Alfred Beutner Bramsen (1851-1932)

Dentist and nutritionist, MA dentistry 1869, Dr. chir & dent. 1871.

Alfred Bramsen was a pioneer in the so-called raw-food movement around 1900. He agitated in pamphlets and lectures for the importance of eating natural food and thoroughly chewing it in order to improve digestion and avoid diseases such as cancer. Moreover, he was one of the few Danish advocates of eugenics before World War I. In an article published in the radical-liberal highbrow monthly Det Ny Aarhundrede [The New Century] in 1909, he celebrated the anniversary of Darwinism by embracing neo-Darwinism (August Weismann), mutation theory (Hugo de Vries) and eugenics (Francis Galton) and rejecting Lamarckian factors in the evolutionary process. According to Bramsen, the combination of natural selection, mutations and the laws of heredity resulted in a biologically deterministic view of the human race which made social reform and individual improvements insufficient for the prevention of racial degeneration. In line with trains of thought in other Western countries, Bramsen argued that political initiatives were necessary in order to check the proliferation of ‘tainted’ and ‘hopeless’ families. Like Galton, Bramsen suggested restrictions on marriage. There were, however, limits to Bramsen’s biological determinism. He emphasised that nurture, especially nutrition, played an important role for individual health and argued that it could improve the race indirectly by pacing certain beneficial variations. Bramsen regretted that people were indifferent to the question of eugenics and that the state did not play an active part in breeding out unfortunate hereditary predispositions. In his pamphlet Eugenik: De Velbårne og de Belastede [Eugenics: The Noble and the Tainted] (Copenhagen: Martins Forlag, 1912) written in the aftermath of the first international eugenics congress in London, Bramsen sharpened and expanded his argument. He now warned against the ‘yellow danger’ of the Chinese race and urged politicians to support forced sterilisation and polygamy in order to improve the white race. In the 1920s Danish politicians ranging from socialists to liberals became receptive to eugenic ideas advocated by Bramsen and others, and a comprehensive sterilisation programme of what was regarded as mentally ill and retarded citizens was initiated.               

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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