Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dubious Heritage

Quick question: If you had to name the political party in the U.S. which has historically been home to supporters of forced sterilization and other eugenicist schemes would you pick A. Republican or B. Democrat? If you answered B. give yourself an attaboy.

From The Federalist:
Most people close their eyes to unpleasantness in their past. Political movements do the same thing on a grander scale. Nowhere is this truer than in the willful blindness of twenty-first-century progressives to their early twentieth-century counterparts’ embrace of eugenics.

Eugenics, the theory that social policies must be enacted to cull the “bad genes” from society, was popular among progressives across the developed world, including the United States. What constituted “bad genes” was, according to its proponents, a matter of scientific consensus. Today we would call it racism and classism.

After seeing the end result of such ideas in the Holocaust, progressives naturally sought to bury their connection to this genocidal concept, and succeeded in doing so, at least when they can discredit conservatives who persist in mentioning it. That problem bubbled to the surface last week when Bloomberg’s economist and writer Noah Smith tweeted, “Apparently some people believe that eugenics was the scientific consensus 100 years ago. Sounds like a total myth to me.”

That historical denialism did not go unnoticed. The editors of The New Atlantis, among others, pointed out the dangerous historical ignorance at work in that statement. Indeed, they went further than Smith and cracked a book or two to back up their points.
So what did the New Atlantis come up with?
Citing from Edwin Black’s 2003 book, “War Against the Weak,” they described the scientific consensus on eugenics, with eugenicists “firmly entrenched in the biology, zoology, social science, psychology and anthropology departments of the nation’s leading institutions of higher learning.” The belief trickled down to high schools. A 1914 biology textbook, “A Civic Biology,” written by George William Hunter and issued by the nation’s largest book publisher, held that:
When people marry, there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. […] epilepsy and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well-born is called eugenics.
In case it is not clear what the author means, he goes on to describe what should be done about families that are not practitioners of “the science of being well-born.”
Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money…. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe, and are now meeting with success in this country.
There's much else in the Federalist article in this vein. The subtext, usually tacit rather than explicit, is that the people most in need of sterilization were minorities, and the people who held these views were the ideological grandparents of today's progressive left. It's not a heritage in which one can take much pride.

The article concludes with this:
Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was a leading eugenicist. In 1921, she wrote that “the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit’ [is] admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization” and that “the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” Time magazine sought to put this fact in context in a 2016 article, noting that in “the 1920s and 1930s, eugenics enjoyed widespread support from mainstream doctors, scientists and the general public.” Yes, yes it did.

Everything about 1910s and ‘20s progressives echoes in their modern intellectual descendants a century later. Absolute trust in government to do what is right. Certitude in their own scientific correctness, despite having seen “settled science” become unsettled with each generation. Knowing what is best for their fellow citizens, and the willingness to use force to overrule doubt and dissent....But most of all, there is the repeated theme, the fervent belief that some people are not people, not really, not in any way that would make them deserve rights and liberty.
The left is not only currently threatening free speech on university campuses, it has historically been the strongest advocate of racist eugenics ideas. Put those two together and it's easier to understand why people talk about liberal fascism.