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Who is my neighbor’s child? Trayvon Martin and Parenthood’s Future

One of the most existentially chilling discoveries during my research on eugenics for Conceiving Parenthood was how many beloved progressives had taken up the eugenic mindset.  Reformer Jane Addams, Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick of the Riverside Church, Margaret Sanger, even the stalwart union activist Father John Ryan each, for a time, accepted eugenics.  How did this happen?  As Jean Bethke Elshtain narrates in her intricate treatment of Jane Addams, Addams came to see the women she was helping more as kin than as charity, and other on-the-ground reformers rejected top-down eugenic schemes after a time.  But, for others, their mistake was clumsy thinking.  People intent to “do good” get busy, and we sometimes lend aid or legitimacy to a notion or movement that we would not, with more thought, endorse. Especially in the case of Father John Ryan, it appears that perhaps he was not paying terribly close attention to the aims of the organization to which he was lending his good name.  (As I relate in my book, Ryan’s concise case against eugenics in one pamphlet was one of the most compelling I found in all my digging.)

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