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Open Access Racial ‘Sterility’ and ‘Hyperfecundity’ in Fascist Italy. Biological Politics of Sex and Reproduction

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Racial ‘Sterility’ and ‘Hyperfecundity’ in Fascist Italy. Biological Politics of Sex and Reproduction

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This article explores a new dimension in fascist studies, eugenic studies, and the more mainstream history of Italy, Europe, and modernity. It asks scholars to reconsider the centrality of race and biology to the political programme of Italian fascism in power. Fascism’s ‘binomial theorem’ of optimum population change was characterized as a commitment both to increase the ‘quantity’ (number) and improve the ‘quality’ (biology) of the Italian ‘race’. These twin objectives came to fruition in the new scientific and political paradigm known to contemporaries as ‘biological politics’ and to scholars today as ‘biopolitics’. Fascism, this article contends, attempted to utilize the full force of the new ‘biopower’ of reproductive and biogenetic medicine and science in order to realize the aims of its biopolitical agenda for racial betterment through fertility increase. In Italy, fascism encouraged science to tamper with the processes of human reproduction and to extend genetic understanding of diseases which were seen as ‘conquerable’ without sterilization and euthanasia. It began a biotechnological ‘revolution’ that historians often attribute to twenty-first-century science. By exploring the technical innovations in assisted conception which Italian fascism promoted, this article challenges the assumption in much of the scholarship that there was a huge divide between the ‘old’ eugenics of the interwar period and the ‘new’ genetics of recent decades.

Affiliations: 1: Formerly Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, Queen Mary, University of London. Currently Senior Research Fellow in Modern History, University of East Anglia and Visiting Fellow, History of Science, Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, M.Quine@uea.ac.uk

10.1163/22116257-00201003
/content/journals/10.1163/22116257-00201003
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This article explores a new dimension in fascist studies, eugenic studies, and the more mainstream history of Italy, Europe, and modernity. It asks scholars to reconsider the centrality of race and biology to the political programme of Italian fascism in power. Fascism’s ‘binomial theorem’ of optimum population change was characterized as a commitment both to increase the ‘quantity’ (number) and improve the ‘quality’ (biology) of the Italian ‘race’. These twin objectives came to fruition in the new scientific and political paradigm known to contemporaries as ‘biological politics’ and to scholars today as ‘biopolitics’. Fascism, this article contends, attempted to utilize the full force of the new ‘biopower’ of reproductive and biogenetic medicine and science in order to realize the aims of its biopolitical agenda for racial betterment through fertility increase. In Italy, fascism encouraged science to tamper with the processes of human reproduction and to extend genetic understanding of diseases which were seen as ‘conquerable’ without sterilization and euthanasia. It began a biotechnological ‘revolution’ that historians often attribute to twenty-first-century science. By exploring the technical innovations in assisted conception which Italian fascism promoted, this article challenges the assumption in much of the scholarship that there was a huge divide between the ‘old’ eugenics of the interwar period and the ‘new’ genetics of recent decades.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22116257-00201003
2012-01-01
2016-12-04

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