Amid the eulogies and celebrations commemorating the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, the darker side of evolutionary theory should not be forgotten. In The Pure Society, André Pichot, one of France’s foremost specialists in the history of science, excavates the underside of the Darwinian legacy, where the notions of ‘race’ and heredity became powerful tools of malign political agendas and instruments of social oppression.
Pichot examines the relationship between science, politics and ideology through an analysis of specific cases: from Nazism and the concentration camps to the various eugenicist research programmes launched or financed by eminent scientific organizations.
Racist eugenic ideas were once prevalent among the scientific community, despite a patent lack of supporting evidence. As today’s scientists and writers applaud the advance of science, the egregious mistakes made along the way are too often forgotten. Now, with the mapping of the human genome and rapid advances in gene therapies, Pichot warns that biologists are increasingly emboldened to venture into the realms of public policy and politics. If moral philosophers abandon these fields, it is all too possible that the lights of a misguided science will resurrect the dream of a ‘pure society’.