Home / General / Embrace of Eugenics By Conservatives Proves That Conservatives Never Had Anything To Do With Eugenics

Embrace of Eugenics By Conservatives Proves That Conservatives Never Had Anything To Do With Eugenics


I know we’ve dealt with part of this already, but here’s more Goldberg tendentiousness:

Lepore mentions that the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in the Buck v. Bell case, led by liberal hero Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a passionate eugenicist who considered “building a race” to be at the core of reform. Did Holmes and his fellow justices, including Louis Brandeis, sign on to the cause out of “faddishness”? What about the fact that the lone dissenter was Pierce Butler, a conservative Catholic Democrat appointed by a Republican (whose appointment was opposed by The Nation, The New Republic, and the KKK)?

This greatly impresses Jeff Goldtsein:

If the progressive “turn” from eugenics is a suggestion that eugenics was, at its heart, conservative, what do we make of the fact that conservatives, by and large, never had to distance themselves from eugenics?

You may have noticed, first of all, that Goldberg makes a technically defensible but highly misleading claim about Holmes. It’s true that he was in some sense a hero to liberals because of his dissents in cases like Lochner and Dagenhart, as well as his belated efforts to get the Court to actually enforce the First Amendment. This is quite different from saying, however, that Holmes was a liberal, which he most certainly wasn’t. Holmes almost certainly opposed most of the modest economic regulations that were struck down over his dissents. It’s just that — and I can understand why people fond of making assertions-without-argument that most of Obama’s legislative program is unconstitutional have trouble with this distinction — he believed in making distinctions between what was good public policy and what was constitutionally permitted public policy.

Which leads is to the transparently obvious problem with citing Buck v. Bell to support the proposition that conservatives had nothing to do with eugenics. Yes, Brandeis regrettably signed Holmes’s odious opinion, as did Stone, but they were the Court’s only liberal members. How an 8-1 decision issued by a Court dominated by conservatives can support the claim that conservatives “never had to distance themselves from eugenics” I can’t tell you. To the extent that it demonstrates anything, the case shows the tendency of the white elite — reactionary or progressive — to support eugenics at the time was widespread.

And if we’re going to play this silly game more, yes, Pierce Butler –opposed by The Nation and the New Republic! — dissented. This great Catholic conservative also dissented in the Scottsboro Boys case, arguing that since the fine people of Alabama had gone to the trouble of rigging more than one Stalinist show trail before railroading eight innocent boys to the death chamber everything was nice and legal-like. I guess given Goldberg’s institutional connection to authoritarian white supremacy, he doesn’t find this a major issue, but I think it’s safe to say that liberal opposition to Butler was vindicated…

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  • Daragh McDowell

    Scott – first of all let me thank you for providing a valuable service. I, like most people with an elementary understanding of any of the concepts Goldberg discusses from politics to sci-fi, have long since internalised as a basic part of my world view that anything Goldberg says, unless demonstrated otherwise, is bullshit. This is of course a tremendous time-saver, but its vital that we continue to have dedicated scholars of Goldbergology to measure the length, breadth and composition of his bullshit not only to add to the sum total of human knowledge, but also in the hopes that one day he may read these examinations and realise his entire life has been an exercise in producing nonsensical garbage packaged in pseudo-intellectual garb for the benefit of people much richer, much more powerful, and much much MUCH smarter than he is. I suspect that his reaction to this revalation would be to shrug his shoulders, say ‘meh,’ continue to collect NRO paychecks and eat another donut, but it may push him to re-orient his life towards a pursuit much more beneficial to mankind – such as crippling alcoholism.

    In the meantime, the intellectual careers of Goldberg, J. Podheretz, W. Kristol, R. Pipes et al, at least provides some justification for their opposition to affirmative action – after all, they got their positions due to qualities other than intrinsic merit, and look at the resut!

  • Xenocrates

    What, the Doughy Pantload has unleashed another Cheetos-fueled fantasy upon the Internet-reading public? I am shocked, shocked I tell you! This gasbag should be permanently enjoined from ever publishing his wet dreams of A Permanent Conservative Majority and stuff them up his capacious rectal vent. What a load of crap! This is just getting beyond parody at this point. I’m done with them, just go away. Bill Maher put it very well the other night; these people need to wake up to the new century, and it ain’t the 19th!

  • mark f

    I suspect that [Goldberg’s] reaction to this revalation would be to shrug his shoulders, say ‘meh,’ continue to collect NRO paychecks and eat another donut[.]

    Goldberg has two standard reactions when he’s losing arguments. One is as you’ve described. It’s frustrating to spectators like me, but since he’s running such a huge deficit I suppose it’s understandable.

    His other response is much more entertaining. He refuses to ever admit that he’s gotten anything wrong–although he usually allows that it’s a theoretical possibility he has, it’s just that no one has been smart enough to figure out what –and anyway, even if he has gotten something wrong, that’s central to his point. And then he tries desperately to fight his way out of it.

    The whole Liberal Fascism blog (alas, now taken off the NRO mast) was the most obvious example of the second type. But his argument with Brad DeLong about a book on Indians was probably the most entertaining. Not only did Jonah smugly suggest that DeLong read a book that DeLong was much more familiar with, DeLong knew the author personally and printed an email from him demolishing Jonah’s “misread[ing of] the book.”

    • mark f

      See, e.g., the twisting he’s doing in order to make sure Holmes “ultimately be counted on the left.”

    • Daragh McDowell

      I think the response to all this is not to get frustrated, but leave the Jonah bashing to the professionals – i.e. those who can read his dreck without getting nauseous or simply bursting into fits of hysterics. As you demonstrated, when Goldberg does squeeze out of his office chair to engage, the results are hysterical.

      In fact, its like Comic Book Guy and the ‘Ultimate Belt.’ Goldberg likes to fancy himself a public intellectual, but when he actually engages in debate with actual public intellectuals, he is reduced to returning to the NRO – where he dispenses the insults (to his readership’s intelligence) rather than absorbs them.

      • Holden Pattern

        I’m not convinced that Jonah Goldberg actually insults the intelligence of the intended readership of NRO.

        • Daragh McDowell

          Hmmm. I find your ideas intriguing, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • DocAmazing

      “I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here…”

    • Mrs Tilton

      Looks like it’s time for the Pantload to take another victory lap.

  • Rob

    Seems a long way to go so you can say “Liebrals are t3h real racists!!1!!1!” I mean isn’t easier just to keep saying Robert Byrd was in the Klan?

    • DrDick

      As was nearly every white man of his generation in Virginia, especially those who sought political office. This is hardly a secret.

      • commie atheist

        And Pope Ratzi was in the Nazi Youth just like every other kid his age. Still, it is fun to say “Ratzi the Nazi” over and over again.

        • DrDick

          On the other hand, Byrd has publicly repudiated his membership….

      • Rob

        I know but the ultimate goal of all this is to say Democrats are really the true racist party And blacks are just too stupid to realize it. (Yes the whole argument is self refuting but hey this isn’t about logic its about mental masturbation to reach a predetermined talking point).

  • DrDick

    It is not Jonah’s fault. His mama dropped on his head when he was a baby. From the third floor window. Repeatedly.

  • John

    Butler was the only true conservative on the court! McReynolds, Van Devanter, Taft, Sanford, and Sutherland were all liberals!

  • commie atheist

    Is Jeff Goldstein relevant again? Can’t seem to escape him in the blogosphere these days. Amazing what putting a racist Darleen Click cartoon on your website will do, in terms of getting people to remember that you’re still alive, and still the same vile, misogynist asshole you always were.

  • Daragh McDowell

    I think this piece by Roy Edroso says most of what needs to be said on Goldstein, and the conservative blog-o-sphere in general.

  • Glenn

    It’s also worth remembering that the argument for Carrie Buck in Buck v. Bell was substantive due process, the very theory that had led to Lochner, which Holmes notably opposed. I cannot defend some of the language used by Holmes, but there were larger constitutional battles being played out here than whether one was favorably disposed to eugenics or not.

  • commie atheist

    Even if you grant Goldberg his bullshit assumptions (i.e., “progressives” of a century ago were pro-eugenics), what the fuck does that have to do with the current progressive/liberal/socialist movement? I’ve been a card-carrying ACLU member for 30 years, and I’ve yet to receive my package extolling the positive features of eugenics. The fact that movements, like people, change over time is somehow irrelevant to Goldberg, because they are forever tainted by what their predecessors have done or thought.

    Goldberg is saying that modern-day liberalism has its roots in the fascist movements of the early 20th century, and is therefore illegitimate. That would suggest that children must inevitably be considered mere extensions of their parents. Alex P. Keaton must be a liberal, in spite of his views, because his parents were liberal. My parents were conservative, church-going Catholics, therefore I must be too. The fact that I’m not is central to his point.

    • Rob

      The fact that he works for a magazine whose entire purpose was to keep segregation alive is what makes this whole thing that much stranger.

      • Phil

        I was going to say, to the extent that any of this matters, conservatives had no need to be too concerned with eugenics, as they had their hands full arguing for segregation and anti-miscegenation laws.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Well, to be fair, though the Nation Review was certainly pro-segregationist, this really was never its “entire purpose.” It was on the wrong side of a whole host of other issues as well.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          erp….that’s “National Review”

  • Jay C

    You may have noticed, first of all, that Goldberg makes a technically defensible but highly misleading claim about.[…]

    This is Jonah Goldberg we’re talking about, right? Fill in the blank, and this rubric could stand for the entire critique of his entire published oeuvre.

  • OK, without claiming to be an expert, let me just say It’s not as though Buck v. Bell was a hotly contested, highly controversial case with Progressives demanding that Carrie Buck be sterilized and conservatives bravely standing up for her right to have children. Essentially no one took her side. Conservatives did not come out to protect her. The ACLU did not take up her case. So far as I know, not even the Catholic Church, which opposed any separation between sex and reproduction stook up for her. In fact, even her guardian was pretty half-hearted about it.

    Second, as everyone says, liberal and conservative justices alike supported the sterilization. Yes, Butler, the sole dissenter, was a conservative, but he didn’t write the sort of heroic dissent Holmes and Brandeis were famous for. And it’s not as though conservative public opinion responded with outrage. In fact, the case went generally unremarked on.

    I will repeat my earlier question. Can anyone point me to a good source on the politics of eugenics?

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