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Eugenics: The Progressive Race Policy

"...malevolent and ungodly social engineering."

Government imposed eugenicsEugenicsTreewikimedia was a progressive policy aimed at trying to prevent inferior groups from having children. A new book, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era by Princeton scholar Thomas Leonard highlights the history of this morally indefensible progressive policy. From the Princeton University Press:

Leonard meticulously reconstructs the influence of Darwinism, racial science, and eugenics on scholars and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing a reform community deeply ambivalent about America’s poor. Economic progressives championed labor legislation because it would lift up the deserving poor while excluding immigrants, African Americans, women, and "mental defectives," whom they vilified as low-wage threats to the American workingman and to Anglo-Saxon race integrity.

The progressives were certainly illiberal in the sense that they were opposed to classical liberalism, or what we call libertarianism today.

In any case, a review on the "dark history of liberal reform" over at The New Republic (historically the leading journalistic outlet for progressivism) observes:

It’s impossible to understand early twentieth-century progressives without eugenics. Even worker-friendly reforms like the minimum wage were part of a racial hygiene agenda. The progressives believed male Anglo-Saxons were the most productive workers, but immigrants and women were willing to accept lower wages and displaced white men. Capitalism was getting in the way of human improvement, promoting inferior genes for near-term profits. “Competition has no respect for the superior races,” Leonard quotes the economist John R. Commons on Jews. “The race with lowest necessities displaces others.” Commons found common cause with the xenophobic wing of the organized labor movement.

HealthySeedpamphletThe minimum wage, in addition to providing some workers with a better standard of living, would guard white men from competition. Leonard is worth reading at length:

A legal minimum wage, applied to immigrants and those already working in America, ensured that only the productive workers were employed. The economically unproductive, those whose labor was worth less than the legal minimum, would be denied entry, or, if already employed, would be idled. For economic reformers who regarded inferior workers as a threat, the minimum wage provided an invaluable service. It identified inferior workers by idling them. So identified, they could be dealt with. The unemployable would be removed to institutions, or to celibate labor colonies. The inferior immigrant would be removed back to the old country or to retirement. The woman would be removed to the home, where she could meet her obligations to family and race.

If Leonard didn’t have the quotes from prominent progressives to back up his claims, this would read like right-wing paranoia: The state’s most innocuous protections reframed as malevolent and ungodly social engineering. But his citations are genuine. Charles Cooley, a founding member of American Sociological Association, warned that providing health care and nutrition for black Americans could be “dysgenic” if not accompanied by population control. The eugenicists weren’t just dreaming: Between 1900 and the early 1980s, over 60,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized under the law.

A Reason review of the book is forthcoming. Stay tuned.

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    “Competition has no respect for the superior races,” Leonard quotes the economist John R. Commons on Jews. “The race with lowest necessities displaces others.” Commons found common cause with the xenophobic wing of the organized labor movement.

    To be fair to modern progressives, cutting out low-skilled, minority workers who may not have a great grasp of the language is just an accidental side-effect.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Charles Cooley, a founding member of American Sociological Association, warned that providing health care and nutrition for black Americans could be “dysgenic” if not accompanied by population control. The eugenicists weren’t just dreaming: Between 1900 and the early 1980s, over 60,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized under the law.

    Trust Institutions.

  • Harun||

    Government is what we do together.

    Now, hand me those clamps.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The Porn thread is next door.

  • sarcasmic||

    Funny how minimum wage, which is currently sold as a means of lifting people out of poverty, was originally sold as a means of putting people into poverty. I guess back then they had a bit of an understanding of the basics of economics, or maybe they were more honest.

  • PapayaSF||

  • Eman||

    hilarious! for a long long time i didnt understand why eugenics wouldnt work. I knew not to even mention it in "polite" company, and I still dont see why breeding people wouldnt work the same way it works for other animals if we had some omniscient god emperor who could think about things on an almost geological timescale, we're just nowhere even close to understanding the way genes express themselves, much less which genes we should breed for or against. and we cant think a hundred generations ahead. and i seriously doubt the ends would justify the means.

  • Just say Nikki||

    Three generations of illiberal left-centrists are enough.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    +1 judge

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    Bravo, worst.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Jonah Goldberg has been crowing about this review with a big fat I TOLD YOU SO

  • Ron Bailey||

    BJ: As it he should.

  • Restoras||

    Liberal Fascism was quite a revelation when I read it.

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    You should read actual fascist writings — what they talk about is nothing like what people say about fascism now.

    Including that silly list of 14 signs of fascism.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Government imposed eugenics was a progressive policy aimed at trying to prevent inferior groups from having children.

    "inferior"

    We offered the world scare quotes!

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    Leonard meticulously reconstructs the influence of Darwinism, racial science, and eugenics on scholars and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing a reform community deeply ambivalent about America’s poor. Economic progressives championed labor legislation because it would lift up the deserving poor while excluding immigrants, African Americans, women, and "mental defectives," whom they vilified as low-wage threats to the American workingman and to Anglo-Saxon race integrity.

    But never forget: we are the Social Darwinists.

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    To be fair, Richard Hofstadter never got part chapter 1 of Herbert Spencer's book.

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    never got past…

    DYAC!

  • ||

    You know who else wanted to check the seeds of hereditary disease and unfitness by eugenics...

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    Dr. Gallinger?

  • dschwar||

    Hugo Drax?

  • bacon-magic||

    Gregor Mendel?

  • Lee G||

    Walter Plecker?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    The same people who want to the the exact opposite thing with GMOs?

  • Loki||

    Dr. Moreau?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Unfitness?

    *thinks hard*

    Richard Simmons?

  • ||

    The first rule of being progressive is to project.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Projectives.

  • Microaggressor||

    Excellent.

  • Winston||

    The progressives were certainly illiberal in the sense that they were opposed to classical liberalism, or what we call libertarianism today.

    By that reasoning there have been very few liberals in the 20th century.

  • R C Dean||

    Its beginning to look like classical liberalism had a relatively short membership on the "political ideologies that matter" list (from, say, 1770ish through around 1900), and only in two countries (England and the US).

  • Citizen X||

    The ghosts of Bastiat and de Molinari would like a word with you. In French.

  • Marshall Gill||

    They would agree, with despair, that their beloved nation had never experienced any of it.

  • Mainer2||

    It is sad watching the beneficiaries of that ideology in their ignorance throw it away.

  • Eman||

    I really dont know if I want to live long enough to see the dystopia we're working so hard on

  • Harun||

    Celibate Labor Colony is that what they're calling Silicon Valley now?

    My other "witticism" just made that a band name.

    Yes, I have a day job.

  • Winston||

    It makes sense that the original progressives were eugenicists since they believed that White Anglo-Saxon European civilization had produced TOP MEN capable of creating utopia. And they were big believers in how Science and Technology would accomplish that.

    Even modern progressives, despite their blatherings about diversity, multiculturalism and protecting native cultures, really are about imposing western white European ideals on the whole world. Though they don't gush about how Science and Technology will create utopia anymore. Well only Green Tech apparently.

  • Citizen X||

    From observing and talking to progressives over the years, i've come to realize that progressivism isn't just illiberal - it's based firmly on the Hobbesian notion that the natural state of mankind (without a sovereign to enforce morality) is the "war of all against all," making it a sort of revenant preliberal philosophy. Of course, this means that the progressive view of human nature discounts 400-odd years of developments in economics, evolutionary biology, psychology, game theory, etc. that suggest that cooperation is an innate and important feature of being human.

  • PapayaSF||

    I will admit to mixed feeling on the subject. That doesn't mean that I think people should be dragged off and sterilized, but I don't think it's necessarily wrong to be concerned with genetic health, and for people to take voluntary steps to improve it, and for society and government to not take steps to make it worse.

    Long ago, I had a married coworker who, for personal and religious reasons, wanted lots of kids. Their first kid had some birth defects, and the doctor told them to not have more, because they were also likely to have severe problems. This advice was ignored, and (IIRC) by the time I left the company, they had three disabled kids, and the rest of us at the (relatively small) company had higher health insurance costs as a result. Sorry, but I don't think it's terrible to say that they shouldn't have had (biological) children.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The desire to collectivize everything breeds the desire to limit others' behavior.

  • PapayaSF||

    But we have to admit there is some degree of collectivizing in human society, whether we like it or not. If people have kids who are destined for the public dole (or on a private dole that I also help pay for), I don't think it's illegitimate for me to at least voice objections. Do you?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'll pay the extra healthcare costs because the idea of forced abortions is too horrifying to contemplate.

  • PapayaSF||

    I am not advocating forced abortions, or forced anything. I just think that thinking in terms of genetic health is a good thing, and that the government should certainly not promote dysgenic policies, which it currently does.

  • spqr2008||

    I have no problem with you voicing your concerns, but, at the same time, have a violent disgust reaction to the ideas of genetic health (I was born 5 weeks early, and have a few genetic problems that would logically have me not being born, even if they don't result in a dependence on government handouts). That, and my high school was 1/5 Jewish, with about half of that population German background Jews. I know people whose grandparents and great aunts and uncles were in concentration camps, and one girl only exists because her grandfather was able to be passed off as a Catholic kid in Italy after escaping Germany in the late 30s. And I understand you are trying to approach this from a rational perspective, but this issue creates that kind of disgust reaction in the vast majority of people, and I would even venture to say, even most libertarians, who are usually immune to that kind of disgust reaction.

  • PapayaSF||

    I don't disagree. It's a very loaded subject.

  • GILMORE™||

    "Magazine that supported holocaust-denial criticizes attempts to improve mankind"

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    Don't you think you're laying the irony on too deep for parodying Progressives?

    It needs to be a bit more simplistic.

  • Rt. Hon. Judge Woodrow Chipper||

    a progressive policy aimed at trying to prevent inferior groups from having children.

    Modern progressives are just hung up on giving free birth control to everyone. Especially blacks, Hispanics, college students, professional women. You know, inferior groups.

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    What I find most interesting about evolution and eugenics is that scientists develop a theory — evolution — and it's immediately applied to humans by law and in practice.

    Not unlike climate science…

  • Flemur||

    Galton's eugenic ideas didn't involve any use of force, like involuntary sterilization.

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