The Demented Pacifism of Irving Fisher
By Bryan Caplan
After this war is over, of course, Europe will find herself prostrated economically, by the destruction of property and workers, and not only that – the survivors will lack the strength and vital power which the aggregate had before the war. So far as the strongest still survive, they will be crippled largely in body, mind, and estate. Europe will be a vast hospital full of invalids, a vast almshouse full of paupers, a vast cemetery full of graves.
This will leave the United States the one great nation, physically and otherwise fit to carry onward the torch of civilization. We, alone, of the world’s great peoples, will remain endowed with both the economic and vital power necessary for the prosecution of that mission. Therefore, it seems to me that it must be clear to every thinking man that Europe should serve to us as a warning and not as an example.
The tragedy there should stir us on to reduce, not to increase our militaristic ideas. While Europe is spending life we should set ourselves determinedly at the task of saving life.
Music to my ears. But if you read the whole interview, you’ll learn the Fisher’s argument for pacifism is nothing short of demented. According to Fisher, war isn’t bad because it’s mass murder; it’s bad because it’s dysgenic mass murder!
It is the quality rather than the quantity of human life that should be held precious…
If war would weed out only the criminal, the vicious, the feeble-minded, the insane, the habitual paupers, and others of the defective classes, it might lay claim, with some show of justice, to the beneficent virtues sometimes ascribed to it.
But the truth is that its effects are diametrically opposite. It eliminates the young men, who should be the fathers of the next generation – men medically selected as the largest, strongest, most alert, and best endowed in every way…
Their less endowed fellows, medically rejected from military service, because of defects in stature, eyesight, hearing, mentality, &c, are left at home to reproduce the race.
The NYT never challenges Fisher; indeed, the format strongly suggests that Fisher is both great and wise. A handful of questions the NYT neglected to ask:
1. Shouldn’t we hold both the quality and the quantity of human life precious? If equal fractions of every “quality level” suddenly died, wouldn’t that be bad?
2. Your list of low-quality people is both long and diverse – everyone from criminals to short people. Should we hope for the sudden death of every one of these groups? Just some of the groups? Where’s your breakeven point – i.e., the lowest-quality people better living than dead?
3. In the interview, you mention that we should “segregate, and even, perhaps, sterilize those among us who are unfit to become parents.” Why stop there? It seems like you should favor mass murder, too. If we hold only quality, not quantity, precious, isn’t mass murder a moral duty?
4. Are you really being fair to the Great War? Countries could rearrange their recruitment and deployment strategies to make the whole process eugenic. For example, they could exempt the best specimens from military service – or give them desk jobs.
5. Comparative advantage question for you: A doctor is the world’s best surgeon and the world’s fastest typist. Would he be better off if he hired a secretary – or murdered one?
We’ve learned so much from human genetic research. But when I read Fisher, I understand why the subject terrifies so many people. Hereditarianism combined with inane, half-baked moral philosophy does indeed logically imply Nazi-style homicidal mania. But don’t blame the facts of human genetics. Blame the inane, half-baked moral philosophy.