Posted by Curt on 19 June, 2017 at 7:13 pm. 1 comment.


Kevin D. Williamson:

Infanticide did not go out of fashion with the advance from savagery to barbarism and civilization. Rather, it became, as in Greece and Rome, a recognized custom with advocates among leaders of thought and action.
— Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race

Clarence C. Little was a cultivated man. He was a Harvard graduate who served as president of the University of Maine and the University of Michigan. He was one of the nation’s leading genetics researchers, with a particular interest in cancer. He was managing director of the American Society for the Control of Cancer, later known (in the interest of verbal economy) as the American Cancer Society; the president of the American Eugenics Society, later known (in the interest of not talking about eugenics) as the Society for Biodemography and Social Biology; and a founding board member of the American Birth Control League, today known (in the interest of euphemism) as Planned Parenthood. His record as a scientist is not exactly unblemished — he will long be remembered as the man who insisted that “there is no demonstrated causal relationship between smoking or [sic] any disease” — but he was the very picture of the socially conscious man of science, without whom the National Cancer Institute, among other important bodies, probably would not exist.

He was a humane man with horrifying opinions.

Little is one of the early figures in Planned Parenthood whose public pronouncements, along with those of its charismatic foundress, Margaret Sanger, often are pointed to as evidence of the organization’s racist origins. (Students at the University of Michigan are, at the time of this writing, petitioning to have his name stripped from a campus building.) Little believed that birth-control policy should be constructed in such a way as to protect “Yankee stock” — referred to in Sanger’s own work as “unmixed native white parentage,” if Little’s term is not clear enough — from being overwhelmed by what was at the time perceived as the dysgenic fecundity of African Americans, Catholic immigrants, and other undesirables. (“The feebleminded are notoriously prolific in reproduction,” Sanger reported in Woman and the New Race.) The question of racial differences was an obsession of Little’s that went well beyond his interest in eugenics and followed him to the end of his life; one of his later scientific works was “The Possible Relation of Genetics to Differences in Negro–White Mortality Rates from Cancer,” published in the 1960s.

The birth-control movement of the Progressive era is where crude racism met its genteel intellectual cousin: Birth Control Review, the in-house journal of Planned Parenthood’s predecessor organization, published a review, by the socialist intellectual Havelock Ellis, of Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color against White World Supremacy. Ellis was an important figure in Sanger’s intellectual development and wrote the introduction to her Woman and the New Race; Stoddard was a popular birth-control advocate whose intellectual contributions included lending to the Nazi racial theorists the term “untermensch” as well as developing a great deal of their theoretical framework: He fretted about “imperfectly Nordicized Alpines” and such. Like the other eugenics-minded progressives of his time, he saw birth control and immigration as inescapably linked issues.

Stoddard’s views were so ordinary a part of the mainstream of American intellectual discourse at the time that F. Scott Fitzgerald could refer to his work in The Great Gatsby without fearing that general readers would be mystified by the reference. What did Stoddard want? “We want above all things,” he wrote,

to preserve America. But “America,” as we have already seen, is not a mere geographical expression; it is a nation, whose foundations were laid over three hundred years ago by Anglo-Saxon Nordics, and whose nationhood is due almost exclusively to people of North European stock — not only the old colonists and their descendants but also many millions of North Europeans who have entered the country since colonial times and who have for the most part been thoroughly assimilated. Despite the recent influx of alien elements, therefore, the American people is still predominantly a blend of closely related North European strains, and the fabric of American life is fundamentally their creation.

Yesterday’s scientific progressives are today’s romantic reactionaries.

Sanger, who believed that the potential for high civilization resided within “the cell plasms” of individual humans, made statements that were substantially similar: “If we are to develop in America a new race with a racial soul, we must keep the birth rate within the scope of our ability to understand as well as to educate. We must not encourage reproduction beyond our capacity to assimilate our numbers so as to make the coming generation into such physically fit, mentally capable, socially alert individuals as are the ideal of a democracy.”

Such was the intellectual ferment out of which rose the American birth-control movement — or, rather, the American birth-control movements, of which there were really two. Sanger, working within the socialist–feminist alliance of her time, was a self-styled radical who published a short-lived journal called “The Woman Rebel,” the aim of which as described in its inaugural issue was “to stimulate working women to think for themselves and to build up a conscious fighting character.” To fight what? “Slavery through motherhood.” The Post Office refused to circulate the periodical, a fact that The Woman Rebel reported with glee: “The woman rebel feels proud the post office authorities did not approve of her. She shall blush with shame if ever she be approved of by officialism or ‘comstockism.’” But Sanger and her clique did not have a monopoly on the birth-control market. Her rival was Mary Ware Dennett, founder of — see if this name sounds familiar — the Voluntary Parenthood League (VPL).

Where Sanger was a radical, Dennett was a liberal, couching her advocacy in the familiar language of the American civil-libertarian tradition. She was an ally of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had defended her when she was charged with distributing birth-control literature classified (as most of it was at the time) as “obscene.” While Sanger’s organization was focused on setting up birth-control clinics (the first was in Brooklyn), Dennett’s group was focused on lobbying Congress for the legalization of contraception. Sanger’s group was characterized by a top-down management structure (the local affiliates had no say in American Birth Control League policymaking) and a cash-on-the-barrelhead approach to social reform: Its membership and coffers were swelled in no small part by the fact that the ABCL would not provide birth-control literature to anyone who was not a dues-paying member.

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