Friday, August 27, 2010

Preaching Eugenics

Anne Barbeau Gardiner reviews "a first-rate, highly informative study of the American clergy's involvement in eugenics from the 1880s through the 1920s" — The Betrayal at the Root of the Culture Wars. Not all clergy, of course:
    In those days, Catholics still stood as a united front and, according to Rosen, were the eugenic movement's "staunchest opponents." True, a couple of priests from the Catholic University of America (John Ryan and John Cooper) served for years on the advisory council of the American Eugenics Society (AES) and, by lending their names, gave an "inestimable influence to the eugenics movement." Yet even they engaged in criticizing the movement from inside and insistently questioned the science behind sterilization laws. They resigned after Pope Pius XI condemned sterilization in 1930.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this link. Another book that I want and need to buy. The Eugenics Movement in the Anglosphere is another under-reported historical topic that the web has introduced me to.


2:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect the New Oxford Review, which tends to eschew shades of gray when black and white will work, is oversimplifying the matter.

In the 20s and 30s, Catholics were very much at the bottom of the (white) social pecking order, and it doesn't surprise me that it was from the denominations at the top of the totem pole that eugenics advocates came, nor that the Evangelicals (mostly found in the then very poor South) made common cause with the Catholics.

You can be sure that what this would have meant in practice is that the Boston Brahmin et al would have found attics in which to stow their debile, but that the medical establishment would have been expected to unleash their scalpels with full fury upon the Irish in Southie and the Italians in their tenements.

I happen to know of one European case from the 1970s, in which the Catholic parish priest was instrumental in having a notoriously promiscuous woman neutered; there almost certainly are many more.

The NOR would be a more serious publication if it had mentioned that the Catholic church also had a more material interest in advocating its policies; Catholics with mild disabilities, or from families with genetic disorders were at the time strongly encouraged to become religious, rather than assume responsibilities for a family.

Being sterilized or opting for a life of celibacy both prevent progeny.

7:08 AM  

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