In a 1915 unsigned editorial at this magazine [The New Republic], the editors ridiculed the Bill of Rights as a joke. “They insist upon invoking abstract principles, instead of trying to determine for concrete cases whether social control should supersede individual initiative…how can we discuss that seriously?” The doctrine of natural rights will “prevent us from imposing a social ideal.”...That sounds like an interesting book. Honest soul-searching is rare in any age. The author of the review states that it is very difficult to 'suss out' any lessons from the history, which leaves 'no good guy left standing.' I'm not sure there wasn't one -- the lone dissenter on the Supreme Court -- but it sounds like a book worth reading to see.
“The progressive goal was to improve the electorate,” Leonard writes, “not necessarily to expand it.” Jim Crow laws suppressed turnout in the South, but it fell in the North as well. New York state’s participation went from 88 percent in 1900 to 55 percent in 1920.
It’s impossible to understand early twentieth-century progressives without eugenics. Even worker-friendly reforms like the minimum wage were part of a racial hygiene agenda. The progressives believed male Anglo-Saxons were the most productive workers, but immigrants and women were willing to accept lower wages and displaced white men...
A legal minimum wage, applied to immigrants and those already working in America, ensured that only the productive workers were employed. The economically unproductive, those whose labor was worth less than the legal minimum, would be denied entry, or, if already employed, would be idled. For economic reformers who regarded inferior workers as a threat, the minimum wage provided an invaluable service. It identified inferior workers by idling them. So identified, they could be dealt with. The unemployable would be removed to institutions, or to celibate labor colonies. The inferior immigrant would be removed back to the old country or to retirement. The woman would be removed to the home, where she could meet her obligations to family and race.If Leonard didn’t have the quotes from prominent progressives to back up his claims, this would read like right-wing paranoia: The state’s most innocuous protections reframed as malevolent and ungodly social engineering. But his citations are genuine.
To bring right-wing fears full circle, the progressive Supreme Court of 1927 (including Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis) ruled 8-1 in Buck v. Bell that forced sterilization was constitutional. Holmes wrote that, “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.”
"The Dark History of Liberal Reform"
A review of a new book by Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era. It is not about current politics, and Leonard is apparently a progressive himself. It is about an honest look at the history of the movement.
By Grim on Monday, January 25, 2016