Review: The Problem of Race Culture

[“The Bar of Isis : the Law of the Mother.” By FRANCES SWINEY. The Open Road Publishing Co. 6d. Nett.]


The subject discussed in this well-printed brochure of 50 pages is one that is beginning to have more attention paid to it than formerly, although not more perhaps than it deserves. Isis, the wife and the sister of Osiris, the God of the Egyptians, became later the patron Goddess of women, and the Bar of Isis represents the sanctity of the prospective mother from all approaches of the male. The argument of the book is that the husband must learn to be sexually abstemious, for on his continence depends, to a very large extent, the health and constitutional vigour of the offspring. Many of the ailments of children are alleged to be attributable to the incontinence of the father during the period of gestation. Medical evidence is quoted in favour of this position, yet Dr. Allinson lays down a different position, and he is probably one of the best known writers on this subject. Apart from certain personal factors, he says nothing in favour of complete abstinence on the part of the husband and no injury to the offspring is suggested as the result of indulgence during the prohibited period.

But all that apart. We are not particularly concerned with questions of that nature. The important part of the book to us, is where it is argued that race deterioration and degeneracy are attributable to the violation of the Bar of Isis ; for whether such violation does or does not adversely affect the child, it seems abundantly clear that such pre-natal factors are as dust in the balance against material factors of a postnatal character, such as food, clothing and shelter. As with our author, so with the Eugenist. Indeed, their objects seem to be the same, viz., a short cut to the solution of the social problem; the one through heredity, the other through an improvement in pre-natal environment. Both positions fail by ignoring the material conditions with which the Socialist primarily deals. The offspring of genius, developed under ideal conditions of pre-natal development, would still need to be fed, clothed, housed, educated, etc. The words of Max Nordau in this connexion carry considerable weight owing to their obvious truth :

“Marry Hercules with Juno, and Apollo with Venus, and put them in slums—their children will be stunted in growth, rickety and consumptive. On the other hand, take the miserable slum-dwellers out of their noxious surroundings, house, feed, clothe them well, give them plenty of light, air, and leisure, and their grand-children, perhaps already their children, will reproduce the type of the fine, tall Saxons and Danes of whom they are the offspring.”

There is no way of taking the slum-dweller out of his noxious surroundings except by abolishing the poverty that sent and keeps him there. As William Morris said, while you have poor people you will have people poorly housed; and the same thing applies to feeding, clothing, etc. Socialism alone can abolish poverty by abolishing private ownership of the means of living which allows the workers to be expropriated of the wealth they produce, yielding them only as wages the cost of their subsistence.

Were it not for the overshadowing fear of the Editor’s blue pencil, I could show, from the pronouncements of the Eugenists themselves, that the improvement of the environment is essential to the improvement of the race. Eugenics is, for the present, mainly negative. It consists, in the words of Dr. C. W. Saleeby, in the denial of the supreme privilege of parentage to those suffering from congenital defects of mind or body. On the other hand it seeks to encourage the fecundity of superior types. This then is the Eugenic aim, the discouragement of the unfit and the encouragement of the fit to perpetuate the species. There is a difficulty in the fact that the lower type is naturally the more fertile. Dr. J. L. Tayler, in a long paper on Individuology, in discussing this subject, differentiates the prevailing types as mainly paleogenie and neogenic, which we, being under no obligation to use unnecessarily long words, may call the low type and the high type. He shows that the low type persists owing to the existence of the material environment adapted to it; and it would seem, therefore, that the more effective method of discouraging the continuance of the low type lies, not in artificial and oppressive sterilisation, but simply in improving the environment, thus automatically discouraging the low type by forcing it upward in an endeavour to adapt itself to a higher environment. The potentially high types who acquire the characteristics of the lower through “noxious surroundings” would be enabled to develop ; the low types would cease to flourish in an environment unsuited to them; while each individual of whatever type could adequately develop the best that it had the fortune to inherit.

This cannot be done under the conditions of modern society. The thirteen millions of people in this country “on the verge of hunger ;” the 30 percent, of the people of London who live on or below the poverty line ; the million or more of the inhabitants of London who live under “overcrowded” conditions, are all hopelessly handicapped in their development, and it is to these conditions we must turn our hand before we can even be sure of the other facts in the question. Socialism will apply the solution to all these problems, in the first and most important place, by removing the economic hindrance to a full and adequate satisfaction of the material requirements. In the second place by removing the property restrictions which hinder the operation of what in biology is known as sexual selection, and allowing freedom of choice between the individuals, irrespective of the all-pervading influence of economic considerations. And in the third place by removing that economic necessity of obedience to the breadwinner which will probably explain to the author of the book we set out to notice the main causes of the violation of the Bar of Isis.


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