Monday, November 23, 2015

Exchange: Liberal Fascism Watch, eugenics section

The embodiment of Liberal Fascism (well, he said he was a Liberal, from 1904 to 1924, Jonah, rather more than Hitler said National Socialists were socialists): Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty sharing a moment with Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1913. Via MaritimeQuest.

From a comment thread at Crooked Timber:

ZM 11.23.15 at 1:37 am
Thinking about re-appraisals, Woodrow Wilson was a fan of the children’s author Jean Webster who wrote Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy. I read these when I was in mid primary school, re-reading them a few years ago as an adult was weird (apart from just due to me reading one backwards from end to start — this is as they are epistolary novels so I read the last letter, then I read the second last letter, and so on back to the first letter of the book — I didn’t mean to do this, I was just flicking through the end but I got hooked and read to the beginning to see how it started) — because the former was more socialist than I remembered, and the latter was disturbingly in favour of eugenics, which I didn’t remember at all:
“The Fabian Society in the early 1900s advocated the ideal of a scientifically planned society and supported eugenics by way of sterilisation.
If you’d like to see the charming side of Fabian Socialism, you should read Jean Webster’s two delightful books: Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy. Both are epistolary novels written in the 1910s. One is set at a women’s college (Vassar-ish) and the other is set in an orphanage. The former presents a pretty picture of Fabian Socialism and the latter sweetly and ardently advocates eugenics.
They are the perfect distillation of a Woodrow Wilson style Progressivism, which wanted to purge America of any impure people and then, once America was properly populated with nice, WASP-y people, to impose a wondrous socialist vision upon them. Jonah Goldberg captures perfectly the time and the vision in Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change. “
(Sorry, I know Jonah Goldberg is not the most well regarded around here, but I am Australian and don’t know very much about him to have an opinion)
It really was very odd reading Dear Enemy which favours eugenics since it is written in such a light girls children’s book tone — but this is a very odd fit with a book favouring eugenics, and the main female character who is pluckily running an orphanage is even dating a politician and tries to win him around to her views on eugenics.
When I read it I was so surprised at the eugenics theme I looked at Good Reads to see what other readers thought about this, and many people were very surprised to re-read a book they read as a child and find it advocated eugenics.

yastreblyansky 11.23.15 at 4:36 am
ZM @38
Per Wikipedia, Theodore Roosevelt was a still bigger Webster fan than Wilson:
In June 1915, Glenn Ford McKinney was granted a divorce, and he and Webster were married in a quiet ceremony in September in Washington, Connecticut. They honeymooned at McKinney’s camp near Quebec City, Canada and were visited by former president Theodore Roosevelt,[4] who invited himself, saying: “I’ve always wanted to meet Jean Webster. We can put up a partition in the cabin.”
The article doesn’t mention Wilson, in contrast, at all.
Also, I learn that at the end of “Dear Enemy” the heroine concludes, “Privately, I don’t believe there’s one thing in heredity”, instancing a child at the institution where she works whose disposition is placid and sunny, though his mother, uncle, and aunt all died insane; so it may be that if you read the book from front to back instead of back to front it seems less pro-eugenics than it seemed to you.

ZM 11.23.15 at 5:40 am
yastreblyansky ,
I did read Dear Enemy front to back. I did not note that at the end of the book the female character renounces eugenics, after being pro-eugenics in the middle of the book. I suppose I could have missed this plot development due to being so scandalised by the support of eugenics in the middle of the book. There was really quite a lot of detailed support for eugenics in the middle of the book, and about sending people off to live in isolated farms where they couldn’t have children. If eugenics were renounced at the end of the book, I feel like it should have been renounced in as detailed a way as the pro-eugenics sentiments at the end of the book, as I left the book just thinking about the support for eugenics.
Re: Woodrow Wilson being a Jean Webster fan: “When the press badgered Woodrow Wilson at his home in Princeton on his presidential plans, the prospective candidate adroitly dodged the question by stating that he found it far easier to talk about the recent past than the immediate future. And he much preferred to discuss the book he had just finished reading, Daddy-Long-Legs, ‘the most charming story in years.’”
Then when the book was adapted for the stage Woodrow Wilson went to see the play in Washington and Jean Webster wrote in a letter that he “fell out of his chair laughing”.

yastreblyansky 11.23.15 at 3:30 pm
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
ZM @52
I am sorry I was mistaken as to which book you were reading backwards.
As an Australian, you may perhaps be familiar with D.H. Lawrence’s novel Kangaroo (1923), dominated by the protagonist’s involvement an Australian fascist movement. In many ways it is an awful book, and the way the characters’ enthusiasm for fascism is described in the middle sections is really disturbing, because it’s so hard to distinguish from the author’s voice, but in the end we know how Lawrence felt about fascism as he observed it in Italy and Germany and we don’t call him a fascist (though we can certainly call him a racist).
Which might not seem to have a lot to do with the novels of Jean Webster (which I don’t know or care about), but it does relate to a couple of broader points.
You may as you say “not know very much about” Jonah Goldberg, but in referencing him through a long and unattributed quotation from the blog Bookworm Room (motto: “CONSERVATIVES DEAL WITH FACTS AND REACH CONCLUSIONS; LIBERALS HAVE CONCLUSIONS AND SELL THEM AS FACTS”, and a 2010 post calling out the comedian Jon Stewart for his failure to recognize the deadly peril posed to the US by socialism), you plunge yourself into the wrong side of a really stupid debate, in which Goldberg essentially argues that fascism, universally recognized to be a phenomenon of the right, is actually a phenomenon of the left, and particularly that liberal and progressive ideas lead directly to Hitler’s.
A big part of the Goldbergian analysis consists of drawing a picture of the eugenics movement in the early 20th century as a leftist movement, and tying it to Hitler’s enthusiastic eugenicism. The Fabian Society, Woodrow Wilson, and Margaret Sanger all approved of eugenicist ideas, the argument runs, so they are all the same as Hitler. It’s very offensive, and it’s also false.
The eugenics movement, in the first place, was not a partisan one, but had adherents on both sides of the aisle. The membership of the Eugenics Education Society (later Galton Institute) included two Conservative British prime ministers, Arthur Balfour and Neville Chamberlain, and the opposition included left or liberal icons like G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Day, and the great anthropologists Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. Another future Conservative prime minister, chap called Winston Churchill, brought Britain as close as it was to come to mass forced sterilization (“I propose that 100,000 degenerate Britons should be forcibly sterilized and others put in labour camps to halt the decline of the British race”) when he was a Liberal, as Home Secretary in the Asquith government in 1910-13, when he fought for a Mental Deficiency Bill, eventually passed in a less intemperate form. Conservatives and liberals together ruled 8 to 1 in favor of forced sterilization in Buck v. Bell (1927).
It was a conservative American president, Calvin Coolidge, who proclaimed, “Biological laws show that Nordics deteriorate when mixed with other races”, and while everyone on or near the left abandoned eugenics theory after the Nazi catastrophe showed where it leads, scholars on the right such as Hans Eysenck and Cyril Burt, often using fraudulent research, continued it–Charles Murray, beloved of the American conservative movement, continues to push it today.

Sorry to leave this last in a Brooksian state, with an "in the first place" unmatched by a second one, etc., but I didn't have one in mind and posted this over at CT before realizing that. It was stuck in moderation there at the moment and possibly forever (too long or too many links? Update late evening: It's appeared), so I was anxious to get it up here.

Update January 31 2016: Somebody was looking at this post overnight, so I looked at it too; there should have been a second place on the other side of the controversy, the question of eugenics on the early 20th-century left. I don't feel like writing a piece on that—said what I want to say, which isn't much (I don't care if it's on the left, I don't have to defend it), in a post back in 2012, so if anybody's interested they can look at that.

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