‘Imbeciles’ and ‘Illiberal Reformers’ – The New York Times Book Review
Trigger warning: The review contains a discussion of “eu”genics. May lead to depression at the unlikely prospect that the American elite will ever be anything but entitled assholes. May also cause excessive swearing and the urge to vomit.
The book under review examines the people and law behind the notorious Buck v. Bell decision, in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for an 8-1 majority, endorsed the practice of sterilizing people perceived to be of lower intelligence — called, in the law and in his decision, “imbeciles.”
The tone of this review is that not only is forced sterilization wrong but that it is somehow shocking to find support for it amongst the progressive elite of the turn of the 20th Century.
“Imbeciles” examines one of the darkest chapters of progressive reform, and “Illiberal Reformers” looks at the perils of intellectual arrogance in dealing with explosive social issues.
The review concludes in the future warning tense:
Buck v. Bell “has never been overturned.” In a world where the Human Genome Project is currently mapping heredity at breakneck speed, that fact alone should send shivers down the spine.
No, dear readers, the intellectual arrogance that puts people’s life at risk based on their cognitive and physical abilities does not live in a dystopian future of genomic discrimination. It has tenure and a chair with a name at Princeton — endorsing the murder of infants with disabilities — and is currently at work in many state legislatures around the country, trying to pave an easy path to physician-assisted suicide for people with disabilities.
Cartoon credit: Amy Hasbrouk, Toujours Vivant/Not Dead Yet.
Why is it so easy to see now that Buck v. Bell was wrong and evil, but not to come to the same conclusion about Peter Singer and the urge to make suicide easier for people with disabilities?
This led me to look up Buck v. Bell–which as you probably know (but I didn’t) invokes the category of “defective persons.” I’m speechless.
Thank you for the link to Harriet Johnson’s essay. It is beautiful and thought-provoking.