(p. 22) Progressivism was always more than a single cause, however. Attracting reformers of all stripes, it aimed to fix the ills of society through increased government action — the “administrative state.” Progressives pushed measures ranging from immigration restriction to eugenics in a grotesque attempt to protect the nation’s gene pool by keeping the “lesser classes” from reproducing. If one part of progressivism emphasized fairness and compassion, the other reeked of bigotry and coercion.
“Imbeciles,” by Adam Cohen, the author of “Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America,” examines one of the darkest chapters of progressive reform: the case of Buck v. Bell. It’s the story of an assault upon thousands of defenseless people seen through the lens of a young woman, Carrie Buck, locked away in a Virginia state asylum. In meticulously tracing her ordeal, Cohen provides a superb history of eugenics in America, from its beginnings as an offshoot of social Darwinism — human survival of the fittest — to its rise as a popular movement, advocating the state-sponsored sterilization of “feebleminded, insane, epileptic, inebriate, criminalistic and other degenerate persons.”
For the full review, see:
DAVID OSHINSKY. “No Justice for the Weak.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 20, 2018): 1 & 22-23.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2018, and has the title “‘Imbeciles’ and ‘Illiberal Reformers’.”)
The book under review, is:
Cohen, Adam. Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.