March 19, 2008


Birth Control a review of Fatal Misconception by Matthew Connelly (REIHAN SALAM, March 19, 2008, NY Sun)

Outside of India, few remember Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi's ne'er-do-well son. Yet as Matthew Connelly recounts in "Fatal Misconception" (Belknap Press, 544 pages, $34.95), his global history of the population control movement, Sanjay played a crucial role in one of the vilest episodes in the history of independent India, namely the sterilization of millions of Indians. In 1976, he initiated a campaign to cleanse Delhi of slums, bulldozing entire neighborhoods, most of them old and densely populated, and then had his cronies tell the displaced that they'd only be given new homes if they agreed to have vasectomies or tubectomies. The campaign spread to the countryside, where zealous officials engaged in coordinated attacks that resembled pogroms — but rather than target the members of a single ethnic group, they sterilized every poor man they could. Sterilization camps were filled to the brim with members of India's most despised groups, namely Muslims and Hindus drawn from so-called low castes. It's impossible to disentangle how much sterilization was straightforwardly coercive — i.e., forced at gunpoint — and how much was "incentivized" through slightly subtler threats — i.e., we will deny you the means to your livelihood.

This is the kind of behavior one would expect from a con man or a gangster, but this particular gangster had an army of civil servants and police at his beck and call. And not only Indian support: For all Sanjay's nationalist bluster, this was a crime the country could not commit alone — a campaign this sophisticated and sweeping required expertise and investment from abroad. Sanjay's effort to cleanse India of what one Indian official called "people pollution" was backed by powerful international nonprofits dedicated to the cause of "family planning." The World Bank, appallingly enough, pressed India to sharply increase its sterilization efforts; after an exhaustive look at India's comprehensive program to curb population growth, Robert McNamara, then president of the organization, essentially cheered Sanjay on.

But Mr. McNamara was not alone, or even particularly unusual in his support of forced sterilization; he was just one in a long line of Western mandarins who embraced the cause of population control. Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, the celebrated Swedish sociologists, embraced in the 1930s a supposedly benign version that aimed to improve the eugenic quality of the Swedish volk, and which promoted compulsory sterilization. American birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, a central figure in "Fatal Misconception," also called for sterilization aimed at combating "dysgenic qualities of body and mind" years after the Nazi death camps. To be sure, there were also figures such as UN population bureaucrat Frank Notestein, who championed modernization and female literacy as a more effective means of reducing population growth in the developing world. But the overall impression is of a population control movement defined by arrogance, and by a firm belief that the best of humanity risked being drowned out by the dregs.

Like those Darwinian textbooks (courtesy of Brother Cohen) teach: "Biology not only tells us about animals and plants, but also shows us the laws we must follow in our lives, and steels our wills to live and fight according to these laws."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 19, 2008 11:56 AM

We were recently discussing how "Idiocracy" is a love letter to eugenics.

Posted by: Bryan at March 19, 2008 3:20 PM

In the middle of the excerpt, "As Moltke said, 'In the long run, only the hard-working are lucky'."

How would we react to a high-school biology textbook which contained quotes from say, Ulysses Grant? It is so stange.

This is the kind of thinking C.S. Lewis took to task in Perelandra, i.e. inhuman, gross, biological racism.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 19, 2008 8:05 PM