Archive for June 3rd, 2010

Programming Note: June will likely be a very light month for new articles, as one writer is currently overseas and I will be tied up most of the month w/ my son’s graduation and a 19-day camping trip out west.

Over the past months, a number of the books/articles I’ve read have dovetailed into discussions of historical eugenics and/or abortion – or both.   Until this past year, I had not been very versed on the history of either, apart from 1) eugenics being discredited by Hitler’s application of it in searching for a “master race” of Aryans; and 2) abortion in the US, post- Roe v. Wade.  What I’ve found has been eye-opening (though probably not for those with a better grasp on early 20th Century history).


For those of you unfamiliar with eugenics, it is basically the selective and intentional breeding of humans – whether overtly (as with German race laws, selective sterilization, euthanasia) or passively (via social norming and marketing) – in order to improve the biological makeup of a community.

While overt support of eugenics is now considered anathema in polite society, it was the rage of the American progressive movement in the early 1900’s, along with many European countries in the same time period.   During this period of time, the progressive movement was enamored with the idea of nations being managed (for their own good) by scientific experts and gifted technocrats.  Diseases and social problems, they believed, could be “engineered out” of society within a couple of generations through biological means.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a progressive US Supreme Court justice, was a key proponent of eugenics, which he made clear in numerous writings, including the infamous Buck v. Bell decision, which upheld state-instituted, forced sterilization of the institutionalized and mentally disabled.  At the time, he wrote to a friend ” I … delivered an opinion upholding the constitutionality of a state law for sterilizing imbeciles the other day – and felt that I was getting near the first principle of real reform.”

Other key progressive figures in America and Europe – John Maynard Keynes (the founding stone of progressive economics), H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, Harold Laski, George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson – were also vocal public supporters of eugenics.  Wilson, the year before becoming the President of the US, as governor of New Jersey supported and signed into law legislation to create in his state, the Board of Examiners of Feebleminded, Epileptics, and Other Defectives, whose purpose was to determine for whom procreation would not be advisable.  A number of progressive church leaders, including Harry Emerson Fosdick, John A Ryan, and John Haynes Holmeswere also involved in selling eugenics to the public.  [It should be noted, though, that one of the most prominently outspoken critic of eugenics was the abashedly apolitical theologican G. K. Chesterton.  In fact, he endured a great deal of public scorn from progressive Christians and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for his writings against the practice of eugenics.]

During this time, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune helped to fund a program which informed some of Josef Mengele’s work, and led to the forced sterilization of 60,000 American children who were classified as “feebleminded” – poor whites, blacks, Eastern European Jews, Native Americans, and other “genetically inferior” individuals.  It should be noted that some of this work happened after the Nuremberg Trials, post-WWII. (For a full discussion on this, read War Against the Weak by historian Edwin Black.)

It should be noted that, while much of the Nazi eugenics movement was fueled by antisemitism and purely racist motives, not all of the American and European supporters of this progressive endeavor were driven by race.  Instead, race selection was more of a biproduct.  Many of the American eugenics supporters felt that it was for the public good that the poor, the weak, the “criminal class”, the disabled, and the “feeble minded” – all of which were disproportionately made up of minorities and poor southern whites – not be allowed to continue to breed.

Much of the progressive “public health movement” was grounded in eugenics and its infatuation with race, which was infamously on display with the Tuskegee Experiment, which was borne out of the best intentions (improvement of the health and well-being of African Americans), but implemented in reprehensible and underhanded fashion.

How does this carry on to today?

Jonah Goldberg, in Liberal Fascism, follows this eugenic thread and its ties to modern politics:

What is today called liberalism stands, domestically, on three legs: support for the welfare state, abortion, and identity politics.

Each of these three key “legs”, Goldberg traces from its roots in the eugenics movement.

The minimum wage laws, for example, were originally instituted in order to keep “unemployables” (the underclass targeted by eugenicists) from finding work.

It was [Sidney] Webb’s belief, shared by many of the progressive economists affiliated with the American Economic Association, that establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables’ worth would lock them out of the market, accelerating their elimination [...] Since the inferior races were content to live closer to a filthy state than the Nordic man, the savages did not require a living wage.  Hence, if you raised the minimum wages to a civilized level, employers wouldn’t hire such miscreants in preference to “fitter” specimens, making them less likely to reproduce and, if necessary, easier targets for forced sterilization.

The Davis-Bacon act, considered a bedrock law by modern unions, was established specifically to prevent poor blacks (who were not unionized) from “taking” jobs from whites (who tended to be unionized).  And on, and on.  He does note that even though these laws were established either partially or primarily for eugenic reasons, modern support for these laws does not necessarily come from the same source as the original motivation.

Obviously, the deliberate racist intent of many of these policies was not shared by subsequent generations of liberals.  But that didn’t erase the racial content of the policies themselves.  The Davis-Bacon Act still hurts low-wage blacks, for example.  FDR’s labor and agricultural policies threw millions of blacks out of work and off their land.  The great migration of African-Americans to northern cities was in no small part a result of the success of progressive policies.  Black leaders didn’t call the National Recovery Administration, or NRA, the “Negro Run Around” for nothing. [...]

Economically, as Thomas Sowell has cataloged, the biggest drop in black poverty took place during the two decades before the Great Society.  In the 1970’s, when the impact of the Great Society programs was fully realized, the trend of black economic improvement stopped almost entirely.

And then came Roe v. Wade.

From Eugenics to Abortion

As I noted above, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was an early supporter of eugenics.  Even today, she is a highly-esteemed hero figure of the American left.  In reality, though, she was monstrously racist, and her primary support of abortion was for eugenic purposes – to eliminate blacks and other “undesirable” elements of society through their own self-selection.  It is not an accident that Planned Parenthood’s clinics, from the beginning, were primarily targeted to poor, urban communities.

From early in her public life, Sanger was a supporter of forced-sterilization laws, bans on the “unfit” from reproduction, and licensing of reproduction for those deemed “fit” to reproduce.  She pursued these policies on a number of fronts – from creation of the American Birth Control League to the philosophies behind the Zero Population Growth movement late in her life.  Early on, she wrote:

It now remains for the U.S. government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit.

Since the government was not moving fast enough for her, she took action to make this philosophical desire a reality.  It is not an accident that Planned Parenthood’s clinics, from the beginning, were primarily targeted to poor, urban communities, and that one of the “benefits” of this arrangement was the purpose of reducing crime by reducing the minority and poor-white population.  In 1939, Sanger launched the “Negro Project“, whose goals were ostensibly to introduce “responsible birth control” into the southern black population, but whose goals were essentially to eventually eliminate it.

But what about the results of Sanger’s work?

Today in America, more than 30% of abortions are performed on African-American women, even though the African-Americans only make up 12% of the population.  More than half of the black babies conceived in America are aborted.  This is higher than any other demographic group.

Read that again.

I first became aware of this, along with the eugenic component of abortion in America, when reading Freakonomics last fall.  In it, the authors describe the nationwide precipitous drop in the crime rate in the mid-1990’s, and the array of explanations given for it by various experts.  Using the rich economic and statistical data available on crime and demographics, they were able to definitively tie the steep drop in the crime rate to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Once again, Sanger’s work has borne the results she intended it to, whether or not her modern supporters ever had such expectations or intentions.

So What?

The church I grew up in is part of the Restoration Movement, whose purpose was to try and “restore” the church as it had been founded by Christ and his disciples, stripped of all of the later creeds and codes and systematic theologies – the “theological drift” of the ages.  In it, I grew to have a great appreciation for going back to the roots of a movement – not just the church – to see where the original trees grew, and the original intents of the founders.

As such, I’ve spent much of the past decade in my personal “enjoyment” reading learning about Hebrew Roots, the roots of modern science, the roots of America, and now, the roots of political thought.  As such, I’ve come to appreciate that even if the members of a movement today do not hold the exact views of its founders, they are inexorably shaped by them.

Not only are they shaped by them, but it takes an incredibly amount of will and purposeful patience from them to rip a movement from its roots and move it somewhere else – for good or ill.  As such, as I have studied the early 1900’s and the political & ethical movements borne from these decades, I’ve found that many of their aims have succeeded – for good or ill – and that many of their followers have no clue what they’ve bought into, or – like in the case of abortion and other progressive sacred cows – that they’ve become energetic imbibers of the fruit of a poisoned tree.

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