Thursday, April 14, 2011
Eugenics and Other Evils : An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State by G.K. Chesterton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I write down commonplaces as I read books: little items worthy, as N. D. Wilson said, of imitation and remembrance. I have several of these empty, unlined notebooks filled, and have broken tradition with Chesterton in not actually keeping track. With Tolkien, I devoted an entire commonplace book. With Chesterton, I'm not even going to bother trying. His complete works are contained in 37 (or more) large volumes put out by Ignatius Press, and I will just have to allow that to be my Chesterton commonplace book, though I will continue adding in some of his best.
This book, Eugenics and Other Evils, is about what it says it's about, which is odd enough, as Chesterton stays remarkably and uncharacteristically on topic. I think having a target to dismantle has something to do with it, but not really a whole lot, as he proves the impossibility of Eugenics in a single sentence somewhere towards the middle of the book. The other possibility is that his topic is a large enough cage for his mind to momentarily content itself within its confines, which seems more realistic.
Chesterton is always sheer delight to read, always fun, always unbelievably brilliant and flippant and enormous, but I had rarely encountered him with an axe in his hand, and he proves Lewis right: for the child with an axe, the joy is in chopping. This book could has a great deal of writing against government interference in the private sphere, and is written defending the old ways, the noble and chivalrous ways over and against the new ways, the stainless steel and minds too close to Saruman's in their obsession with wheels and machines. The eugenist desires to improve the overall quality of life in the same way that Nietschze did, simply a bit earlier. Instead of letting the diseased and weak die, the eugenist just ensures that they aren't ever born by preventing those genetically prone to weakness and disease from breeding, which was a staggeringly popular idea.
Indeed, it was the single driving influence in the life of the one person whose effect in our century alone has outweighed Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Pol Pot and every other dictator we've seen. This person has caused more deaths than all of our enlightened genocides and all of the the Medieaval plagues. Combined. Eugenics was the inspiration of that madonna of death, Margaret Sanger. And we think eugenics is a bad joke. In reality, it was a very good joke, an evil joke, but skillful, and we are the punchline, though it turned out to be more indiscriminate than was originally intended.
Perhaps I've read too much Chesterton: I'm acquiring his habits without the skill. Or perhaps I've been up too long. A book review has turned into a tirade against Planned Parenthood. Blame it on whatever you like; I'll rectify it here: the book was magnificent, and I'm going to bed.
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