November 15, 2014



Nearly a century ago, Margaret Sanger promoted birth control as a way to put an end to poverty. That meant educating the poor in its methods. But she knew that this would be successful only to a certain degree. There's a significant portion of society, made up of "irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped."

"Should be stopped" was code for sterilization, and now we're seeing its return in a new form. Nicholas Kristof's column today in the New York Times is right out of the old progressive songbook. 

Kristof argues for sterilization, albeit reversible sterilization, which is what long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) amount to. We need to put lots of new money behind promoting them, he argues, because teenagers are "drifting" into pregnancy rather than "planning."

Now we need to be clear here. It's poor teenagers we're talking about, not upper-middle-class ones. They're from the "pauper element," as Sanger put it. The allure of LARCs for someone like Kristof is that it provides a technological solution to the problem of reckless behavior and lack of adequate "planning." It promises to break the cycle of poverty.

Kristof doesn't suggest forced use of LARCs. Nor does he use Sanger's unvarnished language that's so distasteful to our contemporary egalitarian sensibilities.

Darwinism and the American Eugenics Movement (Steven E. Woodworth, Science and Apologetics)

The arrival and acceptance of Charles Darwin's theory changed the intellectual landscape of America. Darwinism removed the basis for racial equality. Reasoning from Darwinist assumptions, it was impossible to come to the conclusion that all humans are equally human. If humans had evolved from lower forms of life and were gradually still evolving toward some higher form of life, then it stood to reason that some humans were more evolved--in effect, more human--than others. Some were closer to the superman that Darwinists promised in the future, and others were closer to the ape-like ancestor from whom Darwinists claimed all humans were descended. It did not take long, as we shall see, for advocates of Darwin's teaching to decide which humans belonged in the first group and which in the second.

It is important to recognize that Darwinism did not invent racism, nor did it introduce racism into the United States. Obviously, race-based chattel slavery began in America in the seventeenth century, long before Darwin, and it continued until the mid-nineteenth century without any help from the sage of Down House. But Darwinism effectively destroyed the philosophical foundation for objections to racism.

Darwinism also removed the basis for asserting any essential difference between humans and animals. Indeed, leading Darwinists emphatically proclaimed, "Man is an animal."[1] By this they meant not simply the uncontroversial and long-recognized fact that man's physical body functions in ways similar to those of animals, but that man is nothing more than an animal. This too was an inescapable outcome of reasoning from Darwinist premises. If man had gradually evolved from lower life forms, then there could be no qualitative difference between man and his supposedly less evolved ancestors. Man might be a very clever and highly developed animal, but he was an animal nonetheless. And since it was impossible to conceive how a human soul--as distinct from the physiological function of the brain--could evolve, most Darwinists soon came to posit that man had no soul. The human, like the animal, was the sum total of his physiological functions.

By the same token, Darwinist assumptions led directly to the conclusion that man did not have free will. "Science seeks to explain phenomena in terms of mechanism," wrote prominent Darwinist and eugenicist Charles Davenport, as he argued that human behavior should be understood as being "under a mechanical law instead of being conceived of as controlled by demons or by a 'free' will."[2]

The impact of these changes in the thought of many prominent individuals in the American intellectual elite is illustrated by the rise of the eugenics movement and so-called "scientific racism" in the United States in the early twentieth century.

The central idea of eugenics was that man should now take control of his own evolution, and this should occur by means of the state deciding who should procreate and who should not. In some cases it also meant the state deciding who should live and who should die. It was an extremely exciting idea to those who embraced it. "The discovery that man is able to guide his own evolution by means of eugenics," proclaimed the American Eugenics Society, was the "most momentous" human discovery of all time, and a prominent eugenicist announced breathlessly, "Today we are beginning to thrill with the feeling that we stand on the brink of an evolutionary epoch whose limits no man can possibly foretell."[3]

The origin of the eugenics movement can be traced directly to Darwinism. Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, is credited with being the father of eugenics, but Darwin himself hinted broadly at the idea and gave it his strong support, especially later in his life. In The Descent of Man he wrote,

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.[4]

Darwin continued to give the newborn eugenics movement his earnest support. On one occasion he cut off all contact with a colleague who had dared to publish views critical of an article Darwin's son George had written in favor of eugenics.[5]

Galton picked up Darwin's eugenic ideas and advanced them vigorously. He believed that natural selection could be replaced by human selection so as to insure that those he defined as being more fit would be the ones who left most offspring. It was Galton who in 1883 coined the term "eugenics," from Greek root words meaning "good" and "birth." Galton argued that talent was hereditary, and that society should take steps to insure that its most talented members left numerous offspring and that its weak and foolish members left fewer or none. He expressed the hope that eugenics would become the religion of the twentieth century.

Posted by at November 15, 2014 7:52 AM

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