As a general rule, I have little sympathy for the current generation of campus protesters. Safe spaces and totalitarian reeducation classes strike me as odd means to promote the free discussion and advancement of ideas. Moreover, spoiled children spending tens of thousands of their parents’ and taxpayers’ dollars insisting that their feelings should never be hurt strike me as a poor investment in the future of the nation, not to say the world. That said, the students protesting at Princeton University appear to have a slightly more valid cause than most. More to the point, they have a cause that could well shake up the current socio-political milieu.
On the off chance you hadn’t heard, the students at Princeton are upset at the ongoing veneration of one of the university’s former presidents – a man who also just happens to have been the 28th President of the United States, a patron saint of “progressivism,” and the founding father of the American administrative state. I write here, of course, of Woodrow Wilson.
For most of the last century, Wilson has been a liberal hero – the man who made the world safe for democracy and who championed all of the Left’s greatest causes, from the federal bureaucracy to the Federal Reserve. Of late, however, Wilson has fallen out of favor with some factions on the Left, largely because of his views on, and actions regarding, race.
For the record, Wilson’s racial attitudes, beliefs and policies were abominable. He was, in short, an inveterate racist. Writing for Salon, Corey Robin, a professor at Brooklyn College, provides some of the details:
Wilson wasn’t simply a personal, after-hours racist. Nor was he just a creature of his time, reflecting a popular racism that was already firmly in place. As president, Wilson actively worked to nationalize — some might even say internationalize — the Southern position on race, most notably by segregating, and implementing new modes of discrimination within, the federal bureaucracy, which in the years leading up to his administration had offered African Americans some possibility for advancement. Racism was central to his politics, and he made specific contributions to advancing its cause in America.
It was also a cause he had long thought about, and to which he devoted countless scholarly hours. In 1901, while he was a professor at Princeton, Wilson penned an article for “The Atlantic Monthly” titled “The Reconstruction of the Southern States.” Here’s what he said about the freed slaves after the Civil War:
An extraordinary and very perilous state of affairs had been created in the South by the sudden and absolute emancipation of the negroes, and it was not strange that the southern legislatures should deem it necessary to take extraordinary steps to guard against the manifest and pressing dangers which it entailed. Here was a vast ‘laboring, landless, homeless class,’ once slaves, now free; unpracticed in liberty, unschooled in self-control; never sobered by the discipline of self-support, never established in any habit of prudence; excited by a freedom they did not understand, exalted by false hopes; bewildered and without leaders, and yet insolent and aggressive; sick of work, covetous of pleasure, — a host of dusky children untimely put out of school. . . . They were a danger to themselves as well as those whom they had once served. . . . .
One year later, he was made president of Princeton.
Sadly, it gets worse. Unsurprisingly, given his beliefs on race, Wilson was also a dedicated eugenicist. As the governor of New Jersey, he signed one of the nation’s first and most draconian state eugenics laws. And as Edwin Black noted in his War against the Weak, Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, Wilson’s eugenics law was drafted by Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen, who would later become a notorious killer doctor in Hitler’s Buchenwald concentration camp. Among other things, the law created a special three-man “Board of Examiners of Feebleminded, Epileptics, and Other Defectives,” which “would systematically identify when “procreation is advisable” for prisoners and children residing in poor houses and other charitable institutions.”
So far, the best and most believable argument mounted in Wilson’s defense is that while he may well seem monstrous by today’s standards, his beliefs were hardly unusual for the era, which was marked by widespread racial unrest, involving not just the millions of immigrants from Europe, but millions of Native American who were being dislocated, Mexicans who had lost their ownership of much of West and Southwest, and emancipated African slaves who were subjected to a network of state and local Jim Crow laws and a plethora of lynchings. This may all well be true, but it doesn’t sufficiently explain how a man who claimed to be an agent of the God of Abraham could endorse a program that was so starkly antithetical to the fundamental Christian belief that each and every person is a product of God’s love and equally valuable in God’s eyes. Indeed, if anything, the prevalence of such beliefs among the political elites of the era is far more damning than it is exculpatory.
To this end, I think it worth remembering that Wilson was joined in his push for, and beliefs in, eugenics by Margaret Sanger, another icon of the “Progressive” era. Sanger, you may recall, was the founder of Planned Parenthood and as such is the architect of the contemporary abortion regime. Among other things, Sanger advocated abortion as a means for eliminating those “inferior races,” which she considered “human weeds” and a “menace to civilization.” Indeed, she made the biologist and polymath Herbert Spencer, who coined the term “survival of the fittest” look like a humanitarian in her enthusiasm for the murder of the babies of the “unfit.” The following quotes provide a flavor of this person for whom the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, still expresses her deep “admiration.”
As an advocate of birth control I wish . . . to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit,” admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feebleminded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation.
We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.
Today, roughly a century after Sanger waged her campaign, blacks and Hispanics constitute roughly 30% of the American population, but account for some 55+% of the abortions. Since Roe v. Wade, some 16 million African-American babies have been aborted in this country.
In the contemporary political parlance, abortion is always and everywhere considered a component of “women’s health.” In reality, of course, it is the means by which the population of “inferior classes” is managed – precisely as Sanger intended. Today, many on the political Left are proudly reclaiming the title “Progressive,” either ignorant or dismissive of the inarguable fact that the Progressive project of the early 20th century was a radical and unorthodox religious movement designed, in large part, to perfect American society by eliminating its “undesirable” elements – including “undesirable” elements of the population. Abortion, of course, is, and always has been, a significant part of that project.
None of this is to say that anyone on the Pro-Choice side of the abortion debate will acknowledge anytime soon the appalling nature and origins of the practice they so adamantly defend. It is, however, worth noting that the truth of those origins is accessible and, at some point, may become undeniable, even to those who endorse the practice today.
In their odd, quixotic, and occasionally juvenile pursuit of social justice, the students at some universities – namely Princeton – have stumbled upon an awkward fact of history. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who sought, among other things, to limit the impact of the people he deemed inferior on the public policy process. It may be only a matter of time, before these students discover the same about other erstwhile heroes of the Left and, indeed, of the entire “Progressive” project.