Certain snarling dismissals aside, the practice of quoting at length some bits from Liberal Fascism and opening up a thread for argument has, to my way of thinking, proven rather fruitful — though I remain confused at how certain commenters insist on imputing to me conclusions that are, in fact, Goldberg’s. Whether or not I agree or disagree with certain arguments Jonah makes based upon the history he outlines is beside the point — though for what it’s worth, I tend to believe, as many of you may already have guessed, that the true bulwark against progressive encroachment is less tied to any particular set of ethics in the abstract than it is dependent upon the revitalization of certain linguistic imperatives that would, if properly understood, make it far more difficult for the idea of a “Living Constitution” to gain traction, and make it far less likely that jurists be able to work beyond the clear text of the Constitution.
At any rate, and to keep the conversation going, I’ll share the following, which continues Goldberg’s analysis of the role eugenics played in progressive thought — while seeking to bolster his point about traditional conservative religious morality acting as a levee against the floodwaters of scientific utopianism:
For a variety of reasons, those we would today call conservatives often opposed eugenic schemes. The lone dissenter in Buck v. Bell, for example, wasn’t the liberal justice Louis Brandeis or Harlan Fiske Stone by the “archconservative” Pierce Butler. The Catholic conservative G.K. Chesterton was subjected to relentless ridicule and scorn for his opposition to eugenics. In various writings, most notable Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized Society [which nishi might want to check out, if she gets a chance - ed], Chesterton opposed what was held to be the sophisticated position by nearly all “thinking people” in Britain and the United States. Indeed, the foremost institution combating eugenics around the world was the Catholic Church. It was the Catholic influence in Italy — along with the fact that Italians were a genetically polyglot bunch — that made Italian Fascism less obsessed with eugenics than either the American progressives or the Nazis (though Mussolini did believe that over time Fascist government would have a positive eugenic effect on the Italians [note: positive eugenicists "argued for merely encouraging, cajoling, and subsidizing the fit to breed more and the unfit to breed less. The negative eugenicists operated along a spectrum that went from forced sterilization to imprisonment (at least during the reproductive years)" - ed]).
Nonetheless, progressives did come up with a term for conservative opponents of eugenics. They called them social Darwinists. Progressives invented the term “social Darwinism” to describe anyone who opposed Sidney Webb’s notion that the state must aggressively “interfere” in the reproductive order of society. In the hothouse logic of the left, those who opposed forced sterilization of the “unfit” and the poor were villains for letting a “state of nature” rule among the lower classes.
Herbert Spencer, the supposed founder of social Darwinism, was singled out as the poster boy for all that was wrong in classical liberalism. Spencer was indeed a Darwinist — he coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” — but his interpretation of evolutionary theory reinforced his view that people should be left alone. In almost every sense, Spencer was a good — albeit classical — liberal: he championed charity, woman’s suffrage, and civil liberties. But he was the incarnation of all that was backward, reactionary, and wrong according to the progressive worldview, not because he supported Hitlerian schemes of forced race hygiene but because he adamantly opposed them. To this day it is de rigueur among liberal intellectuals and historians to take potshots at Spencer as the philosophical wellspring of racism, right-wing “greed,” and even the Holocaust.