QUESTION: What did Chesterton say about Birth Control?
“What is quaintly called Birth Control… is in fact, of course, a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control.” (“The Surrender upon Sex,” The Well and the Shallows)
“Normal and real birth control is called self control.” (“Social Reform vs. Birth Control”)
“Birth Control is a name given to a succession of different expedients by which it is possible to filch the pleasure belonging to a natural process while violently and unnaturally thwarting the process itself.” (“Social Reform vs. Birth Control”)
“We can always convict such people of sentimentalism by their weakness for euphemism. The phrase they use is always softened and suited for journalistic appeals. They talk of free love when they mean something quite different, better defined as free lust. But being sentimentalists they feel bound to simper and coo over the word “love.” They insist on talking about Birth Control when they mean less birth and no control. We could smash them to atoms, if we could be as indecent in our language as they are immoral in their conclusions.” (“Obstinate Orthodoxy” – The Thing)
Only one writer wrote a book against Eugenics. G.K. Chesterton. Eugenics and Other Evils may be his most prophetic book.
Eugenics led directly to the birth control movement. All the same players were involved, such as Margaret Sanger, who was a member of the American Eugenics Society and was the editor of the Birth Control Review. The primary philosophy was trumpeted on the cover of the Birth Control Review: “More Children for the Fit. Less for the Unfit.” She made it clear whom she considered unfit: “Hebrews, Slavs, Catholics, and Negroes.” She set up her Birth Control clinics only in their neighborhoods. She openly advocated the idea that such people should apply for official permission to have babies “as immigrants have to apply for visas.”
Why don’t we hear of this connection between Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and Eugenics?
Two words: Adolf Hitler. He officially instituted Eugenics, leading an entire country in carrying out its principles, not only to breed what he believed to be a superior race but to eliminate everyone whom he considered to be inferior. Where did Hitler find early support for his Eugenic ideas? From Margaret Sanger and her circle. Eugenic Scientists from Nazi Germany wrote articles for Sanger’s Birth Control Review, and members of Sanger’s American Birth Control League visited Nazi Germany, sat in on sessions of the Supreme Eugenics Court, and returned with glowing reports of how the Sterilization Law was “weeding out the worst strains in the Germanic stock in a scientific and truly humanitarian way.”
After World War II, when the world learned of the horrors of the Holocaust and the death camps, the term Eugenics was utterly discredited. Margaret Sanger was quick to distance herself from Eugenics and began to emphasize Birth Control as supposedly a feminist issue. We don’t hear about Eugenics at all any more.
But unfortunately, the philosophy behind Eugenics is with us still. Generally speaking, all of the original arguments in favor of Eugenics have become the same arguments in favor of birth control, abortion, euthanasia, and even cloning.
Chesterton understood this. But he understood it in 1910 (which is when he started writing this book, which was not published till 1922). As with so many other things, Chesterton saw exactly what we see. Only he saw it long before it happened. See the Lecture on Eugenics for more on this topic.