Provocateurism, 5 [Updated]
Given the many glancing mentions of Margaret Sanger (whom Goldberg asserts “is today considered a liberal saint, a founder of modern feminism, and one of the leading lights of the progressive pantheon”) in the comments to my previous posts in this series, and given the budding debate her mention has generated on just where legalized abortion is located on the political spectrum (progressive? libertarian? both?), it seems now would be a good time to fan the flames a bit — while at the same time beginning to draw together some of the themes Goldberg has been hitting on, namely, how an “enlightened” and “scientific” support of eugenics lies at the heart of many progressive programs, and how that impetus fits in with what Goldberg calls the “fascist moment”:
Under the banner of “reproductive freedom,” Sanger [...] sought to ban reproduction of the unfit and regulate reproduction for everybody else. She scoffed at the soft approach of the “positive” eugenicists, deriding it as mere “cradle competition” between the fit and the unfit. “More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief issue of birth control,” she frankly wrote in her 1922 book The Pivot of Civilization. (The book featured and introduction by [H.G.] Wells [with whom Sanger had and affair, and who is the Fabian responsible for coining the term "Liberal fascism," not as a perjorative, but as a prescription], in which he proclaimed, “We want fewer and better children…and we cannot make the social life and the world-peace we are determined to make, with ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens that you inflict on us.” Two civilizations were at war: that of progress and that which sough a world “swamped by an indiscriminate torrent of progeny.”)
A fair-minded person cannot read Sanger’s books, articles, and pamphlets today without finding similarities not only to Nazi eugenics but to the dark dystopias of the feminist imagination found in such allegories as Margaret Atwood’s Handmid’s Tale As editor of the Birth Control Review, Sanger regularly published the sort of hard racism we normally associate with Goebbels or Himmler. Indeed, after she resigned as editor, the Birth Control Review ran articles by people who worked for Goebbels and Himmler. For example, when the Nazi eugenics program wa first getting wide attention, the Birth Control Review was quick to cast the Nazis in a positive light, giving over its pages for an article titled “Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need,” by Ernst Rudin, Hitler’s director of sterilization and founder of the Nazi Society for Racial Hygiene. In 1926 Sanger proudly gave a speech to a KKK rally in Silver Lake, New Jersey [note: in an earlier segment, Goldberg notes how the KKK, after Griffith's Birth of a Nation, was far more cosmopolitan in scope than we often think of them -- and that their allegiances were often with progressive causes, including Prohibition; in short, Goldberg makes the argument that the "racism" of the KKK post-BOAN was in keeping with the enlightened, progressive sort championed by many scientific elites - ed].
One of Sanger’s closest friends and influential colleagues was the white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy. In the book he offered his solution for the threat posed by the darker races: “Just as we isolate bacterial invasions, and starve out the bacteria, by limiting the areas and amount of their food supply, so we can compel an inferior race to remain in its native habitat.” When the book came out, Sanger was sufficiently impressed to invite him to join the board of directors of the American Birth Control League.
Sanger’s genius was to advance ["raceologist" E.A.] Ross’s campaign for social control by hitching the racist-eugenic campaign to sexual pleasure and female liberation. In her “Code to Stop Overproduction of Children,” published in 1934, she decreed that “no woman shall have a legal right to bear a child without a permit…no permit shall be valid for more than one child.” But Sanger couched this fascistic agenda in the argument that “liberated” women wouldn’t mind such measures because they don’t really want large families in the first place. In a trope that would be echoed by later feminists such as Betty Friedan, she argued that motherhood itself was a socially imposed constraint on the liberty of women. It was a form of what Marxists called false consciousness to want a large family.
Sanger believed — prophetically enough — that if women conceived of sex as first and foremost a pleasurable experience rather than a procreative act, they would embrace birth control as a necessary tool for their own personal gratification. She brilliantly used the language of liberation to convince women they weren’t going along with a collectivist scheme but were in fact “speaking truth to power,” as it were. This was the identical trick the Nazis pulled off. They took a radical Nietzschean doctrine of individual will and made it into a trendy dogma of middle-class conformity. This trick remains the core of much faddish “individualism” among rebellious conformists on the American cultural left today. Nonetheless, Sanger’s analysis was surely correct, and led directly to the widespread feminist association of sex with political rebellion. Sanger in effect “bought off” women (and grateful men) by offering tolerance for promiscuity in return for compliance with her eugenic schemes.
In 1939 Sanger created the [...] “Negro Project,” which aimed to get blacks to adopt birth control. Through the Birth Control Federation, she hired black ministers (including the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr.), doctors, and other leaders [note: progressive icon W.E.B. DuBois, it will be recalled, championed the "Talented Tenth," a eugenic idea aimed at getting the "good" negroes to breed more, and the worst to breed less; and he championed Sanger's Negro Project - ed] to help pare down the supposedly surplus black population. The project’s racist intent is beyond doubt. “The mass of significant Negroes,” read the project’s report, “still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes … is [in] that portion of the population least intelligent and fit.” Sanger’s intent is shocking today, but she recognized its extreme radicalism even then. “We do not want word to go out,” she wrote to a colleague, “that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
It is possible that Sanger didn’t really want to “exterminate” the Negro population so much as merely limit its growth. Still, many in the black community saw it that way and remained rightly suspicious of the progressives’ motives. It wasn’t difficult to see that middle-class whites who consistently spoke of “race suicide” at the hands of dark, subhuman savages [hi, "Ron Burgandy"!] might not have the best interests of blacks in mind. This skepticism persisted within the black community for decades. Someone who saw the relationship between, for example, abortion and race from a less trusting perspective telegrammed congress in 1977 to tell them that abortion amounted to “genocide against the black race.” And he added, in block letters, “AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE I MUST OPPOSE THE USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS FOR A POLICY OF KILLING INFANTS.” This was Jesse Jackson, who changed his position when he decided to seek the Democratic nomination.
Just a few years ago, the racial eugenic “bonus” of abortion rights was something one could only admit among those fully committed to the cause, and even then in politically correct whispers. No more. Increasingly, this argument is acceptable on the left, as are arguments in favor of eugenics generally.
In 2005 the acclaimed University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt broke the taboo with his critical and commercial hit Freakonomics (co written with Stephen Dubner). The most sensational chapter in the book updated a paper Levitt has written in 1999 which argued that abortion cuts crime. “Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime. Freakonomics excised all references to race and never connected the facts that because the aborted fetuses were disproportionately black and blacks disproportionately contribute to the crime rate, reducing the size of the black population reduces crime. Yet the press coverage acknowledged this reality and didn’t seem to mind.
In 2005 William Bennett, a committed pro-lifer, invoked the Levitt argument in order to denounce eugenic thinking. “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.” What seemed to offend liberals most was that Bennett had accidentally borrowed some conventional liberal logic to make a conservative point, and, as with the social Darwinists of yore, that makes liberals quite cross. According to the New York Times‘s Bob Herbert, Bennett believed “exterminating blacks would be a most effective crime-fighting tool.” Various liberal spokesman, including Terry McAuliffe, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, said Bennett wanted to exterminate “black babies.” Juan Williams proclaimed that Bennett’s remarks speak “to a deeply racist mindset.” [To be fair, the White House, and Bill Kristol, among others on the conservative side, were quick to criticize Bennett, as well -- and it was those criticisms that were particularly troubling, to my point of view. I addressed that angle of the controversy here and here - ed].
In one sense, this is a pretty amazing turnaround. After all, when liberals advocate them, we are usually told that abortions do not kill “babies.” Rather, they remove mere agglomerations of cells and tissue or “uterine contents.” If hypothetical abortions committed for allegedly conservative ends are infanticide, how can actual abortions performed for liberals end not be?
I have long argued that much of what progressives believe, beyond mere topical and contemporary policy initiatives, is unknown even to them, given that the structural imperatives of progressivism have become second nature, and are so insinuated into social, political, and civic culture that the are simply (illiberal) givens.
What I am not arguing is that today’s progressives necessarily and intentionally adhere to the (often explicit) beliefs of their intellectual and political predecessors. Rather, I believe many progressives — at least, those outside academia, or those who aren’t open socialist fellow travelers — have simply not examined the core tenets and kernel assumptions of the ideology to which they adhere, and so are blinded by a self-righteousness that often leads them to embrace desired outcomes without thinking through the implications of how they are directing us toward those outcomes, particularly as those implications speak to constitutional principles and the classical liberalism upon which a truly free society must necessarily be built.
And I’m here to help combat the ignorance, being a giver and all.
So. Have at it!
June 12 update: Just came across this review of LF from Claremont, and I noticed this startling resemblance to my Nazi-esque, moronic conclusions. Seems there are many little ‘conservative’ Hitlers running around, misrepresenting history and drawing false parallels in the service of, uh, well…evil:
When she was asked in one of last fall’s presidential debates whether she still considered herself a liberal, Hillary Clinton sidestepped the question. She called herself, instead, a “proud, modern, American progressive,” and boasted that her “progressive vision” for the country had roots going all the way back to “the Progressive Era, at the beginning of the twentieth century.”
Modern, big-government liberalism has come home. The Progressives were the first generation of Americans to criticize the United States Constitution, especially for its limits on government’s scope and ambition. They rejected the American Founders’ classical or natural rights liberalism, offering instead a vision of the modern state as a kind of god with almost limitless power to achieve “social justice.” When modern liberals like Senator Clinton call themselves progressives, therefore, they are telling the truth, even if their audiences don’t fully understand the implications.
I’m sure steve would have the reviewer use fewer words, but what can we say? Sometimes even we conservatives like to go buck wild with the verbiage.