Any historical appraisal of the eugenics movement needs to step carefully to avoid imposing the values of the late 20th-century upon eugenicists, especially concerning the question of motivation. The legitimate, scientific framework of the eugenics movement, a mainstream view at the beginning of the century, has been for the most part abandoned by scientists in the years since then. Similarly, to a great extent, racialist thinking, and in particular white supremacy, was neither questioned nor challenged among the white-dominated intelligentsia of the time. At the same time, the fact that white supremacist views were more acceptable in white society at the turn of the century still allows for gradations of focus and virulence; the question of the extent to which hereditarian arguments may have functioned as a pretext for a movement primarily concerned with the continuation of social and political dominance by upper-class, Protestant men of Anglo-Saxon background is unavoidable. The roots of the eugenics movement have been traced variously to social Darwinism; social purity, voluntary motherhood, and the perfectionists; the naturalist tradition; Malthus and the neo-Malthusians; and the Progressive political and social movement.
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