Everybody is talking about Charles Murray`s book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. My review is in the February issue of The American Conservative, where I mention a comparison that isn`t getting much talked about: if you think the American white working class is deteriorating, what about their British distant cousins?
When British center-leftists like John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge were planning the post-war welfare state, they were worried when the eugenic rules they`d wanted were left out by Parliament at the last moment. Keynes and his friends feared that without eugenicist limitations upon welfare, within a few generations the country would be overrun by chavs. From “How Eugenics Poisoned the Welfare State” in The Spectator in 2009:
A century ago many leading leftists subscribed to the vile pseudo-science of eugenics, writes Dennis Sewell, and the influence of that thinking can still be seen today…
William Beveridge, later to emerge as the midwife of the post-1945 welfare settlement, was also very active in the eugenics movement at this time. Today, Beveridge is generally portrayed as a kindly, avuncular figure, one almost dripping with compassion and benevolence. But his roots were in a particularly hardline strand of eugenics. He argued in 1909 that ‘those men who through general defects are unable to fill such a whole place in industry, are to be recognised as “unemployable”. They must become the acknowledged dependents of the State… but with complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights — including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood.’ And that, except for the loss of fatherhood, has effectively been his legacy.
Eugenics was no quickly passing fad. The Eugenics Society reached its peak, in terms of membership, during the 1930s, and the cusp of the following decade saw the zenith of its prestige. The economist John Maynard Keynes served on the society’s governing council and was its director from 1937 to 1944. Once again, this was no casual hobby. As late as 1946 Keynes was still describing eugenics as ‘the most important and significant branch of sociology’.
The most likely reason Keynes stopped giving pro-eugenics speeches after 1946 was because he was dead.
Working alongside Keynes at this time as the editor of Eugenics Review was Richard Titmuss, soon afterwards to become an influential professor at the London School of Economics working on social policy, and who would ultimately be dubbed ‘the high priest of the welfare state’.
It was during the late 1930s that much of the detailed planning for the welfare state was carried out. And a good deal of it was undertaken at meetings of the Eugenics Society. On the evening that the House of Commons met to debate the Beveridge Report, Beveridge himself went off to address an audience of eugenicists at the Mansion House. He knew he was in for a rough ride. His scheme of family allowances had originally been devised within the Eugenics Society with a graduated rate, which paid out more to middle-class parents and very little to the poor. The whole point was to combat the eugenicists’ great bugbear — the differential birth rate between the classes. However, the government that day had announced a uniform rate. Beveridge was sympathetic to the complaints of his audience and hinted that a multi-rate system might well be introduced at a later date.
Of course, today we all know that welfare couldn`t have dysgenic and/or dyscultural effects. In fact, Science tells us that welfare state Britain couldn`t possibly wind up after a few generations with lots of anti-intellectual yobs who think that studying is only for toffs and poofters, that toffs are poofters. How unscientific Keynes was! He must have been a poofter toff himself to be so unscientific.
In further fact, we all know from reading nice people like Paul Krugman who worship Keynes that Keynes and his friends were nice people too and couldn`t possibly have ever had such thoughts. Keynes` head would have exploded from the not-niceness if this idea had ever even occurred to him.