Eugenics and central-planner hubris

Forced eugenics programs where “sub-standard” humans are involuntarily sterilized are evil. You don’t have to be a libertarian to agree with that. But leaving aside the fundamental objection to the injustice of such programs, the most notable case upholding an involuntary negative eugenics policy in the United States reveals something else troubling about proponents of the command-and-control state.

Carrie Buck

In his Buck v. Bell decision, that titan of modern American “legal realismOliver Wendall Homes, Jr. famously justified his decision to allow the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck by stating “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The 1927 ruling inspired a blossoming of eugenics laws across the United States targeting not only the mentally handicapped, but also petty criminals and social undesirables like the poor, women who were sexually promiscuous, and others who happened to be of a different ethnicity than the eugenicists.

But poor Carrie Buck wasn’t even really retarded. She was a troublemaker or a rape victim, depending on who you believe. Her daughter (the third generation to which Holmes referred) wasn’t an imbecile either. She was actually on her school’s honor roll the year before she died of measles. If Paul Lombardo’s version of the story is correct, that case is a terrible, terrible example of the trauma of a woman’s victimization in rape and subsequent pregnancy being compounded by central planners. Holmes the eugenicist was too concerned with aggrandizing the power of the state at the expense of the individual to be concerned with whether the woman to be sterilized in the case before him was even “unfit.”

[Note: For more on the Progressive historical context in which Buck v. Bell was decided, see Michael Giuliano’s September 2008 article in The Freeman.]