Eugenics:keeping with the status quo

The question purposed this week was whether or not the purpose of law was to preserve the status quo.  In a nutshell status quo is the dominate ideal, process, practise, etc. held by a community, society or social group.  This can be expressed in numerous ways.  From the pledge of allegiance once held in American schools (and now deemed unconstitutional) to continued cases of misogyny: women’s eviction from the workforce back into the home after WW2.

But the most important example was the rising movement of eugenics.  Eugenics is the use of biology and genetics to achieve advancement for society as well as to eradicate disease and mental disorder.  The prevailing feeling was that because these types of people (often ‘sexual promiscuous’,  those with physical or cognitive differences or even those that were not deemed attractive) would create a drain on government aided programs and society because of the idea that they could not look after themselves and would dilute the gene pool with their ‘defective genetics’.    The movement at first had some supports but many did not agree with their position.    But as it grew it gained powerful backers like the United States government and Canada as well.  As the philosophy was written into law it easily became part of everyday life of the citizens.  With an enforceable code that promoted within its pages – racism and misogyny.  That the case of Buck v. Bell.  The players: Carrie Buck an 18-year-old woman, whose mother was “feeble-minded” as she and her newly birthed daughter, an product of a sexual assault from a relative, was seen as the third generation of this feebleness.  Following the legislation, action was brought against Miss. Buck for forced sterilization.  The supreme court reaffirmed the lower court’s decision in favor of the surgery.  The medical procedure of sterilization was not without its risks.  As many hailed the sterilization as a relatively safe procedure probably did not know or either chose to ignore literature about ,but not limited to, death, complications and life-long remints of the procedure (Pavlich 2011).

As Nazi Germany gained power, it looked to American eugenics to develop their own plan of ‘culling’ the population.  Though Nazism applied the philosophy a bit more stringently.  The groups targeted for this procedure where those who were readily recognized as non-Germans, even though there where German citizens.  This typology was not limited to citizenship alone but was also influenced by homophobia and theophobia (the fear or phobia of god(s) and/or other god(s)/religions).

Another mark against eugenics is the Tuskegee experiment.  Consisting of poor workers of African descent, this study spanned decades as the personnel involved pretended to provide medical care for ‘bad blood’ when in fact they were studying the course of STD’s like Syphilis.  Personnel also did not illuminate those afflicted with the disease which resulted in the STD spreading to the entirety of the family and to those outside the studied group.  The result of this experiment besides the broken trust, several generations of a family stricken with sickness and continued health issues but also the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research in 1979.

The movement of eugenics lost face after the atrocities by Hitler’s use of eugenics were known to the world.  The American public horrified by that future generally did not hold any credence to the philosophy any more.  And as opposition rose against through better science and equality movements eugenics lost its legal footing in the 1970s.  Although like the pledge of allegiance and equal rights for woman are still hotly debated, just like eugenics.

Like the rise and fall of eugenics so to was it preserved by the status quo.  I propose that once a philosophy is embraced by the people, especially enough to create legislation, that its continued existence, even when support for it wanes, is achieved through the law itself via precedence and perseverance by those still within the mindset within position of power.  As Judge A joins the ranks he is a supporter of “A” philosophy.  The next judge he trains or mentors in might take up the mantel of his ideals with little change till a someone who challenges their way of thinking.  This might be Judge B, C or D and so on.

In essence the status quo being brought into law made it enforceable and forced society to adapt to its measures.  Without external ‘anti-status quo’ the law will continue their assumption of by acceptance of the people.  Whereas the ‘anti-status quo’ brings about a new status quo to protect and serve.  Like the law itself, this reasoning is circular, an end never truly in site.


Pavlich, G.  (2011).  Law & Society Redefined.  Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.


1 Comment

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One response to “Eugenics:keeping with the status quo

  1. You offer an interesting overview of some key events in the history of the eugenics movement.

    Your central argument, which is encapsulated in the statement

    “I propose that once a philosophy is embraced by the people, especially enough to create legislation, that its continued existence, even when support for it wanes, is achieved through the law itself via precedence and perseverance by those still within the mindset within position of power. ”

    is compelling. I would be interested in seeing it expanded and further integrated with the literature on sociological jurisprudence (or other legal theories). One of the implications of your theory is that changes in the law will generally lag behind prevailing social and cultural trends. You could test this theory by studying the relationship between court decisions and changing political trends.

    Are there circumstances in which judges, acting on their own and possibly informed by a desire to engage in ‘social engineering’, have made decisions that disrupt the status quo?