Many readers have heard of eugenics, a set of beliefs that involves improving human beings through scientific experimentation and the exclusion of certain “undesirable” groups. Eugenics were used by the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s to justify forced sterilization, medical experimentation and ultimately the extermination of millions of human beings in an attempt to improve the German race.
What many people don’t know is that 100 years ago Progressives were almost all eugenicists. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — Progressive heroes — both promoted eugenics. The scientific “consensus” of the early 20th century was that eugenics were needed to create better human beings and a better society.
Princeton University scholar Thomas C. Leonard documents this in his 2016 book Illiberal Reformers; Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era. “In 1928, 376 college courses were dedicated to the subject of eugenics,” he wrote.
The result in the United States? More than 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized. Eugenics were used to justify segregation and Jim Crow laws because the thought process was that African-Americans were genetically inferior. But eugenics was not just aimed at African-Americans, of course. The “inferior” people included “degenerate Anglo-Saxon hill clans, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and Asia, backward peoples in the territories of the new American empire, African Americans, the feebleminded, [and] the epileptic” among many others, Leonard writes. More than 30 US states passed laws in favor of forced sterilization.
It is important to understand that the eugenics movement was considered “settled science.” Darwin and subsequent biologists had conclusively proven that natural selection would help create the best human beings, and the role of the government was to promote policies to help natural selection along. The science of the day proved that it would be harmful to the general society for inferior people to be part of the gene pool. For the good of all, the less desirable must be forced out, and it was government’s role to protect the common good.
And here we arrive at a crucial lesson we should have learned from the horrors of the eugenics movement: individual rights are always more important than societal rights. The U.S. Constitution concentrates on individual rights and limits governmental authority to infringe on these rights. And it is also true that traditional Judeo-Christian values have promoted the idea that individuals, as sons and daughters of God, have natural rights that supersede societal rights.
Eugenics was evil in every way. It was racist, it was classist, it was illiberal, it was murderous and it was used to justify societal tyranny instead of individual rights.
And that is exactly what COVID-19 hysterics are promoting today.