Gene Expression

Margaret Sanger: anti-abortionist?

Over @ Stranger Fruit John Lynch points a section from a paper which recounts the Christian assocation with eugenics:

On the whole the evangelical mainstream in the decades following the turn of the century appeared apathetic, acquiescent, or at times downright supportive of the eugenics movement. In this article, I argue that the evangelicals often accepted eugenics as a part of a progressive, reformist vision that uncritically fused the Kingdom of God with modern civilization.

In Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity the author makes the case that to a large extent this was an issue of class; the higher orders, generally professing Christians of a sort, favored eugenics, while the lower class victims and their preachers naturally objected. The more progressive churches also often aggressively got behind race-betterment. This is not to deny that secularists such as H. L. Mencken were enthusiastic eugenicists on scientistic grounds; rather, it is to offer that the social realities of the day suggested that a eugenical inclination was the dominant position, one which many of the Christian churches acceded to reinforce their relevance to contemporary society and its ills (it is notable that the Roman Catholic church in Europe was more successful in blocking eugenics in the nations in which it was powerful than the Protestant churches of northern Europe were, assuming the latter were so inclined).1

This brings me to Marcus Epstein’s post, Margaret Sanger and the Eugenics Meme. Epstein is trying to argue against what he perceives to be spurious arguments in favor of a pro-life position. This is not because he supports abortion rights, rather, he does not believe the pro-life position that he adheres to benefits from shady tactics. He notes:

Sanger herself actually opposed abortion. In her autobiography she wrote,

“To each group we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way–no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way–it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.”

You can read that page of her autobiography yourself. From what I gather Sanger’s position on topics such as abortion were actually complex & contingent; as are those of many people. I think Marcus renders her opinion on this question more stark than it was. But in any case, Marcus goes on:

Let me make it clear. I am not writing this to promote eugenics or Margaret Sanger. What I am saying is that conservatives should not try to win debates by to tenuously tying their opponents to politically incorrect views held by people who died years ago.

Some of the changes in racial attitudes since then have been positive. However, reading out everyone who’s views are not in line with our present day thinking is what leads to renaming schools named after Columbus and Washington.

Tracing the original sins of progenitors of social movements is a tricky thing. In the heat of battle these sorts of arguments are efficient; but in the long term they erode the credibility you need to sustain a principled case. The coarseness of such tactical maneuvers also tends to elide the subtly and nuance in the opinions of your fellow humans.

1 – Note that in 1936 96% of Germans were confessing Christians; they paid the church tax levied upon those who were adherents of the mainstream Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church. The leading Nazis were themselves anti-Christian personally, but the broad masses which brought them to power (i.e., the up to 1/3 of Germans who voted for them at one point) were not. Again, it is notable that Nazis were strongest in Protestant areas.


  1. #1 B.B
    April 28, 2008

    The leading Nazis were themselves anti-Christian personally

    Some Nazi intellectuals and political leaders were hostile to Christianity, most of which had an affinity for occultism, the pre-Christian religions of Germany and also to an extant some Eastern beliefs. Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, etc would fit into that category. There were a handful of atheists, such as Martin Bormann, Baldur von Schirach and Arthur Axmann. However, I’d wager that Positive Christianity was still the dominant theological world view amongst the Nazi officials, who viewed Jesus as an Aryan hero who fought against institutionalized Judaism.

    It is also often claimed that Hitler himself was hostile to Christianity. Apparently, the primary source for this claim is the English version of a book called “Hitlers Table Talk”, which is of disputed accuracy. Hitler also ridiculed the pre-Christian Germanic Pagan beliefs that was held be some Nazi officials:

    “The characteristic thing about these people [modern-day followers of the early Germanic religion] is that they rave about the old Germanic heroism, about dim prehistory, stone axes, spear and shield, but in reality are the greatest cowards that can be imagined. For the same people who brandish scholarly imitations of old German tin swords, and wear a dressed bearskin with bull’s horns over their heads, preach for the present nothing but struggle with spiritual weapons, and run away as fast as they can from every Communist blackjack.”–Aodlf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Volume II, Chapter 12

  2. #2 razib
    April 28, 2008

    I’d wager that Positive Christianity was still the dominant theological world view amongst the Nazi officials, who viewed Jesus as an Aryan hero who fought against institutionalized Judaism.

    if you mean “German Christianity” (the Protestants who accepted race as a sacrament, etc.), my own last dive into that topic suggested that it was very much on the defensive vis-a-vis non-christian occult/pagan groups.

  3. #3 B.B
    April 28, 2008

    if you mean “German Christianity” (the Protestants who accepted race as a sacrament, etc.)

    It is of my understanding that Positive Christianity was construed as a theological position, rather than a specific sect. Hitler professed himself as a Roman Catholic and advocated Positive Christianity in Mein Kampf.

    my own last dive into that topic suggested that it was very much on the defensive vis-a-vis non-christian occult/pagan groups.

    I suspect there has been a greater focus on the more esoteric beliefs held by top Nazi officials which might skew perceptions. Outlandish occultist beliefs arouse more interest than another reinterpretation of Christianity.

  4. #4 Colugo
    April 28, 2008

    A lot of discussion about whether Nazis were anti-Christian or pro-Christian would be settled if the role of Positive Christianity was better understood.

    I think of Positive Christianity as the Nazi version of Liberation Theology. ‘Negative Christianity’ AKA Christianity focused on Christ’s martyrdom and the afterlife, while Positive Christianity focused on the opposition of Christ, the first socialist and an Aryan (Roman-Galilean, the latter were not Jewish), to the Jews. The Jewish Paul of Tarsus distorted Christ’s message into a universalist one.

    Read Rosenberg’s Myth of the 20th Century for more discussion. (Then again Hitler himself didn’t read it.) Hitler’s priestess, that Hindu-Nazi weirdo, wrote that Positive Christianity was just a step towards true Nazism. Himmler didn’t like Christianity at all. (God With Us was the motto of the Wehrmacht, not the SS, and a carryover from the Kaiserreich.) SS instructional materials criticized even Luther for the Jewish content of his theology even as he was praised for his pro-Germanic identity. In any case, Positive Christianity served as kind of an umbrella for Nazis of various theological orientations to agree that the important thing was that the Aryan Christ hated the Jews.

    Interestingly, one of those responsible for promoting the notion of a Nordic Christ was anti-Christian pantheist (Monist) Ernst Haeckel. Houston Stewart Chamberlain was another.

  5. #5 razib
    April 28, 2008

    the SS officer corps was dechristianized by 1940. i’ve seen survey data which suggests that only 10% were confessing xtians, the rest being “god believers.”

    here’s wikipedia on german christians

  6. #6 tom bri
    April 29, 2008

    Sweden until quite recently also practiced eugenics. The ‘traveling people’, the poor and other social undesirables faced pressure and even coercion to be sterilized.

    It is I suspect one reason Sweden has such a reputation for social equality and unity. Simply eliminate those who are not equal or who cause trouble. A few generations of that and you get modern Sweden.

    Japan did much the same for hundreds of years, though their goal was not eugenic in an modern sense. They simply killed all who objected to the then-current social stratification. As late as the 1870s Japanese Christians were still being murdered by the government. It is not surprising to me that Japan is famous for its social unity. Fear. That has now been removed, and the social controls are eroding.

New comments have been disabled.