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Time and again, then, we can see how biological ideas were distorted to ideological ends. Peter Morton suggests that late nineteenth-century biology offered up ‘malleable’ concepts, quite ready to ‘plasticise under pressure and ready to fill every cranny of whatever mould had been prepared to receive them’. The tension between evolutionary ‘progressivism’ and ‘degeneration’ is a powerful case in point – and it also shows that philosophical and scientific ideas themselves helped to reshape the very moulds into which they flowed. As we shall encounter in different shapes and forms, a growing fear at European populations’ biological proximity to their ‘others’ gave birth to ever more noxious attempts to shore up a sense of cultural, moral, and racial superiority.

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