“Quality goes hand in hand with quantity”: French Interwar Eugenic Ideology

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University of New Brunswick


The French Eugenics Society (Société Français Eugénique, SFE) motto “Quality Goes Hand in Hand with Quantity” defined interwar French eugenics. There is a lasting perception that the SFE practiced positive Lamarckian eugenics that focused on improving the social wellbeing of their citizens. However, the SFE were also concerned with ensuring the “quality” of the French population. To that end, as early as the 1920s members of the SFE advocated for negative Mendelian eugenics. While they realized that they faced major obstacles given the pronatalist movement in France, the democratic ideals of the Third Republic, and the shifting political landscape, they continued to promote their views into the 1930s. The Vichy regime established in 1940 is often regarded as a turning point in French eugenics. Mendelian conceptions of eugenics, however, were gaining influence throughout the interwar years and developments after 1940 represent continuation and growth of the movement.