Sanger’s Pivot of Civilization

“There is every indication that feeble-mindedness in its protean forms is on the increase, that it has leaped the barriers, and that there is truly, as some of the scientific eugenists have pointed out, a feeble-minded peril to future generations—unless the feeble-minded are prevented from reproducing their kind. . . . Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period. Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives”.

Sanger’s concern is runaway “defectives” who will cripple the future. But what makes an individual “feeble-minded” or “defective”? Sanger speaks as if such people can be identified by established clinical benchmarks. But later in the same work, she writes:

Are we to check the infant mortality rate among the feeble-minded and aid the unfortunate offspring to grow up a menace to the civilized community even when not actually certifiable as mentally defective or not obviously imbecile?

Sanger’s subjectivism is dangerous. Who determines whether someone is “feeble-minded”? Who determines whether someone is a “menace to society”?

Eugenics is an international concern. In 1933, Sanger’s magazine reprints an article written for its English readers, titled “Eugenic Sterilization,” by Ernst Rudin, the chief architect of the Nazi sterilization program.

During the same year, the Nazi government passes the Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases. Its goal (and the goal of others like it) is to purge German society and its territories of undesirables to breed a pure Aryan society. It calls for the sterilization of all persons who suffer from mental illness, physical deformity, feeble-mindedness, learning disabilities, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism. All of these things, according to the science of the day, are hereditary diseases.

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