*Illiberal Reformers*, on Progressives and eugenics

The subtitle of Thomas Leonard’s new and excellent book is the apt Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era.

I take it you all know by now this is quite an ugly story, namely that both early progressives and late 19th century American economists were often quite appalling racists and eugenicists, and that such racism was built into the professional structure of economics in a fairly fundamental way, including but not restricted to the American Economics Association.

Kevin Drum had an interesting point in response (and do read his full post, there is more to it than this quick excerpt):

Early 20th century progressives supported eugenics out of a belief that it would improve society. Contemporary liberals support abortion rights and right-to-die laws out of a belief in individual rights that flowered in the 60s.

Most of all Drum is saying that the earlier history is not very illustrative of anything for today.

I view it this way.  Go back to Millian liberalism of the mid-19th century.  Had American or for that matter British Progressivism been infused with more of this philosophy, the eugenics debacle never would have happened.  For instance if you look at the British Parliamentary debates of 1912 over the Mental Deficiency Bill, the anti-eugenics forces drew heavily upon Mill for their inspiration.  This was standard stuff, but the Progressives of the time didn’t see much of a pro-liberty reason for being pushed into a Millian position, quite the contrary.

The claim is not that current Progressives are evil or racist, but rather they still don’t have nearly enough Mill in their thought, and not nearly enough emphasis on individual liberty.  Their continuing choice of label seems to indicate they are not much bothered by that, or maybe not even fully aware of that.  They probably admire Mill’s more practical reform progressivism quite strongly, or would if they gave it more thought, but they don’t seem to relate to the broader philosophy of individual liberty as it surfaced in the philosophy of Mill and others.  That’s a big, big drawback and the longer history of Progressivism and eugenics is perhaps the simplest and most vivid way to illuminate the point.  This is one reason why the commitment of the current Left to free speech just isn’t very strong.

I don’t mean to pick on Kevin, who is one of my favorite bloggers, but I disagree (and find indicative) another one of his claims, namely:

…eugenics died an unmourned death nearly a century ago.

To give one (not the only) example to the contrary, Swedish “progressive” sterilization persisted through the 1970s, as was true for Canada as well.  Eugenicist views toward autistic people, among others, remain common across the political spectrum (no special brickbat for Progressives here, but they are guilty too), and with CRISPR a lot of eugenicist debates are already making a comeback.

Do we really want to identify with a general philosophy which embraced eugenics for so many decades, when so many pro-liberty and also social democratic thinkers were in opposition?  I think Mill himself would say no.



Why mentioning Swedish sterilization "through 70's" when could mention Israeli forced eugenics today?


Not quite sterilization or eugenics or today, but otherwise yeah - See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/01/illiberal-reformers-by-thomas-c-leonard.html#comment-158921348

Jews, both religious and secular, remain at the forefront of implementing eugenic techniques and technologies (although they don’t use the e-word anymore). For example, Dor Yeshorim, the Committee for Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases, was founded in the 1980s by Rabbi Yoseph Eckstein after he lost four children to hereditary Tay-Sachs disease. Rabbi Eckstein’s system of premarital genetic testing has succeeded in largely eliminating this terrible tragedy from New York’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Likewise, Israel is a magnet for eugenics technology start-ups because Israel’s government and society are much more pro-eugenics—in part, to help win the War of the Cradle with the Palestinians—than are European regulators and cultures. For instance, in a 1993 survey of geneticists, 68 percent of the Israeli scientists agreed with the classic eugenic notion that “It is socially irresponsible knowingly to bring an infant with a serious genetic disorder into the world in an era of prenatal diagnosis” versus only 8 percent of German geneticists.


This is one of the few occasions that there's merit in a tired undergraduate trope: define what you mean by eugenics. Is every woman who has an amnio, intending to have the baby aborted if it proves to have Down's syndrome, a eugenicist? As implied by The Blessed Steve, are people who choose spouses with the intention of avoiding genetic handicaps for their children eugenicists? Indeed, if someone chooses a wife partly on the grounds that she's intelligent and beautiful, is he up to some sort of eugenic malarkey? Or what about a white man who might be perfectly happy to consider marrying a girl from the Orient but not an Afro-American? What's his game, eh?

Perhaps one could usefully distinguish between coerced and voluntary eugenics? (Although I'll grant you that then anti-abortion obsessives could scream that the aborted baby was coerced, and pro-abortion enthusiasts could demand that some mothers be coerced into aborting their babies.)

Excellent points Dearieme. It's a genuinely interesting debate.

I used to work in that industry , and no question about it. it's a slippery slope.

Regarding the "coerced" versus "voluntary" distinction, government coerces us to do all sorts of things: pay taxes, conserve water, send our children to school, etc.

Why's eugenics different? One could imagine incentives to prevent some people from reproducing and stopping others. In fact, we already do the opposite through welfare given to unwed mothers. As a matter of fact, any tax or welfare policy will have SOME genetic effect.

So does the taboo lie in not caring about the genetic effect of policy? Doesn't seem like a useful taboo.

The accusations of forced sterilization do not hold up : http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/02/07/lets-get-the-facts-straight-about-ethiopian-jews-and-contraception/#

Shorter version of eugenics and where it went bad:

Eugenics back in the days, before the work of Ronald Fisher et al., believed that if you sterilized the 'bad guys' then society's gene pool would be improved. However, Fisher et al showed that to do this you must constantly practice eugenics, as done back in the days, for at least (if memory serves) 40 generations = 1000 years. Consequently, eugenics died not because it was not popular (I maintain it's still popular today) but impractical.

However, eugenics 'back in the days' involved breeding, waiting 9 months, then culling. Today, with test tube DNA sequencing techniques like PCR, gene splicing, and modern biology, you don't have to wait 9 months and you can perform eugenics "in the test tube" which is less unsavory. And arguably you don't have to wait 1000 years to see the results in society's DNA pool.

Question for the reader: who is the true eugenicist? Yesterday's misguided "Hit ler" (no I'm not a fan of his) or today's hypocritical, smug, closet eugenicist but outwardly anti-eugenicist modern westerner? Arguably the more transparent eugenicist of yesteryear was more honest, albeit misguided for the reasons cited above.

Behind closed doors, today's eugenicists are pretty transparent. Just watch the Planned Parenthood videos.

Are you volunteering to raise those kids, or to pay someone to do so?

No need, given the ample supply of willing and waiting prospective adoptive parents.

Not for disabled or *ahem* minority babies.

Francis Galton got started by his cousin Charles Darwin theory. The rest is history.

Where did Fisher say that? The number of generations needed to substantially improve heredity by means of negative eugenics depends on narrow heritability and the strength of artificial selection (how many are culled). You need much less than 1000 years if you're brutal enough.

However, even strong eugenic selection wouldn't eliminate many genetic diseases because they are often due to de novo mutations.

@P- thanks. I don't have a cite but I recall Fisher (or somebody like him) lost their faith in eugenics when they calculated on average it would take 40 generations to see genuine change in the population (I vaguely recall as well somebody informing Hit ler of that fact, though I could be wrong). I'm not sure how brutal the assumed culling was. Your point on narrow heritability and de novo mutations are noted. However, today's "23AndMe" (sic) DNA testing is arguably addressing narrow heritability and is nothing more than a throwback to yesteryear's eugenics (the story of the woman who won't have kids if she knows she has a certain heredity disease comes to mind; against that, here in the Philippines I know of couples who have no prenatal testing done and don't even know the sex of the child until it is born).

"I’m not sure how brutal the assumed culling was."

Judging by other behavior of the Nazi's, I'm going with brutal.

Yeah, but they killed off or drove away the highest-IQ population in Europe, which seems like it's the opposite of eugenic.

Not quite sterilization or eugenics or today, but otherwise yeah

Shorter Drum: If you paint the same thing a different color, it changes from evil to enlightened.

Excellent, derek!

It's a ridiculous statement. The New Left of the '60's, with all its Marxist and Maoist influences, was and is hiiiighly selective in its respect for and commitment to "individual rights."

Moreover, when the individual right is all too often justified by the argument that a woman shouldn't have to bear the burden of raising a defective child, it's difficult to see what's changed than just the entity we're saying is put-upon.

Don't men also have to raise defective children? Or are you operating under the assumption that as soon as the defective baby pops out the man is going to cut and run?

I am recounting justifications I've encountered, not stating my opinion.


The core "Left" philosophy is a direct rejection of individual rights. The collective (society/state) is always primary. Individuals exist to support & further the collective; all rights are collective rights only.

Individuals must be closely controlled and molded by society in order to perfect society. Individual Rights directly oppose that basic leftist principle/process.

That "Left" absolutely includes Progressivism (past and present), as well the standard varieties of historical collectivism (socialism, marxism, maoism, fascism, etc).

The core “Left” philosophy is a direct rejection of individual rights.

No. The core is to reject privileges and immunities grounded in custom and common sense in favor of the inventions of the chatterati.

Can you cite any prominent American Progressive - Elizabeth Warren, Clinton, I don't know, anyone who's not some far-fringe crackpot - as ever saying anything akin to "[our] core philosophy is a direct rejection of individual rights"?

Of course not. What a completely non-sensical statement, and one which reveals a lot about you.

"you didn't build that"

Wilful misreading is probably not part of the solution. No one was born, or succeded alone, as a man in the wilderness. Every one of us has profited from public and private ventures.

(Or perhaps your internet is built from pine needles.)

The OP's point is that contemporary Progressives have learned to paint with a different brush. But go back to the source:

“If you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence, do not repeat the preface.” -- Woodrow Wilson.

The "you didn't build that" is not a nuanced discussion of public goods and externalities, it's an excuse to take money for social transfers. I didn't construct my internet, but neither did Medicare or the Social Security.

That's an entirely different mindset from one a libertarian might take, or a principled conservative. We all know what Warren meant when she said "you didn't build that."

"ever saying anything akin to “[our] core philosophy is a direct rejection of individual rights”?"

Say? Of course not, they are not stupid. Its the effect of their policies.

Only sexual rights they recognize in full. Otherwise, they intrude on every facet of life and every individual decision.

Beta Guy has it right.
"You didn't build that" doesn't lead into some sort of logical argument of how you should repay the people who actually built it. Which, rationally, might veer into a discussion of how markets tend to reward people for producing goods and services that other people benefit from. It's just meant to be a big amoprphous bucket of never-ending obligation, from which the progressives may draw at any time, for any reason.
You didn't build that - therefore you owe money to those mentally disabled children. You didn't build that - therefore everything you own actually belongs to society to distribute to whoever has the most votes at any given moment. Absolutely no rational connection between the owing and the who is owed.

> Can you cite any prominent American Progressive – Elizabeth Warren, Clinton, I don’t know, anyone who’s not some far-fringe crackpot – as ever saying anything akin to “[our] core philosophy is a direct rejection of individual rights”?

Have you heard of the book "It Takes a Village"?

Isn't it the point in any discussion of Citizens United?

How about the left's race to defend sex selective abortion?

This is outside of my specialty, but wasn't that entirely the point of the W.E.B. DuBois / Booker T. Washington split? And, isn't that split more and more important as the modern left starts to embrace identity politics in absolutely all matters? What is the most persuasive argument for Hillary that doesn't mention her gender?

When Obama said that (not Warren as someone claims above) he was merely pointing out that other people paid for the building of the roads businesses use to deliver their goods, other people paid for the education of their employees and so on.

Or do you think Uber is in the roads business and Air BnB is in the construction (and tax avoidance) business?

On the contrary. Obama was borrowing rhetoric from Warren, which you would know if you followed political discourse more closely.

And you do realize that Uber and AirBnb, or the people who own and invest in them, have, in fact paid taxes for roads and education in the past, right?

The clear implication that Warren and Obama are making is that Uber and AirBnb are under some sort of free floating obligation to forever pay for, well, anything people like Obama and Warren think they should pay for, because - blah - ROADS! It's all a big puddle of interdependence. Impossible to sort out who owes who what, therefore everyone owes everyone everything and we get to decide who gets it!

It is "all a big puddle of interdependence" indeed, which is why the extreme position of "I owe society nothing/taxes are theft" is so ridiculous. The other extreme of "the state gets everything" is also patently ridiculous. The debate is at the margins, how much is owed to society. That's what politics is for. The mushy middle FTW.

Elizabeth Warren said:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you.

"But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. ... You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."


Warren's and Progressivism's premise is that individualism is a harmful delusion... that any supposed individual's achievements really derive from society, so the achievements belonging not to the individual, but society. Thus society is entitled to control & conscript individuals and their property for the greater good as defined by society. American Progressive politics seeks to dilute the concept of individualism, thus diminishing respect for the individual's personal zone of sovereignty. The Regulatory State, Progressivism's primary instrument, constantly reduces that zone — for the individual's own good, it says.

The Progressive collectivist agenda directly contradicts America's founding premise-- that Government exists to facilitate individual striving & goals ("pursuit of happiness"), not vice versa. Progressivism preaches a smug social engineering of the populace herd by the Regulatory State ... supervised by a clever, paternal minority of persons who are somehow free of the false consciousness that hobbles the masses.

The mushy middle FTW.

The middle is only mushy if you are too lazy to figure out the differentiations.
The progressive left simply gives up. "We're all interdependent" end of story. Stop thinking.

Nevermind that in a free market there actually is generally a chain of ownership and obligation that is navigable. I don't owe you for my cable suscription, because I paid the cable company for it. The entire supply chain is full of PAID FOR obligations, from the ore being extracted from the earth, to where it ends up in your smart phone. The "mushy" areas, to the extent they exist, only really exist because government interventions have broken the chain of ownership and forcibly extracted resources from other people in a way that benefits you. But rather than stop forcible extracting other people's resources, the progressive simply seeks to extend the government intervetions by forcibly extracting yours as well.

When economists argue that generous welfare benefits are a positive for the economy, then I will believe economists have dropped creative destruction for unproductive factors of production, which ultimately are people.

That old factory being uncompetitive and it's bankruptcy is a virtue is just anot indirect way of saying the employees of the factory are worthless and need to dissappear in the real world just as they do in economic theory and models.

Eugenics is merely a systematic method of implementing economic creative destruction. And I've seen many make the argument that skin color or facial features are a useful proxy for culling or advancing factors of production based on genetics.

And to claim a fetus is human being with god given rights that the state must protect and then to argue that workers who can't meet certain performance standards is a less than marginal factor of production that needs to be discarded is a contradiction.

If a fetus as a matter of state policy must be born with all the costs associated with it not allowed as a criteria, then the 80 year old invalid's need for $200,000 of paid labor for care is something the state must provide. And logically, the state must provide aid at every point in between to ensure that human being attains it's maximum potential, no matter how limited it is.


@mulp - sounds like, from a quick reading of your missive, you're ready for a Brave New World. You and the Republicans like Bush I, a New World Order, lol.

Shout-out to the Catholics who aggressively fought back against those Protestant progressives, as they still do. Mill's admirers are just one part of the coalition that honors the sanctity of each individual's life and choices.

The Catholics however failed in the Crusades of 1250s or so in Byzantium, as well as with stopping Hitler when they could have told their voters not to vote for him. Otherwise I agree they are a good moderating force.

I think Supreme Court jurisprudence is informative of the progressive record on this front. Of course, Buck v. Bell (1927), permitting mandatory sterilization, remains a black mark on the court's record. Libertarians and conservatives love to note the Holmes wrote the opinion, and none of his work has aged worse. But that case was 8-1; the conservatives and economic libertarians that controlled the court were happy to join an opinion saying that "three generations of imbeciles was enough). It was not until the Court was packed with Roosevelt appointed liberals in 1942 that it reversed itself in a unanimous decision. And of course it was many of these same liberals who would go onto make history in Brown.

If you mean Skinner, the Court did not reverse itself. The Court simply created some extra conditions under which the laws had to operate. It is more likely that finding out what Hitler was up to had a bigger impact on public opinion.

After all those laws still existed on the books - and were still used after Skinner.

I perhaps should have used a less technically fraught term than reverse.

This doesn't change my point that a conservative court voted 8-1 to uphold a compulsory sterilization law, while the liberal one 15 years later (and before Hitler's craziness was widely circulated) unanimously struck down Oklahoma's very similar law.

The business of the courts was determining whether a bad state law violated an explicit provision of the federal constitution, not to evaluate the advisability of the law itself.

Well, yes and no. Yes, the courts tied their decisions to explicit constitutional provisions; but the Due Process clauses are elastic enough to have been regularly used to strike down laws that judges find nonsensical.

"Four generations of imbiciles is enough."

The SC must phrase their decisions in terms of the consititution, but in practice theyre nine permanently appointed politicians who make policy decision using the levers of power they have. Elected politicians like to punt hard questions to them because the Supremes don't have to stand for election.

There was nothing particularly conservative about the Court that voted 8-1 for Buck - and the hard core conservative voted against it. The liberals like Brandeis voted for it. There was little particularly liberal about the Court that modified Skinner. Nor was the law struck down. They insisted on a tougher test - a compelling State interest - but what they objected to was that the law exempted White collar criminals. Skinner stole a chicken. They also expressed some doubt about whether chicken stealing was a genetic trait.

The ruling did not stop Oklahoma doing Buck-style sterilizations of the mentally ill or deficient.

The court with eight Roosevelt appointees was not "particularly liberal"? Not sure that passes the smell test.

You keep mentioning that states continued to sterilize; I'm not sure what point this serves in the discussion. It's certainly not something I or anyone else suggested was untrue.

It is a bit unreasonable to claim no links at all between the Old School progressives and the New School Left. Of course there are. Planned Parenthood started out as an explicitly racist organization dedicated to preventing Blacks reproducing. That is why they funded the Pill - they needed a method simple enough for the poor and minorities, as they saw them - people limited in intelligence - to use. The Left endorses, celebrates Margaret Sanger despite her views. Planned Parenthood continues to provide disproportionately more services in minority areas.

There is strong pressure, for instance, to abort children with Down's Syndrome. That is not coming from the Right.

In the end, if every child "belongs" in some sense to the State, if the State is responsible for every parts of its life, and at the same time, the State makes a lot of money from every citizen, the State has a strong incentive to make sure productive citizens are born and unproductive ones are not. The more powers you give the State, the more it will treat its citizens like cattle. To be bred and reared properly in the State's interests, not the individuals.

I don't understand Subtley's argument. He would have us believe that progressives still favor a form of eugenics because they want to fund Planned Parenthood, whose policies disproportionately reduce the number of poor minorities. In contrast, the wonderful people on the right want to prevent abortions of children with Down's Syndrome (as well as children of poor minorities and others).

One has only to look at Flint, Michigan to see how silly those claims are. While there is a lot of blame to go around, most of the blame can be assigned to Governor Snyder and his fellow republicans. They didn't want to do anything for poor minorities that would cost their funders money until it became a public relations disaster. The right claims to be pro-life, when they are just anti-abortion.

The fact that poor people are treated like cattle has more to do with policies of the right than of the left. Progressives favor Planned Parenthood because it increases the probability that children who are born to poor parents will have a decent chance in life, since those children can't depend on the right for help if the family size is too large.

I don’t understand Subtley’s argument.

It is a burden I will have to carry.

One has only to look at Flint, Michigan to see how silly those claims are. While there is a lot of blame to go around, most of the blame can be assigned to Governor Snyder and his fellow republicans.

Since when has municipal water supply been a State responsibility? That the Democrat city government of Flint and the Democratic city government of Detroit got together to mismanage the water supply is hardly the governor's fault.

This is just trolling and not very clever trolling at that.

Progressives favor Planned Parenthood because it increases the probability that children who are born to poor parents will have a decent chance in life, since those children can’t depend on the right for help if the family size is too large.

Well we know that is not true. As moral disorder only leads to more moral disorder - and that destroys the chances of children in particular. What poor minority children need is the sort of social stability that middle class White suburb families used to have. What they have got is the Left telling them that marriage is oppressive and encouraging teenagers to have sex.

The result is the massive dysfunction you see in urban America.

If someone hated African Americans they could hardly think up more cruel and unusual punishments than what the progressives have inflicted on urban Blacks.

Not to say that you use the arguments, but I have heard progressives often cite savings on welfare, incarceration, etc. as a benefit of abortion. If you have not heard a progressive say, if you want outlaw abortion, you need to take responsibility for that child. I could on and on and on, but the underlying theme of all the arguments is that each of the fetuses aborted were going to be a drain on society, not contributor. Why did the early progressives want to implement abortion? Needless to say, I think Kevin Drum is wrong yet again.

When progressives want to make birth control, including abortion, easier to obtain, they may be implicitly acknowledging that the unborn child may cost society additional taxes for welfare, incarceration, etc. However, that knowledge is not the primary reason progressives' object to restrictions on Planned Parenthood's ability to provide information on birth control including abortion. Progressives realize that those restrictions deny to the less affluent families options available to middle and upper class families. Middle and upper class families can (and do) find ways to abort children on their own. Without organizations like Planned Parenthood, poor families will have more children than makes economic sense.

There are a lot of reasons why women in poor families become pregnant when the pregnancy is against the families' best interests. Some of reasons reflect ignorance while others reflect lack of self control. In either case, more education for the poor helps. If conservatives are intent on preventing abortions, they should encourage organizations like PP to educate the poor on ways besides abortion to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The reason why progressives want conservatives who oppose making abortion available for poor families to take some responsibility for the children that would not be born if abortion were available is that those conservatives do bear part of the responsibility. If those conservatives are truly pro-life, they should voluntarily help children who would otherwise not have been born. One might say that forcing poor women to carry all their babies to term is necessary to teach them a lesson, but then all children in the family have to suffer. To say that the fault for the children who are born because the mother doesn't have access to abortion lies wholly with the families that parent the child is naive if not dishonest.

"For instance if you look at the British Parliamentary debates of 1912 over the Mental Deficiency Bill, the anti-eugenics forces drew heavily upon Mill for their inspiration."

Actually, the key Member of Parliament who blocked Home Secretary Churchill’s 1911 bill for sterilization of the feeble-minded was Josiah Wedgwood, another member of Darwin's and Galton’s extended family. Why? Because the British had been debating the question more intensively—and nowhere longer than among Darwin’s relations—than elsewhere, they were one of the very few countries to not use mandatory sterilization (a practice carried on in Sweden into the mid-1970s).

The British had longer to think through the subject and thus came to a more sensible conclusion. Why? Because open, informed debate is a Good Thing.


It is deeply incongruous and disturbing that abortion is supported in the name of "individual rights". May it come to pass that in the future this position is just as reviled as eugenics has become today.

...or not. Putting women in prison because of abortion is just stupid. (Because, in practice only poor women would end up in prison, the rich women could excape, by going to a better clinic in next door country... at least thats how it worked in my country...)

Nice dodge of the real issue, which is that the taking of innocent life is being defended as acceptable.

Nice dodge of the real issue, which is forcing women "at the point of a gun" to continue an unwanted pregnancy.

So, is it taking a human life or not? If yes, then why is that ok?

Outside of rape, she had her choice.

So is it using the force of government to control someone else's decisions about their body?

Yes, abortion is taking a life, as is discarding in-vitro fertilized eggs. I personally would not use the word "OK" (or "not OK") to describe it in general.
It is OK to be upset or reviled by it. It is OK to think it is wrong and that people should not do it. It is also OK to oppose making it illegal. There are times when taking a life is permitted - i.e. the government does not intervene to stop it or punish the act - and I think voluntary abortion is such a case and it should not be illegal. And if someone chooses to have an abortion I am not going to sit in judgement of her reasons and her decision - it simply doesn't matter if I'm "OK" with it or not.
And I am fully aware that neither you or I will change the other's mind on this.

Nice dodge of the real issue, which is forcing women “at the point of a gun” to continue an unwanted pregnancy.

'unwanted'? Children are not consumer goods.

Wow, if you completely ignore one side of a contentious debate, it becomes trivial to solve!

The whole reason it is an issue is because of the fact that banning abortion is both about protecting the life of unborn children and about coercing pregnant women to carry those babies to term.

"Putting women in prison because of abortion is just stupid. "


Putting women in prison because of abortion is just stupid.

Putting women in prison for hiring a perverted gynecologist to soak their unborn child in caustic brine is called 'law enforcement'. It bothers people who think its a good thing to kill the innocent when they get in the way.

The logic behind the argument doesn't change when you add more colorful language. It just makes you feel smart.

It does not make me feel smart. It punctures the lies you people tell yourselves.

How do you react to women you know who have had abortions? I assume revulsion, shunning? Perhaps you should warn women you know about this, to maintain your moral purity, amen.

"Perhaps you should warn women you know about this"

'Conservative views will stop you from getting laid' - Typical leftist.

Is abortion the killing of a human being or not? If it is, then surely it is right to be deeply upset about it. I would like to hear your argument that it is not.

Is the bombing of Nagasaki deeply upsetting to you? Should Truman be considered a mass murderer?

These are questions that are far more complicated than you are making them out to be.

But those are Foreigners, whereas what really matters is cellular structures.

"Is the bombing of Nagasaki deeply upsetting to you?"

Yes. I do think involvement in war is sometimes justified, but only when defending against the aggression of others. Even then, it is always deeply upsetting. The atomic bombing of Japan I find very hard to justify morally because of the number of civilians killed. I'm familiar with the arguments as to why it was necessary and why it saved lives compared to other approaches, but I still am not comfortable with it and can't say that I would make the same decision if in Truman's shoes.

"These are questions that are far more complicated than you are making them out to be."

I don't think it is a simple issue. Maybe my comments on it here have been too one-sided. However, so are comments that act like it is all about mistreating women.

War is very tragic, but the unborn didn't declare war on the US and launch a sneak attack against the US pacific fleet. The only analogy I can think of, the case that they endanger the mothers life, there is at least a moral argument to be made for their termination. With medical advancements this is more and more unnecessary (but open to abuse).

Japanese teen-age girls walking to school on the morning of August 6, 1945 had never declared war on anybody.

Yes, the attack was an atrocity. Regardless of the justice of the American cause, one cannot burn cities full of innocent people to death.
I see no real beef with calling Truman a Mass murderer.

Wars are not between individuals like Japanese schools girls and Truman, but the economies and governments of the US and Japan of which they were part of. Japanese students as young as 14 were in fact mobilized by their government as suicide bombers on Okinawa, afterwards on the mainland 15 year olds were drafted.into the army and those left in school were organized into youth military groups, their physical education at classes turned into military drills. Every man woman and child was a tool for the government. The war was between governments. If you are trying analyze war on the individual level, excluding larger variables and using tunnel vision, then you could generate a rationale that everyone is a mass murderer, but you would be selectively ignoring a lot.

At any rate, the unborn are not members of a government or economy at war with their mothers.

This is a red herring anyways, as regardless of the evil of killing non-combatant populations (including nursing infants) in Japan, killing infants and fetuses is an evil.

There should not be a reflexive need for extended interrogation to determine that we are clean in our thoughts and morals before one can ascertain that atrocities are atrocities.

The abortion debate really does come down to that simple belief. If to you an embryo/fetus is a human child, it's murder to terminate. If to you that same collection of cells is not a child, then obviously a person has a right to terminate, as there is no other person with competing rights involved.

There are those who believe in absolutes, and then many like myself who say 'it depends'. To me, an embryo in the first trimester is not a human child (even with a heartbeat, it's just a living batch of cells....I eat meat every day and those animals were far more alive than the 1st trimester embryo). After that I get uncomfortable. If you haven't decided in the first 3 months, preferably even 2, that you can't have the child, then do what needs to be done. If you dither, too late, tough luck, you bought it you own it. 3 months is plenty of time to see if the child will have a serious genetic disease as well.

This debate, unfortunately, has no compromise solution. Murder is murder. Either you think any and all abortions are murder or you are ok with them (depending on when they occur).

"If to you an embryo/fetus is a human child, it’s murder to terminate"

I am actually of the belief that it's a more complicated issue than that. Establishing that an embryo/fetus is a human life is the beginning, rather than the end of the inquiry--you've proven that there is a second set of rights claims competing with those of the prospective mother, but you still have to arbitrate between those claims. Most people simply assume that one should arbitrate in favor of the unborn's continuing to live; but it does impose substantial costs on the mother, most particularly an egregious violation of her bodily integrity. It's also not unreasonable to say that the comparative weight of those rights claims shifts over the course of a pregnancy; an embryo may fairly be given less consideration than a possibly-viable fetus, and a woman in her first trimester may fairly be given greater consideration than a woman who has already had ample time to make a decision.

I personally still come down more on the Pro-Life side of things, but am willing to acknowledge that it's not as cut-and-dried as Pro-Lifers generally try to frame it.

We're pretty much in agreement then. Although again it takes a lot for one person to have the right to end another person's life, especially if it's a life you created, based on simple fairness alone. I am pro-choice up to 3 months, then I am pro-life.

It's actually even more complicated. What if the mother-to-be drinks to excess, uses drugs, smokes heavily or engages in other activity that has a negative effect on the fetus? I'm waiting for the day when a person with fetal alcohol syndrome sues its mother. And why aren't the mothers of fetal alcohol syndrome victims arrested and charged with poisoning their offspring? Is poisoning one's fetus negated by abortion? Does that make it all OK?

"Go back to Millian liberalism of the mid-19th century."

One problem is that Millian liberalism of the mid-19th century rather quickly turned into Millian proto-socialism of the mid-to-latish 19th century. The dominant intellectual descendants of Mill, such as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and John Maynard Keynes became fervent eugenicists in the 20th Century.

With the exception of Josiah Wedgwood, most of the opposition to eugenics proposals tended to come from Catholics (e.g., G.K. Chesterton's 1922 book "Eugenics and Other Evils") and from the more backward kind of Protestants, such as Southern Baptists in the U.S. If you look at American states that passed mandatory sterilization laws, they tended to be the more forward-looking ones that were drifting toward post-Protestantism. But eugenics laws didn't get much traction in heavily Catholic states, nor in retrograde Southern states.

One interesting point documented at vast length in John Glad's history book "Jewish Eugenics" is that there was little in the way of Jewish opposition to eugenics. Lots of Reform and secular Jews were doctors or scientists, and they tended to be all for it, while religious Jews frequently pointed out that Jews had been practicing eugenic arranged marriages for thousands of years.

'If you look at American states that passed mandatory sterilization laws, they tended to be the more forward-looking ones that were drifting toward post-Protestantism.'

Virginia's experience shows just how ignorant this statement is. Unless, of course, Virginia has grown more 'backward' regarding its Protestantism since the early 20th century.

What you so predictably ignore is the fact that in a state like Virginia, eugenics was merely just another form of racism, providing the sort of pseudo-scientific justification that so many racists seem to feel necessary to justify their beliefs. Not that they ever stop from reframing and rebranding while attempting to implement those beliefs.

'On March 20, 1924 the Virginia General Assembly passed two laws that had arisen out of contemporary concerns about eugenics and race: SB 219, titled "The Racial Integrity Act[1]" and SB 281, "An ACT to provide for the sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases", henceforth referred to as "The Sterilization Act". The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was one of a series of laws designed to prevent inter racial relationships.

The Racial Integrity Act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth and divided society into only two classifications: white and colored (essentially all other, which included numerous American Indians). It defined race by the "one-drop rule", defining as "colored" persons with any African or Native American ancestry. It also expanded the scope of Virginia's ban on interracial marriage (anti-miscegenation law) by criminalizing all marriages between white persons and non-white persons. In 1967 the law was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in its ruling on Loving v. Virginia.

The Sterilization Act provided for compulsory sterilization of persons deemed to be "feebleminded," including the "insane, idiotic, imbecile, or epileptic."[2]

These two laws were Virginia's implementation of Harry Laughlin's "Model Eugenical Sterilization Law",[3] published two years earlier in 1922. The Sterilization Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Buck v. Bell 274 U.S. 200 (1927). This had appealed the order for compulsory sterilization of Carrie Buck, who was an inmate in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, and her daughter and mother.

Together these laws implemented the practice of "scientific eugenics" in Virginia.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_Integrity_Act_of_1924

And do note that Harry Laughlin is a founding member of the Pioneer Fund, a non-profit which is rarely considered to be part of the progressive political spectrum - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_Fund

As noted in the article - 'The 1937 incorporation documents of the Pioneer Fund list two purposes. The first, modeled on the Nazi Lebensborn breeding program,[14] was aimed at encouraging the propagation of those "descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original thirteen states prior to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States and/or from related stocks, or to classes of children, the majority of whom are deemed to be so descended". Its second purpose was to support academic research and the "dissemination of information, into the 'problem of heredity and eugenics'" and "the problems of race betterment".[13] The Pioneer Fund argues the "race betterment" has always referred to the "human race" referred to earlier in the sentence, and critics argue it referred to racial groups. The document was amended in 1985 and the phrase changed to "human race betterment."'

Virginia was the best educated state in the South.

Which means that Baptists were less influential in Virginia back then than now?

And how about North Carolina? 'Draper secretly met Dr. C. Nash Herndon of Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University in 1949. Little is known about their meetings, but Herndon was playing a major role in the expansion of the compulsory sterilization program in North Carolina.' From the same link about the Pioneer Fund.

Looking at a list of the 27 states with sterilization laws in 1956, one notes not only North, but also South Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia. Your convenient theory about 'backward' southern states ignores the real connection between racism and eugenics, which is the major thread tying together eugenics laws in both what can be considered arguably the worst and best educated sourthern states, especially as their religious 'backwardness' is quite similar - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_sterilization#United_States

Keep digging. The inseparable entwining between racists and eugenicists in the U.S. is a matter of public record, after all. Even with a well funded decades long effort at reframing and rebranding.

'Best' or 'Most'?

@SS SS - you call genetic drift "eugenics"? Seems you have a rather narrow view of what is eugenics, or rather, an overly broad view (and you're too clever by 0.4999....)

The claim is not that current Progressives are evil or racist, but rather they still don’t have nearly enough Mill in their thought, and not nearly enough emphasis on individual liberty. Their continuing choice of label seems to indicate they are not much bothered by that, or maybe not even fully aware of that.

Of course they are aware of that. The modern Progressive movement has always rejected Mill's liberalism. That is why they have "moved beyond" the actual Constitution and the protections it affords. Woodrow Wilson explicitly said so. Modern progressives say things like "the Constitution is a living document and has to be interpreted in light of modern realities" but it means the same thing.

When colleges talk about Speech Codes or Safe Spaces, they are explicitly rejecting Mill. As they are when they talk about minimum wage or pretty much any other topic. Civil liberties in that sense are only cynically adopted when they are useful.

You cannot support individual liberties in the Mill sense and be progressive.

Mill was a utilitarian, not a libertarian when it came to economics. He can be easily contrasted with Nozick. Nozick described commerce as just another action performed among consenting adults that was no business of the state's unless force or fraud were involved. For Mill, he says quite clear that trade is a social act and that while, for utilitarian reasons, he tended to favor the free market, it wasn't the case that commerce is none of society's business or that there aren't situations in which the right of contract can be restricted for the social good.

As for the Constitution being a living document, conservative and libertarian thinkers like John Yoo and Richard Posner would agree. Would people in the late 18th century have considered warrantless interception of email headers to be a "reasonable" or "unreasonable" search? Does Congress have the right to regulate commercial air traffic under its enumerated powers? It's obvious these are not only questions that the framers didn't think to address but that they are questions that would have made absolutely no sense to them without an understanding of how the modern world operates.

It is not reasonably to conclude from fact that technology continues to progress that judges, rather than the people via Article V, are in charge of amending the constitution. Linguistic meaning does not change because circumstances change. Yoo and Posner are horrible examples, by the way.

Progressives have turned to living constitutionalism because they are totalitarians at heart. Sorry, there's no way to sugarcoat it. That is why the intellectual origins of progressivism are relevant. They disdain the separation of powers and federalism because it impedes efficient government by experts. They envision experts (themselves) shepherding society to a new golden age of continual "progress." They wish to make the world "safe for democracy" in the words of the primogenitor of progressivism in this country (who was an unabashed racist, as progressives at his alma mater are now discovering). But, democracy only insofar as it does not impede progress (i.e. the method of achieving progress that the experts themselves have determined). Hence the major suppression of free speech once Wilson had decided to go to war -- old Eugene Debs got 10 years for making an anti-war speech.

Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. Progressivism is a ends-justify-the-means cancer that has been ruining the carefully constructed American experiment in self-governance since the turn of the twentieth century. It is inherently illiberal, down to its philosophical roots, and that is what the history of eugenics shows.

Kevin Drum is simply naive in stating that abortion is supported among progressives for liberal reasons. That is not the history of the abortion movement, either. See, e.g., the eugenicist racism of Margaret Sanger. The foolish progressive base believes in abortion because they believe in free sex. The sinister progressive elite believe that abortion and contraception must never be impeded because they are the only way to keep undesirable classes under control now that forced sterilization is frowned upon. Here's Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the subject: “Frankly I had thought that at the time [Roe v. Wade] was decided,” Ginsburg told her interviewer, Emily Bazelon, “there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” http://www.nationalreview.com/article/227883/ruth-bader-ginsburg-and-question-eugenics-jonah-goldberg

Have you talked to people who personally support abortion and asked them for their reasons? There is nothing on Earth easier than construction a cardboard cutout of your opponents positions that makes them out to all be villains.

People I know that are in favor of legal abortion talk about harm reduction, though they don't call it that--they say abortions will happen with or without legal approval, and it's better to have it done aboveground in regulated facilities. Some also sound very much like libertarians discussing drugs--they think that the mother's right to control her own body trumps the right of an unborn baby to make use of that body for nine months. But I'm not a big supporter of abortion, so I may not be passing the ideological Turing test here. What do abortion supporters think?

"Of course they are aware of that."
No, really, they are not. If you polled 100 progressives I'd be surprised if 10 had heard of Mill and 2 had ever read anything by him.
I don't understand this strange attitude that today's "progressives" must own the baggage of early 20th century eugenicists any more than the attitude that today's "conservatives" must own the baggage of state-rights segregationists. Most people, left and right, simply do not form their political affiliations in this manner - their philosophical underpinnings are quite shallow and often inconsistent. Sitting there and saying "they are explicitly rejecting Mill" is completely and utterly pointless because Mill doesn't enter into their calculus.

I agree that today's progressives should not be blamed for the past progressives, but there is the underlying theme of the state's rights vs the individuals'. Under this, things are aligning just as they have in the past.

It's not that contemporary progressives must own the baggage of eugenicists--it's that when a policy's genesis is found in eugenics, and its implementation continues to have eugenic effects that are touted as justifications for the policy, the policy should be fairly described for what it is.

Bruce B January 28, 2016 at 9:17 am

No, really, they are not. If you polled 100 progressives I’d be surprised if 10 had heard of Mill and 2 had ever read anything by him.

I agree with your argument but not your conclusion. They are aware of Mill. Maybe not directly. But Mill's views are part of the general conversation. We cannot talk about free speech without using a discourse shaped by Mill. As can be seen by the fact that when you get up to Gay Rights Mill suddenly makes a come back. Someone who says that the First Amendment does not protect Hate Speech may not have read Mill but they are knowingly rejecting his views anyway.

I don’t understand this strange attitude that today’s “progressives” must own the baggage of early 20th century eugenicists any more than the attitude that today’s “conservatives” must own the baggage of state-rights segregationists.

Why should today's Republicans own the baggage of the Democratic party? Segregation was a Democratic policy. Bull Connor sat on the Democratic National Committee. On the other hand, the progressives of today celebrate the eugenicists of yore. Don't even try to criticize Margaret Sanger in their presence! If they insist on making a Saint of a racist, they have to bear all the consequences of that.

Most philosophical positions result in absurd or immoral positions if taken to an extreme. This is true of prioritizing the good of the community above all, potentially leading to advocating eugenics. It is equallly true of prioritizing individual rights above all else, potentially leading to the justification of the abolition of all taxation and the general collapse of society.

"It is equallly true of prioritizing individual rights above all else, potentially leading to the justification of the abolition of all taxation and the general collapse of society."

But what you describe (anarchy) is not at all a situation that maximizes individual rights. In fact, quite the opposite: it becomes rule by mob and bully. One could make the same argument about "prioritizing the good of the community above all". Communism has always created a very unequal society and undermined "the community". The more extreme the attempt to implement Communism, the truer this has been.

In both cases, the problem is not excessive devotion to the end, but extreme application of the means that has unintended consequences.

"It is equallly true of prioritizing individual rights above all else, potentially leading to the justification of the abolition of all taxation and the general collapse of society."

That's a preposterous statement. No matter what the extent of individual rights, that individual still lives within some form of society with which he must form a relationship acceptable to at least a portion of that society in order to survive, much less prosper. The lack of a democratic/republic form of government, a nation-state, a duchy or a principality in no way implies a general collapse of society. What's wrong with the abolition of all taxation?

What is now called Silicon Valley was a hotbed of eugenics advocates from the founding of Stanford U.

The first Stanford president, David Starr Jordan, authored a famous pacifist tract arguing that the best men would be most likely to be killed in war.

The two chief candidates for Father of Silicon Valley -- William Shockley and Fred Terman -- were both advocates of eugenics. Terman's father Louis Terman created the first American IQ test, the Stanford-Binet.


@Steve Sailor - Seems a lot of people held those views, back in the days (1876 to 1939). Such views were hardly unique to Stanford U founders, so what's your point? For example it was said that France degenerated since their best men died in WWI and only the cowardly Jews were left (forget who said that, maybe a proto-SS man).

Mrs. Stanford, however, forced Jordan to dismiss Edward Ross--one of the absolute worst villains of Leonard's book--because of his anti-Chinese and eugenicist views. It's an interesting and troubling academic freedom case, often mentioned without explaining what Ross's views were, with the implication that he must have been a great guy because he was a progressive sociologist forced out by a rich patron.

Has Silicon Valley changed all that much other than in what gets publicly proclaimed? Do the leaders of Silicon Valley today deep down in the privacy of their own brains reject all those deplorable views about IQ and genetics that the men who built Silicon Valley proclaimed in public? Does the subsequent history of Silicon Valley really demonstrate that the Terman family was wrong wrong wrong?

There are parallels between sterilization and lobotomy. Both are largely reviled today. Both made sense when there was no other alternative to reach the same goal. Both were largely wiped out by pharmacology. The Pill and implanted slow-release birth control (e.g. Norplant) have largely eliminated the need for sterilization, and the phenothiazine drugs (e.g. Thorazine) eliminated the main driver for lobotomy. Before the introduction of Thorazine, there were only two effective therapies for schizophrenia -- shock therapy (metrazol, insulin, or electroshock) and lobotomy. If shock didn't work, you'd get a lobotomy.

If the anti-schizophrenia drugs had never come along, would we still be using lobotomy? Damn right. It only "cured" about 1/3 to 1/2 of the people receiving it (in the sense they would no longer would have to be permanently institutionalized mental patients), which seems dismal by modern standards, but it's all they had for an otherwise incurable condition. If we had a therapy which cured only 1/3 to 1/2 of Stage IV cancer patients would we use it? We don't have any therapies that good for Stage IV cancer, and we do use the crappy ones we do have.

Nice history lesson, thanks. I think I read electroshock is making a comeback too. But lobotomy is a bit of a drastic remedy, unless the patient is a homicidal maniac. Then it might be better to just execute them (if they did a crime), or keep them under watch 24/7 (if they haven't get done a crime).

It is sometimes used as a hail-Mary pass in major depression. Major depression is that grim.

Electroshock never went away, though now it has competition from drgugs. It's extremely effective for some kinds of psychiatric disorders, and in many cases (for reasons we don't understand) the drugs don't work but shock does.

Something which did go away but is making a comeback is the ketogenic diet for epilepsy. This is an extremely low-carb diet developed in the 1920's for treating epilepsy, but it fell out of use when anti-epileptic drugs came along. However, there are some cases of epilepsy which are extremely resistant to treatment with drugs, and in some of these cases the ketogenic diet works.

If only the modern American left would exchange its progressive infatuation with fine-tuning the collective for a regard for individual rights! But what about: public education as a "great equalizer" and forum for inculcating leftist values, the perfectibility of the income distribution, the central management of energy generation and consumption patterns, regulation of speech, disregard for freedom of association, etc. If the left were to actually embrace individual rights as an overriding principal, wouldn't that make them libertarians?

There is a strain of modern American leftism that emphasizes a sort of individual rights, understood as a rights to approved forms of self-actualization financed by others. This is the strain that is re-defining "access" to abortion, birth control, health care, housing, education, swanky food, etc. as "you choose, somebody else pays". Could that be what Kevin Drum understands as a newfound leftist regard for "individual rights"?

Conservatives are certainly not "pro-individual liberty". Libertarians maybe, but only for well-educated whites (which means they arent!).

Makes you wonder who the 'we' is the concluding section -'Do we really want to identify with a general philosophy which embraced eugenics for so many decades'

Since when has Prof. Cowen ever been a progressive? And how many people that he comes into regular contact with - like at lunch with one of our most original and important thinkers - are progressives by any meaningful definition?

The 'we' is just another one of those little quirks that loyal readers are apparently supposed to not notice, while reinforcing Prof. Cowen's attack on a political grouping that he is definitely opposed to. Well, except for the eugenics part - Prof. Cowen is pretty much onboard with the promise of eugenics.

'Conservatives are certainly not “pro-individual liberty”': that depends on which country they are from. If their country has a history of individual liberty then conservatives are likely to be keen to preserve it. I dare say that there's a distinction to be made between countries with the custom of individual liberty and those with an ideology of individual liberty.

Interesting how many people never think this through. Someone who wants to protect the first amendment is a conservative. Being a conservative in defence of demonstrably liberal principles is not evil.

Well, I would disagree a bit there, being rather ant-liberal. I much prefer the pre-modern approach to conservatism.

Maybe not everywhere (certainly not in the Middle East), but in the US, yes, conservatives are certainly “pro-individual liberty”.

"Libertarians maybe, but only for well-educated whites"

Huh??? Anyone you don't like must be racist?

Correct, that is his stance and the stance of most progressives.

If libertarians only care about rights for wealthy white people, why do they oppose the war on drugs? Wealthy white people are probably the group least likely to face jail time for drugs, whereas a large number of blacks get arrested for drug crimes.

Or how about opposition to surveillance--are wealthy white people really the main target there? I'd guess the main target would be Muslim immigrants.

Or how about opposition to bombing the hell out of the next third-world country that comes to the attention of the State Department? Are the victims of those bombs usually wealthy white Americans?

Why, it's almost like your model's predictions are completely wrong.

Of course, tying contemporary liberalism with those who supported eugenics is no different from tying contemporary conservatism with those who owned slaves. An historian calls it conceptual anachronism, the original sin of the historian.

Mm, and the common link is the Democratic Party.

You do know that the Republican party was founded as an explicitly anti-slavery party, right?

Historically, most racism has been brought to you by the Democratic party.

"identify with a general philosophy"

Cowen would be identified with the American Conservative or American Libertarian movements. Suffice it to say that the general philosophy of the conservative movement 100 years ago, or of the libertarian movement, well, whenever Ron Paul was publishing his little newsletters, are also not worth affiliating with. Needless to say, any mainstream American political movement will have consorted with racism 100 years ago. So this doesn't seem to be a workable attack line on anyone, sorry. It seeks to implicate anyone who is associated with a label regardless of their beliefs. It's not far off saying "all men" / "all white people". The only way to avoid it is to call oneself a special snowflake unaffiliated to any movement, which is intellectual dishonesty.

150 years ago the Republican party was outlawing slavery. Any other magical history you want to share?

Agreed, 150 years ago the radical Republican party was outlawing slavery, incensing the conservative Democratic Party of Buchanan and Breckinridge and leading to a civil war incited by southern ultra-conservatives to redeem the slave-holding principles of the Constitution.

Point of fact, the Republican party sought to stop the spread of slavery in the territories, which the Federal Government had a right to do (as the Constitution explicitly allowed the Feds to prohibit the importation of slaves, after a free-for-all period of 20 years after ratification). They had not passed a single law on the subject when the slave states marched out, who did so because the North did not embrace slavery everywhere and at all times, and had the temerity to elect someone who noted that perhaps slavery was not such a good thing.

Only after the slave states refused to end their rebellion did the Republican president issue the emancipation proclamation as a wartime measure to punish insurrectionists. And only after the rebellion was on its last legs did Congress pass the 13th amendment outlawing slavery.

Thanks for a history lesson nobody's ever heard before. How about letting us in on the US policy toward native Americans, who were the object of extermination and land theft and weren't considered citizens until 1928? The slaves all had the opportunity to reproduce and their descendants are around today. The murdered natives didn't have that choice. Maybe it's worse to be a slave than a dead body. What do you think?

The progressive era reconstruction supporters looked down on Native Americans for one straightforward reason:
they were not oppressed because of race, but because of language and cultural distinctions they wished to wipe away.

The difference being that the policy prescriptions of those conservatives who are not worth affiliating with have been largely discarded, while the policy prescriptions of the eugenicists have been merely repackaged.

The War on Drugs and Willie Horton-type terrifying of suburban whites have not been discarded. ID laws that disproportionately target inner-city residents have not been discarded. In each case, most but not all of the bad stuff has been discarded on all sides, while I'm sure more bad stuff has been added that's going to be hard to tell for a few decades.

The War On Drugs is only ~30 years old--a relic of a time long past when it was politically acceptable to couch policy cases in explicitly racist terms. Even to the extent you may believe it is rooted in racism, the timing makes it disanalogous. The same goes for ID laws. Insofar as "terrifying of suburban whites" isn't vacuous arcana, that distinction would also apply.

If you could point to a policy supported by conservatives/Republicans more than 40 years ago that was explicitly rooted in racist philosophies and that also persists to this day, even if under the aegis of different justifications, your comparison might work better.

Federal legislation proscribing the trade in narcotics dates back about a century. Hard core hallucinogens were added not long after they appeared, around about 1967.

How about you read the left-leaning Supreme Court Justice's opinion on voter ID laws? Voting is an individual right, and laws which prevent fraud are a way to preserve those liberties.

What a joke, one guy or the student intern of one guy (Ron Paul) being used to tar a whole ideology? An ideology that largely is in favor of open borders?

Well, yeah, except for the actual people who self-identify as libertarians, libertarianism is a pure and decent ideology. Unfortunately, when you add the people, it becomes as piebald as any group of people, but disproportionately filled with authoritarian and hierarchical nutcases who merely see opportunites to replace the power of the state with that of themselves or some doubtless right-thinking leader, either way with lots of guns.

"any mainstream American political movement will have consorted with racism 100 years ago": but not equally so. The Democrats were the party of racial segregation, the Republicans were still seen as the party of Lincoln. And the behaviour of the Democrats went on for decades after Wilson's time.

But the Democrats were dominated by the conservatives, hand in glove with segregation and worse policies. Republicans were conservatives but included progressives, but as we have seen they also believed in sterilisation for blacks and the wrong kind of white (generally the ones that voted Democrat). So nobody comes out of this well.

Actually, Woodrow Wilson was both a 'progressive' and an advocate of segregation.

"There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law." -- Republican President Calvin Coolidge

And the policy implications he drew were just what?

I'm not sure most of the commenters read Drum, who stated:
"And no matter what you think of modern liberal views toward abortion or right-to-die laws, nobody can credibly argue that they're rooted in anything but the opposite of eugenics."

Kevin Drum is flat out wrong here. Modern liberal views supporting abortion AND euthanasia are rooted very much in the idea that, for social good, it's ok to kill individuals who would be a burden on society. Right-to-die, in Europe, is already being used to push older folks to accept euthanasia so as to "stop being a burden".

Women who have engaged in sex and gotten pregnant should be encouraged to have their babies and give them up for adoption -- the number of married couples wanting to adopt is large enough so no woman would be forced to care for her children after they are born and given away. But the gov't incentives should not be on encouraging single women to have more babies, many social problems are made much worse due to unmarried mothers with children, whose fathers are not part of the children's lives.

Democrats "don't deny" this, directly, but make sure that this truth has no influence on policy.

How's the saying go? One illegitimate birth = three new Democrats.

"Kevin Drum is flat out wrong here. Modern liberal views supporting abortion AND euthanasia are rooted very much in the idea that, for social good, it’s ok to kill individuals who would be a burden on society."

How does capital punishment work in this framework?

I would say it works the same way, with the added insult that criminal victims are taxed with the maintenance and shelter of their assailants. Only affluent societies can afford prisons. Otherwise, most criminals are exiled or executed or given some form of corporal punishment.

No. Modern liberal views are indeed about leaving people alone in certain circumstances broadly related to Mill's harm principle. Presumably Drum holds those views and you do not, so forgive me for not buying that your telepathic power into the minds of liberals exceeds his self-awareness.

This does not come close to summarizing modern liberal views. Virtually all modern liberals embrace a certain view of economic relations hardly more advanced than Marx. "Corporations rape us and need to be punished"=modern liberal view=Bernie Sanders view.

There's little actual nuance about public goods or transfer payments outside the minds of a few academics.

This also translates into the social justice views, which are just....well, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, blah blah blah. It's all about systematic oppression Olympics and claiming victimhood.

There's obviously some good old-school liberalism, like my 90- year old neighbor who grew up in the coal mines and likes Joe Biden. But, you know, that's not the #feelthebern crew.

Even to the extent they support civil rights, it's couched in the language of "systematic oppression." If some white video gamers like some stupid video game character with big boobs, it's problematic, sexist, etc.

The idea that the modern left is actually couched in real liberty is...amusing.

Whether rooted in Mill's harm principle or not, it's difficult to see how abortion (and to a lesser extent, right-to-die) isn't rooted in principles indistinguishable from those animating eugenics. The traditional eugenic proposition is "this person is a burden on society--eliminate them." The harm principle version is "this person's mere existence places a burden on another person--eliminate them."

All modern liberals seem to have done is re-framed the burden, without bolstering the proposition that incidental burden is a sin so great as to merit execution.

Eugenics never believed in eliminating specific people, but specific classes of people. Get your basic terms of argument right and perhaps we'll talk.

Seeing as how specific people are definitionally a subset of specific classes of people, it certainly sounds like you're arguing semantics for lack of a more robust critique.

As I understand it, the goal of eugenics is to improve the quality of people in the population via encouraging people with good heritable traits to have more kids, and people with bad heritable traits to have fewer kids. That's not an unreasonable or evil goal, though it may not be an *attainable* goal, or may not be one which can be attained without really awful and evil policies we're not willing to go along with.

The easy way to accomplish this via the state is to use coercion--forcibly sterilize or kill people, forbid some marriages, etc. That's awful, but not because of the goal--it would be just as awful to forcibly sterilize deadbeat dads or tax cheats, even though the goals of getting people to pay their taxes and child support are perfectly reasonable ones.

You could imagine some government-run eugenics program that didn't use any of those evil methods, but instead offered subsidies for desired behavior (like the Howard foundation in Heinlein's books, offering people with desirable traits cash for each child they had). I don't think that sort of program would be likely to have much effect, but I don't think it would be any more evil than any other ineffective but well-intentioned government program.

Conservatives are defensive about the turn of events in the American conservative movement, and they should be. No, not because conservatism is racist or fascist, but because conservatives have been courting right-wing extremists for decades and now the chickens have come home to roost. Rather than the Peewee Herman response ("I know you are, but what am I"), conservatives should, once and for all, reject the right-wing extremists. It's both the rational and the right thing to do.

Everybody's extremist once you push them in a corner and punch them in the mouth.

The right-wing reaction you're currently seeing is a response to a movement-conservatism which serves only to consolidate liberal gains. Witness the Republican leadership scrambling to save TPP, protecting Obama from his own left flank. Also, the unanimity of opinion on cold and hot wars to spread democracy. Remember too the bailout of Wall Street in 2008, when Republicans and Democrats alike agreed: the rich should be prevented from becoming poor. There is a tremendous unity of thought among the political elite on immigration, globalism and monetary/fiscal policy.

Addison Mitchell McConnell is a political careerist and Capitol Hill apparatchik. He most certainly is not a movement anything.

If two of two political parties that promote or consolidate the same policy, you may wish to reflect on whether anyone would actually support a party that opposed this policy, or whether it is as indefeasible as the abolition of the gold standard or slavery.

The Republican elite are pro-immigration because it enriches their donor class, who want cheap labor and who have figured out how to strip mine profits from millions of aggregated, down-market transactions. The Democratic elite are pro-immigration because it dilutes the vote of whites, who are more fiscally and socially conservative. The Democratic base, except for blacks and unions, are pro-immigration because it's the party of identity politics.

It is no longer an ideological contest, but an existential one.

' it is as indefeasible as the abolition of the gold standard or slavery."

How are those two institutions comparable, except in dementia?

Or maybe as indefensible as gay marriage? Mainstream Democratic politicians opposed it openly until very recently--Obama only "evolved" on the issue in 2012. (My guess is Obama was pro-gay-marriage before that, but found it poltiically wiser to oppose it, and that Hillary probably "evolved" based entirely on political considerations.)

The existing consensus on political issues isn't the result of smart, wise people getting together and deciding the best course for the nation, it's the vector sum of lots of political interest groups and consitutencies each pushing in its own direction. You can tell because it changes quickly sometimes, based on political calculations that have nothing to do with new information. Consider gay marriage--it's not like homosexuality was some kind of new invention first brought out in the 90s.

The draft was once bipartisan consensus policy. Racial segregation was once bipartisan consensus policy. There's nothing holy about that--the bipartisan consensus is often stupid and/or crazy.

More advice from the fox to the hens. It's truly the brazenness of you people that shocks the most.

I would condition welfare payments on sterilization after two children, or maybe even just one and done.

When we realize how many people have been automated out of work which is remunerative enough to keep people clean, sheltered and fed and enact a Guaranteed Minimum Income, there is no question that this will be done.

Eugenics is good we should sterilize all violent criminals and make it as easy as possible for families to diagnose their unborn children for permenant disabilities and to get abortions.

The cost to the family and society is extremely high for those with severe disabilities. There is a large amount of people, apparently, who think abortion and eugenics is either barbaric or against god. Of course they don't have to personally pay the price or care for permenantly disabled people, they just like moralizing, leave the dirty work to others.

The earlier history is not very illustrative of anything today, so why go on about it?

Here’s why: because the way contemporary historians and commentators distort past events to support their contemporary agenda.

A case in point is that the defendant in Britain’s 1923 “Birth Control Libel Trial”, Halliday Sutherland, has been represented in numerous biographies of the plaintiff, Marie Stopes as a “Roman Catholic doctor”. They tell you very little else about him. Based on this three-word description, the reader concludes that he was a zealous patriarch who sought to oppose a feminist trying to help her poorer sisters, and sought to impose the teachings of a religious minority on the rest of society.

Invariably, biographers of Stopes downplayed or failed to mention her eugenic goals, and they continue to do so.

They fail to tell you that Sutherland was a tuberculosis pioneer in the forefront of fighting a disease that killed and disabled around 220,000 people in Britain in the early 1900s. TB impacted the urban poor about three to four times greater than wealthier sections of society. Sutherland became involved in the opposition to eugenics when they declared their plans for his patients.

In 1911, the Professor of Eugenics, Karl Pearson, gave a public lecture (“Tuberculosis, Hereditary and Environment”) in which he described the work of doctors fighting tuberculosis as a failed experiment. Building upon his thesis that the disease was primarily a hereditary affliction, Pearson suggested that the way to cure the TB was to “breed out” the tuberculous types. He recommended that the money spent by the government on tuberculosis be cancelled and given to eugenists instead. Given Pearson’s position (he was Galton’s protégé and a Fellow of the Royal Society), his views carried weight, particularly to a cash-strapped British government. Sutherland rebutted Pearson’s views on tuberculosis in the British Medical Journal in 1912.

Stopes herself advocated the compulsorily sterelization of the unfit. Her language was viterupative and wide ranging, meaning that the group to be sterelized ranged from “hopelessly bad cases, bad through inherent disease, or drunkenness or character” to “wastrels, the diseased…the miserable [and] the criminal” to the “degenerate, feeble minded and unbalanced” and “parasites”.

Stopes' 1921 birth control clinic, represented by biographers as an innocuous family planning clinic, was run by her “Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress”. She dispensed her “Pro Race” and “Racial” cervical caps there. Yet either not a squeak about eugenics from academics, or obfuscation as to how she wasn't a very good eugenist, or that despite what she said in public, she didn’t really mean it and really, she did care about the poor.

Sutherland publicly opposed Stopes work, criticised her clinic in his 1922 book “Birth Control”, and faced financial ruin when she sued him, regardless of whether he won or lost.

Significantly, Sutherland’s oposition to eugenics began at a time he was a Presbyterian by baptism and likely an atheist in his beliefs. He converted to Catholicism in 1919 in large part because of the church’s continued opposition to eugenics. It is my belief that the “Roman Catholic doctor” story is propogated today to present Catholic opposition to abortion, contraception and eugenics in a bad light and to diinish their influence in the debate today.

When “progressives” stop distorting history in the service of their contemporary agenda, when they stop portraying a woman who wrote: “From the point of view of the economics of the nation, it is racial madness to rifle the pockets of the thrifty and intelligent who are struggling to do their best for their own families of one and two and squander the money on low grade mental deficients, the spawn of drunkards, the puny families of women so feckless and deadened that they apathetically breed like rabbits.” [Marie Stopes writing in “John Bull”, 2nd February 1924, page 13]...as a social reformer, and when they stop demeaning the memory of a man who bravely opposed her, then I will stop going on about it.

Mark Sutherland, Curator, hallidaysutherland.com

Interesting read, thanks.

The claim is not that current Progressives are evil or racist, but rather they still don’t have nearly enough Mill in their thought, and not nearly enough emphasis on individual liberty.

Uh, no. Not nearly enough Lewis and Chesterton in their thought, and their emphasis on the sanctity of life.

Contemporary liberals support abortion rights and right-to-die laws out of a belief in individual rights that flowered in the 60s.

Um, no. They support them out a willfulness which will not bow to elementary social obligation (made grossly manifest after 1958).

namely that both early progressives and late 19th century American economists were often quite appalling racists and eugenicists

See Wendy Davis or Barbara Ehrenreich. It is quite unremarkable for professional people to advocate things which are horrid, and to think well of themselves for so advocating.

Wendy Davis' upset was that the elected legislature of Texas was making decisions, which is what legislatures do. Barbara Ehrenreich is upset whenever a decision is made incongruent with what she and her friends want. Both women are grotesques, and in a just world would have no influence.

Wendy Davis was elected, and worked within the rules of the Texas senate to represent her constituents. Which is what legislators do.

Just as you are so upset when courts or the Court makes decisions, which is what they do too. Stop posting like such a hypocrite.

Excellent point.

Cowan seems to be coming from the standard liberal/libertarian approach. Which often fails to answer questions.

Wait, are we seriously arguing that Drum is wrong and that the left didn't embrace individual civil rights in the 60's?

From an American perspective he seems obviously right. I mean, if we're talking "forced sterilization" then it's been the left on the forefront of reproductive liberty since Griswold.

Seems they did flirt with individual liberty in the 60's. That is neither their history nor their present though.

This. Once upon a time, the ACLU defended the KKK's right to peaceably assemble. That ACLU is long gone, and the modern left, infatuated with Citizen's United and safe spaces, is indulging the explicit racism of BLM, abortion, Islamism and affirmative action. Don't confuse hazy memories of the past with current facts.

You're incorrect: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/06/19/a-history-of-the-aclu-defending-confederate-veterans-the-kkk-and-rush-limbaugh/

The ACLU is still defending the rights of awful people to speak, on principle. This is a very good thing.

"reproductive liberty' is code for abortion, which is no kind of liberty.

"Reproductive liberty" makes for a catchier slogan than "consequence-free sex."

Five percent of rapes result in a pregnancy, and I am conflicted on abortion in that case, because rape is actually genetic theft. One percent of abortions are for pregnancy resulting from rape. Abortion is overwhelmingly birth control for women who like to sleep with attractive men who make terrible husbands and fathers.

I'm sorry that reactionary bros can't find girls who like neckbeards attached to a head using quotes from 19th-century British Catholics as a substitute for intelligence. Reflect that these things might be your fault rather than universal and systemic miswiring of the female brains built by a genetic heritage whose non-eugenic lineage you show such alacrity in defending?

"Reproductive liberty" is not a code word for abortion. The first time progressives successfully argued for a right to privacy it was in order to secure the right of a married couple to seek contraception. Progressives would go back to court in the 70s to do the same for unmarried people and to also ensure prisoners would have a right to marry. More recently: gay rights.

And this has not gone away. The modern progressive view of civil liberties (in the legal academy, anyway) is that civil and political rights are a side constraint meant to avoid democratic or utilitarian excess. This is, indeed, less maximalist than a libertarian view that preserving "liberty" is not a side-constraint, it's the fundamental goal of policy making. But the modern progressive view IS much more protective than the purely utilitarian views of early progressives, and would prevent fundamental missteps like eugenics. It's ludicrous to pretend like progressives haven't learned lessons and adapted their philosophical underpinnings since the twenties.

In the abstract, "reproductive liberty" can encompass a wide range of policy prescriptions, some of which involve abortion and/or abortofacients, some of which do not.

In the political arena, "reproductive liberty" is absolutely a dog-whistle for abortion.

"The abstract" in this case meaning "the history of causes progressives have championed on civil rights grounds." Again, marriage rights for various classes, the right to access contraceptives, and the right to engage in private sexual acts are rights progressives have protected in the courts. If "reproductive liberty" is too dog whistley then give those bundle of rights another name; the point isn't what to call them but that 1. progressives have and do embrace them, 2. this is part of a wider post-eugenics move by progressives to embrace political and civil rights as a limit on government power, and 3. While this doesn't really track with an embrace of "liberty" in the abstract, since the rights are a side constraint rather than a goal, it *is* an important development in progressive thought and a real check on the resurgence of ideas as inhumane as eugenics.

I really don't see a thirty-something Progressive being aware of, let alone "moving from", 100 year old ideas.

I'd think we connect (or not) with the current frameworks of our times.

Teaching a forgotten past, in order to stick it on an oblivious Millennial is probably not fair. They have a post-Clinton experience.

"Reproductive liberty" has not been, and never will be, meaningfully associated with sexual/marital liberty outside the minds of those who want to motte-and-bailey the fraught ethics of abortion politics. While sexual liberty and "reproductive liberty" have shared jurisprudential roots in Substantive Due Process doctrine, their political relationship is correlative rather than causal. One can have sexual liberty without "reproductive liberty"--the position around which the GOP is slowly coalescing--and vice versa--as was the case in the United States during the period between Roe and Lawrence.

To the extent that the two concepts can be coherently grouped under the single umbrella "reproductive liberty," it would only serve to evidence the proposition that abortion rights are more about sex than about reproduction.

> The first time progressives successfully argued for a right to privacy it was in order to secure the right of a married couple to seek contraception.

You are confusing fundamental principles with legal tactics. Your example is definitively in the latter category.

It appears that liberals, progressives, et al believe the World is all there is and they must make it perfect; the goal is to resolve every crisis; and the omnipotent, omniscient state is the vehicle for solutions. Alternatively, some seem to believe that there is more than this World; that the World is a vast, complex mystery and that the World is not perfectly amenable to man's solutions; and the state can be the problem. Either way, the first principle ought to be: do no harm.

Perfectibility is often used as a critical meme ascribed to liberals by conservatives, but it's not at all clear that it is true.

Malleability would probably be more apt than perfectability. Liberals probably believe in too much and conservatives too little.

The horrors of eugenics and population control are not limited to early progressives. Some of Obama's czars also believe in and promote these horrific ideas.

Well illiberal eugenics may be evil, but I'm not sure anyone can reasonably object to, say, assortative mating.

Good piece from Ron Bailey, Tyler has probably already seen it of course. http://reason.com/blog/2015/12/28/is-assortative-mating-responsible-for-ri

True. Men also prefer hourglass shapes in women. Now we're treading dangerously close to the idea that in the course of human evolution, hominids would have selected for behavior and intelligence in response to environmental pressures.

The progressive opposition to free speech, and individual liberty, is much more relevant than past support of eugenics. The primary progressive fault is the opposition to individual's economic freedom- they are better than you at deciding what to do with your money, what interest rate you are willing to pay, how much money you should accept for working. (The consumer financial protection bureau is an egregious, bureaucratic, potentially evil example of this) This is why the Sanders/Warren wing of the Democrats is perhaps the most dangerous side out there, when combined with those who demand equal results over equal opportunity. The level of inequality we have now is likely good.

Humans are forever trying to balance their group and their individual nature.

Sadly, polarization is driven by those who see (or pretend) that humans have only one or the other.

Man alone is a trope, but so too is a seamless society.

I agree with Drum that it is an odd angle to take. It is probably straight up guilt by tenuous association. "The people, who were called progressives were bad, therefore you who are called progressives are bad."

It would be more honest to find a modern position with insufficient Mill.

(Abortion is a straight up religious dispute, about the nature of the soul, and where it begins.)

(Abortion is a straight up religious dispute, about the nature of the soul, and where it begins.)

It is no more and no less a 'religious dispute' than any other law proscribing homicide. (That the foetus lives is beyond dispute).

Are all religions agreed on that?

No, but singling out abortion as the only policy issue to be colored by disagreements over moral/religious axioms serves no purpose than to conveniently trivialize.

I think it shows a limit of politics. When people bottom out at an absolute and "God given" position, there can be no political solution.

That is other than the trite one: "accept my religion."

That a first trimester embryo is a person is not beyond dispute, and murder only applies to people not just life. Otherwise all meat eaters are murderers, which of course Morrissey and Paul McCartney think is the case already.

Some religions still take the "viability apart from the mother" dividing line.

Agreed, which puts the line out to what around 5 months? Personally that's too late for me. My own line is at 3 months give or take.

There's more to it than whether the fetus is "alive", first trimester, or viability or not.

Let's not forget that in order to deliver the fetus, a woman has to go through the rather painful and dangerous process of giving birth.
Note that 1/3 of all pregnancies are delivered by C-Section today, which is major abdominal surgery and carries with it the risk of complications including infections and damage to internal organs. Nevermind the damage to the uterus itself which can impair fertility later on. Plus the several weeks of post-partum recovery. Vaginal deliveries aren't without risks either - tearing and episitomies are common.

Of course there's more to it, I'm just giving my own personal opinion on it. To me, if you have sex and get pregnant, you have a couple of months (while the thing is just a collection of cells) to decide what you want to do. If you were raped, you would probably want to abort. If you learn the child would have a severe disease, you can abort. If you just can't handle being a parent, you can abort. To me, it's not a human yet. But if you can't make up your mind by then, then too bad, your body is going to have to deal with it. Shouldn't have gotten pregnant, or should have figured out a plan once you found out.

But to terminate at 5 months because you realize what a hassle giving birth is? Too late, sorry.

I was replying to Art Deco, not you.
But you don't usually get the results from tests to determine if the fetus has down's syndrome until around 4 - 4.5 months. Doesn't leave much time to make a decision.

Does that diagnosis really take that long? That adds some complication for sure. None of this is easy.

There are different screening tests performed in different weeks. There's a first trimester screen which is less accurate, and then more accurate tests later on in the second trimester, if you fail the first trimester screen. You could abort in the first trimester if you fail the first screen but many women would want to wait since they might be aborting a healthy fetus. The earlier the testing is generally the higher the false positive rate.

I think there is a fairly sound logic to your view - the arguments about risk and cost to the mother have to be weighed against the fact that she had several months to reach a decision sooner. But you should be careful what political causes you take up (I'm not making a claim about what you actually do, btw). The manifestation of the pro-life movement is in today's political reality are about making it less convenient for poor women regardless of trimester. Even more or less agreeing with your take, I don't see any reason to ever support a politician on the 'pro-life' side of things. A second thing you should consider is that in some cases, women don't find out right away they are pregnant. Happens more than you would think. Maybe you don't care. But there are further cases where women get late term abortions for legitimate health reasons. In all of the pro-life jurisdictions I am aware of, there are a consistent stream of horror cases of women being denied these abortions even though they should be technically permitted. Some part of the actual law has to take into account which set of inevitable injustices are preferrable to tolerate.

@mpowell: I completely agree, where I personally draw the line is just my base feeling about it. I am well aware there will always be circumstances that are far more complicated than my simple reduction. Hopefully we can have a system where those complex cases are dealt with as humanely and reasonably as possible. As I said none of this is easy.

But it's also not the pure black and white of 'all abortions are murder' vs 'abortions are ok any time anywhere for anyone'

Let’s not forget that in order to deliver the fetus, a woman has to go through the rather painful and dangerous process of giving birth.

I'm going to forget it, because it is scarcely relevant to the issue at hand, unless it be your contention that a few hours of discomfort justifies killing someone.

Having a baby is not "a few hours of discomfort".

Labors in my family in recent generations have run from fewer than two hours to about 12 hours. Hospital stays for my contemporaries for labor and delivery were typically 48 hours. Even 50-odd years ago, my mother was in for about 5 days a piece. What are your other complaints? Hemorrhoids? Varicose veins? Mood swings?

Would you submit to being tortured for 12 hours in order to save the life of a drowning child?

Would you consider it a moral obligation to submit to 12 hours of torture to save the life of a drowning child?

Moreover, would you have the state take someone and FORCE them to undergo 12 hours of torture, because it was necessary to save a drowning child?

Hazel, this line of logic you are on is missing the point. Other than rape, it's your fault the child is drowning. So yes you morally must do whatever it takes to save that child that you endangered. The debate is really simple. Either an unborn fetus is a person that must not be killed, or a non-person, in which case there are no moral issues involved in termination. Obviously there are complications in many cases, and it's a very open question just when a fetus really should be considered a person. To some it's right at conception. To others, not until birth or close to it. To most it's probably in the middle. To me it's around 3 months.

Nevermind the damage to the uterus itself which can impair fertility later on. Plus the several weeks of post-partum recovery. Vaginal deliveries aren’t without risks either – tearing and episitomies are common.

Boo hoo

How would you like to have your testicles removed?

Maybe just a few incisions with a scalpel? Would that be ok?

Hazel, you're arguing that abortion is legitimate because of certain contingencies, i.e. infrequent and typically temporary harms due to complications of pregnancy. I have to say in 40 years of reading apologias for contemporary abortion law, that's a new one to me. Only someone pathologically self-centered would consider it valid.

The damage to the uterus of a C section is not temporary. It can significantly limit the number of children you can have afterwards.
After three C-sections the risk of a hemmorage during labor goes up and often results in a hysterectomy.

Hazel is right. There's no question pregnancy takes a major toll (my wife is due next month with our third in five years). Many of the complications are quite permanent, even in women like my wife who resume their teenage bodies within a year.

Nature is cruel to man and woman and child all. Our lives are all sacred to the God who loves us.

What a silly conclusion. It's no different than saying "Democrats used to be in favor of segregation, therefore current liberals should not call themselves Democrats." A "progressive" is just someone who believes in progress. Those 125 years ago believed in a wide range of reforms to better the US. One of those, based on bad science, was eugenics. Plenty of non-progressives believed the exact same thing. It was rather bipartisan at the time. It is no longer a progressive belief. Political ideas and movements add and drop different issues to their agenda all the time. The sins of the past don't apply to the present. The only reason to avoid a label is if the most predominant ideas behind a party or movement are what gives the party its identity, and there has been no gradual evolution. It would make no sense for someone to say, for example, that they are for universal rights of all people, world peace, and international cooperation, and then call himself a member of the 'New Nazi Party." But if someone calls themselves a progressive today, no one thinks that they support eugenics.

+1 of all the comments.

A “progressive” is just someone who believes in progress.

No. It's not. I mean, that is, simplistically what the "progressives" want you to think, but then they will not acknowledge that different people have different ideas of what constitutes "progress". Progress is is only what THEY think is progress. if you have a different idea of "progress" they will label you a backwards troglodyte who opposes progreess.

"A “progressive” is just someone who believes in progress."

Surely you didn't type that with a straight face. A modern progressive is a person that holds a mostly arbitrary, historically-contingent (and probably inconsistent) set of political beliefs that is labeled "progressive". Same with "conservative".

Democrats used to be in favor of segregation. That why what's going on with the demands of safe spaces and separate spaces by the young at our colleges is so illuminating.

The claim is not that current Progressives are evil or racist, but rather they still don’t have nearly enough Mill in their thought, and not nearly enough emphasis on individual liberty. Their continuing choice of label seems to indicate they are not much bothered by that, or maybe not even fully aware of that. They probably admire Mill’s more practical reform progressivism quite strongly, or would if they gave it more thought, but they don’t seem to relate to the broader philosophy of individual liberty as it surfaced in the philosophy of Mill and others.

I wonder why this is.
Is it just the incluence of socialism in the last century, or is there something else going on?

If you think eugenics is dead in progressivism, get a (white) liberal drunk and ask them about the effect of abortion on crime.

Eugenics was about genetics-- less unfit genes in the pool equals less crime. Modern arguments about the effect of abortion on crime are about unwanted pregnancies. The former was state violence. The latter is women making individual choices about reproduction.

Which would be believable if it weren't the nasty fact that the populations that disproportionately get abortions are the poor and usually black. White liberals praising the effects of abortion on crime (making a utility argument not a feminist argument), are inherently reviving the old eugenics arguments that functionally say, "Wouldn't be great if there were less black people and poor whites?"

Huge coincidence, I'm sure.

Uh, they're actually saying "Wouldn't it be great if the state didn't force women to bear children they don't want". It's not a huge coincidence that unplanned pregnancy is associated with poverty.

Their thinking is fallacious inasmuch as they fancy these women should have the discretion to put such 'wants' into effect in a sanguinary way. In any decently governed society, this is simply not permitted.

My question hasn't the developed world, especially Singapore, figured out an 'soft eugentics' program that ensures poor people can't afford more than one child? Or how much of the Chinese version of eugentics/One Child program contributed to their huge growth the last 30 years?

I'm old enough to remember the progressives pounding the line "stay out of my bedroom." Now they're writing and implementing laws, limits and guidelines on a certain activity which goes on in that bedroom.

"The claim is not that current Progressives are evil or racist, but rather they still don’t have nearly enough Mill in their thought, and not nearly enough emphasis on individual liberty."

I find this rationale confusing, maybe because I haven't read enough Mill. Doesn't Mill's utilitarianism, under the greatest happiness principle, require the morality of actions to be determined according to their consequences, i.e. the happiness produced by ones actions? (Maybe I just have a crude understanding of Mill?) This seems to be fundamentally at odds with other systems of morality that prioritize the primacy of individual rights and liberties (e.g. as fundamental and inviolable) since these principles can be disregarded if restricting such rights would produce more happiness among a larger number of people. If anything, the Progressive movement's embrace of eugenics seems too utilitarian and too consequentialist in its ethics, since you could theoretically justify eugenics as maximizing utility under a consequentialist theory but could not do so under a system of morality that prioritizes the fundamental rights and liberties of the individual over the happiness of the greatest number.

Yeah Tyler's conception of Mill is quite myopic. He opposed capitalist ownership of the means of production. He favored protection of the environment over economic growth. He supported government efforts to control population growth. He supported government intervention in the economy in any area where a pragmatic case could be made. Seems pretty progressive to me.

The lesson TC is suggesting seems to be: "We should not associate with progressive philosophies, because when taken to extremes they can be used to justify terrible things".

That seems biased. I'd suggest: "Do not take any ideology to it's logical extreme. They can all be used to justify terrible things when they are not balanced by other considerations."

When I read Drum's piece last week, one of my first thoughts was that many modern liberals seem to possess a mean classist streak. (In fact, it is often in the interest of defending racial equality that the classism rears its head.) I feel that it's related because both eugenics of past liberals and classism of modern liberals are rooted in the same latent contempt for people of lesser status. Ruralness, southernness, and religiosity have perhaps simply taken the place of race and religion as demographical pariahs.

Ruralness, southernness and religiosity have little to nothing to do with "class," though. This is particularly so in terms of religiosity. Charles Murray is one of a number of people who have documented that church-going has sharply declined among the poor and working class.

Tyler really knows how to rile up his readers.

You just knew this post was gonna get 250+ comments.

Two words: Mood affiliation

I'm wondering why an insurance company would choose a name that associates their product with eugenics. Someone needs to confront Flo about that.

Pinning eugenics on Progressives is a bit odd considering that Social Darwinism under it's new, more marketable moniker of "Human Biodiversity" seems to be a pet project of the Libertarian Right these days, i.e. those who succeed in the almighty "Market" are the fittest and deserve to have enough money to breed and purchase health care, while the other 80 percent of us need to die off as swiftly as possible to decrease the surplus population. "A Farewell To Alms" is especially popular among this crowd--we need to pass down those Capitalist genes to keep progress on track to the big, beautiful cyborg future! Can't have a messy social safety net messing up the gene pool. Plus it shores up the Just World Theory that lies at the heart of libertarianism.

You've confounded the libertarian right with the alt-right, and mis-identified the intersection between the two. Eugenicit chatter is characteristic of a coterie around Ron Unz, which is not otherwise libertarian in character. The libertarianism and the alt-right intersect at the von Mises Institute, which promotes goldbuggery and neo-confederate historiography, things about which the Unz circle cares little.

Everybody practices eugenics. It's why men and women fantasize about Salma Hayek and Daniel Craig and not Andrea Dworkin and Michael Moore.

The objection from the Alt Right is to dysgenics. K-selected are taxed to enable r-selected reproduction. As automation increases and more people fall below the threshold for remunerative skills as calories simultaneously become cheaper, transfer payments will be conditioned on sterilization.

This whole comment thread just seems like one big sausage fest. A bunch of boys with really strong literary feelings about other peoples' privvies.

What does data from sperm banks show about female preferences?

It took 15 seconds for the name "Hitler" to show up in the comments.

Minutes not seconds.

(I haven't read Mill in 20 years, but here goes .. ) A formative event in Mill's life was his (roughly) non-compliance rebellion ('breakdown') against the grueling regime of his father's education plan for him. A theme throughout his life was to argue against attempts to use false-omniscience to micromanage others 'for their own good' or the 'greater good'. His works on freedom of speech and democracy grow out of his sense of the importance of the decentralization of the decision-making process. (It is in that way he was a strong influence on the philosopher of science Feyerabend - see Stanford's online philosophy encyclopedia on F.) But democracy, extending the voting franchise, doesn't work in cases of class immiseration. (See FDR's four freedoms speech.) The Progressives were against class immiseration and in this sense Mill was one of them. But on such issues as micromanaging by government (eugenics) he was generally a skeptic.

There is an argument to be made, that non-liberal views of humanity do a better job protecting liberty than liberalism per se.

I mean, *Chesterton* clearly understood the evils under discussion. So did nearly everyone else from the *retrograde* Catholic and traditional branch of worship. It appears that others did not, however.

Everyone should watch this for a different take on J.S. Mill: in short, nobody is perfect and everyone is hypocritical

I might take this line of argument more seriously if libertarians and conservatives were more willing to accept a general, societal responsibility for sustaining those with special challenges, whether genetic or otherwise. Until then, I view this as confusing the argument at hand by raising an irrelevant issue, as I know of no modern day Progressives advocating forced eugenics, while there are more than a few libertarians now advocating policies that are the modern-day equivalent of "let them eat cake."

Please review this piece, Professor Cowen; and consider writing a blog entry on what JS Mill's actually views were on this issue. You have been badly misled
Stud. Hist. Phil. Biol. & Biomed. Sci. 39 (2008) 222–231
John Stuart Mill, innate differences, and the regulation of reproduction
Diane B. Paul a
, Benjamin Day b
a Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
b Mass-Care, 33 Harrison Avenue – 5th floor, Boston, MA 02111, USA

here is a bit:

“That Mill was a passionate advocate of restraints on reproduction
might seem surprising, and perhaps even more so the link between
his willingness to intervene and the ‘radical democratic
dimension of his thought’ (Baum, 2003, p. 405)—the view that all
humans have the capacity to achieve autonomy (in the sense of
an ability to think for themselves), that a democratically organized
economy, society, and political system depends on their achieving
this capacity, and that the family plays a crucial educative role in
this process. One reason for surprise is that, as Hamburger argues,
we have tended to view Mill only as an apostle of liberty and to
ignore or explain away the many instances where, in the service
of his program of moral regeneration, he favored less tolerance
and greater control of behavior.

… But John Stuart Mill, who attributed virtually all human mental and moral
differences to education and training, considered reproduction by
those who could not adequately support and educate offspring to
constitute a crime against both their children and the larger society

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