Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Ongoing Yutz Chronicles of Ross Douthat

Every once in awhile I decide to tempt fate and find out whether I can stomach a Ross Douthat column in the New York Times. Invariably I find I cannot, though I hold out hope that someday he'll stop writing like a first-semester undergraduate straining to maintain that there really are simple and tidy answers to the world's ills--or indeed, that the world is in fact quite a simple place to begin with.

Today's column caught my eye because Douthat takes on the topic of eugenics. He notes, with partial accuracy, that eugenics were central to American progressive political philosophy 100 years ago, and key proponents included Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, a fact well known among antiabortion activists (as can be found here for example). The accuracy is merely partial in that he ignores how readily eugenic philosophy was absorbed by political thinkers on the other side of the spectrum as well, and hardly needs pointing out unless one has never encountered the word "Nazi". And while that particular political brand never caught on in the US, there were plenty of establishment types who had no love of progressive ideals and yet justified their politics through the work of Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton.

There's some potentially interesting stuff here given that prenatal testing and (so far) legal abortion may lead to a variety of ethical conundrums well beyond what we already face. But Douthat really seems to be interested in tarring perceived political opponents rather than exploring ideas, so he uses the Sanger connection to call the process of aborting a fetus with Down Syndrome "liberal eugenics". Curiously, he notes that approximately 90% of all parents who receive a "positive" test indicating they are carrying a Down baby will elect to terminate the pregnancy. Is this some kind of liberal affliction?

I am of the view that if Douthat could only figure out a way to point out that murder should really be called "liberal murder", he would have it on the pages of the Times forthwith. We'll have to stay tuned, I guess.

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