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Most Americans, it seems, don’t realize the extent to which Hitler drew on the “American model” of eugenics to enact the very laws and policies most liberals now look back on in horror.

Mainstream historical narratives around the rise of Nazism tend to reinforce the idea that Nazi ideology—a form of fascism based on scientific racism and a belief in the superiority of the Aryan race—was a foreign (i.e. un-American) concept. According to these narratives, Nazism was developed by Adolf Hitler and his followers in Germany during the 1930’s and 40’s, and was only put to an end when heroic American military forces liberated the Jewish people from their oppressors in 1945. With Neo-Nazism again on the rise in the United States (especially since the emergence of the so-called Alt-Right and the election of Donald Trump), it is important to understand where Nazi ideology actually comes from. The idea of separating races into better and worse “types,” with the goal of eventually creating a “perfect Aryan race,” was actually not an idea that suddenly emerged with the election of Adolf Hitler. Instead, it had its origins in the American Eugenics Movement, which gained widespread credence in the United States during the 1920’s, the period preceding the rise of Nazi Germany. The word eugenics is derived from the Greek word eu ("good" or "well") and the suffix -genēs ("born"), and was invented by Francis Galton, known as the “father of Eugenics,” around 1883. Galton, a distant cousin of Charles Darwin, popularized the idea that if people with so-called “superior genes” (i.e. blond haired, blue-eyed, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual people) reproduced with other people possessing “superior genes,” then the gene pool of a particular society would eventually improve at a collective level. Just as plant and animal species could be directly improved through cross-breeding, thought Galton, so could humans.

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