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.
Any government mandate regarding COVID-19 is necessarily a violation of the individual right of freedom of choice. This applies to mask mandates, lockdowns and the new threat, vaccine mandates. Keep in mind that all of the justifications used to promote the mandates involve supposed threats to the “common good” or “the greater society.”
Promoters of the mandates always appeal to the “settled science” that has been manipulated to promote whatever policy they want to impose on free human beings. So we are forced to wear masks when the science clearly shows that masks do not work against viruses. The science has clearly shown that lockdowns don’t work, yet we keep on seeing lockdowns worldwide (that do nothing to improve the situation long term). The COVID hysterics ignore the role of natural immunity when the science clearly shows that natural immunity is even better than being vaccinated. We are told to trust the vaccines, when the science shows that there have been hundreds of thousands of adverse reactions to the vaccines. We are told to panic about this virus when the the truth is that COVID is relatively harmless for the vast majority of people.
The sad thing is that this is exactly what happened during the Progressive Era to justify eugenics. Check out this 1926 essay from Clarence Darrow, an early ACLU leader (back in the days when the ACLU actually defended civil liberties). Darrow was one of the few public intellectuals willing to criticize eugenics.
Quotations from other eminent authorities might be multiplied to show just how far the biological uplifters are willing to go. Their romancing would not be worth discussing were it not for the fact that the public apparently takes it at its face value. “Aren’t these eugenists. scientists? And you can’t get around scientific law, you know.” The politicians stand ready with their usual willingness to deliver what the people want. So-called eugenic laws are already on the statute books of various States.
Darrow pointed out that, in fact, science has not proven that statist control will necessarily produce better humans, and he questions the very premises of the entire exercise:
But on what grounds would anyone be rash enough to want to change the physical type of man? Have we any assurance that a different type would be more desirable? If so, what kind of type? Furthermore, haven’t the eugenists in their zeal for “bringing the world into an earthly paradise,” forgotten that man, as he stands, is created in the image of God?….It is not unusual to find imbecility in the same family with first-rate intellects. To talk about breeding for intellect, in the present state of scientific knowledge and data, is nothing short of absurd. No scientist has ever pretended to advance any theories for breeding intellect; we do not know what intelligence is, much less how to breed it.
Darrow went on:
Even if human breeding could be so controlled as to produce a race such as the eugenists desire, we might still lose much that is worth while. It is hardly possible to breed certain qualities in without breeding others out. I, for one, am alarmed at the conceit and sureness of the advocates of this new dream. I shudder at their ruthlessness in meddling with life. I resent their egoistic and stern righteousness. I shrink from their judgment of their fellows. Every one who passes judgment necessarily assumes that he is right. It seems to me that man can bring comfort and happiness out of life only by tolerance, kindness and sympathy, all of which seem to find no place in the eugenists’ creed. The whole programme means the absolute violation of what men instinctively feel to be inherent rights. Organized society shall say who must and must not breed, and establish stern rules for picking out mates.
The bigoted and the ignorant are very sure of themselves. No business seems to be too important or too personal for them to undertake. One of their chief pastimes is the regulation of other people. They are willing to do anything to others that to them seems important. To compel all others to adopt their own views and ways of living is their aim. In fact, one of their chief sources of comfort and pleasure is making others unhappy. How safe would it be for the human race and the comfort of the individual units if the production of human beings were left in their hands?
Darrow, one of the few brave intellectuals willing to take on the scientific “consensus” of his day, could have been writing for our time. Notice how the eugenists were busy-bodies intent on compelling others to accept their beliefs, just like the COVID hysterics of today? Notice how they ignored the most basic scientific and moral objections in their attempt to “improve society?” Notice how they did not care at all about others’ individual rights?
History has already shown us what eugenics wrought: forced sterilization, medical experiments, concentration camps and millions of unnecessary deaths. We are in the early stages of the Viral Panics of the 21st century, but it is easy to imagine a future a few years from now similar to the horrors of the Nazi regime. The horrors we are already living through, with endless lockdowns in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, and a growing list of mask mandates, travel mandates and vaccine mandates, is bad enough. But it could get so much worse. I pray it does not, but based on the history of eugenics, I fear it may be too late.