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Science, revolution and progress

The constitutive terrain of anarchist eugenics

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Richard Cleminson

Chapter 2 sets the intellectual scene, both in anarchism and more generally, by providing a discussion of the characteristics of nineteenth-century ‘classical anarchism’ in terms of its reliance on understandings of nature, progress and science as the foundations upon which hereditarian and biological thought were built in the movement. This allows for an analysis of the reception of thought on doctrines such as Malthusianism, with its pessimistic account of the relations between population and resources, and discourses on human degeneration as a biological phenomenon. The chapter moves on to analyse the uptake of theories of evolutionary variation and inheritance within anarchism and to how these ideas dovetailed or conflicted with anarchism’s core values on the ability of human beings to forge their own environment and future. The chapter suggests that such debates, which were transnational within anarchism, provided the bedrock upon which interest in anarchist circles on processes of biological change, the relations between the environment and heredity, and, ultimately, eugenics were built.

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Richard Cleminson

This chapter presents the central problematic of the book: the apparent paradox of anarchism having provided a forum for the reception of eugenics. It discusses the main issues that such a contention gives rise to, sets out the methodology and theoretical framework to be followed and places anarchism and eugenics within the historiography of both movements from the late nineteenth century onwards.

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Richard Cleminson

Chapter 4 continues the inquiry on eugenics into the years 1920–1940, covering the ‘hey-day’ of eugenic thought in the 1920s and 1930s both within anarchism and as part of the international eugenics movement itself. It analyses the political, scientific and religious influences that operated upon anarchism in its uptake of eugenics. In particular, questions such as the gendered nature of eugenic projects and their impact specifically on women’s bodies are assessed, as are discussions on the appropriateness or otherwise of the sterilization of the ‘unfit’, the development of ‘conscious maternity’ and the hygienic improvement of the social and health conditions of the poor. The reaction within anarchism to broader political and scientific debates on the acceptability and practicality of eugenics constitutes a thread that runs through this chapter.

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Richard Cleminson

In Chapter 3, the reception of early eugenic ideas within the anarchist movements of England, France, Portugal, Spain and Argentina over the years 1890–1920 is discussed against the backdrop of social and political developments within these different societies and within the eugenics movement itself. It discusses the ways in which early interest in neo-Malthusianism and the environmentally focused theory of Lamarckism configured the early anarchist reception of eugenic thought. The main emphasis in the chapter is placed on the vehicles by which eugenic thought arrived in anarchist movements and on the specific ways in which these ideas were digested in order to justify and articulate ‘anarchist eugenics’. The period covered in Chapter 3 ends with the First World War and its immediate aftermath. This was a fault line period in the reconfiguration of neo-Malthusian thought and its transformation, in the anarchist movement, particularly in France, into explicit support for eugenics. The chapter emphasises the varied and contested reception of eugenic thought within anarchism, in accordance with locality, mechanisms of international knowledge exchange, chronology and type of anarchism, whether syndicalist or individualist.

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Anarchism and eugenics

An unlikely convergence, 1890–1940

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Richard Cleminson

This book focuses on the apparently surprising convergence between anarchism and eugenics. By tracing the reception of eugenic ideas within five different anarchist movements –Argentina, England, France, Portugal and Spain – the book argues that, in fact, there is ample evidence for anarchist interest in, and implementation of, some form of eugenics. The author argues that this intersection between anarchism and eugenics can be understood as an emanation from anarchism’s nineteenth-century legacy, which harnessed science as a means to change the social world and an ideological commitment to voluntarism as a political praxis. Through the articulation of interest in birth control, ‘neo-Malthusianism’, freedom to choose for women and revolutionary objectives, many anarchists across these five countries provided the basis for the creation of ‘anarchist eugenics’ in the early twentieth century.

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Marnie Hay

This chapter examines and assesses Na Fianna Éireann’s military contribution to the Irish Revolution during the years between the establishment of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923. It identifies and discusses the Fianna’s performance of various military functions or tasks, illustrating each with examples from different events of the Irish Revolution. It contrasts young Fianna activists in the early twentieth century with the child soldiers of more recent years, noting that Fianna members chose to be militarily active, tended to be adolescents and were not likely to perform combat roles until they were in their later teens or early twenties. The chapter also highlights the personal price paid by Fianna members for their activism and considers how the Fianna’s military contribution to the Irish Revolution was recognised by the Irish state and others in subsequent years.

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Marnie Hay

This chapter examines the membership of Na Fianna Éireann in the period 1909–23 in order to provide a general profile of who joined this nationalist youth group during Ireland’s revolutionary era. In this period, members of the Fianna were mainly (but not exclusively) male youths from Irish Catholic nationalist families who were influenced by the Irish cultural revival and the cult of discipline, training and manliness prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The research for this chapter is based on three samples of former members gleaned from Bureau of Military History witness statements, entries from the Dictionary of Irish Biography and applications from the Military Service Pensions collection.

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Marnie Hay

This chapter explains the book’s aim and its approach to the history of the Irish nationalist youth organisation Na Fianna Éireann in the period 1909–23. It also provides a brief overview of the existing historiography on Na Fianna Éireann. It places the Fianna within the wider context of uniformed youth groups, which emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a response to societal anxieties associated with the coming First World War. It compares and contrasts the Fianna to other youth groups in Ireland during the era of the Irish Revolution. These include the Boys’ Brigade, the Boy Scouts, the Hibernian Boys’ Brigade, the Clann na Gael Girl Scouts, the Irish Citizen Army Scout Corps and the Young Citizen Volunteers.

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Marnie Hay

This book provides a scholarly yet accessible account of the Irish nationalist youth organisation Na Fianna Éireann and its contribution to the Irish Revolution in the period 1909–23. Countess Constance Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson established Na Fianna Éireann, or the Irish National Boy Scouts, in Dublin in 1909 as an Irish nationalist antidote to Robert Baden-Powell’s Boy Scout movement founded in the previous year. The Fianna soon spread beyond the Irish capital, offering their mainly male membership a combination of military training, outdoor adventure and Irish cultural activities. Between their inception in 1909 and near decimation during the Irish Civil War of 1922–23, Na Fianna Éireann recruited, trained and nurtured a cadre of young nationalist activists who made an essential contribution to the struggle for Irish independence. This book situates the Fianna within the wider international context of uniformed youth groups that arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a response to societal anxieties associated with the coming war in Europe. It compares and contrasts the Fianna to other Irish youth groups of the period and demonstrates how the Fianna served as a conduit for future members of adult paramilitary organisations, most notably the Irish Volunteers (later known as the Irish Republican Army).

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Marnie Hay

This chapter discusses the involvement of Na Fianna Éireann in the production and dissemination of Irish nationalist print propaganda. The term ‘propaganda’ refers to written material intended to influence the attitude and opinion of readers. Members of the Fianna not only helped to create and distribute nationalist print propaganda, such as posters, leaflets and newspapers, but were also the target of propagandist messages designed to influence their personal and political philosophies and by extension their actions. Fianna propaganda was more likely to reinforce or intensify an existing nationalist sentiment rather than convert readers to nationalism. Much of the youth-oriented material under consideration in this chapter was designed to provide an Irish nationalist alternative to popular British publications by subverting the conventions of such literature.