Thursday, July 8, 2004

Bad Seed

Eminent Church historian Philip Jenkins peels back the scab of the diabolically sanitary theory of the Life Beautiful and asks, "Why did so many American churches embrace eugenics?"

The ready credence given to eugenic arguments must be explained by the scientific basis that they provided to social prejudices. A eugenicist not only knew that people of his race and class were literally the best in the world, but had science on his side as well. And this same science justified, or actually demanded, the use of draconian legal measures to coerce and restrain the poor, the deviant, and the disturbed. Being the crown of creation is a tough burden, but someone has to bear it.

Nor are these complaints merely the result of post-Hitler hindsight, since all these weaknesses were discussed at length at the time. By far the most systematic critique can be found in G. K. Chesterton's Eugenics and Other Evils (1922), almost every line of which clamors for quotation.

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