To an outsider, the Fernald school in Waltham Massachusetts looked like any other educational institution. During the school’s hay day in the 1920’s and 30’s, few passers-by would have guessed the dark secret lurking behind the brick walls – a secret penetrating to the heart of American liberalism.
Fernald was no ordinary school. Set up in 1848 with funds from the Massachusetts State Legislature, the institution was designed for the incarceration of “feeble-minded” children. Throughout the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands of low-intelligence (though not necessarily retarded) children were warehoused at Fernald in unspeakable conditions. Treated like animals and denied any affection, these “human weeds” were considered genetically inferior from the rest of society.
In his book The State Boys Rebellion, Michael D’Antonio shows that one of the purposes behind the Fernald school was to prevent these “idiots” from reproducing and diluting the gene pool. Margaret Sanger, icon of the American left and founder of Planned Parenthood, put it even more succinctly: “The undeniably feeble-minded should, indeed, not only be discouraged but prevented from propagating their kind.”
It was not until the 1960s that the school began releasing their children to live in the outside world.
Eugenics: the Dark Secret of the American Left
The ideology behind Fernald was supplied by the American Eugenics movement. It was customary for American liberals of the 1920s and 30s to identify human beings as either hereditarily valuable or inferior. Taking Darwin’s theory of natural selection and applying it to human society, they typically classed Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Native Americans and those of low-IQ as harmful to the human gene pool.
“People were told, we can be rid of all disease, we can lower the crime rate, we can increase the wealth of our nation, if we only keep certain people from having babies,” said Michael D’Antonio.
In his New York Times bestseller Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg shows that before Hitler gave eugenics a bad name, almost all the leading progressive intellectuals of the early 20th century interpreted Darwin’s theory as a writ to “interfere” with human natural selection. Indeed, when the National Socialist sterilized over 50,000 “unfit” Germans, a former advisor to Teddy Roosevelt exclaimed, “The Germans are beating us at our own game.”
Although contemporary left-wingers have tried to hush it up, it is a fact of history that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the National Research Council, Planned Parenthood and the pre-1960’s Democratic Party, all supported the right of the US government to engage in Eugenic selection, while thirty states adopted legislation aimed at compulsory sterilization of certain individuals or classes. Conservatives, orthodox Roman Catholics and radical libertarians, on the other hand, were routinely ridiculed for their opposition to such policies.
The underlining premise behind the American eugenics movement was the view that irresponsible individualism in breeding would act as a cancer on the human gene pool, harming posterity. Government held the future of the human race in its reigns and could improve the evolutionary direction of the nation – and indeed the world – through strategic intervention.
Government as Savior of the Human Race
The Fernald school is no longer operating and by the 1960’s all the states had cancelled their sterilization laws. After Hitler gave the politics of race hygiene a bad name, American and British “progressives” stopped defending government’s right to direct the gene pool.
Nevertheless, the ideological coordinates behind these abuses remain as intact as ever within the minds of American left, although they have found a myriad of different expressions.
Consider, for example, the widespread assumption that the state has the vocation to act as a supra steward of the human race. In January, James Hansen of NASA (known as the “father” of the global warming movement), told the Guardian that Obama “has only four years to save the world.” Hansen painted a chilling picture of the apocalyptic future awaiting us if government failed to assert drastic measures like the “carbon tax.”
It is not hard to see the continuity Hansen’s remarks have with the eugenics politics of the last century. In both cases, the underlying premise is that the state holds the future of the human race in its reigns, and unless significant freedom is surrendered over to them, irresponsible individualism will destroy our chances – or our children’s chances – on this planet.
Such scare tactics are not limited to the issue of climate change any more than they are limited to the Western side of the Atlantic. Earlier this year Jonathan Porritt, chairman of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, said that couples with more than two children were placing an “irresponsible’ burden on the environment.” To his credit, he didn’t say that government should step in and decrease the surplus population, but he did warn of what would happen if drastic measures were not taken: the UK must cut its population from its current 61 million to 30 million, or British society will be unsustainable.
“the Greater Good”
One of the ideological foundation stones behind the 20th century eugenics movement was a utilitarian outlook which elevated pragmatism above principle. If a policy – such as the isolation or forced sterilization of the unfit – was believed to be for the “greater good”, it didn’t matter if actual harm was committed to specific individuals along the way. And as the example of Fernald so clearly illustrates, it is the weak and helpless members of society who are always first to be sacrificed on the altar of “the greater good.”
The American left has not departed from this basic utilitarian criterion. Consider the justification liberals are constantly giving for using taxpayer money on embryonic stem cell research (which involves the destruction of humans at the embryonic stage). They tell us that such research is justified because it can save lives. In other words, the end justifies the means when the end is the greater good of the human race. We see this same callous utilitarianism in the other ethical debates over killing innocent human beings: whether the killing of innocent humans occurs at the embryonic stage (certain forms of stem cell research), the foetal stage (abortion) or the elderly stage (euthanasia), these practices are defended by an appeal to the greater good either of society or (in the case of euthanasia) of the individual who elects to kill himself. As with the social Darwinism of the 20th century, the casualties of this utilitarian approach are inevitably the weakest and helpless members of society.
Decreasing the Surplus Population
The 20th century eugenics movement was closely linked to the social theories of men like of Sir Francis Galton and Thomas Malthus (pictured below), who believed the poor were draining the world’s recourses.
One of Malthus’s solutions was to reduce the surplus population by introducing policies specifically designed to bring death to large numbers of poor people. For example, Malthus encouraged poor people to move near swamps, because he knew that they would catch diseases there and begin dying off.
Not a lot has changed since the time of Malthus, although our lawmakers are careful not to present their policies in neo-Malthusian terms, even if their ideas are underpinned with the same network of operating assumptions.
In this regard it should not be overlooked that President Obama’s original stimulus package proposed subsidizing family-planning services and contraception. If it was hard to see how contraception for low-income families can help stimulate the economy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped us out on ABC’s This Week program: “The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and…contraception…will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” Pelosi and Obama were obviously aware of the 2007 study by the Congressional Budget Office which found that the federal government could save an estimated $200 million over five years if states gave free contraceptives to poor women.
Following the public outcry, Democrats removed subsidized contraception from the stimulus package, but the underlying philosophy remains the same: human life is essentially an economic equation. Once that premise is accepted, it follows that society can be improved by reducing the population among certain classes of people. No where is this more plainly evident than in Planned Parenthood, which was championed by leftist White supremacists like Margaret Sanger as a means of keeping down the infestation of black babies. In 1939, Sanger created the “Negro Project” aimed at bringing birth control to American blacks and reducing their surplus population. Even now, Planned Parenthood makes no secret of the fact that its “core clients” are “young women, low-income women, and women of color” and makes a particular point of setting up clinics in minority and poor neighbourhoods.
Aware of the eugenicist pedigree behind the abortion movement, many black activists (including Jesse Jackson before he decided to seek the Democratic nomination), opposed abortion on grounds that it amounted to genocide against the black race.
It would be going beyond the facts to suggest that the contemporary abortion movement still harbours sinister ambitions about decreasing the black population. While the liberals of the early 20th century saw genetics, and therefore race, as central to the future of the human race, liberals of the early 21st century see economics as central to the future of the human race. Thus their aim is no longer to reduce the quantity of black births, but to decrease the amount of poor babies. However, given that blacks are among the poorer segments of American society, the end result is pretty much the same. While blacks make up little more than 12% of the American population, they have 37% of the abortions. This is one of the reasons that many African Americans still oppose abortion on the grounds that it is the number one killer of African Americans today (see the Black Genocide blog).
Although the American left no longer advocate eugenics, forced sterilization and race-directed abortion as a means to achieving racial utopia, ethnicity remains just as central in the minds of liberal social planners. This can be seen in the numerous affirmative action programs which mandate positive discrimination against whites. The increasing and well-documented privileges which now accompany being an ethnic minority are so manifold in American society that some law professors have even proposed making “racial fraud” (pretending to be black when you are not) a crime. As Jonah Goldberg points out in Liberal Fascism…
The backdrop to this “positive” discrimination, as well as “identity politics” and many forms of feminism, is the view that human society can and should be organized in terms of competing groups. It is the view proclaimed so shrilly by Obama’s former church: racial consciousness, not the colour-blind state of classical conservatism, must be at the heart of government policy.
This brings us full circle to the social Darwinism of the 20th century. Contemporary liberals, like their leftist predecessors, have no scruples using the state as an engine to organize and dispense privileges on the basis of race, though social engineering has replaced the discredited science of eugenics. And like their leftist forefathers who built Fernald, this is underpinned by the ideology that government has a mandate, not merely to maintain law and order, but to proactively operate as the steward of the human race. To achieve this, contemporary liberals are just as happy as their early 20th century counterparts to follow the utilitarian principle that harm to innocent human beings can be justified by an appeal to “the greater good.”
Fernald may no longer be standing, but the philosophy behind it is as alive and well as ever.