Monday, October 10, 2005

A century behind the curve

Alex Cockburn takes on the Bill Bennett flap, but with his usual twist:

Every year or so, some right-winger in America lets fly in public with a ripe salvo of racism, and the liberal watchdogs come tearing out of their kennels, and the neighborhood echoes with the barks and shouts. The right-winger says he didn't mean it, the president "distances himself," and the liberals claim they're shocked beyond all measure. Then, everyday life in racist America resumes its even course.

...The deeper irony here is that liberals have pondered longer and deeper than conservatives on how exactly to carry out Bennett's hypothetical plan, either by sterilization or compulsory contraception.
Taking liberals to task here, as Cockburn goes on to do by raising the sordid issue of eugenics history, may be a tad bit of a cheap shot. But it's worth acknowledging that his overall argument is sound.

The sad truth is that eugenicism was nurtured by Progressives and reformers in the early 20th century. Liberal skepticism of, if not outright hostility to, mass movements and the "crowd" mentality provided the intellectual momentum for a whole slew of experiments meant to improve the lower classes and temper crime, degeneracy, and the like.

Liberals shouldn't necessarily feel guilty for what some of their predecessors did a century ago. However, knowing this history should encourage them to activate their inner caution button, especially when they start to fret about the "underclass," hearken back to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's musings, and condemn those at the bottom of the social ladder for not thinking and acting like, well, liberals.