DANIEL VAUGHAN: Eugenics is a leftist ideology, not a conservative one

June 24, 2019

As eugenics has returned to the forefront of America’s mind, the left’s defenses to it are shifting.

In the wake of Clarence Thomas’ famed opinion on Box v. Planned Parenthood, in which the Supreme Court justice warned that “abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation,” the left mostly denied the problem existed. But now, those who do acknowledge the issue use a different tactic: blaming right-wing conservatives for the problem, instead of recognizing it as an outgrowth of the progressive movement.

The most recent example of blame-shifting happened after Taslima Nasreen, a self-described “author, secular humanist, feminist, and physician,” wrote in a viral tweet:

Men and women who have bad genes with genetic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, etc. should not produce children. They have no right to make others suffer.

As far as encouraging eugenics goes, that’s about as straight-forward as you can get — and it’s the exact problem that Justice Thomas correctly identified in his opinion.

People are trying to eliminate anyone with “defective genes,” but how we define “defective” varies wildly. The result is a radical form of discrimination that never went away after the early 20th-century Progressive Era and subsequent years of world wars.

The left is now trying to pivot and shift the blame for the rise in popularity of eugenics on conservatives. Swedish author and neuroscientist Sumaiya Shaikh wrote for The Print: “Nasreen’s opinions, knowingly or unknowingly, reflected her profoundly conservative and pro-eugenics worldview, which is a far cry from women’s or human rights. Her words also lacked any mention of choice, which is central to feminism and humanism.”

Shaikh goes on to connect eugenic thought to racial superiority, asserting that this is the primary driver of eugenic thinking. She writes:

Since many non-Caucasians have the non-mutated gene, which makes them lactose-intolerant, the neo-Nazis used the milk cartons as a symbol of racial supremacy. So, the proponents of eugenics selectively use mutations that may seem useful to assert racial supremacy, while labelling others as ‘bad’.

But neo-Nazis only advance one form of eugenics: the kind they believe makes their race superior. And they didn’t come up with eugenics. The birth and mainstreaming of eugenics came from educated, wealthy, elite progressives who wanted to purge humanity from anyone they deemed a lesser.

Indeed, the father of the eugenics movement in America — and the West — was Francis Galton, half-cousin to Charles Darwin, with whom he communicated often via letter. Galton coined the modern term “eugenics” in 1883 and began pushing it as a form of a new religion in the West for the rest of his life.

One of Galton’s many speeches on eugenics was attended by the famous writer H.G. Wells, a well-known progressive and leftist of the era. Wells praised Galton’s work and supported the eugenics movement. At the end of a Galton speech in 1904, Wells remarked, “It is in the sterilization of failures, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies.”

Wells and Galton were not alone in this quest, and the movement pushed for state legislation in the United States on this front that caused lawsuits. The Supreme Court eventually heard a case on the issue, Buck v. Bell, which led to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. thundering down from the top court in the land that “three generations of imbeciles is enough” and opening the flood gates to legal eugenics and sterilization in America.

But this wasn’t far enough for Wells and other progressives of his day. They wanted to control the population, both in size and quality. They hated the constitutional, political, and legal hurdles that prevented them from doing whatever they wanted to remake society in their image.

In 1932, a frustrated Wells went even further, pushing for what he called “liberal fascism.” City Journal reports:

After his customary denunciation of parliamentary politics as an anachronism, [Wells] let out his frustrations, calling for fascist means to serve liberal ends by way of a liberal elite as “conceited” and as power-hungry as its rivals.

“I suggest that you study the reinvigoration of Catholicism by Loyola,” Wells said. “I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti.”

Hitler and the Nazis took their ideas from Wells, Galton, Holmes, and other progressives in America and Europe. And we know this because they cited these same progressive ideas in the Nuremberg trials.

So when modern neo-Nazis start reasserting the ideas of the past, they’re citing progressive ideas, not conservative ones. And eugenics in the 21st century isn’t conservative either — it’s still progressive.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonya Sotomayor have already signaled they’re ready to defend eugenic abortions. Moreover, Planned Parenthood asserted in the Box case that abortions can take place for any reason.

When Taslima Nasreen asserts that people should not bring children in the world with her list of defects, she’s a progressive joining the ranks of progressives like Galton, Wells, and Margaret Sanger. It’s not progressives trying to defeat modern eugenics; it’s conservatives.

Progressives have never dealt with the deep stain on their history involving eugenics — though that’s not unique to them; the West, in general, hasn’t dealt with that issue. Pursuing anti-eugenic abortion laws are a great first step, but we need to work harder.

The ghost of eugenics still lives — and it is up to us to defeat it.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.