Political Animal


June 10, 2012 12:06 PM Your Own Little Corner of the Gas Chamber

By Ed Kilgore

While we are on the subject of the often devious rhetoric and tactics of our anti-choice friends, Ross Douthat supplies what I suspect will be a real trend-setter in Right-To-Life circles going forward: a column suggesting, subtly but definitely, that state intervention to ban reproductive choice may become necessary to prevent the practice of Nazi-style eugenics by “parents” (i.e., women) once scientific advances make prenatal decisions more sophisticated.

Douthat goes out of his way, naturally, to deny that he is associating women choosing abortions with Nazis (this ancient anti-choice tactic has been notably unsuccessful in persuading people who don’t quite think of first-trimester abortions, much less the use of an IUD, as equivalent to herding millions of men, women and children into ditches to be shot or into extermination camps to be gassed). He instead compares today’s unwittingly genocidal amoralists as equivalent to pre-World War II “liberals” who were enthusiasts for eugenics in order to breed a better human race:

From Teddy Roosevelt to the Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, fears about “race suicide” and “human weeds” were common among self-conscious progressives, who saw the quest for a better gene pool as of a piece with their broader dream of human advancement.
This progressive fascination with eugenics largely ended with World War II and the horrors wrought by National Socialism. But while the West has discarded the theory of the eugenics era, the practice urged by Fisher and others — the elimination or pre-emption, through careful reproductive planning, of the weaker members of the human species — has become a more realistic possibility than it ever was in the 1920s and ’30s.
The eugenicists had very general ideas about genetics and heredity, very crude ideas about intelligence, and deeply poisonous ideas about racial hierarchies. They did not have, as we do, access to the genetic blueprints of individuals — including, most important, human beings still developing in utero, whose development can be legally interrupted by the intervention of an abortionist.

So: the “progressive” interest in genetic engineering, bred into the DNA of Planned Parenthood, loaded with racism and other hateful assumptions, was chased into the shadows by association with Nazism—but now it’s time has come! Very cleverly, Douthat takes the recent phony concerns of anti-choicers over abortion as a conspiracy against African-Americans or baby girls, takes them up a few notches, and makes them the object not of some sinister collective conspiracy by God-hating secularists who want to legalize infanticide and euthanasia, but just the horrific consequences of millions of individual choices. None of us would want a society “weeded” of “undesirables,” would we? But that’s where we are headed unless each and every woman is denied by the government of the individual opportunity to build her own corner of the great collective gas chamber:

From a rigorously pro-choice perspective, the in utero phase is a space in human development where disease and disability can be eradicated, and our impulse toward perfection given ever-freer rein, without necessarily doing any violence to human dignity and human rights.
But this is a convenient perspective for our civilization to take. Having left behind pseudoscientific racial theories, it’s easy for us to look back and pass judgment on yesterday’s eugenicists. It’s harder to acknowledge what we have in common with them.
First, a relentless desire for mastery and control, not only over our own lives but over the very marrow and sinew of generations yet unborn. And second, a belief in our own fundamental goodness, no matter to what ends our mastery is turned.

Ah yes, the great human sins of pride and hubris, the very temptations that led Germans to believe they could build a Master Race, now expressed through the arrogance of women believing they have a right to the “mastery” of their bodies. Can no one stop the madness and harness the Beast? Thank God for the good, humble, God-fearing men of the conservative movement who in their chivalry will save Eve from her death-dealing disobedient taste of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Gretchen on June 10, 2012 12:15 PM:

    Have any of these guys actually talked to someone who's had an abortion? They act as if women decided to terminate a pregnancy as lightly as they choose a pair of shoes, or as ignorantly as if they're fooled into taking out a loan they don't understand, or even are "pro-abortion", as if they get pregnant just so they can have one. Nobody is going to get pregnant, and then abort the baby because it's not blonde and blue-eyed. Just as if nobody, and I mean nobody, has a late-term abortion just because they were to foolish or flighty or indecisive to have it sooner. Late-term abortions happen because something unforseen has gone horribly wrong in a wanted pregnancy. Early-term abortions happen because somebody really, really doesn't want to be pregnant. These silly, amoral women Ross Douthat imagines don't exist in real life.

  • Ten bears on June 10, 2012 12:17 PM:

    What are you doin' here, Ed? It's your day off.

    [by-the-by, I want to thank you. When you came onboard and it became apparent you were one of "those" I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Thanks for not screwing that up]

  • jjm on June 10, 2012 12:22 PM:

    One big problem with Douthat:

    ADOLPH HITLER WAS VIOLENTLY ANTI-ABORTION. And for some of the same reasons expressed by the anti-abortion crowd here: the diminution of the white race, the Aryans.

    To the point that Hitler encouraged unwed motherhood, building special homes to for the mothers-to-be to birth their soldiers for the Fatherland.

  • golack on June 10, 2012 12:31 PM:

    thank you Gretchen...

  • c u n d gulag on June 10, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Yes, because there's nothing those soft-hearted, kindly Conservatives care more about in the whole world than the health and welfare of "human weeds."

    Or, at least the extraction of cash from them, before applying their newest invention:

    "Ortho-Austerian's Human Weed-b-gone!"

    It kills the old, the sick, the disabled, the not so white, the single female, and the young.

    And leaves the "Job Creators" standing!

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on June 10, 2012 12:54 PM:

    Wait, now individual choices are bad? The State should mandate certain behaviors that the individual would not otherwise chose, to ensure a public good and society-wide optimal results?

    Are you sure these guys are conservative? Do they know what that means?

    Mocking aside, it strikes me how thin the commitment of these small-government types is to the ideals they profess.

  • Hedda Peraz on June 10, 2012 1:03 PM:

    As a long-time practitioner of selective breeding- dairy, not not my own offspring, dear heart,- I can attest to the advantages of line breeding.( mating fairly close relatives, to develop a very consistent and uniform herd.)
    Perhaps if humans paid as much attention to selecting their mates, the race would benefit.
    I, for example, required all of my husbands to under a battery of tests, the primary one being a detailed examination of their financial health. . .

  • fostert on June 10, 2012 1:13 PM:

    I wonder if Ross has considered that unequal access to health care is also a form of eugenics. Even worse, lack of health care is rarely voluntary. It is usually some unelected bureaucrat at an insurance company doing the denying. So why isn't he supporting expanded health coverage for minorities? Oh that's right, the right to life ends at birth.

  • Gretchen on June 10, 2012 1:30 PM:

    Good point, fostert.
    Rod Dreher over at The American Conservative has an approving response to Douthat's column. He ends his reflection by saying that he assumes that any rotten things that can be done, will be done by somebody, which is why he is a conservative, not a liberal or a libertarian. No, I didn't follow the reasoning there either.

  • john sherman on June 10, 2012 1:48 PM:

    The proposals in the last 70 or so years to sterilize welfare mothers came from which side of the political spectrum?

  • SYSPROG on June 10, 2012 2:30 PM:

    Although I deplore the 'liberals as NAZIS' comparison it is just the beginning of the CONSERVATIVES as REASONABLE meme that is coming. Yesterday I saw Joe Watson on saying the REASON that he is against gay marriage and abortion is because the BIBLE TOLD HIM SO. He flat out told the other panelist that he KNEW the Bible, he followed the BIBLE and if the other guy supported those issues he did not. It was breathtaking.

  • Bobbo on June 10, 2012 2:55 PM:

    Seriously, what is the difference between Douthat and Jonah Goldberg? It's the same logical fallacy which draws a line from Woodrow Wilson to Adolf Hitler to Planned Parenthood. And you think Douthat is smart? Oy.

  • jon on June 10, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Eugenics is something I practiced when I chose a wife. I wanted a healthy, beautiful woman of intelligence and good character.

    Little did I know I was being a Nazi.

  • RSA on June 10, 2012 3:52 PM:

    I'm impressed that Douthat could spin 800 words without adding significant intellectual content to the anti-abortion slogan "Abortion is a silent holocaust." Also, he doesn't seem to realize that when he says the eugenicists

    had very general ideas about genetics and heredity, very crude ideas about intelligence, and deeply poisonous ideas about racial hierarchies,

    he could just as well be describing a good fraction of today's Tea Party.

  • Robert on June 10, 2012 3:59 PM:

    Douthat is part of the American version of the worldwide drift/rush to religious fanaticism.

  • Mitt's Magic Underpants on June 10, 2012 4:06 PM:

    This will come across as snark, but it is serious: Is there any anti-choice man who was popular and got laid in high school?

  • DCSusie on June 10, 2012 4:48 PM:

    So conservatives don't mind the extra hundreds of thousands ( or perhaps millions) of dollars in public costs that are incurred for the exudation and care of children with severe handicaps? Or does Douthat just think that any family who is 'blessed' with with the prospect of having a severely handicapped child should just agree to accept the entire burden themselves in or to make conservatives feel good about themselves.

  • Wisco on June 10, 2012 4:54 PM:

    Of course, we could make sure that families had access to healthcare to help deal with a sick kid. But that's socialism, of course.

    The "free market" solution would be to force a cost-benefit analysis on the parents -- what Douthat is terrified of happening -- but Republicans only want to take freedom so far.

    So the right's solution to parenting a profoundly unhealthy kid? Pfft! They don't have one. You're just screwed. Welcome to poverty. Why? Because shut up, that's why.

  • atlasfugged on June 10, 2012 5:16 PM:

    I'm sure if one dug into the history of eugenics, he or she would find that it had early supporters from across the ideological spectrum, including conservatives. There was a fascination, even among ostensibly non-racist intellectuals, with science's ability to eliminate the flaws of humanity through genetics. Thankfully, most of us know better now.

    That said, eugenicists still remain at the fringes of American culture and they reside, most notably, among the conservative/paleo-conservative quarters of the "intelligentsia". I defy Douthat to name one liberal or progressive who sits on the board of the Pioneer Fund or the New Century Foundation, both which deal in Eugenics-Lite, or has done research supported by them. I defy him to find one liberal who has written for the American Renaissance or the Occidental Quarterly. He will, on the other hand, find that plenty (if not most) of the people who are associated with those organizations identify, without reservation, as conservatives or libertarians.

    This resembles the recent push among conservatives (see e.g. Kevin Williamson's National Review article on Civil Rights) to not only distance the movement from its history of supporting segregation and Jim Crow laws, but to twist its telling of history in such a way that the blame for those policies resides mostly with liberals and progressives.

  • Jeffrey g Johnson on June 10, 2012 6:23 PM:

    Ross Douthat never fails to disgust me. He's so confused by his religious ideology he can't think straight. Time and time again he writes foul, immoral, insulting, sneering complaints from a position he imagines to be biblically sanctioned moral high ground. He is quite adept at cloaking his ugly attacks on decency in reasonable sounding rhetoric; sometimes I feel convinced he manages to deceive even himself. Here is the spirit of an ancient disillusioned and bitterly disappointed cranky old crone trapped in a younger man's body. His sphincter is so tight it could crush a walnut. One dearly wishes he could let go of his control fetish and lose the pretension that it is his responsibility to constantly patrol the American moral imagination. It's a job he's singularly I'll suited for, and he fails miserably in all that he writes.

  • Doug on June 10, 2012 7:26 PM:

    Then Mr. Douhat agrees that the administration's attempt to see that women have access to contraception, thus preventing or certainly greatly reducing, any need for abortions, is an excellent step in the right direction?
    Mr. Douhat? Mr. Douhat? He was here just a moment ago...

  • Steve P on June 10, 2012 7:38 PM:

    No matter the writer or his level of style or intellect, once they start talking like Douthat does here, you have to wonder if they've ever had an after-midnight conversation about this with a woman.

    Even their mother.

  • Zorro on June 10, 2012 8:53 PM:

    It's for good reason that I refer to Ross Douhat as Ross Asshat...


  • 2Manchu on June 10, 2012 9:00 PM:

    The Republican governor of Nebraska (who likes to tout his "pro-life" anti-abortion stance), along with almost every Republican in the Unicameral, want to continue a year-old policy to cut all funding for prenatal care for certain groups of women in the state, mainly undocumented immigrants, along with mostly poor women.

    Would Mr. Douthat consider this eugenics?

    Here you have a government deciding that being a member of a certain group can, quite literally, determine whether or not your unborn child will live or die.

    Well, is it?

  • kindness on June 10, 2012 11:00 PM:

    I refuse to give Chunky Bobo pageviews. What do the bulk of the comments sound like over there?

  • brian t. raven on June 11, 2012 12:28 AM:

    campdown ross is singin' all wrong
    Doo-that, doo-that
    Ross's words they skewer like a prong
    Oh, de doo-that day

    He'll pundit you all night
    And praise the Opus all Dei
    To soften up his little black heart
    All you can do is pray.

  • Marc on June 11, 2012 7:43 AM:

    Douthat does not present the entire history of Eugenics, which, on the whole was a crazy misapplication of "science", and an attempt to further that other pseudo-science "Social Darwinism"

    However, there was a positive eugenics, which encouraged "good" families to breed more, and prizes were given to the best.

    Then there was negative eugenics which practiced forced sterilization - as you can imagine mostly of poor, black and Native American women.

    The practice of state supported Eugenics was ended in 1974 when it was finally outlawed in Virginia.

  • g on June 11, 2012 10:48 AM:

    If there was a way to determine a fetus was gay in-utero, I have no doubt that they'd make an exception to their principled stand.

  • VJ on June 12, 2012 4:18 AM:

    As usual for the NYT, and for any and all of the 'public conservatives' who appear on their pages, the actual facts belie their arguments, and undermine them, wholesale.

    Fact: No one knows of the general 'abortion rate' for such fetuses bearing similar birth defects, but it's reasonably clear that the US just happens to be about the most favored climate in the industrialized world for them. Kids affected with Down Syndrome/Trisomy 21 live longer in the US than in almost any other country in the world. While the entire medical-legal environment is certainly not ideal, and parents have to fight for access and acceptance and demand non discrimination everywhere & from everyone, the Real Life Expectancy of their offspring is strangely about the highest known and reported. It's not unusual for adults affected by these conditions to live to or near 'retirement age', which is quite a remarkable accomplishment. It's a profound testament to how these folks have been able and yes, even allowed to thrive in our society. In other societies, many of them our top economic competitors, life expectancy is and remains so deplorably low and reduced in some that some aspect of 'benign neglect' or indeed even suspected infanticide has to enter the picture.

    Those are the facts. This US, far from being the darkly imagined satanic abortion mill of the universe as 'Chunky BoBo' continually despairs, steadily and proudly produces not only a 'surplus' of such loving souls when compared to most nations of the world, but they live to have demonstrably better and longer lives. They survive to become integral members of our community. Look around the world comparatively, and again that's a remarkable achievement, even today. Cheers, 'VJ'

  • steve duncan on June 12, 2012 10:02 PM:

    Been to a movie theater lately? Constant interruptions by the audience; chatter, cell phones, texting, etc. Dinner out? Slobs in t-shirts and flip-flops getting seated in $100 an entree steak houses. I could go on for pages and pages. What, exactly, is wrong with wanting a more superior gene pool? Personally I think herding into ditches and shooting users of cell phones in a movie theater them is logical............

  • VJ on June 13, 2012 3:43 AM:

    Umm SD? They've got a movie for that delusional fantasy. It's a comedy by BobCat Goldthwait: "God Bless America" (2011)


  • Jay Schiavone on June 13, 2012 5:44 AM:

    You use the words "very cleverly" to describe the means by which Douthat constructs his argument, but nothing could be further from the truth. His argument is invalid and based upon numerous falsehoods. And as this line of "reasoning" has been pursued already by his idiot intellectual brother, Jonah Goldberg, to nauseating effect, we might conclude that this latest essay is not much more than a castoff. A very lazy one, much like the Nazis would have produced if they had a column in The Times. Because the Nazis wrote newspaper columns, you know.

  • CharlieM on June 13, 2012 8:34 AM:

    Douthat doesn't care about eugenics. It's just a convenient vehicle to mask what his real issue is - that women are being allowed to make their own decisions without requiring any male's input or permission. Eugenics is just another red flag on the dangers of letting women control their lives.
    Look at what he's saying - that without supervision by men, women will devolve to the basest of behaviors. It's just contempt mixed with moral arrogance towards half of the population.

  • Epicurus on June 13, 2012 9:53 AM:

    It must really be hard to be as awesomely stupid as Ross Douthat. Between him and Brooks, the NYT has really jumped the shark. And they wonder why I don't want to pay for their "newspaper"? Cripes, Sulzberger, wake up and smell the coffee!

  • par4 on June 13, 2012 1:51 PM:

    Bingo, Epicurus.