Eugenics and the Biological Justification of Economic Exploitation in Southern Italy

Three Quarks Daily has just published a new excerpt from a work-in-progress of mine on the roots of early twentieth-century eugenicist thought and its impact on US immigration—and its unlikely roots in Southern Italy post-Risorgimento.

“The criminologist Cesare Lombroso, a former army surgeon and head of an insane asylum who became professor of forensic medicine and hygiene in 1878, professor of psychiatry in 1896, and professor of criminal anthropology in 1906, held that the people of the South were ‘evolutionary throwbacks’ lacking in Aryan blood. According to this theory, a congenital inferiority forestalled the mental and emotional development of Southern Italians and was largely to blame for their historical backwardness. Criminality, and particularly the criminality of the South, was therefore hereditary, and identifiable through a specific set of physical traits in keeping with an earlier state of human evolution. Ape-like features such as a low-set brow, long arms, protruding jaw, and other anatomical peculiarities—atavistic anomalies of the body that were closer to a ‘savage,’ animal state—unmistakably identified the ‘born criminal.’”

Read the essay here.

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