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Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania

Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania

Maria Bucur
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    Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania
    Book Description:

    Eugenics movements gained momentum throughout Eastern Europe between World Wars I and II. Maria Bucur demonstrates that the importance of the eugenics movement in Romania rests not so much in the contributions made to the study of science as in the realm of nationalist ideology and social policy making.The notion that the quality and quantity of the human species could and should be controlled manifested itself through social engineering projects ranging from reshaping gender roles and isolating ethnic undesirables to introducing broad public health measures and educational reform. Romanian eugenicists sought to control such modernization processes as urbanization and industrialization without curbing them, yet they also embraced attitudes more typically identified with anti-modernists in Romanian politics and culture.Bucur is the first historian to explore the role of eugenics as a response to the challenges of nation- and state-building in Eastern Europe. She presents a balanced assessment of the interwar eugenics movement's success and failures and identifies connections and discontinuities between the movement and the post-war communist regime.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7062-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-18)

    IN THE middle of the twentieth century, Romanian geographer and education reformer Simion Mehedinţi wrote: “Through Mendelism, modern biology has given us the key that enables each nation to gain access if not to Heaven, at least to its gates…. The birth of children with superior gifts can be for each nation a source of scientific, ethical, artistic, and social creativity, that would increase the potential of that entire ethnic group.”¹ Daring to imagine humans as masters not only of their individual lives but also of their collective present and future—this was the initial eugenic utopia. Since its rise...

    (pp. 19-45)

    BEFORE 1918 there was no organized effort in Romania to introduce eugenicsinto academic study or policy making. However, scientists and doctors were familiar with Charles Darwin’s and Francis Galton’s works. For instance, by 1900 Darwin’s theory of evolution had entered the high school curriculum.¹ Some publications focusing specifically on the meaning of heredity had made their way into the public discourse.² Yet these theories about evolution and heredity did not play a central role in the formation of public health or social welfare policies.³ By contrast, between 1918 and 1947, a wealth of monographs, scholarly journals, conferences, and newspaper articles...

  3. CHAPTER 2 THE EUGENIC SOLUTION: A New Scientific Paradigm
    (pp. 46-77)

    IN 1906 the philosopher Constantin Rădulescu-Motru showed skepticism about the role of science in fostering positive change. By 1919, the speleologist Grigore Antipa was expressing great confidence in science as one of the main forces behind progress in the modern age. After World War I science grew in significance in Romania as a fundamental way of understanding the world and mapping out a path toward modernization. This chapter focuses on the important role played by eugenicists in this process.

    This discussion begins by investigating the intellectual sources of the new gospel of eugenics, focusing on the ideas, individuals, and institutions...

    (pp. 78-121)

    EUGENICISTS were not satisfied simply with criticizing the problems in Romanian political and social life. In spite of the persistent assertion of their apolitical nature, eugenicists also desired to create state institutions that could serve as vehicles for eugenic policies. In fact, several of the more prominent eugenics proponents, Moldovan in particular, went so far as to imagine an ideal total state, whose every institution and action would be based on eugenic prerogatives. No other eugenics movement in either Europe or the Americas was as bold in its claims and ambitious in its political goals. Moldovan named this vision “biopolitics”...

    (pp. 122-152)

    ROMANIAN eugenicists focused not only on the state but also on reshaping social roles and hierarchies. The foundation of their vision was the concept that collective interests took precedence over individual ones. An individual’s social role was, consequently, intrinsically related to the wider biosocial interests. The stress on the primacy of the community over the individual did not, however, represent an attempt to recover a long-lost form of social security. Rather, the principle of placing the interests of the community before those of the individual actor would lay the foundations of a new hierarchy of merit that, according to eugenicists, reflected...

    (pp. 153-186)

    LIKE other contenders in the political and intellectual arena in post-1918 Romania, eugenicists recognized the power of education as a vehicle for transforming Romanian society from a group of heterogeneous communities with very different traditions and institutions into a homogeneous whole. In fact, education was the cornerstone of most Romanian eugenicists’ strategies for social mobilization and change.

    This chapter focuses on the debates over education reform to reveal the hereditary-determinist thinking that ran through these arguments like a red thread. As will become apparent, the eugenic vision of intelligence, aptitudes, and talents as genetic endowments gave rise to a critique...

  7. CHAPTER 6 FOR THE HEALTH OF THE NATION: Measures in Public Health and Reproductive Control
    (pp. 187-219)

    IN ADDITION to eugenicists’ important contributions to changing education, their discourse about reform translated into a series of laws and programs regarding public health. What drove these efforts was the same fundamental concern shared by eugenicists elsewhere for improving the healthy “stock” and limiting the growth of dysgenics. Thus, concern with reproduction was behind all specific measures, as unrelated as they may seem at first glance. The specific measures eugenicists focused on revolved around a few central issues: infant mortality, venereal disease, alcoholism, tuberculosis, and immunization against epidemic diseases. Their goal was to convert these somewhat marginal issues into central...

    (pp. 220-232)

    EUGENICS played an important role in interwar Romania. Proponents of eugenics used their positions of authority in public life to popularize theories of hereditary determinism, bringing them into the realms of intellectual discourse and social reform. Eugenic discourse gained significant support among a variety of professionals, from doctors to lawyers and from anthropologists to biologists, who adopted the language and arguments of hereditary determinism without necessarily identifying themselves as proponents of eugenics. Nonetheless, many educated professionals used these ideas in their own discussions of developing various academic disciplines, modernizing Romania, or reforming the relationship between individuals and the state within...