Margaret Sanger in Context

Margaret Sanger in Context:  A View of “The Pivot of Civilization”

I’ve finished reading The Pivot of Civilization, Margaret Sanger’s book on the need for contraception, sex education, women’s rights, worker’s rights, and benefit of the study of eugenics and the need to sterilize those unfit to reproduce.   That’s not being preachy or exaggerating, that’s just the actual topics discussed and as I’m sure you noticed, most of that is fairly agreeable.  You can’t call Sanger a monster for wanting workers treated better, people to be more educated and even that the masses should have the option to use prophylactics.  The areas I found disgusting were those that cited eugenics, a now debunked race-based study of genetics, as the scientific backbone of her social engineering concepts.  Elitism and racism is understood when I read this and the tone is so cold at points I winced.


Good things:

  • Empowering women
  • Education
  • Disease prevention
  • Workers’ rights

Bad things:

  • Bashing democracy
  • Elitist view of the poor, clumping them all into a stereotype of the worst
  • Racism – Blacks are not a subject of this book but twice are used as measurement or example of bad genetics/social class
  • Eugenics is used as a scientific jump-off point for her proposals
  • Promoting Sterilization of the “feeble minded” and criminal
  • Trashing charities- Chapter V is literally called “Cruelty of Charity.” It’s very Ayn Rand reminiscent in its ‘why should we pay for someone else’ attitude.

Grey area

  • She got real religious towards the end… kind of creepy
  • She kind of did her own thing talking about “inner energies”

Why do I title this Margaret Sanger in Context? Well, people take quotes and snippets here and there and can make any statement from Mrs. Sanger being a genocidal maniac to a Pro-lifer. What’s the truth? The truth is in the context of the book, “The Pivot of Civilization,” where you see her as a classist, elitist, who wants to do some things that aren’t bad but uses eugenics and even Marxist theorems to make her case. As I’ve clearly shown, I don’t disagree with some of her goals but if you are a Planned Parenthood apologist, you need to be able to say with confidence that the good outweighs the bad and don’t try to just childishly deny that the bad ever existed. A belligerent PP advocate tried to deny Mrs. Sanger’s relationship to eugenics and as if they were a fervent religious adherent there was no explaining it to them. It really shut down the conversation because I was aware I was dealing with a “flat-earther” and not a rational person.

To show you how damning quotes can be here’s a short list some of Margaret’s coldest and most elitist statements from the book:

“Eugenics is chiefly valuable in its negative aspects… it shows us that we are paying for and even submitting to the dictates of an ever increasing unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all-”

” Evidences of biological and racial degeneracy are apparent to this observer. “Compared with the African negro,” he writes, “the British sub man is in several respects markedly inferior. He tends to be dull he is usually quite helpless and unhandy; he has, as a rule, no skill or knowledge of handicraft or indeed knowledge of any kind…” “

“Loud mouthed defenders of American democracy pay no attention to the strange fact that although the average education among all American adults is only the sixth grade every one of these adults has an equal power at the polls.”

“Sterilization of the insane and feeble-minded and the encouragement of this operation upon those afflicted with inherited or transmissible diseases, with the understanding that sterilization does not deprive the individual of his or her sex expression, but merely renders him incapable of producing children.”

“We should not minimize the great outstanding service of Eugenics for critical and diagnostic investigations. It demonstrates not in terms of glittering generalization but in statistical studies of investigations reduced to measurement and number, that uncontrolled fertility is universally correlated with disease, poverty, overcrowding and the transmisson of hereditable taints.”

“This degeneration has already begun…(list of societal woes) All these things the Eugenist sees and points out with a courage entirely admirable.”

She seems to like eugenics- but in context she’s actually distancing herself from the eugenics movement as a whole (Shocking Twist!) but not to say they are bad and totally wrong (Twist again!), no, only to say they do not go far enough and to marry the seemingly contradictory concepts of Socialism with the “outstanding” elements of the study of eugenics.  So- are these quotes taken out of context?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.  Honestly, in context, it’s hard to ignore or rationalize away the fact that it’s an elitist woman saying we shouldn’t have to help the poor, they shouldn’t be “spawning.”  I’m not really seeing the Liberal Superhero that I was promised.

Here’s a link to a free copy of the book, feel free to read it at your leisure.  To the validity of other “monstrous” quotes not in this book, I cannot speak.