Feb 16 2012
Sterilizing the Left’s Eugenics History [Excerpts]
North Carolina offered reparations on [January 10, 2012] to victims of its nearly-half-century sterilization campaign. Starting with Indiana in 1907, more than half of the states codified eugenics programs of varying degrees of fervor during the twentieth century. But North Carolina is thus far the only state to offer to compensate the victims.
“We are attempting to achieve a level of financial compensation and other services that can provide meaningful assistance,” explained Dr. Laura Gerald, chair of the state’s Eugenics Task Force. “Compensation also serves a collective purpose for the state and sends a clear message that we in North Carolina are a people who pay for our mistakes and that we do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights.”
[Nevertheless,] Joseph L. Morrison, a longtime professor in the University of North Carolina’s journalism department, defended the state’s eugenics laws as late as 1965. “If compulsory sterilization of unwed mothers could be seriously debated in two successive General Assemblies of North Carolina, reputedly the most progressive southern state, it is well to study the forces underlying such punitive proposals,” he wrote in the Social Service Review . “What could have induced the legislators to think of altering their state’s enlightened Eugenic Sterilization Law to subserve a vengeful purpose?” But the law wasn’t particularly “enlightened,” even though preferable to the alternatives introduced. Morrison criticized the racist intent of the proposed laws as he overlooked the racist effect of the existing law. The proponents of sterilization represented science and the future. Its opponents represented reaction against reason.
An embrace of eugenics presumed a blind faith in science and the state. Eugenics demanded what modern progressives willingly give on any number of issues. But no decent progressive in 2012 embraces that particular idea. Few progressives would even concede eugenics showing up within their ideological lineage. For those who acknowledge the past mistakes of those sharing a political label, the historical reality of state sterilization is humbling. The voices of laissez faire against interventionism and tradition against modernization shouldn’t be so easily shouted down.
Financial restitution is but one means to right a wrong. A method demanding more from individuals is to beware of the flattering conceits of righteousness that led to past wrongs.