Nikolai Krementsov

Published On


Page Range

pp. 409-460

Print Length

51 pages

8. Science of the Future: With and Without Galton

The concluding chapter examines the implications of the peculiar history of eugenics in Russia, as seen through the biography of Florinskii’s treatise, for the understanding of the history of eugenics writ large, illuminating its protean nature, its multiple local trajectories, and its global trends, as well as its continuing and contested appeal to very diverse audiences. To date, Human Perfection and Degeneration was published five times—in 1865, 1866, 1926, 1995, and 2012. Galton’s Hereditary Genius (together with his article ‘on men of science, their nature and their nurture’) was translated into Russian in 1874, nine years after the first appearance of Florinskii’s treatise, and to this day, it remains the only work of the ‘founding father’ of eugenics available (in its 1996 facsimile edition) to Russian readers. The contrasting yet intertwined fates of Galton’s and Florinskii’s concepts in Russia strongly suggest that what we habitually call eugenics is a time- and place-specific amalgam of certain ideas, values, concerns, and actions regarding human reproduction, heredity, diversity, development, and evolution. What united various ‘national’ versions of eugenics and shaped its subsequent local trajectories and global trends was an explicit preoccupation with the future, which linked the problematics of eugenics with the fundamental existential questions of human nature and human destiny: who are we, where did we come from, and where are we heading? Fused into all of its local variations, the possibility of ‘controlling’ humanity’s future through active intervention in human reproduction, heredity, development, and evolution made eugenics repelling or appealing to multiple audiences. The dates of repeated reissuing of Florinskii’s treatise, as well as the intervals that separate them, reflect not merely the internal dynamics and local imperatives of the development of eugenics in Russia. They also point to the waning and waxing popularity of eugenics world-wide, spurred by certain concurrent ‘global’ social and scientific developments, ranging from industrialization and Darwinian revolution to World War I and the rise of experimental biology and from World War II and the emergence of molecular biology to the ‘end’ of the Cold War and the inauguration of the Human Genome Project. A heated debate on ‘genetics and eugenics’ at the 1962 London symposium ‘Man and his Future’ puts into sharp relief the interplay of scientific and social factors that made, and continue to make, eugenics a subject of intense interest and an inexhaustible source of both hopes and fears regarding human nature and humanity’s future.


Nikolai Krementsov