar Levy: A Nietzschean Vision
    (pp. 12-32)

    A book on Nietzsche, race and eugenics in Britain has no choice but to begin with Oscar Levy.¹ The editor of the first complete English edition of Nietzsche’sCollected Works(1909–1913), he was a Jew and a German (both withholding and juxtaposing the two will be seen to be important) who in 1894 abandoned his father’s banking business in Wiesbaden for the life of the mind, settling in London as a physician. Levy not only drove forward the reception of Nietzsche in Britain in the face of widespread indifference (though on the basis of the earlier efforts of others),...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Anthony Mario Ludovici: A ‘Light-Weight Superman’
    (pp. 33-61)

    In November–December 1908, at the age of 26, Anthony Mario Ludovici lectured at the University of London on the subject of Nietzsche’s philosophy. From the man who later translated Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche’s infamous biography of her brother, it comes as no surprise to find statements such as the following: ‘The strongwilland must discharge their strength, and in doing so, the havoc they may make of other beings in their environment is purely incidental.’¹ In 1967, displaying a remarkable lifelong attachment to ideas that had long since become unfashionable, Ludovici claimed in his last book that ‘everywhere in Europe...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Nietzsche and Eugenics
    (pp. 62-93)

    ‘The old tablets of morality are broken, and the new ones are only half-written.’ With these words Alexander Tille ended his book,Von Darwin bis Nietzsche(1895), ushering in a process, which still continues, of making use of Nietzsche both to diagnose a modern condition of godlessness, and to find something to fill the gap left by God’s death. It would probably be true to say that the new tablets of the law are still only half written, if they are even that much written (and perhaps postmodernism means accepting, even celebrating that fact), but in the first decades of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Race and Eugenics
    (pp. 94-114)

    Eugenics in Britain is a much-explored field. Since the pioneering studies of George Mosse, Daniel Kevles and others, the opinions of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, Caleb Saleeby and Leonard Darwin, R. A. Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane have become widely known. With the exception of the USA, which is often examined along with Britain, the impact of eugenics in other European countries and on other continents is only now becoming clear, as a recent reviewer points out.¹ That fact does not, however, mean that only an international approach, desirable as that undoubtedly is, remains the sole task for...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The ‘Lethal Chamber’ in Eugenic Thought
    (pp. 115-134)

    As we have seen, before the First World War, and in some circles until well into the interwar period, eugenics – literally, ‘well born’ or ‘good stocks’ – was the height of sophisticated, ‘progressive’ thought.¹ Across Europe, the novels and plays of the period, such as H. G. Wells’sThe New Machiavelli(1911) and George Bernard Shaw’sMan and Superman(1905), are suffused with the language of race-regeneration and fears of physical deterioration. In Arthur Schnitzler’s novel,The Road to the Open(1908), Berthold Stauber, a young and enthusiastic Viennese Jewish physician, tells his father, the humane Dr Stauber, that ‘You need...

  10. CONCLUSION: From ‘Underman’ to ‘Underclass’
    (pp. 135-139)

    The issue of Nietzsche’s influence over eugenics has become contemporary once again. In Germany, the Karlsruhe philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has recently argued that, given the understanding that now exists in genetic science, the eugenic dream of ‘selection’ is now within reach. Sloterdijk’s use of the word ‘selection’ horrified his colleague Ernst Tugendhat, who heard evoked in this word the ramp at Auschwitz; what really worried the critics, however, was Sloterdijk’s argument that this capabilityshouldbe exploited, to breed a new generation of human beings.¹ This aim might be truer to Nietzsche’s ideas, as expressed inThe Will to Power,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 140-166)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-193)
  13. Index
    (pp. 194-198)