Progressivism’s Parade of Horrors
July 26, 2016
On the flight out to the recent FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, I read a horrifying book, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era by Thomas C. Leonard. It’s a bold attempt to restore our national memory, to explain how we strayed from our nation’s classical liberal founding heritage and embarked on building today’s welfare/warfare/regulatory state. Central to the story is the misuse of science. And it carries an important warning for us today.
Leonard meticulously researches and documents the march of the Eugenics movement, from its roots in the German Historical School of political economy during the Bismarck era to its near-universal embrace by American Progressive intellectuals at the end of the 19th century, to its re-importation into Germany, which culminated in the Nazi holocaust. Eugenicists identified themselves as Progressives—an association their fellow Progressives didn’t deny. Their goal? To “improve” the human species through policies aimed at selecting out the “unfit.” See where this is going?
You will find this book shocking, not just because so many prominent American scientists, economists, journalists, theologians, statesmen, activists, and trade organizations bought into this poisonous ideology, but by this having been expunged from our national memory, much like the Belgians have blanked out their memory of King Leopold. It’s a story well worth retelling.
The pivotal historical figure in this long and sordid tale is Princeton professor-turned-President Woodrow Wilson, who helped the burgeoning Progressive movement translate philosophy into action. Wilson’s publicly articulated vision for America was to scrap the intricate constitutional checks and balances that limited the power of the federal government and replace it with unbridled rule by technocratic elites. These elites would be informed not by an ethos steeped in the American tradition of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, manifested in a freewheeling laissez faire economy, but by “settled science” that economists, sociologists, and central planners would use to create an efficient utopia. And the settled science of Wilson’s day was … Eugenics.
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