Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Eugenics of Progressive Thought

It is very popular to think of eugenics as a reactionary, Nazi idea.  I saw a Swedish documentary on Netflix a while back, that while it mentioned the Nazi Germany and U.S. eugenics efforts usually performed at the state level of oppression.  Example: Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942), which ruled that exempting white collar criminals from Oklahoma's "three strikes and you are snipped" sterilization law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  Mandatory srterilization was not a problem.  Buck v. Bell (1927) upholding Virginia's mandatory sterilization of the feeble minded is memorable for liberal Justice Holmes' observation: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

The bulk of the documentary was about Swedish eugenics laws.  8/28/1997 The Economist describes it:
THE Nazis were not alone in viewing Nordic peoples as the ideal biological “type”. A lot of Nordics, it now seems, immodestly felt the same way. All four main Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden—brought in eugenics laws in the 1930s. More remarkably, some of those laws stayed on the statute books until the mid-1970s, though apparently they were not latterly used very often. It is a subject which most of today's Nordic folk would rather keep in decent obscurity, but a series of articles in an influential Stockholm newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, has been shocking the Swedes to the core and making other Nordics look back nervously at the not-so-recent past.
Between 1935 and 1976, the newspaper says, no fewer than 60,000 young Swedish women deemed mentally defective or otherwise handicapped to a degree “which makes them incapable of looking after their children” were sterilised. More embarrassingly, this happened under laws passed in 1934 by a vigorous new Social Democratic government—a hitherto esteemed forebear of Sweden's present rulers. The laws lapsed only in 1976.

To its many supporters in the 1930s, the policy served three purposes: to prevent the “degeneration of the race”, especially as feeble-minded and insane people were supposed to breed more freely than thrifty and energetic people of “superior” stock; to be kind—yes, that is how it was rationalised—to people who needed “protection” against propagating their own weak genes; and lastly, as the Stockholm newspaper explained, to save the state the heavy cost of welfare for the very dim.
The National Socialists were a heresy of progressivism, but in some especially ugly areas, not so far removed.  This eugenics movement was a logical byproduct of Social Darwinism.

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