The Psychology of Liberalism

Modern liberalism is characterized by a set of beliefs that stand in such strong contradiction to what we know about human nature and society that some authors believe that a psychological assessment of this movement will give insights that cannot be gained by simply identifying its claims and demands. In this tradition, the Catholic reactionary Andy Nowicki has published a short book called The Psychology of Liberalism: Character Study of a Movement.

It should be noted from the outset that the author does not have in mind what today would be called “classical liberalism,” although one could argue that all forms of liberalism have some beliefs in common (a point that he addresses at the end of the book). On the other hand, the author’s analysis does not just refer to those who self-identify as liberals, but to all those who (unconsciously) state their beliefs in the framework of liberalism, which includes most contemporary conservatives.

Nowicki identifies the promotion of tolerance while excluding oneself from its requirements as the essence of the psychology of liberals. This is not a straightforward issue of hypocrisy because, in their own mind, they are the truly tolerant. This lack of recognition that they do not value diversity at all is what characterizes the liberal mind. “But should one point this out to liberals, one discovers to one’s perplexity that what is apparent to people of below-average intelligence is not necessarily so to a victim of “doublethink,” no matter how clever and well read the latter might be,” he writes.

Liberals often counter that tolerance does not require “tolerance of the intolerant,” but then re-define tolerance in such a manner that tolerance requires conforming to liberal ideas. Such selective and circular reasoning constitutes modern liberalism.

One thing that puzzles the writer is how liberals can persist in believing that they are an oppressed minority who speak “truth to power” when they are the status quo in the media, academia, public policy, etc. But as he correctly notes, progressives have to believe this or be faced with the uncomfortable fact that they are not fighting power but exercising it. And that their demands for tolerance are not demands for justice but commands to conform.

Nowicki observes that liberals reject the doctrine of “Original Sin,” but only to resuscitate the doctrine in a secular and highly selective manner, where it seeks to induce guilt in people who belong to a certain groups (males, individuals of European descent, etc.) and place other groups beyond all criticism.

Liberal guilt is concerned with abstractions; the “system” is to blame. Those who prosper under the system, the “privileged,” ought to feel guilty, even if they themselves  have done nothing personally to oppress or tyrannize others. Liberal guilt, again, is corporate; it is no respecter of persons, but rather of groups. While original sin is applicable to everyone, liberal sin only taints those groups which it designates as “privileged.”

Of course, many liberals themselves are part of the privileged. As Nowicki notes, the more prestigious the school, the more likely that it promotes a liberal outlook. These “limousine liberals” can hardly claim to be among the oppressed but they do see themselves as a vanguard for the oppressed. The problem is that their translation of the concerns of the oppressed are highly contestable. Feminists may claim to speak for women but most women reject feminism, labor unionists speak on behalf of the workers but many workers are not supportive of unions. Black community leaders justify and excuse violence that is condemned by many ordinary black people. Undeterred, the vanguard considers such objections as evidence of the degree that the victims are brainwashed to condone their own oppression, which produces a perfect, circular, self-justification of liberalism.

As with tolerance, liberals also have a complicated relationship with anger. When liberals are angry it is because they are outraged about injustice and oppression but when their opponents are angry this indicates “hate.” As a consequence, anger from the right people reinforces the correctness of liberalism, while anger of the wrong people indicates an inability to reason and “insensitivity.” One might add that if we recognize that in many cases liberals are those who yield power, their anger takes on a different, darker, dimension. It is not the anger of the victims of oppression but the anger of rulers who are provoked by people not conforming to their views.

Closely tied with progressive thinking is the cult of self-esteem. “..where Marxism aimed at redistributing the wealth, self-esteemism wants to redistribute the praise. Marxism, self-esteemism, and all other humanistic philosophies pragmatically fail because they ignore the obvious reality – that we are all unequal.” Self-esteem is a necessary condition for “empowerment” and liberals show little restraint in exercising political  power on behalf of the powerless, despite their obligatory “Question Authority” bumper stickers.

After offering such level-headed insights about modern liberalism, Nowicki seeks to make sense of the fact that progressives undoubtedly share certain features with Christianity (such as a belief in universalism, a “golden future when all shall be well,” and a missionary mindset) but also reject certain aspects of Christianity. I must admit that I find his discussion of the similarities more persuasive and decisive. I doubt it is a coincidence that political correctness has been perfected in the country that was settled by Puritans with a strong sense of guilt. His case against liberalism seems to depend quite strongly on designating it as an individualist, nihilist movement, but after spending a lot of pages documenting its ultra-moralism and collectivism that is not completely persuasive either.

It is correct that liberalism seeks to undermine much of traditional morality, but it also aims to strengthen and purify certain aspects of it to the point where it has to exclude other aspects, including the divine derivation of morality. At some point, progressives recognized that this requires a break with Christianity itself, but its moralist eschatological framework remained intact, albeit in a secular form. Of course, this sets the stage for a never-ending debate between Traditionalists and secular zealots about which values really matter because their is no meta-perspective agreed to by both parties that can mediate such disagreements.

There is a strain in social thought that attributes the existence of  oppressive and murderous regimes to a lack of recognition of objective values. One problem that has plagued these kinds of theories is that the regimes in question were never composed of card-carrying nihilists. The outlook of their leaders may not always have been universal, but they were strongly convinced of the truth of their moral views. In a sense, one could argue that this is inevitable because power needs a claim to legitimacy to grow and persist. A regime that would claim that truth, morality, and progress are nonsense and that it is solely pursuing its own self-interest against the interests of the people is not ensured a long existence. It is also doubtful that real nihilists will be drawn to the political process and public policy.

It is not really possible to predict the outcome of a society composed of people who do not recognize the existence of objective morals (or “rights”) because we have never been in such a state. But we can reasonably claim that morality is not dependent on the discovery of God-given or absolute values and will thrive whenever people with shared and competing interests recognize the need for coordination and rules.  The evidence for this can even be observed in the world of the great apes and prehistoric humans. The source of complex moral behavior may not have been a supernatural being but something as “trivial” as the discovery of fire.

One does not need a “coherent argument” against Nazism when its policies clearly contradict the interests of many people. Arguments are often powerless in the face of coercion and violence and the best one can hope for is to establish an equilibrium in which resorting to violence will be a self-defeating strategy. Ironically, such as state of affairs is prevented as long as those seeking power can command submission by claiming some mysterious legitimacy for their conduct.

The power that liberals exercise, and that others of different ideological persuasion enjoyed in times past, goes beyond what is needed to coordinate and regulate mutually beneficial human interaction. The ideology of modern liberalism looks particularly incoherent and tortured but, as the author has so perfectly identified, this should be expected if one claims to fight power and hold it at the same time. This feature of modern liberalism also explains why the libertarian socialism that preceded the rise of the Protest Generation to power looks at least somewhat coherent compared to its contemporary form, in which the “libertarian” element has strangely disappeared.

Nowicki believes that in the end liberalism will self-destruct because as its dark nihilism will be recognized and practiced by society, no moral order will be possible.  An alternative perspective is that liberalism still draws upon the residual moralism and herd behavior of Christianity and as soon as that is recognized people will no longer submit to its demands and more enlightened arrangements will emerge. Yet another perspective is that power and struggle have followed humans since they were great apes and that the real difference between us and them is that we can create elaborate thought systems that seek to “justify” such behavior. As a consequence, we can get too carried away by the analysis of “ideas” and pay insufficient attention to the dynamics that regulate power. It is only quite recently that evolutionary theory and economics seek to identify the biological basis and “micro-foundations” of political power.

Andy Nowicki is one the sharpest observers of contemporary liberalism that I know and it is unfortunate that his little book on the peculiar reasoning of modern liberals is now out of print. Unlike his book on suicide, there is no strong language or treatment of sexually explicit themes in this book. As such, there is no excuse for contemporary liberals to read it. If they would, many of them would prefer to skip his relentless assault on the incoherent nature of their ideology and focus on the “no morality without God” message, which I suspect, is an easier target. Such an approach would not be possible in the case of the atheist conservative Gustave Le Bon, whose 1898 classic, The Psychology of Socialism, analyzed socialism as yet another manifestation of the religious mindset and group hysteria that needs to be overcome.

Richard von Mises: Positivism – A Study in Human Understanding

Unlike his rationalist brother Ludwig von Mises, Richard von Mises had strong empiricist leanings, which found expression in hisfrequency interpretation of probability and his qualified endorsement of logical positivism (or logical empiricism).  His Kleines Lehrbuch des Positivismus was published in 1939 and translated and revised in English in 1956 as  Positivism: A Study in Human Understanding and carried the following subtitle, “How the aims and attitudes of science apply to all the intellectual endeavors of mankind – whether in science, the arts, or ethics.” Sadly, the last edition of the book was published in 1968 and has long been out of print, a fate which sets him apart from other major 20th century empiricists such as Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and Alfred J. Ayer, whose major expositions of their views are still in print. The preface of the English edition of Positivism closes with a remembrance of Otto Neurath, one of the co-authors of the original Vienna Circle statement, The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle, and one of the most passionate advocates of empiricism and the unity of the sciences.

Contrary to popular opinion, 20th century empiricism was not a rigid set of beliefs, and many of the original logical empiricists kept revising their views in response to the reception of their work and further investigations. What united the original logical positivists was an unwavering commitment to empiricism and a firm rejection of dualism in the scientific method. In a sense, one could argue that many of the core beliefs of the Vienna Circle have become so accepted among many scientific practitioners that there is no longer a need to argue for them. On the other hand, the worldviews of public opinion makers and public officials are still largely shaped by modes of thought and superstitions that have remained fairly immune to the rise of  the experimental method and the rejection of metaphysics. In the case of politics, there is little reason to be surprised about this, because politics encourages irrational thinking, conformism, and atavism. Interestingly, Richard von Mises also offers his views on economic methodology and political economy and it will be rewarding to return to these views at the end of this review.

Positivism starts with a discussion of language. According to von Mises, many philosophical mistakes reflect misunderstandings about the function and limitations of language. He writes, “many problems of school philosophy are of this type: expressions, referring in ordinary language to a very vague and varying content of experience, are supposed to have some “objective” meaning and then attempts are made to “disclose” this meaning by kind of a definition.” For example, there is no God-given definition of the word “rationality.” But when a group of academics (such as economists) converge on the use of the word, it is a misunderstanding of the function of language to insist on a different definition of the word because its current use is “wrong.” Of course, when science evolves there is often a recognition that the original  language is too crude and finer distinctions are being introduced to replace the older vocabulary. One of the defining characteristics of positivist philosophy is clarification of the use and abuse of language.

Like most authors in the positivist tradition, von Mises is interested in the question of what distinguishes true, false, and meaningless statements. He rejects the idea (which he attributes to Rudolf Carnap) that statements that do not satisfy the rules of logical grammar should be considered “meaningless” because it is not “possible to anticipate the rules of language in any exhaustive manner before knowing the sentences that will have to be tested by them in order to decide their admissibility or inadmissibility.” As an alternative, von Mises proposes the concept of “connectibility.”  A sentence is connectible if  it is compatible with a system of statements that regulate the use of language in that system. The statements of metaphysics, at best, only connect to each other in a very narrow range (they do not connect to the rules of formal logic, the natural sciences, ordinary language, etc.) and are of little practical use. Using this concept of connectibility makes it possibles to characterize the movement for a “unified science” in terms of connectibility of all scientific statements. Positivism concerns itself largely with the exposition of the concept of connectibility.

Von Mises then devotes two chapters to Mach’s elements and protocol sentences. Despite his own admission that “it is utopic to think that, starting from a given complex of element sentences, one could, by carefully following all the syntactic rules, arrive at an “encyclopedia of the sciences” which could command a validity of higher rank than that possessed by any of the existing  individual sciences” he seems quite occupied with identifying the nature and structure of such element sentences. Instead of looking for such an Archimedean point it might be more practical to decide in favor of the language of the sciences that have been successful in understanding and predicting the observable world. Statements of chemistry can be reduced to statements in physics, statements in biology can be reduced to statements in (bio)chemistry, statements about behavior and psychology can be reduced to statements in biology etc. The remaining (social) sciences contain either statements that are of little descriptive or predictive value, or contain statements that have been successful in understanding and predicting human behavior but still cannot be connected to the statements of the exact sciences. The use of game theory in both the biological and economical sciences is a good example of an attempt to bridge that gap. As von Mises himself notes, “All we can attempt to do is by analysis and continuous criticism of linguistic usage to further the connectibility.”

In the chapter about probability, von Mises introduces his frequency interpretation of probability and distinguishes it from the use of probability in ordinary language and alternative conceptions of probability (subjective probability, logical probability). In this chapter, von Mises is quite insistent upon the view that an exact theory of probability can only refer to mass phenomena and repetitive events. It does not make sense to use the probability calculus for future unique events or single cases probabilities. He takes issue with attempts of logical empiricists like Hans Reichenbach and Rudolf Carnap to apply probability far beyond its range of validity. Considering the generally hostile attitude of Austrian economists towards positivism and empiricism, it is interesting to note that prominent Austrian economists who work in the Misesean tradition have endorsed Richard von Mises’ strict frequency interpretation of probability. In an article called The Correct Theory of Probability Murray Rothbard writes:

“While probability theory is generally thought of as a branch of mathematics, its foundations are purely philosophic, and Richard von Mises, in his great work Probability, Statistics, and Truth, developed the correct, objective, or “frequency” theory of probability….if one holds to the objective Mises theory, it is unscientific and illegitimate to apply probability theory to any situations where the events (like the tossing of a die) are not strictly homogenous, and repeated a large number of times. And since, outside of die tossing or roulette, all the events of human action, economic or political or in daily life are clearly not homogeneous and therefore not repeatable, the Mises view demonstrates that all use of probability theory in social science is illegitimate.”

Along the same lines, Hans-Hermann Hoppe writes approvingly that for Ludwig von Mises “there is no such thing as a priori probability. Nor is there such a thing as the probability of a singular event. Probability statements refer to “objective” probabilities of collectives (classes). They are based on empirical observations. And they are corrigible by such observations.” Whether the positions of Mises, Rothbard and Hoppe constitute a partial endorsement of positivism in case of the probability is a complicated matter because it is not unambiguously clear what the proper empiricist interpretation of probability should be, and in this chapter Richard von Mises is too partial to his own views (and too dismissive of the works of other empiricists) to offer a more systematic treatment of the question of the relationship between probability and his general positivist outlook.

In the chapters about deterministic physics, statistical physics, and miracles von Mises argues quite persuasively that positivism should not be identified with a set of dogmatic prohibitions or should rule out certain observations about reality when they do not conform with materialism or a deterministic outlook. What we should require from extraordinary statements (or miracles) is that they are subjected to the same kind of scientific investigation and corroboration as we expect from other claims to knowledge. This approach harks back to von Mises’s concept of “connectibility.” His open mindedness in this chapter is reminiscent of a statement by Rudolf Carnap in his seminal article Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology (1950):

The acceptance or rejection of abstract linguistic forms, just as the acceptance or rejection of any other linguistic forms in any branch of science, will finally be decided by their efficiency as instruments, the ratio of the results achieved to the amount and complexity of the efforts required. To decree dogmatic prohibitions of certain linguistic forms instead of testing them by their success or failure in practical use, is worse than futile; it is positively harmful because it may obstruct scientific progress.

Perhaps the most interesting chapters in Positivism deal with his positivist outlook on the social sciences and ethics. Von Mises rejects methodological dualism; the idea that the approach and methods that are used in the physical sciences are inappropriate for the sciences that study man: “We find in all fields  a progression from single observations to comprehensive generalization which corresponds to the essence of scientific work…”.  As other logical  positivists writing in the same period, von Mises recognized that one day human action could be analyzed and explained by “organic processes,” but the rather premature state of fields like neuroscience in his age prevented von Mises from stating his position much more strongly than is possible now.

Today, when we compare the progress in fields that study man from a biological perspective with fields that claim a unique approach for the humanities,  it is clear that the case for dualism has further weakened. Humans are not exempt from the laws of physics and disciplines that recognize that fact clearly such as biochemistry, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, have made significant progress in understanding man. Von Mises notes that progress in the study of man is slower because of “retardations due to organized prejudices.” In many places in the world (including the United States) evolution is still widely contested and it is only quite recently that scholars who approach human psychology from an evolutionary perspective are no longer meeting major obstacles to disseminating their work.

Richard von Mises has a distinctly different perspective on social science and economics than his brother Ludwig von Mises.  He has little patience for the idea that economic theories are not subject to empirical testing: “mental reconstructions of observed facts must be tested to determine how far their consequences agree with continued observations.” Similarly, he does not reject the use of mathematics in economics and actually credits mathematical economics for offering “promising starting points for a rational treatment of economic problems.” In particular, von Mises praises John von Neumann and O. Morgenstern for introducing strategic behavior and expectations into economic theory. New Classical economists like Robert Lucas, Jr., later recognized that expectations cannot be ignored in macroeconomics either.

Von Mises closes his book with a number of chapters on morals, law, and religion. Not surprisingly, von Mises states that “…in spite of centuries of endeavor  one has so far not been successful in demonstrating any substantial ethical theorems that would enjoy unanimous recognition; and there is no hope that the goal of a “normative” ethic will be reached in in the future.” He argues against the idea that reason can discover objective normative rules and highlights the conventional and pragmatic nature of morals.  There is little in these chapters that could not have been written by contemporary authors. He ends his book by situating his perspective in the broader empiricist tradition and with a succinct summary of his own perspective.

It is fair to say that this book cannot compare with the rigorous writings of scholars like Rudolf Carnap or Hans Reichenbach, but it is doubtful that he aimed at such a work. His book is basically a plea for the scientific view of the world and how this approach applies to various topics. As such, his basic outlook on knowledge deserves study and recognition.

Richard von Mises has now been largely forgotten as a writer about knowledge but his general outlook is still alive. For example, despite the fact that the writings of his brother have seen multiple editions and reprints, there is a broad consensus that economics, or any social science, should be conducted as an empirical science. On matters of morality, serious scholars have become more interested in the evolutionary, psychological and social sources of moral conduct than the futile search for categorical imperatives. Most of all, much progress has been made in connecting the physical sciences and the humanities through modern evolutionary biology. In this sense, Richard’s perspective has clearly prevailed, albeit not to the degree that he would have preferred.

Survival of the Unfittest

Reading the book today, Survival of the Unfittest (1927) by Charles Wicksteed Armstrong, it has all the elements that ensured its descent into completely obscurity: concerns about human degeneration, advocacy of eugenics, and classical liberal views on state and political economy.

Authors such as Charles Wicksteed Armstrong, who posit that survival of the fittest is an immutable law of nature, are challenged to explain how natural selection can give rise to degeneracy, or, as he also calls it, the “survival of the unfittest.” Armstrong answers that:

To say…that Natural Selection is no longer operative in man is nonsense, because natural law is immutable. But any given law may produce different results to-day from those of yesterday when new factors arise to complicate matters. Thus, if we make unfitness in any way more advantageous for procreation than fitness, this will tend to make Natural Selection cause the survival of the unfittest instead of the fittest.

In his chapter on “Humanitarian Legislation” he identifies socialist public policies as producing a reproductive advantage to the “unfit:”

By heavy taxation we penalize success; by the dole, the Poor Law and public and private charity in a hundred forms we encourage the weak, the defective, the shiftless and the unsuccessful, not only to continue in their present condition, but to breed freely. We even give them extra help for every child they produce, and although the amount given may be insufficient to keep that child in comfort, yet to the improvident and the selfish it acts as a real incentive, for it is certainly made to yield, in many cases, extra comforts for the parents, even if the child goes hungry in consequence.

Armstrong rejects the argument that social legislation is required “by the demands of morality:”

To force everybody to do what you think is moral is not to make men moral. A good action must be voluntary; therefore let any man whose Christianity may move him that way save his poorer brother. But you cannot in the name of morality force anyone to do so.

In the same way, if thrift is a virtue it cannot be compulsory. By forcing people to insure you cannot teach them thrift or make them thrifty. In fact, you kill thrift as a virtue.

A substantial portion of the book is devoted to substantiating that welfare- and unemployment benefits, instead of reducing poverty and misery, instead increase it. To make his argument  he relies on “logical inquiry by the inductive and deductive methods:” statistics and economic reasoning. In particular, Armstrong is greatly concerned by the existence of unemployment benefits without an obligation to engage in productive work. As a consequence, the incentive to find work is reduced and productivity declines, which further impoverishes the nation. As far as involuntary unemployment and the “inability” to work is concerned, the author remarks that “trade union rules..are far oftener responsible for such “inability” than is anything else. Then, again, the inability to work does not, unfortunately, bring with it inability to procreate…”

In today’s terminology, the author is very much a “supply-sider” who thinks that all obstacles to create wealth should be eliminated and that productivity, not re-distribution of income, is the real source of prosperity. He also anticipates the rise of a class of welfare and tax recipients.

In every part of the country, especially the great towns, there has now grown up a new and dangerous class, a mass of humanity dependent on the payer of rates and taxes. Before the change, a man had no right to vote, that is to take part in the government of others, unless he were at last independent and able to support himself. Now he helps to govern those who maintain him. This great host of paupers and semi-paupers is already organized in the Socialist interest and has become a factor which can decide elections.

Naturally, as many 19th century classical liberals, Armstrong was strongly opposed to the idea that everyone has the right to vote:

I see no reason why the vote should be called a right. It used to be said, “No vote, no taxation.” Is it not equally just to cry, “No taxation, no vote?”

He has little patience for democracy and politicians:

God save us from the politicians! Perhaps some of the nations of Southern Europe are wiser than we in their generation. They have abolished the politicians – and democracy.

In his chapter on “Government” he describes the transformation of liberalism as it unfolded in Europe and the United States:

Since the true definition of liberty is the power to do anything that in no way causes suffering to others (future generations being included in the term “others”), the proper function of legislation in a free country is to determine what specific acts do cause suffering, and prevent them. The further we get away from this, in legislation, the worse we fare. When Liberalism, leaning more and more towards Socialism, begins to regulate our lives by legislation that has since become oppressive, the excuse was that laissez-faire involved the oppresssion of  one class by another. Under this pretext it abandoned the great principle of individual liberty that had been its main characteristic up to that time. But having once abandoned this principle, “Liberal” statesmen began to indulge in a great deal of lawmaking that interfered with the individual without having anything to do with the prevention of oppression. Thus began the new tyranny.

Under democratic government, each party, when in power, considers itself under the obligation to invent new laws, often under the pleasing name of “social reform,” with a main view to adulating the mass of voters. These enactments interfere more and more with the order of our lives, and oblige all to subscribe to the pet theories of idealists, or the latest scheme elaborated for winning the applause of the mob, cheating it into the belief than an open sesame has been found to the earthly paradise.

Trade unions, too, add ever to the number of rules and regulations that restrict liberty. The leaders, being often ignorant of the first principles of economic science, everybody is ordered to kow-tow to rules of behaviour based upon the most mischievous fallacies, such as those which purposely limit output, and those which prevent men from passing one district or one trade to another, when the needs of industry so demands.

Thus is democracy proving itself more fatally despotic than any autocracy. No emperor ever thought of reversing the process of evolution; but democracy, with its chance majorities, obtained by rhetoric of self-seeking demagogues, may succeed in doing so; not be superseding natural law, but by using it in ignorance for suicidal purposes – playing with forces it does not understand.

Armstrong devotes a whole chapter to spelling out his views on morality. He rejects the idea that a literal reading of the Bible should be the source of morality. “Fortunately, in our own times, this attitude is more characteristic of farmers in Tennessee than of educated Englishmen.” Similarly, he rejects the idea that the State or conventions provide us with an unambiguous set of moral rules. His own answer, however, may leave many people equally puzzled when he suggests that nature should be the source of morality as it seeks to avoid unnecessary suffering and “the happiness of all.” Armstrong’s emphasis on nature as the basis of morality seems to partly be motivated by his aim of criticizing a number of practices such as the unfair treatment of unwed mothers, puritanism, monogamy, and hunting for sport. Whereas some of his ideas on equality and political economy may be construed as “reactionary,” on many life-style issues and Christian fundamentalism, he is clearly in the progressive camp.

Although Armstrong is very concerned about a scenario where “the more intelligent and efficient…become relatively sterile, while the shiftless, decadent classes breed like prolific animals,” his case for eugenics does not depend on the presence of dysgenics:

It should be said at once that the need for eugenic reform in no way depends upon where the truth lies in the controversy about degeneration. Whether we are deteriorating or not we need this reform, for it is just as desirable to progress more rapidly if we are moving slowly as it is to stop degeneration if it is going on.

Like modern-day transhumanists, Armstrong seeks to accelerate human evolution so that we may one day even “conquer Death, and eventually Time and Space.” As to the question, how Eugenic Reform can be accomplished, he advocates abolishing public policies that discourage those with undesirable traits to procreate. He rejects involuntary euthanasia, is agnostic about segregation, and endorses sterilization for the “grossly unfit.” But because he believes that politicians have little interest in the long-term fate of humanity, he devotes a significant portion of the book to the idea of establishing voluntary communities that seek the accelerated progress of humanity.

Amusingly, while Armstrong believes that the “undegenerated Englishman…has no moral or intellectual superior among the world’s people…perhaps he is a trifle more inclined towards hypocrisy, intolerance and obstinacy than most progressive races.” Another defect of the English are the physical characteristics of the English. In particular, the typical English women with their “large feet, masculine stride and flat or angular form.”  Not to speak of the poor eyesight and poor teeth of the English:

How much pain, how much ill-health, and how much physical ugliness are due to bad teeth! The breath becomes offensive and the digestive and other organs seriously damaged. Even the heart itself is affected by abscesses due to caries. No defect, in fact, is more far-reaching in its effects upon other organs. Yet here in England of ours, even our children, a few years after receiving their second teeth, are already nearly all of them suffering from this grave trouble. Furthermore, it is undoubtedly hereditary. The truth is, in fact, little short of this: As a race we are in serious danger of losing our teeth altogether.

Charles Wicksteed Armstrong does not expect that the benefits from eugenics will result from exclusive selective breeding within one country and he actively advocates efforts to select for the most desirable traits of different populations, such as the Mediterranean people.

Armstrong himself may have been blessed with “longevity genes” because in 1961 the Eugenics Society congratulated Mr. Armstrong on achieving his ninetieth year. His old age allowed him to witness both the birth but also the decline of the eugenics movement. A casual search on the internet reveals little information on the life and ideas of Charles Wicksteed Armstrong, despite the renewed interest in the history of eugenics. His concerns and his constructive solutions, on the other hand, have not disappeared.

Discussions about decline today are mostly confined to cultural decline, although Prof. Richard Lynn has published books on both Dysgenics and Eugenics with similar concerns as Armstrong. The word “eugenics” has gone mostly out of favor with those in favor of human genetic enhancement, but contemporary transhumanism can be said to carry forward the legacy of liberal eugenics, but with a stronger emphasis on individual choice. A good example of a recent argument in favor of human genetic enhancement is Gregory Stock’s book Redesigning Humans: Choosing our genes, changing our future. Even the interest in overcoming death has it contemporary counterparts with publication of books about the Scientific Conquest of Death.