Population Bomb, Great Replacement Theory, and Pronatalism

Biopolitical Times
Image of an open door on a grey field, with the words: "A Century of Eugenics on our Borders. Population Bomb, The Great Replacement Theory and Pronatalism," in red text.

Image from Population Bomb, Great Replacement Theory, and Pronatalism

The panel “Population Bomb, Great Replacement Theory, and Pronatalism” took place as part of the two-day symposium A Century of Eugenics on our Borders, which focused on eugenics in the context of immigration across US borders throughout the past 100 years. Lisa Ikemoto, Professor at UC Davis School of Law and member of the CGS Advisory Board, chaired the conversation.

Emily Merchant, Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies at UC Davis and author of Building the Population Bomb, began with a brief history of the influence of eugenic thinking about immigration into the United States. She delved into two key approaches to 19th-century thought surrounding populations, Mathusianism and mercantilism. 

Merchant described Malthusianism as the idea that all human misfortune is a result of the population “pressing on the limits of subsistence,” while mercantilism holds the opposite – that population growth is a sign of good government and “the primary source of economic dynamism and geopolitical strength.” Merchant explained that the compromise between these two thought patterns – the idea that population growth is good as long as it is driven by families who can support themselves – was a foundation of ideas about population control, the focus of the next presentation.

Rajani Bhatia, Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Albany, continued the conversation by describing how population control continues to be shaped directly and indirectly by eugenic perspectives. Bhatia referenced the 2022 racist mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that killed ten Black people. In his manifesto, the shooter justified his actions by stating, “kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.” His words echoed media and online cultural influencers who have popularized the "great replacement theory.” In the words of Bhatia, they “transmit the idea that liberal elites are strategically allowing and facilitating mass immigration of non-white peoples to replace white populations that are already on the decline.” 

This concept, which builds on the century-old eugenic “panic of population decline” or “white genocide,” is an ugly and persistent narrative that surrounds both immigration into the United States and international population control policy. According to some, the world has too many people; others say the opposite. Both viewpoints encourage the continuation of outdated population control policies. In actuality, as Bhatia tells us, there is no ideal population size.

Anne Hendrixson, Senior Policy Analyst for Challenging Population Control at Collective Power, expanded on Bhatia’s points by elaborating on the ways that eugenics persists in the modern world. As an example, she drew attention to “the Republican adoption of the word 'invasion’ as an “anti-immigrant rallying cry.” Many Republican media figures warn of an immigrant invasion of the US, spearheaded by the Democratic party, that will take jobs away from Americans. This threat is often heard from Donald Trump, who has also claimed that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”

This type of rhetoric, Hendrixson pointed out, goes hand-in-hand with the rise of natalism: Anti-immigrant sentiment is accompanied by promotion of increased birth rates within the United States. Hendrixson referenced Tucker Carlson and Stephen Miller, two Fox News anchors, who warn of a “Malthusian nightmare” as a result of too many immigrants, “competing for US resources and making social cohesion impossible.” Republican figureheads blame abortions for the perceived decline in birth rates within the US, with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, lamentintg “over 63 million people” that “have been murdered in the womb.” 

Marcy Darnovsky, CGS executive director, began by describing an article from the UK Telegraph Magazine about a family selecting “superior children” with a technique that claims to “pick the smartest embryo.” Simone and Malcolm Collins, who have been profiled by multiple media outlets, have become the public face of polygenic embryo scoring. They say that they are “breeding to save the world,” a project they share with high-profile Silicon Valley figures like Elon Musk. 

While their claims about selecting among IVF-produced embryos for complex traits among are dubious at best, tests that promise to do just that are already available from two startups, Genomic Prediction and Orchid. They receive a batch of IVF embryos and analyze them using risk scores derived from proprietary algorithms built from genome-wide association studies. They then rank the embryos on their risk of developing an array of conditions and behavioral traits, which allows clients to choose the embryo with which they would like to establish a pregnancy. While these two companies do not currently score for IQ or for intelligence, others are willing to identify the embryos they say have the highest predicted educational achievement. 

Darnovsky noted that marketing claims about selecting the “best” embryos – or, if using genome editing on embryos is ever permitted, engineering them – would be a commercial temptation for the notoriously unregulated fertility industry. If these practices took hold, the resulting children could be seen as “biologically superior,” exacerbating pernicious and discredited eugenic ideas. 

See more about the two-day symposium A Century of Eugenics on our Borders, including the full program of the event, and a recording of the panel Population Bomb, The Great Replacement Theory and Pronatalism.


Kyla Rosin is supported by Collective Power for Reproductive Justice.