The Editors

What pro-aborts can no longer deny: Margaret Sanger supported eugenics

The Editors
The Editors
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January 10, 2011 (PublicDiscourse.com) - Herman Cain’s remarks concerning Planned Parenthood’s promotion of abortion to blacks thrust the organization and its founder once more into the spotlight. Congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood had already generated publicity. When Hillary Clinton received Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award in 2009, she was prompted to make an apologia for accepting the award because of questions raised at a House committee hearing. In each of these cases, the controversy centered on the eugenic beliefs of Margaret Sanger (1879–1966), Planned Parenthood’s founder.

To a Sanger supporter, the accusation of eugenics touches a nerve. To understand this, one must grasp the subconscious syllogism underlying the emotional reaction: Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are progressive feminist institutions. Progressive feminism cannot coexist with eugenics, which is a malady of the right-wing. Therefore, Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are free of eugenic contamination. QED.

Something new has happened over the last ten years, however, that challenges such easy assumptions, and both Cain’s and Clinton’s language reflected it. No one with any command of the facts can deny any more that Sanger was in some way a eugenicist.

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First, scholars of women’s history have begun examining the feminist movement with more objectivity, producing a new literature that is less afraid to detail the unsavory aspects of feminist history. Historical work on eugenics has also begun to shift: Historians of the subject have long recognized Sanger’s involvement in eugenics, but had not sufficiently acknowledged her importance for the movement.

Second, as positive as these improvements in scholarship are, probably the most crucial factor in bringing about a more realistic and balanced assessment of Sanger and eugenics has been the internet. Sanger’s own words are more accessible than ever (a process aided by the multivolume edition of The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger). Planned Parenthood is simply unable to deny convincingly the truth about its founder.

And what is that truth? Margaret Sanger was many things admirable: a vibrant personality, a brilliant organizer, a canny reader of the temperature of the times, a woman who built powerful institutions in a man’s world. But she was also many things ugly and even despicable: an egotist who frequently clashed with others; a free-love advocate who had a dizzying number of affairs and who hurt many men as a result; and a eugenicist who argued that “birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective.”

In light of this reality, Jean H. Baker’s book, Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion, is a bit of a scholarly throwback. While it is readable, lively, and in many ways realistic about its subject, it is deeply unsatisfying as an ideological analysis.

Even Planned Parenthood has had to drop the denials of Sanger’s commitment to eugenics and now urges us all instead to avoid judging those of another historical era. After all, as Hillary Clinton basically said in 2009, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and he still did some pretty nifty things. Take what you like and leave the rest, that’s the new approach to Sanger.

So Baker cannot simply ignore the fact of Sanger’s eugenic preoccupation, but she doesn’t seem to feel obliged to try to make much sense of it. Instead, she seeks that convenient refuge of the relativist: “nuance.” Critics of Sanger (this reviewer included) are chastised for not having “a more nuanced view of her perspectives and the reasons she accepted aspects of a mainstream movement dedicated to improving human beings.”

Well, fine. While it’s hard to find “nuance” in a worldview that calls organized charity “a malignant social disease,” it would at least be entertaining to read someone trying to do so. Instead, regarding eugenics, what we get with Baker is an exhortation to nuance (in the Introduction) and then an avoidance of the issue for most of the remaining 300 pages. When she does address eugenics, she does so superficially. She acknowledges that Sanger was a “promoter” of eugenics, yet, in describing her motivation, the most she can muster is a variation of the mere-pragmatics defense: “In an effort to gain support, [Sanger] signed on to negative eugenics.”

Baker further tries her hand at nuance by claiming that Sanger rejected the “standard eugenic proposition that heredity was absolute.” Unfortunately for Baker, there was no such standard eugenic line. Only the most unsophisticated eugenicist would have claimed such a thing, while most scholarly eugenicists (such as Frederick Osborn) knew very well by the 1920s that nature and nurture interacted in the production of human traits. Ironically, in her Introduction, Baker accuses Sanger’s critics of an inadequate knowledge of the eugenics of Sanger’s day, a defect that she herself exhibits in spades.

The book’s treatment of the population-control movement reveals a similar failure to understand the history of eugenics. Baker writes that by the late 1920s, Sanger “had determined that population experts, like eugenicists, were emerging as an expanding pool of potential supporters.” In fact, population experts were eugenicists, plain and simple. Beginning with the first to use the term “eugenics,” Francis Galton (1822–1911), down through the eugenicists with whom Sanger worked in the 1920s through the 1960s, all early population “experts” were eugenicists. The discipline of demography was shot through with eugenic assumptions. As feminist and Marxist historian Linda Gordon observed, “The eugenics people slid into the population control movement gracefully, naturally, imperceptibly … There was nothing to separate the two movements because there was no tension between their two sorts of goals.”

Why were the two movements so closely aligned? The key can be found in a popular slogan of the eugenics/population-control crowd: “Quality, not quantity.” Eugenicists believed that, in order to improve the race, fewer people (only the so-called “fit”) should reproduce. In its 1927 Buck v. Bell decision, written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory sterilization of the “unfit” was allowable under the Constitution, enabling American states to sterilize, on a far greater scale, those citizens deemed unfit, without their consent and sometimes even without their knowledge. (In the end, a majority of states allowed for involuntary sterilization, leading to over 60,000 sterilizations by 1967.) Between birth control and involuntary sterilization, the eugenics movement had a plan for dealing with the “unfit” in America.

But what to do about the great mass of people outside her borders? As Sanger confided in a letter to Clarence Gamble in 1940, India was “a bottomless sink … They need birth control on a large scale and it should be continually prodded into the national consciousness daily, hourly, for at least five years.” The Rockefeller family, deeply immersed in eugenics, financially supported the earliest eugenic population-control organizations, such as the Population Council. This was done quietly, however; as Frances Hand Ferguson, a former president of Planned Parenthood in America, observed, “Certainly the Rockefellers didn’t want to be known as a family who was telling little brown Indians not to have babies.” Population control was a gussied-up eugenics—with a passport.

Baker’s neglect of this history makes her treatment of eugenics and population control relentlessly shallow and unreflectively ideological. For example, she states confidently that “too large a population blocked opportunities for growth and stalled industrialization in what was now dubbed ‘the Third World.’” This is the language of someone who takes the formulations of eugenic demographers at face value instead of questioning how their ideological agenda might have compromised their scientific endeavors. In fact, as recent articles in Public Discourse have observed, the world is well able to absorb its roughly seven billion people. Economists such as Julian Simon have argued that the healthy population growth of India is one reason why its economic growth has been so robust. Of course, the point of Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion is not to give a course on contemporary theories of population economics, but a nod of acknowledgment toward these larger issues would have greatly deepened the book’s analysis.

Disappointing as these defects are to the informed reader, the most unsatisfying aspect of the book is its naïveté about Sanger’s model of sexual liberation. Baker, who earned her B.A. in 1960, has ideas about sexuality that seem not to have budged from a sunny, 1960s-era cluelessness about the glories of uncommitted sex. This, despite the divorce revolution, HIV/AIDS, pornification, the sexualization and abuse of children: in short, the sum total of physical and emotional devastation wrought by the sexual revolution. Instead, the reader gets platitudes about Sanger’s affairs as a “life-affirming inspiration” or as “spontaneous, self-affirming alliances with men.” Baker is too good a historian to overlook the heartache that such behavior caused Sanger’s two husbands, but she seems unable to grasp how promiscuity harmed Margaret Sanger herself. The lonely woman at the end of her life, addicted to Demerol and resentful of the loss of celebrity, is the result of a life spent using people and, in turn, being used.

In sum, Baker cannot think outside the liberal academic box. She makes the utterly conventional assumption that eugenics was not what it in fact was: a progressive movement through and through. She does not understand that eugenics is all about one thing: control, the control of benighted masses by an enlightened elite. As Baker correctly emphasizes (but does not understand), Sanger insisted that contraception be called not family planning but birth control. Margaret Sanger’s was an ideology of control: birth control (baited with promiscuity), enabling a eugenic control of population—the progressive application of biopower. It is an ideology that tempts totalitarian elites—wherever they might be found on the political spectrum.

Angela Franks, Ph.D., is the author of Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy (McFarland, 2005) and the Director of Theology Programs for the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization (TINE) at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston. This article originally appeared on Public Discourse and is reprinted here with permission.


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The Romanian Orthodox Church's Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest Wikimedia Commons
Bogdan Stanciu

Romanian news outlet sanctioned for discrimination in attacking pro-life initiative

Bogdan Stanciu
By Bogdan Stanciu

BUCHAREST, Romania -- A decision of CNCD, Romania's Council Against Discrimination, has recently become definitive, recognizing the right to dignity of all Orthodox Christians in the country.

Last year, PRO VITA Association - Bucharest branch, one of the main nonprofits in Romania defending life, family and religious liberty, filed an official complaint with the Council, showing that a blog post dated May 17, 2013 and hosted on the Adevarul.ro platform prejudiced the image of Christian Orthodox believers.

The article, signed "Alex Dumitriu," challenged the support given by the Romanian Orthodox Church to the “One of Us” European initiative, which required a ban on public funding for the destruction of embryos during research and medical procedures.

The blog post described the Romanian Orthodox Church as an “anti-human, criminal and anti-life organization, whose purpose is spreading suffering and abjectness, mysticism and ignorance for their own profit.”

The applicant argued that these allegations created a degrading and hostile atmosphere for Orthodox Christians in Romania, thus harming a whole community.

The Council agreed that the affirmations in the article referred to both the clerics and the simple believers and discriminated against the Christian Orthodox community. It concluded it was discrimination, infringing upon the right to dignity granted to persons of Christian Orthodox confession.

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The council cited the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in Europe, carrying with it duties and responsibilities. Also, the Adevarul.ro platform was fined a symbolic sum of 2,000 RON (approximately 445 EUR).

It is for the first time in Romania that a media institution is sanctioned for discriminating against Christians.

As a brand, the Adevarul newspaper has continued the tradition of a title established in the 19th century, but after 1989 it took over the infrastructure and human resources of the recently-deceased communist newspaper Scanteia, the official propaganda channel of the Romanian Communist Party. Today it has also developed Adevarul.ro, an online platform that is one of the most popular media channels in Romania.

Adevarul.ro has recently made it a habit of harassing the Romanian Orthodox Church with almost daily frequency, presenting negative aspects in the church and tendentious articles of opinion about this institution and about Creationism and Christianity in general, in what looks more and more like an ideological guerrilla warfare.


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Paul Russell

Nitschke heads a suicide cult that must be stopped

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell

Following The Australian's news story today about another young life lost that was related to Philip Nitschke and the Exit organisation, senior journalist, Angela Shanahan says that Nitschke and Exit must be stopped.

Shanahan opens: 

PHILIP Nitschke, contrary to his claims as an advocate of euthanasia for the terminally ill, is the chief mover of something resembling a suicide cult.

The case histories of Lucas Taylor, 26, and Joe Waterman, 25, who committed suicide after being in contact with Nitschke’s group, Exit, leave little doubt of that.

Lucas Taylor was the subject of the other article in today's paper while Joe Waterman's story was covered earlier in the ABCs 7:30 Report that created the original furore leading to the medical board suspending Nitschke's practicing licence today.

Covering the information Judi Taylor found on her son's computer after his death the story adds: 

His heartbroken mother realised that her son was not the only young person on this site. Nor was anyone on the site interested in the motivation for his thoughts of suicide, nor in helping Lucas to overcome his feelings.

“They were only interested in the ‘endgame’,” she said, including detailed advice about where and when and how to go about it.

Again, this destroys any pretence that Nitschke and Exit are only involved in advising sick and dying people about how to commit suicide. This is a macabre and clandestine death industry. Hope joins with Angela Shanahan in calling for this organisation to be stopped and is joined now in our call for a National Inquiry into Exit and other euthanasia organisations by the mothers of both of the young men mentioned in this article.

Shanahan closes by saying: Nitschke’s claim of political persecution is risible. He and his organisation must be stopped.

Reprinted with permission from NoEuthanasia.org.au.


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Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

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Leaving the Matrix: what is the cost of conversion?

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By Hilary White

What do you do when you decide to leave a sexually disordered lifestyle? What do you do, when all the people you have contact with, all your friends, even your family, have accepted and embraced a way of living and thinking about life that you have realized is harmful, psychologically and morally destructive, and which you know you must leave? What is the cost of conversion?

We can easily get caught up in the tumult of the ever-escalating legal, political, and cultural war against the traditional worldview and anthropology, so much that we forget that the “issue” is about real, individual human beings and how they should, concretely, order their lives. We culture warriors must remember that what we are asking people to do is difficult, that it can incur huge sacrifice and loss and will often require enormous upheaval and change. We are asking people to leave not only a “lifestyle” of sexual activity, but an entire world, populated with family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and an entire global culture that embraces and aggressively promotes it.

I include not only the experience of leaving the “gay lifestyle,” but of leaving a worldview, a cultural paradigm that accepts and promotes sexual license of any kind in general. It is more than the questions surrounding the so-called “ex-gay” movement, and more than the issue of living chastely in an increasingly sexually obsessed world.

How ought a person who experiences same-sex attraction react when it begins to dawn on him that, for whatever reason, he cannot continue to live according to the world’s paradigm? We know how the homosexualist movement says he ought to react, and we know that the secular world (nearly all the world, therefore) is in more or less complete agreement. He should reject such self-negating thoughts. He should embrace his “orientation” and start to seek out same-sex sexual relationships, and carry on in the way that they tell us life is now normally lived.

He should engage in sexual encounters with various people, sometimes setting up “relationships” for varying lengths of time, breaking up, moving on, finding someone else, perhaps cohabitating, and maybe, some day, “settling down” with one person, either in “marriage,” or not, as the mood strikes. This is what the world now presents to us as normal. Nearly every television show and movie set in our times says this is just how people live nowadays. 

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

But those few of us left who think this is not a very good way to live, that it is morally and psychologically destructive, have in large part to forge our own way in life, figure out a set of rules and standards to live by alone, all the while fighting the pressure to conform. Even for those of us not plagued by sexual feelings towards people of the same sex it isn’t easy.

It is particularly not easy for those of us who have decided later in life to try to embrace a different path, but who had previously followed the world’s advice, and who had never known any other way of living. What does it take to totally change a worldview, a method of organizing one’s life and all social relationships? How hard is it to reinvent a way of life that the world has not only abandoned, but aggressively rejected and condemned?

The cost will usually be, at least, the loss of nearly all one’s friends, sometimes even very close friends. Very often it will include alienating, sometimes permanently, one’s own family. Since the Sexual Revolution’s paradigm has now been embraced by three or four or more generations, it will often mean alienation from parents and siblings.

It will sometimes mean the loss of good relations with co-workers and colleagues, and sometimes even the loss of jobs and careers. I know a man, a previously highly respected author, who was totally rejected by the entire literary establishment of his home country, a heavily secular nation, when he embraced Catholicism, including its sexual moral teachings. He told me that he expected he would never be published again outside the Catholic niche press. None of his previous friends would speak to him and for the first two years his mother had refused to take his calls.

He had been asked again and again why, if he felt he had to become a Christian, he could not have become an Anglican. And why this “sudden obsession” with “outdated” and “retrograde” sexual morality? He said that, in essence, he was treated as he would have been in the 19th century had he “come out” as a homosexual. Chastity, in other words, is the new perversion.

It is a momentous decision to leave that world, and people who make that transition compare it to leaving the Matrix: a painful, shocking and revelatory experience of a totally new and previously unguessed-at world that can leave the person disoriented, feeling as though he is now living in a kind of “parallel universe” in which he is alone and alienated from friends and family and fellow citizens.

There is an increasing number of us “converts” to a more morally sane life, who often find that once we have made the transition we are alone again. And even when we find others, a new community and friends – usually in a church – we learn that we must keep the door to the past closed. It’s not that we fear rejection, far from it, and it is not even a matter of shame.

But we understand that in a civilized society, no one wants to hear about barbarity, and we learn that to keep our past life closely in mind is to allow it to continue to rule the present. Close friends will know about our past, but, outside the most intimate circles it is passed over silently. We have reinvented ourselves and moved on, but the price is sometimes to become people with no past. To be wholly remade, it is necessary to leave behind the person we were.

It works. I can say that it is possible to be radically morally rebuilt, that one can reconstruct an entire personality, consciously dismantle past habits of thought and approach to life and replace them with better ones. The damage from the previous life, whether physical or psychological, can be permanent, but it is possible to construct a way of living that is morally and psychologically and physically healthy, and reorder a life in such a way that the damage does not rule your present. 

But it’s expensive. For me, it started when I was still living in British Columbia. I felt something new beginning in my mind and felt a yearning spring up that could not be satisfied by anything I’d experienced… the usual convert’s tale.

I’d been aware all my life that the kind of world we lived in, and the kind of life we lived in it, was somehow just not right. I loved old films and television shows that depicted a totally different way of living. I was close to my grandparents and wondered why we no longer lived that way. When I moved to the mainland in my early 20s, I somehow started going to Mass again, and that was when the real struggle began. I knew full well that the way I lived and thought about life was deeply at odds with the Church.

But I was alone. None of my friends were Catholic and none of them could begin to understand what it was I had begun to talk about. And I had made no friends at the large inner city parish I attended. I had tried to join a few things, and had volunteered a bit, but I could see that I had nothing in common with them. It seemed as though these people lived in another universe, one I could not even want to enter. A priest suggested I get involved in the pro-life movement, and I rejected this idea out of hand as totally absurd.

I thought I could only ask God for help. I prayed for “Catholic friends.” This brought no change, so I scaled down and said, “All right then, just one. Just one Catholic friend.” In the end, I simply got up and left one day. I’ve written elsewhere that I just got in a car and went “on holiday” out east, and never returned. When I landed in the far-eastern Canadian town where I was to undertake my own radical conversion, I only stopped there because I had run out of continent.

And it was there I discovered a whole new world, a moral universe of whose existence I had been previously totally ignorant. I met my “Catholic friends,” and was able to start the painful task of first deconstructing and then rebuilding my entire worldview, my character, my beliefs, my total understanding of life, the universe, and everything.

“Painful”? I barely survived. It took a year but I emerged a new kind of person in a new kind of world that I had never suspected existed. I met a group of other people who had undergone the same experience and we traded war stories. We agreed that it was like living in a parallel universe, and we bonded over the loss of previous friendships and family relationships. We helped each other, this little group of Catholic refugees on the rain-washed East Coast, to figure out a way to live in a world to which we no longer belonged. 

We talk about the programs set up by various individuals and groups that propose to help people, (mainly men) leave the homosexual lifestyle. We defend the right of psychotherapists to offer healing and help for people who have been damaged by their own choices and by the violence and sins of others. We lobby our Parliaments, we write articles, we even argue in comment boxes on the internet. We sometimes get brave and give talks and engage in public debates where we confront our ideological opponents in public venues. In all this, we rightly speak against the New Paradigm that the world has embraced and we urge people to reject it. It’s a form of evangelization.

But I think we need to keep in mind, while we are doing this good work, that what we are asking people to do, concretely, is momentous. Indeed, from the point of view of heaven, it is of cosmic significance. In less exalted terms, however, we are asking something almost unimaginably difficult of people ensnared in a way of living and thinking that they may not even completely understand themselves.

So much of our anti-culture, our death-culture, has been simply absorbed unconsciously, so much of it has been fed to us with our Fruit Loops and Saturday Morning Cartoons from earliest childhood, that we often have no way of knowing anything else exists. We have become people trapped in Plato’s Cave, knowing only the vaguest shadows of reality.

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

Ultimately, the Matrix is not only unreal, it is designed to make men miserable, but in such a way that they are hardly aware of being miserable. It not only enslaves, but tortures its victims. There is a reason that suicide, divorce, drug use, violent crime, self-harm, eating disorders, depression, … misery, in short, have grown to such colossal proportions in our societies.

If I may make a suggestion, maybe we could start writing and talking about how much better it is to live in The Real. How much happier it is possible to be when living a morally integrated life of self-control, not being pushed around either by lust or by the merciless demands of a lust-worshipping culture...a life of real freedom, in other words. It might help make the jump less frightening.


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