Thursday, October 13, 2011

Progressive Era Eugenics

I have two objectives for this post: 1) to create a page with some basic information on the various dark issues of the progressive era and 2) to provide a one-stop place for additional resources for further reading and reference. (I may update this page)

Eugenics and the Progressive Era

Steven Horwitz and Art Carden presented a great article in the Freeman this month titled Eugenics: Progressivism's Ultimate Social Engineering, which is something I find very fascinating, as it is often a neglected part of America's history, and perhaps this is very intentional. It reminds me of intentions and how different they may be between, say, the progressives in the progressive era and progressives today (or are they?), yet how they have similar outcomes. Minimum wage laws are just one prime example where progressive eugenic advocates used  laws enforced by government to indirectly exclude “the unemployable” or  “low-wage races” from gaining employment. Back then, Fabian socialists and progressives acknowledged the consequences of greater unemployment with minimum wage laws but, as Sidney and Beatrice Webb put it, "this unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health." 

It should be clear that for supporters of individual liberty and reduced government (or anti-Statist), Eugenics would not be possible. A government is the only institution that can be used to create and enforce eugenic policies. Here is where America--and much of the world-- transforms from laissez-fair to Collectivism.

Social Darwinism- Two Very Different Realities.

“Social Darwinism” is not understood as a description of Darwin’s ideas applied to society. It has devolved into an omnibus term of abuse, encompassing the full catalog of capitalist ideologies the progressives are seen to have opposed. In the United States, “social Darwinism” connotes the use of vaguely Darwinian ideas—as reduced to stock phrases such as “survival of the fittest” and the “struggle for existence”—to explain and justify a brutish laissez-faire capitalism of late-nineteenthcentury America, and nearly always applies to laissez-faire scholars seen to oppose progressive-minded reform.
Darwinian Individualism

Social Darwinism owes much of its currency to Richard Hofstadter, and had been most frequently used as a pejorative against classical liberalism or laissez-faire capitalism. Herbert Spencer is known for coining the concept of "survival of the fittest" but his work predated Darwin and he did not fit the "Social Darwinist" type as commonly understood, i.e., he opposed the justification for war and imperialism. Laissez-faire could hardly be consistent the idea of State control of human breeding, yet social Darwinism is still attributed to the philosophy. Here we start to see the nascence of another type of Social Darwinism.

Survival of the Unfit

Progressives had an underside that included scientific racism, eugenics and imperialism. Progressives viewed laissez-faire as a policy of promoting the 'unfit' to breed while the so-called 'fit' would be dwarfed in size over time because they tended to repopulate at lower levels. Eugenics policies needed to be adopted by the government in order to close the door to the unfit breeds of humans so that the "superior races" can survive and thrive.  Progressive Era reformers drawn to eugenics believed that some human groups were inferior to others, and that evolutionary science explained and justified their theories of human hierarchy. This was a radical departure from the laissez-fair principle, but this became the other, more dominant, version of Social Darwinism.  Richard Hofstadter developed a name for it: Darwinian collectivism.”
Darwinian Collectivism

Eugenics advocated planned state control of human breeding. It was thought of as a method of population control, which could weed out the 'unfit' from society. Herbert Croly, founder of the magazine, The New Republic, was a proponent of Eugenics. For instance, he wrote an unsigned editorial in 1916 which tried to make peace between the eliminationists and sterilizers on the one hand and the uplift-the-downtrodden eugenists on the other. The common ground, TNR argued, was to be found in socialism:
We may suggest that a socialized policy of population cannot be built upon a laissez faire economic policy. So long as the state neglects its good blood, it will let its bad blood alone. There is no certain way of distinguishing between defectiveness in the strain and defectiveness produced by malnutrition, neglected lesions originally curable, or overwork in childhood. When the state assumes the duty of giving a fair opportunity for development to every child, it will find unanimous support for a policy of extinction of stocks incapable of profiting from their privileges.

Leo Lucassen of Leiden University in the Netherlands, writes in a journal, A Brave New World: The Left, Social Engineering, and Eugenics in Twentieth-Century Europe,  "Today, there would seem to be a large degree of consensus regarding the relationship between eugenics and the progressive movement, certainly in the first half of the twentieth century, as Paul Crook remarked in his recent book on Social Darwinism: ‘‘In fact if you examine the rhetoric of eugenic science you find that it actually best fitted in with contemporary ‘progressivist’ language that celebrated social engineering and meritocracy, professionalism and the dominance of experts."

We can fairly say that the dominant form of "Social Darwinism" in the late 19th and 20th century was that of Darwinian Collectivism

Scientific Racism

Government policies were to be adopted to help weed out the inferior races through primarily labor and immigration laws. Thomas C. Leonard writes:

Leading professional economists were among the first to provide scientific respectability for immigration restriction on racial grounds. They justified race based immigration restriction as a remedy for “race suicide,” a Progressive Era term for the process by which racially superior stock (“natives”) is outbred by a more prolific, but racially inferior stock (immigrants). The term “race suicide” is often attributed to Edward A. Ross (1901), who believed that “the higher race quietly and unmurmuringly eliminates itself rather than endure individually the bitter competition it has failed to ward off by collective action.” Ross was no outlier. He was a founding member of the American Economic Association, a pioneering sociologist and a leading public intellectual who boasted that his books sold in thehundreds of thousands. Ross’s coinage gained enough currency to be used by Theodore Roosevelt (1907), who called race suicide the “greatest problem of civilization,” and regularly returned to the theme of “the elimination instead of the survival of the fittest.” In that same year, more than 40 years after the American Civil War, Ross (1907) wrote: “The theory that races are virtually equal in capacity leads to such monumental follies as lining the valleys of the South with the bones of half a million picked whites in order to improve the conditions of four million unpicked blacks.”
Protecting the Family and Race
The Progressives had to develop additional reform policies to not only prevent the 'undesirables' from labor and immigration but they needed to promote policies that encouraged breeding of the "superior races. From the abstract of Thomas C. Leonard's work, 
Protecting the Family and Race: The Progressive Case for Regulating Women’s Work

Leading progressives, including women at the forefront of labor reform, justified exclusionary labor legislation forwomen on grounds that it would (1) protect the biologically weaker sex from the hazards of market work; (2) protect working women from the temptation of prostitution; (3) protect male heads of household from the economic competition of women; and (4) ensure that women could better carry out their eugenic duties as “mothers of the race.” What united these heterogeneous rationales was the reformers’ aim of discouraging women’s labor-force participation.

The Negro Project
The Negro Project 
MAAFA 21 is a very carefully reasoned, well-produced exposé of the abortion industry, racism and eugenics. It proves through innumerable sources that many founders of Planned Parenthood and other parts of the abortion movement were interested in killing off the black race in America and elsewhere.
If you would like to learn more about the progressive eugenics era, Thomas Leonard of Princeton University has more information.
Eugenics and Economics -how the first min-wage and other economic laws were used for eugenic purposes.
Excluding Unfit Workers - The "unemployable", Race Suicide, David-Bacon act, Progressive Scientific Statism.

Connections to National Socialism and Fascism

There are many factors that come into play with National Socialism and Fascism but it could be considered a sort of sister movement to Progressivism. The overall characteristics can be reduced to a hostility to laissez-faire, individualism, and limited government. The economics of Fascism and National Socialism closely resembled what Progressives advocated in for America and, in fact, many progressives praised the social and economic progress made in Germany; more on the economics of these ideologies here.

A Yale Study says that "While Nazi claims of Aryan superiority are well known, researchers said U.S. advocates of sterilization worried that the survival of old-stock America was being threatened by the influx of lower races from southern and eastern Europe. There was also mutual admiration, with early U.S. policies drawing glowing reviews from authorities in pre-Nazi Germany."
Germany is perhaps the most progressive nation in restricting fecundity among the unfit, editors of the New England Journal of Medicine wrote in 1934, a year after Hitler became chancellor.
John Hunt also noticed in his work, Perfecting humankind: a comparison of progressive and Nazi views on eugenics, sterilization and abortion, that it was in North America, especially the United States, that the eugenics movement really became established. Historian Garland E. Allen wrote in Science misapplied: The eugenics age revisited that "the eugenics movement eventually became a worldwide phenomenon...[but] by far the most work occurred in Germany and the United States, whose eugenicists had formed a particularly strong and direct bond, especially after the Nazis came to power in 1933."
Garland E. Allen also wrote,
Progressive ideology, which called for rational planning and scientific management of every phase of society, was seen as the new and "modern" approach, and hence "progressive" by the standards of the day. For laissez-faire views it substituted an emphasis on state intervention and promoted the use of trained experts in setting economic and social regulatory policies. 
A parallel between the economic and social milieu of the United States today and that of Germany in the Weimar and especially Nazi periods emerges in the debates over health care. Then as now, the discussions centered on decisions about who should receive what kind of health care and for how long.
They often worked in terms of negative eugenics, which included forced sterilization, birth control, economic policies to segregate and dis-employ the 'unfit', and other methods of family planning. The goal is to week out the weak and collectivize society. The progressive financier George Perkins said the “great European war … is striking down individualism and building up collectivism.” 

"President Woodrow Wilson signed New Jersey's sterilization law, and one of his deputies descended to greater fame as a Nazi collaborator at Buchenwald. Pennsylvania's legislature passed an 'Act for the Prevention of Idiocy,' but the governor vetoed it .... Other states, however, joined the crusade. ... Eventually, the eugenicist virus found a hospitable host in Germany. There... it led to the death chambers of Buchenwald and Auschwitz. Thanks to the Nazis, highly praised by eugenicists here, the movement eventually collapsed. But not before nearly 50,000 Americans were sterilized." Writes R. Cort Kirkwood.

The whole idea of a scientifically planned and organized State is based on Socialist ideals.It was libertarian, classical liberal, and conservative people who held ideals based upon individual liberty that were against Eugenics and the other evils. The government is the only institution that can legally do these deeds and whether it is in 'benevolent' or malevolent hands, good intentions or bad, the problems will continue so long as the State maintains this power over the lives of individuals. 

Flynn, in his penetrating book, The Road Ahead, examining  America's creeping revolution stated, ". . . the line between Fascism and Fabian Socialism is very thin. Fabian Socialism is the dream. Fascism is Fabian Socialism plus the inevitable dictator."

More Sources.

The Frightening Agenda of the American Eugenics Movement

  • The Darwinian left and the concept of Eugenic socialism
  • Empire Socialism and the Cult of Efficiency 
  • Socialist Nationalism and Nationalist Socialism 

Eugenics and the Left and More on Eugenics and the Left By JOHN J. RAY (M.A.; Ph.D.)

Further Reading:
Thomas C. Leonard of Princeton University is has some of the most accomplished work on the Progressive Era.

Additional Scholarly works:

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