December 21, 2011


Margaret Sanger and the War on Compassion : A new book attempts to airbrush a eugenicist's sins from history. (CHUCK DONOVAN & NORA SULLIVAN, 12/21/11, National Review)

Sanger had many famed eugenicists among her close friends and colleagues, and she worked closely for years with the American Eugenics Society. Baker asserts that "anti-choice" revisionists are seeking to distort Sanger's views and that, in Sanger's time, most of the American public supported eugenics. Baker writes that eugenics "promoted enlightened parenthood and raising healthy children." Baker implies that eugenicism was far more positive in Sanger's day and that, despite the thousands of forced sterilizations (which Sanger openly approved of and Sanger defenders tend to downplay), it was meant to improve heredity and society. Baker also implies that while there may have been some bad eugenicists, Sanger was a good one, intent on improving the lives of others. An earlier biographer, Ellen Chesler, suggests that Sanger "invited the support of powerful eugenicists, whose underlying assumptions were a good deal more offensive than her own."

But the eugenicist thorn that persistently sticks in everyone's side is Margaret Sanger herself. Ever the radical feminist, she insisted on speaking for herself, and, to this day, her words stand on their own.

"Restriction should be an order as well as an ideal of the family and the race," she wrote. Greatly influenced by her friend and mentor the neo-Malthusian thinker Havelock Ellis (co-founder of Great Britain's Eugenic Education Society), Sanger strongly believed in a "qualitative" not "quantitative" factor for the human race. There was an ideal for humanity, and those who failed to meet Sanger's standards in terms of physical condition and mental capacity, and those prone to alcoholism or epilepsy, were less "fit" human beings and less worthy of the freedoms that she apparently held so dear. They were the "weeds" of the human garden, and they must be plucked. In her 1922 work, Pivot of Civilization, Sanger remarked that the state should respond with either "force or persuasion" when "the incurably defective are permitted to procreate."

Most tellingly, perhaps, in her 1920 book, Woman and the New Race, Sanger referred to birth control as "nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives, or those who would become defective." Her great crusade for birth control was less about helping women and more about preventing the birth of those she deemed to be "unfit."

The point isn't that she was a Nazi, but that she and they shared the same view of biology.
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Posted by at December 21, 2011 6:27 AM

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