February 12, 2007


Happy Darwin Day!: Celebrating mankind's discovery of eugenics (David Klinghoffer, 02/12/2007, Weekly Standard)

Darwin Day, as it's called, is meant to be cheerful, with a bit of good-natured triumphalism, marking what celebrants see as the intellectual victory of Darwinism, the theory of evolution by the purely material mechanism of natural selection. But set aside the scientific legacy for a moment to consider the less frequently discussed question of Darwin's moral heritage. This year happens to mark another anniversary as well: a tragic one, strongly linked to Darwinian theory.

As of 2007, it is exactly a century since the key turning point in the Darwin-inspired American eugenic movement. In 1907, the state of Indiana achieved the distinction of becoming the world's first government entity to enforce sterilization of institutionalized "idiots," "imbeciles," and other individuals deemed genetically "unfit." The idea caught on.

With Washington and California following in 1909, some 30 states eventually passed similar compulsory sterilization laws by the early 1930s. California was the leader in the field, accounting for half of the coercive sterilizations in the years leading up to World War II.

By 1958 some 60,000 American citizens had been sterilized against their will. Only the horrors of Nazism succeeded in casting a pall over America's romance with eugenics, when it became widely known that German doctors were following the lead of their California colleagues and sterilizing undesirables.

As if what they were celebrating weren't bad enough, the acolytes seem unable to avoid self-parody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2007 5:34 PM
Comments for this post are closed.