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Racial hygiene was a set of early twentieth century state sanctioned policies by which certain groups of individuals were allowed to procreate and others not, with the expressed purpose of promoting certain characteristics deemed to be particularly desirable. The most noteworthy example is the extensive implementation of racial hygiene policies by Nazi Germany but similar policies were implemented throughout Europe, North America and Southern Africa.
The concept of racial "purity" was developed by Arthur de Gobineau. De Gobineau argued that race created culture, and that "impure" "race-mixing" leads to chaos. Racial hygiene was historically tied to traditional notions of public health, but usually with an enhanced emphasis on heredity. Francis Galton began work in 1869 to find a statistical science of heredity which could encourage voluntary care in selecting partners, and in 1883 introduced the term "eugenics" for this subject, but in the early 20th century a eugenics movement adopted ideas of Mendelian genetics and promoted negative eugenics to prevent those thought to be unsuitable from having children, and eugenics was misused to legitimise policies of racial hygiene.
The German eugenicist Alfred Ploetz introduced the term Rassenhygiene in his "Racial hygiene basics" (Grundlinien einer Rassenhygiene) in 1895. In its earliest incarnation it was concerned more with the declining birthrate of the German state and the increasing number of mentally ill and disabled in state institutions (and their costs to the state) than with the "Jewish question" and "de-Nordification" (Entnordung) which would come to dominate its philosophy in Germany from the 1920s through the second World War.
In Nazi propaganda the term "Race" was often interchangeably used to describe and mean the "Aryan" or Germanic "Ubermenschen" which was said to represent an ideal and pure master race that was biologically superior to all other races. In the 1930s, under the 'expertise' of eugenicist Ernst Rüdin, it was this latter use of "racial hygiene" which was embraced by the followers of National Socialist ideology, who demanded Aryan racial purity and condemned miscegenation. This belief in the importance of German racial purity often served as the theoretical backbone of Nazi policies of racial superiority and later genocide. These policies began in 1935, when the National Socialists enacted the Nuremberg Laws, which legislated racial purity by forbidding sexual relations and marriage between "Aryans" and "non-Aryans" as Rassenschande or racial pollution.
A key part of National Socialism was the concept of racial hygiene and during their rule the field was elevated to the primary philosophy of the German medical community, first by activist physicians within the medical profession, particularly amongst psychiatrists. This was later codified and institutionalized during and after the Nazis' rise to power in 1933, during the process of Gleichschaltung (literally, "coordination" or "unification") which streamlined the medical and mental hygiene (mental health) profession into a rigid hierarchy with National Socialist-sanctioned leadership at the top.
Racial hygienists played key roles in the Holocaust, the National Socialist effort to purge Europe of that is Jews, Gypsies, mixed race, black people, homosexuals, trans people, political dissidents, the mentally retarded and the insane.
After World War II
After World War II, the racialist ideology was denounced as un-scientific and pseudoscience by many, although there continued to be supporters of eugenics even after there was widespread awareness of the Nazi debacle. Post 1945 eugenics proponents include Julian Huxley and Richard Lynn.
- Peter Longerich (15 April 2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. Oxford University Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-19-280436-5.
- Glad, John. (2008). Future Human Evolution: Eugenics in the Twenty-First Century. Hermitage Publishers.
- Joseph, J. (2004). The Gene Illusion: Genetic Research in Psychiatry and Psychology Under the Microscope. New York: Algora. (2003 United Kingdom Edition by PCCS Books)
- Joseph, J. (2006). The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity, and the Fruitless Search for Genes. New York: Algora.
- Paul, Diane B. Controlling Human Heredity, 1865 to the Present. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1995.
- Proctor, Robert. Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.