The Kallikaks

The name Kallikak is a pseudonym used as a family name throughout a 1912 book by the American psychologist Henry H. Goddard. Goddard coined the name from the Greek words καλός (kallos) meaning beautiful and κακός (kakos) meaning bad. The book follows the genealogy of Martin Kallikak, Deborah’s great-great-great grandfather, a Revolutionary War hero married to a Quaker woman. On his way back from battle, the normally morally upright Martin dallied one time with a barmaid. The young Martin soon reformed and went on with his upright life, becoming a respected New England citizen and father of a large family of prosperous individuals. All of the children that came from this relationship were “wholesome.”

But according to Goddard, a child was born by the dalliance with the barmaid. This single child, a male, went on to father more children, who fathered their own children, and on and on down the generations. With the Kallikaks, Goddard claims to have discovered, as close as one could imagine, an experiment in the hereditability of intelligence, moral ability, and criminality.

On the barmaid side of the Kallikak family, the children wound up poor, insane, delinquent, and mentally retarded. On the other side of the Kallikak family tree, the children ended up prosperous, intelligent, and morally upstanding. They were lawyers, ministers, and doctors.

Goddard concluded from this that intelligence, sanity, and morality were hereditary. What was that? Goddard described the barmaid as”feeble-minded”: a catch-all early 20th century term to describe various forms of mental retardation or learning deficiencies. Goddard was interested in the heritability of “feeble-mindedness”—and often wrote of the invisible threat of recessive “feeble-minded” genes carried by otherwise healthy and intelligent looking members of the population.

Goddard was convinced that this free-spirited young girl who was kind to animals, loved music, and “was bold towards strangers,” was nothing less than a menace to the future of American civilization. Goddard, who holds the dubious honor of introducing the term “moron” (“Moron” was coined in 1910 from the Ancient Greek word μωρός (moros), which meant “dull”) into the English language, was obsessed with how “feebleminded” Americans were degrading their country’s racial stock.

According to Goddard, a field investigation of the area surrounding the “ancestral home” of Deborah’s family “showed that the family had always been notorious for the number of defectives and delinquents it had produced.” Indeed, the more Kallikak family members the investigators located, the more deficient the family’s bloodline appeared to be. “The surprise and horror of it all was that no matter where we traced them, whether in the prosperous rural district, in the city slums … or in the more remote mountain regions, or whether it was a question of the second or the sixth generation, an appalling amount of defectiveness was everywhere found.”

Goddard believed that members of the Kallikak family were especially dangerous to America’s racial stock because on the surface many of them did not appear to be particularly deficient. “A large proportion of those who are considered feeble-minded in this study are persons who would not be recognized as such by the untrained observer,” acknowledged Goddard,

Published during the same year presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson was campaigning for an evolutionary understanding of the Constitution, Goddard’s book urged the nation to apply biological science to its social-welfare policies as well.

In Goddard’s view, heredity rather than charity was the key to eliminating the underclass and its associated social ills. By 1912, his message was striking a chord with American policymakers, social scientists, and cultural leaders. New books advocating eugenics were being published, a Broadway play on the subject was in preparation, and professional societies were taking up the topic in earnest. In Washington, D.C., Dr. Woods Hutchinson of the New York Polyclinic preached eugenics at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. Hutchinson proposed that all American schoolchildren be given a eugenics inspection by their third year in school. “As soon as the 2 to 3 per cent of all children who are hereditarily defective are determined they should be given such a training as will fit them for the part they are likely to play in life. Then they should either be segregated in open-air farm colonies or sterilized.” A few days later, Dr. L. F. Barker of Johns Hopkins University lectured the International Hygiene Congress about the importance of “providing for the birth of children endowed with good brains” and “denying, as far as possible, the privilege of parenthood to the manifestly unfit.”

The eugenics movement drew direct inspiration from Darwinian biology. Yet today the Darwinian roots of eugenics tend to be downplayed both by the popular media and by some scholars. When Darwin’s theory is mentioned at all, a sharp distinction is often drawn between Darwin’s own views and the “Social Darwinism” of the eugenists, who supposedly extended Darwin’s theory into realms unanticipated by him. The eugenists’ underlying fear was the same as the one Charles Darwin had articulated so clearly in The Descent of Man: By saving the weak through medicine and charity, and by allowing defective classes to reproduce, civilized societies were counteracting the law of natural selection to the detriment of the human race.

According to the eugenists, human beings were essentially no different from horses, dogs, or blackberries, and so the techniques perfected to breed animals and plants could easily be applied to men and women with just as much success. “Man is an organism— an animal,” declared Charles Darwin, “and the laws of improvement of corn and of race horses hold true for him also.” “All life is conditioned by the same fundamental laws of nature,” agreed H. E. Jordan. “It would seem, then, that the same methods that man now employs in producing a high quality breed of dogs, or birds, or cattle, or horses, he must apply to himself.” “If the human race is to be permanently improved in its inherited characteristics,” wrote Princeton biologist Edwin Conklin, “there is no doubt that it must be accomplished in the same way in which man has made improvements in the various races of domesticated animals and cultivated plants.” And since breeders of animals and plants are experts in heredity, the public should let them determine how humans should breed.

Eugenists in the 1920s marketed sterilization as the cure to what they depicted as a looming welfare crisis. In a 1926 speech at Vassar College promoting sterilization, Margaret Sanger spoke in near-apocalpytic terms about the ruinous costs to taxpayers of welfare spending to care for defectives. “In 1923 over nine billions of dollars were spent on state and federal charities for the care and maintenance and perpetuation of these undesirables,” she complained. “Year by year their numbers are mounting. Year by year their cost is increasing. Huge sums— yes, vast fortunes— are expended on these, while the normal parents and their children are compelled to shift for themselves and compete with each other.” She added that “the American public is taxed, heavily taxed, to maintain an increasing race of morons, which threatens the very foundations of our civilization.” In her bestselling book The Pivot of Civilization (1922), Sanger likewise tried to alert Americans to alarming expenditures on social-welfare programs for the mentally defective, urging readers that “our eyes should be opened to the terrific cost to the community of this dead weight of human waste.” Eugenists also criticized traditional welfare programs for ignoring biological reality and relying instead on sentimental ideals of human equality. Margaret Sanger warned of the “dangers inherent in the very idea of humanitarianism and altruism, dangers which have today produced their full harvest of human waste, of inequality and inefficiency.” Sanger of course was the creator of Planned Parenthood.

Goddard hid the real identities of the Kallikaks, making it impossible for other scholars to try to verify his account. But through meticulous scholarly detective work, J. David Smith was finally able to identify the family in the 1980s. He conclusively showed that Goddard’s assessment was more a product of prejudice than unbiased scientific investigation. The Kallikaks were not hereditarily unfit at all. They had their share of social misfits, but they also had their “strengths and successes. The tragedy of the disfavored Kallikaks is that their story was distorted so as to fit an expectation. They were perceived in a way that allowed only their weaknesses and failures to emerge.”

And that is how Darwinism, evillution and progressivism has warped and distorted the world around us. That is what happens when, supposedly intelligent individuals fall for the latest unsubstantiated “pop” theory.



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