The Corner

My Screed

I have on my desk Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers, which I am very much looking forward to reading and, if time permits, reviewing. Leonard is a brilliant and meticulous historian and his new book investigates the eugenic roots of progressivism. More on that in a moment.

The New Republic has a review of Illiberal Reformers. The reviewer laments that Leonard knows what he’s talking about. Malcolm Harris writes:

I was prompted to revisit the Scopes trial — which, like many Americans, I hadn’t thought about since an 11th grade history final — by a new book from Princeton scholar Thomas C. Leonard. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era is hard to classify politically. Conservatives can find a lot to like in Leonard’s research, and at times it feels like a serious, credentialed version of Jonah Goldberg’s screed Liberal Fascism. Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. But Leonard’s personal politics are hard to read, and at the very least he’s invested in progressivism, writing that it’s “too important to be left to hagiography and obloquy.”

I had to laugh at this. You see, I used and cited Leonard’s previous work in my chapter on the eugenic roots of progressivism in Liberal Fascism. Harris might know this if he’d actually read it. For instance, Harris writes:

If Leonard didn’t have the quotes from prominent progressives to back up his claims, this would read like right-wing paranoia: The state’s most innocuous protections reframed as malevolent and ungodly social engineering. But his citations are genuine. Charles Cooley, a founding member of American Sociological Association, warned that providing health care and nutrition for black Americans could be “dysgenic” if not accompanied by population control. The eugenicists weren’t just dreaming: Between 1900 and the early 1980s, over 60,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized under the law.

I have a great many of the same quotes and facts in Liberal Fascism (again, thanks in part to Leonard’s work), but that didn’t stop The New Republic from casting Liberal Fascism as right-wing paranoia. I’m delighted that Leonard is having success where I didn’t.


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