The progressive Left has always seen itself as the high-minded reformers of the world. They’ve always been the moralists who stood for what was right. Those who opposed them were seen as evil and selfish. So why do they ignore the evil in their own roots?
When we talk about eugenics and forced sterilization to control the purity of a country’s people, our thoughts turn to Nazi Germany. But how many Americans understand that the progressives had been successful in getting eugenics laws passed in more than half the states — before the Nazis ever even came to power? What’s even worse is that the Nazis seem to have gotten the idea from Americans.
All of this comes up this week because a state panel in North Carolina has just recommended paying compensation of $50,000 each to people who were sterilized against their will. I find it interesting that none of the news stories seem to be mentioning that it was the progressive Left behind these programs starting in the early 20th century. I don’t think it’s an intentional omission. I just think it’s a part of history that the progressives have buried deeply — and few understand how deeply something such as forced sterilization is emblematic of what progressives really stand for.
The early 20th century narrative for this country — especially for southern states — is all about race. In fact, the reporter who wrote the story for the Los Angeles Times about the North Carolina compensation seemed surprised to find out that most of the people sterilized were white instead of black:
Impoverished or uneducated African Americans were victimized by many eugenics programs, especially in the South. But the task force found that, although many victims of the North Carolina program were African Americans, the number of Caucasians who were sterilized was even higher.
A version of an Associated Press story Monday implied so strongly that the motivation was racial that the AP was forced to issue a “clarification” to point out that only 40 percent of the victims were black. There was a tremendous amount of racism — especially in the South — but eugenics was a reformist program of the progressive movement — to rid us of crime and other socially undesirable things, such as “feeble-minded” people.
In 1960, the Wisconsin Magazine of History even had an article that discussed what about eugenics attracted the progressives. It’s kind of hard to blame southern racists for Wisconsin’s eugenics law, isn’t it? (Click on this graphic for a larger version showing which states had adopted “eugenics sterilization laws” by 1913. They cluster in the areas where progressives were strong — the Northeast, the Midwest and on the West Coast — not the South.)
Although progressives don’t like to claim eugenics now — and they also don’t like to claim Prohibition, which they also were responsible for — we can easily see that eugenics and Prohibition were natural outgrowths of what they preached.
The core idea of the progressives is that they know what’s best for other people. They know what’s right for everyone else. They know what contracts people should be allowed to enter into. They know what should be done with other people’s money. They even know who should be allowed to reproduce. (And, yes, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was a progressive who believed fully in eugenics — and saw her organization as preventing “the wrong kinds” from reproducing. See here and here if you’d like to explore more about what that monster believed.)
Today’s progressives still believe basically the same things. They still believe they know what’s best for everyone, so they insist on passing laws to control people’s lives. And the worst part is that we don’t have progressives on one side and those standing for freedom on the other in this country. Instead, the Democratic and Republican parties are progressive and progressive-lite, respectively. They just have slightly different ideas about what to control about your life.
The same intellectual thinking that led to forced sterilization has led to the web of control that has been created around us. The laws that control us are supposed to be for our own good, but they control us nonetheless.
The progressives of an earlier time had no moral right to decide who was to be allowed to reproduce and who was not. They had no right to force alcohol Prohibition on us. But modern progressives likewise have no moral right to control us today. I believe the day will come that the involuntary, authoritarian “safety net” of control around us will be seen as just as barbaric as we see eugenics as having been.
What the progressives did in the past was monstrously evil, but the coercion they use to control our lives today is no less evil. If you find yourself supporting a politician demanding moral controls on other people, remember that you’re supporting something that’s no more moral than forcing sterilization on “undesirables” of the past. It’s terribly immoral, then and now.
Note: If you’d like to read more about forced sterilization in the United States, see this website for a book called “Better for All the World,” which deals with the subject. You’ll find the three pages of description an interesting introduction to the subject.