Crying Hands

Chapter One continued...
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Hill believed that the medical establishment's political stance was conservative and aligned with the confused, irrational, racist ideas of the French philosopher of history, Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, that were popular among the German nobility and upper middle class in the late nineteenth century. Gobineau wrote in "Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races" that racial variability and inequality determined the course of every social development. He defined revolutions as "social diseases," supported demands for unrestricted one-class rule, and characterized claims for social equality as contrary to both law and nature.

Following the nobility and haute bourgeoisie, the German middle class also became increasingly interested in theories that justified the existing power structure and the unequal distribution of property in the face of growing social opposition to such privilege. Charles Darwin's theories, as well as the laws of heredity published by Gregor Mendel in 1865, became handy instruments in these interpretations. Darwin had taught that evolution was possible only through the principle of natural selection, as the result of a struggle for existence that would eliminate weak and helpless individuals. Yet Darwin rejected the idea of the extermination of humans, since the preservation of the weak was a necessary aspect of the human instinct of sympathy.

Within this milieu, in 1895 physician Alfred Plötz first used the concept of "racial hygiene" as he sought to develop an ideal of "Germanness" in human beings. Plötz believed that political and economic measures were insufficient to create a society based on "Germanness," but he thought that medicine offered hope for creating a new society. Plötz gained acceptance from the mainstream medical establishment after founding the Archive for Racial Science and Social Biology in 1904 and the Society for Racial Hygiene in 1905. Interested parties in the growing German steel industry also supported Plötz's argument that the medicalization of social problems, regulated by the government, could produce an ideal society, and large industrial corporations provided substantial financial support for research and public information on racial hygiene. These commitments enhanced the subsequent acceptability and feasibility of the National Socialists' eugenics program.

Plötz was not alone in his thinking on eugenics. As early as 1889, Paul Naecke, the public health officer in Colditz, had recommended the sterilization of "degenerates." The psychiatrist, eugenicist, and later leading National Socialist Ernst Rüdin proposed the sterilization of alcoholics, among others, in 1903.

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