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Eugenics and the Welfare State in Sweden: The Politics of Social Margins and the Idea of a Productive Society

Alberto Spektorowski and Elisabet Mizrachi
Journal of Contemporary History
Vol. 39, No. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp. 333-352
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180732
Page Count: 20
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Eugenics and the Welfare State in Sweden: The Politics of Social Margins and the Idea of a Productive Society
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Abstract

This article focuses on the ideological and political role of Social Democracy in the enactment of eugenic policies in Sweden during the 1930s and 1940s. At first sight, these policies, which could be defined as 'welfare eugenics', are in contrast to the 'racist' romantic and mythically-based eugenic policies often promoted by conservatives and national socialists. This article analyses this claim by focusing on the productivist reasoning of eugenics. It maintains first and foremost that although the ideological core of Swedish Social Democracy remained reformist and universalistic, there were strong tendencies towards a Fabian concept of industrial democracy and an exclusionist concept of social welfare. This was the basis for social eugenics: a welfare community for 'the fittest'. Second, it stresses the role of Social Democracy in ensuring a broad basis of support for social policies in general appealing to the concern for national popular quality with which members of the right-wing bloc could identify. Special attention is paid to the efforts to achieve a parliamentary majority in favour of a blend of biological and social concepts rendered legitimate by scientific arguments. The article suggests that when reformist socialism stresses the values of productivity, social efficiency and the idea of a healthy society, it erodes the basis of legitimacy for rising social expenditure, providing yet another reason for exclusionist eugenic policies. In this way, in spite of its universalist credo, Social Democracy moved closer to more problematic examples of national socialism.

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