Neville Chamberlain, eugenicist and bird-watcher: a man for our times?

The grandson of Neville Chamberlain is launching a campaign to rehabilitate the memory of the ill-fated Conservative Prime Minister who made a short-lived peace with Hitler.

In the lead-up to the 80th anniversary of Chamberlain's death in 1940, an effort is being made to reframe his contribution to history – not only in his attempts to keep Britain out of World War II, but also as “one of our great unsung conservation pioneers”.

in an interview with the London Telegraph, his grandson, James Lloyd, while acknowledging Churchill's posthumous tributes to Chamberlain, criticises Winston Churchill in dismissing his grandfather's legacy. In The Gathering Storm, Churchill spoke of the futility of appeasement and need to stand up to dictators. In a sense Chamberlain was a victim of his successor’s towering reputation. As Churchill told Roosevelt and Stalin at the 1943 Tehran Conference 'history will judge us kindly'. Why? 'Because I shall write the history'.

History's illegitimate offspring, hindsight, has not been kind to Chamberlain, but hindsight was a luxury not available to Churchill in 1943. And Churchill wrote just one history of the War. There has been plenty of opportunity for other historians to correct his version – but most have not.

Nonetheless, Nicholas Milton, in his new book Neville Chamberlain's Legacy: Hitler, Munich and the Path to War, 'argues that Chamberlain's policy of appeasement was borne (sic) out of the horrors of the First World War, in particular the death of his favourite cousin Norman, who had served with him on Birmingham council'.

Although many ordinary people favoured appeasement for that very reason, as a philosophy there was a great deal more to it, much of which was not so admirable in intent. Just after Remembrance Day, at the time when left-wing commentators and others are calling into question the very idea of remembrance, it would be good to restate some of these forgotten details of history.

Ironically for a country that defeated Hitler, it was Britain that gave birth to Hitler's malign influences, Malthusianism and eugenics. Under these influences the Great War was seen as a racial disaster; eugenicists saw the European races killing each other, to the benefit of the 'lesser races'. The eugenically superior had been killed off while cowards and weaklings 'sat it out' at home. Consequently, while they approved of the killing of the 'inferior' in their own nation, many British eugenicists were loath to go to war against those 'superior' representatives of the Aryan race, the Germans.

Malthusians saw 'overpopulation' as the cause of wars, and advocated cutting the birth rate. It is no coincidence that Neville Chamberlain was a member of the Eugenics Society.

It may be relevant as well that he was the second cousin of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a British political philosopher who was besotted with Germany. In August 1914, he wrote, “Germany's victory will not be England's ruin; quite the contrary, it is the only hope for England's rescue from the total ruin in which she now stands. England's victory will be terrible for the whole world, a catastrophe.” At the height of World War I, in 1916, he became a German citizen.

Fiercely anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic, Houston Stewart Chamberlain contended that the Germans were the purest of the Aryans. His best-selling book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899) went through several editions. Hitler was very fond of him and attended his burial at Bayreuth cemetery in 1927.

Such ideas are thought to have been killed off by the War against Nazi Germany, but they have been making a stealthy resurgence. In an age when we respect diversity, we kill the disabled unborn up to birth and campaign to give the disabled and old the right to die; we allow pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to weed out defective embryos, and we use abortion as an ethnic cleanser against non-white populations – all in the name of choice and compassion.

Nicholas Milton highlights Chamberlain's passion for nature and role in helping to create the Campaign to protect Rural England and the Wildlife Trusts. He was an avid birdwatcher and set up nesting boxes in the garden of 10 Downing Street.

In Birmingham, where Chamberlain served as MP for Edgbaston, there is now some interest in erecting a statue of Chamberlain (it would be his first). There are also plans for a plaque in honour of his conservation legacy in St James's Park in London. Backers of the plan include the official historian of the Conservative party, Lord Lexden, and TV presenter and wildlife campaigner Chris Packham.

It is appropriate that this initiative should have the support of Mr Packham, a well-known advocate of population control. Peacemaker, wildlife and nature lover – and believing that the enlightened few should control the quality and quantity of the lesser-evolved human population, Chamberlain put the racist, elitist warmonger Churchill to shame. No wonder he is increasingly being seen as a man for our times.

Churchill's weaknesses were well known during his lifetime. Indeed, his opponents never ceased talking about them. If he had bungled the War and had been forced to make peace with the Nazis, he would be remembered as a villain and Chamberlain as a hero. Of course, if we had lost the War Hitler would have written our history for us – and we would have been history.

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002). 


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