Unfortunately for the champions of classical liberalism, laissez-faire ideology was not without its own favorite sociobiological theories. Thus, Pichot writes on the subject of positive and negative eugenics (bold text reflects my emphasis):
"The word 'eugenics' was invented by [Francis] Galton in 1883 from the Greek eugenes meaning 'well born.' It claimed to be based on Darwinism and genetics, or, more exactly, on the application of these to human societyMore directly, Pichot discusses the issue of liberalism, Social Darwinism and eugenics by writing:
Two forms of genetics are generally distinguished: negative and positive.
Negative eugenics seeks to prevent the multiplication of individuals deemed 'inferior' from a biological, psychological or intellectual point of view. It postulates that this inferiority is hereditary and seeks to prohibit the individuals in question from having children - or, more rarely, advises them against doing so. The methods employed are more or less brutal and coercive: the banning of marriage, imprisonment, but above all sterilization (which is particularly the issue here when we speak about eugenics). The harshest version is the pure and simple elimination of so-called inferior individuals by Nazi Germany.
Positive eugenics, on the other hand, seeks to improve society by encouraging the reproduction of 'superior' individuals, in the extreme case organizing this either through human 'stud farms,' where chosen reproducers are asked to procreate, or with the aid of sperm banks whose repositories have been donated by great men (nowadays, egg banks could also be envisaged).
These two forms of eugenics are distinguished from social Darwinism - a different application of evolutionism to human society - in that they are based on a more or less strong intervention of the state by way of constraining legislation. Social Darwinism, on the contrary, is a laissez-faire doctrine that rejects state intervention. It is an extreme liberalism, even rejecting protective social legislation, with the goal of enabling selection to do its work in society as it supposedly does in nature, i.e., by eliminating the least competitive individuals. Historically, the liberal form was conceived first, with the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, whereas eugenics was only theorized somewhat later in the 1880s.
Social Darwinism, and both negative and positive eugenics, are related and interacting doctrines. They come in a pessimistic version (when they claim to struggle against the degeneration induced by the disappearance of natural selection in human society) and an optimistic version (when they claim to improve the human species and produce supermen, after the model of the improvement of breeds of domestic animal).
The motivations behind them, whether avowed or implicit, are very diverse. They run from pure and simple economics (damaged individuals cost society dearly)- hence measures such as a charity that would seek to spare unfortunate individuals the wretched life awaiting them in a world for which they are not adapted - through to an idealism that may be racial or aesthetic or espouse a certain virtue (the production of supermen who are beautiful, intelligent, healthy, efficient, etc.). These diverse motivations can be combined in different proportions." (Pichot 2009: 110-11).
"Apart from the Catholic Church and the Lysenko school in the Soviet Union, the only current of thought that avoided any compromise with eugenics was extreme liberalism of the Anglo-Saxon type, which rejected the intervention of law and the state into what it saw as pertaining only to private life. Very often, however, such liberals appealed to social Darwinism, claiming that the abolition of all socially protective legislation would re-establish natural selection as a sorting mechanism in society; the 'invisible hand' would then be at work in human biology just as in economics. From this point of view, the alcoholic worker might well have a whole tribe of children - often defective- but as he could neither feed nor care for them, they would die off. It was a kind of liberal optimism, opposed to the pessimism of the champions of state intervention who would impose sterilization on alcoholics." (Pichot 2009: 126-127).Pichot's analysis of the ideology of Social Darwinism and its relationship to laissez-faire liberalism should give pause to modern libertarians who think that their ideology is the only modern political tradition that is free from the stench of dehumanizing sociobiological thought.
Pichot, André. The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler (New York: Verso, 2009).