Wallace's objections to Francis Galton

Wallace detested what he termed “artificial selection,” under which he included such schemes as Galton’s eugenics as well as systems of “enforced” or involuntary eugenics. Among Galton’s proposals was “a system of marks for family merit.” Those individuals who rated well in health, intellect, and morals would be encouraged, by state subsidies, to marry early and raise large families. Wallace argued that while such “positive eugenics” might increase slightly the number of excellent human specimens, it would be socially ineffective and evolutionarily insignificant. Positive eugenics would leave the bulk of the population unaffected and fail to “diminish the rate at which the lower types tend to supplant ... the higher.” Given the lim- ited knowledge of human inheritance, Wallace declared, artificial selection was not only scientifically dubious, but also culturally pernicious. Eugenics, by perpetuating class distinctions, would postpone social reform and afford quasi-scientific excuses for keeping people “in the positions Nature intended them to occupy.” Negative eugenics, or the prevention or discour- agement of procreation by those deemed unfit, seemed to Wallace “a mere excuse for establishing a medical tyranny. And we have enough of this kind of tyranny already.... [T]he world does not want the eugenist to set it straight.... Eugenics is simply the meddlesome interference of an arrogant scientific priestcraft.”

Wallace had initially Welcomed Galton’s Hereditary Genius (1869) as providing important data in support of evolutionary biology. His later antipathy to Galton’s eugenics stemmed from what he regarded as its cultural authoritarianism. Wallace also distanced himself from Galton because of the latter’s general lack of empathy, if not rudeness, to those he regarded as not being of his social standing. Galton’s views on gender were a further irritant to Wallace. Galton never regarded women as intellectual equals. He was also insulting to ambitious, but socially less privileged, men. Finally. his descriptions of his own African explorations are replete With crude and arrogant comments about indigenous peoples....[208]

Note: Martin Fichman concludes that "All such opinions were anathema to Wallace. His habitual empathy, as manifested in his views on women and his deep appreciation of the cultures of indigenous peoples, separated him from Galton both on scientific and personal levels" (208-9). Superscript notes in this short extract take the reader to p.328 of an article on "Human Selection" in the Fortnightly Review 48: 325-37; and to p.663 of an interview with him entitled "The Last of the Great Victorians" in the Millgate Monthly 7 (1912), Pt 2: 657-63.

Related Material


Fichman, Martin. "Wallace as Social Critic, Sociologist, and Societal 'Prophet.'" An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion. Edited by Charles H. Smith, James T. Costa, and David Collard. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019 [Review]. 191-233.

Created 8 August 2019