The majority of the ideas one encounters in modern feminism can be traced back to two movements: suffrage and birth control. While suffragists agitated for political equality in order to redress various social and civic inequalities both real and imagined, the birth control movement sought liberation by controlling the one aspect of female biology intrinsic to the continuity of the human race itself. By Margaret Sanger’s reasoning, womanhood could not be truly emancipated unless reproduction itself could be controlled.
The woman suffrage movement had many notable proponents, but the birth control movement’s preeminent intellectual was Margaret Sanger. Sanger remains the acknowledged founder of Planned Parenthood, but her name and ideas are scarcely discussed nowadays even by those who ardently defend contraception and abortion in the public sphere. After reading Woman and the New Race, it’s little surprise that this is the case. Sanger may be superficially lauded as the Great Emancipator of Womyn for helping bring the first birth control pill to the market, but the beliefs she openly espoused in her writings reveal some views which I suspect would make many reasonable people recoil in horror. Especially sanctimonious PC social justice warriors. Sanger’s views were alternately vile, cynical, misanthropic, deeply delusional and, given her focus on poor and working classes, virulently racist. It’s ironic given feminism’s smug posture of moral superiority. Ironically, this irritating virtue signalling often includes accusations of racism that are hurled towards others almost by default by feminists and social justice warriors alike.
Woman and the New Race is Sanger’s birth control manifesto as well as a foundational text for a great deal of the contemporary feminist worldview. Like the writings of her collectivist progenitors, it is rife with fallacious notions, utopian delusions, dubious assumptions, and fascistic overtones. However, this isn’t to say that the book is completely devoid of sound reasoning. There are a few solid points here and there as well as some genuinely surprising sentiments to be found amidst this slag heap of mad hattery.
Sanger’s socialist sympathies were well known, and this book follows a pattern of reasoning common to socialists. Rather than viewing humanity as individuals with individual agency, she sees humanity through a Marxist lens of class and gender oppression.
Whether she won her point or failed to win it, she remained a dominated weakling in a society controlled by men.
Sanger’s opening argument is little more than question begging. This is not to deny actual acts of repression or subjugation by individuals, but by the time of this book’s publication, women had attained full suffrage, property rights, access to education and labor markets and had made great strides towards equality of treatment under the law. If men were as intent on controlling society as she alleges, would women have been granted any of these rights or opportunities in the first place? There’s also no acknowledgement of feminine “soft power”. In other words, there’s no acknowledgement of the fact that through both biological and evolutionary psychological imperatives, manhood has been motivated and energized by protecting and providing for women thus ensuring the continuity of the human race itself. In statements like these, one also detects the unmistakable hints of the possible origins of contemporary feminist victimology; the now prevalent theory of an omnipresent, patriarchal oppression. This also possibly explains the messianic megalomania endemic to contemporary feminism.
It makes no difference that she does not formulate industrial systems nor that she is an instinctive believer in social justice. In her submission lies her error and her guilt. By her failure to withhold the multitudes of children who have made inevitable the most flagrant of our social evils, she incurred a debt to society. Regardless of her own wrongs, regardless of her lack of opportunity and regardless of all other considerations, she must pay that debt.
Like all other socialists, Sanger is a would-be moralist and a socio-biological engineer who wears a fig leaf of secular rationalism in order to justify her misanthropic authoritarian designs to “remake the world”. Also like every other demagogue, authoritarian, and cult leader, Sanger deploys her own theory of Original Sin right at the beginning. Sanger’s argument is essentially that all of the moral blights of humanity can be traced to womanhood’s subjection and subordination to a role of excessive and involuntary reproduction. She immediately removes individual agency by generalizing and collectivizing all moral transgression. Sanger views the world through a lens of determinism and sees the solution purely through the management of biology. To Sanger, the entire spectrum of human suffering, depravity and degradation can be attributed to this phenomenon alone.
Caught in this “vicious circle,” woman has, through her reproductive ability, founded and perpetuated the tyrannies of the Earth. Whether it was the tyranny of a monarchy, an oligarchy or a republic, the one indispensable factor of its existence was, as it is now, hordes of human beings—human beings so plentiful as to be cheap, and so cheap that ignorance was their natural lot. Upon the rock of an unenlightened, submissive maternity have these been founded; upon the product of such a maternity have they flourished.
This is her core argument for birth control, and the remainder of the book is comprised mostly of exposition over this single fallacious argument.
Sanger’s misanthropy and insanity really starts to pin the meter in Chapter 5, The Wickedness of Creating Large Families. On its face, it’s a wildly perverse and hateful notion. Given the fact that Sanger dedicates the book to her own mother who gave birth to eleven children, it’s more than reasonable to surmise that Sanger is projecting her own unresolved psychological issues. Obviously, there are women who give birth under duress and coercion under deeply inhospitable, unsanitary and inhumane circumstances the world over. However, Sanger is presenting a pretty broad generalization about motherhood and child birth which flies in opposition to any basic notion of individual female agency. Modern feminists constantly flog the primacy of individual choice when it comes to terminating pregnancy, but this bit of moralizing against any notion of choice regarding the creation of a large family seems pretty hypocritical.
The most serious evil of our times is that of encouraging the bringing into the world of large families. The most immoral practice of the day is breeding too many children. These statements may startle those who have never made a thorough investigation of the problem. They are, nevertheless, well considered, and the truth of them is abundantly borne out by an examination of facts and conditions which are part of everyday experience or observation.
She persists in her absurd insistence that there is a direct connection between the propagation of large families and the prevalence of child labor, poverty, and war. Not only does she fail to substantiate the claim, she’s baked some questionable assumptions into the phenomena she deems to be moral transgression.
War, famine, poverty and oppression of the workers will continue while woman makes life cheap. They will cease only when she limits her reproductivity and human life is no longer a thing to be wasted.
Child labor has been canonized in history books as an inhuman relic of a bygone era, but mainstream discussion is devoid of any mention of how the movement to criminalize child labor was part of a larger effort to privilege unions. While there was undoubtedly truth to the worst horror stories of children working in dirty and dangerous conditions, these stories fail to take into account that, for many families, there were few, if any, alternatives. The undeniable trend in market economies the world over is that capitalism has been an engine of upward economic mobility and prosperity. Dangerous, dirty factories have given way to labor saving machines and mass innovations in automation and robotics. Given present levels of youth unemployment and the dearth of skilled labor in the current market, one could argue that this ingrained belief in the harm of child labor has contributed to an overall degradation of the principle of work as a virtuous activity.
Sanger deploys the classic false antagonism between capitalist labor saving innovation and the demand for manual labor amongst the working classes. She predictably presents it as yet another zero sum game. To her credit, she attempts to groud her support of labor unions in an actual economic argument. She correctly posits that if the supply of labor is lower than the demand, employers will pay a premium in wages and benefits in accordance. Therefore, she argues that the only way to reconcile the cycle of antagonism between capital and labor is permanently lower the supply of working class labor through birth control. Naturally, Sanger completely ignores the opportunity for new skill acquisition and enhanced productivity that technological innovation presents for the working class. Individual initiative, upward economic mobility through education, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship play no role in Sanger’s grim, fatalistic calculus. For Sanger, the working class are just hapless dullards doomed to vie for scraps of a fixed pie of economic prosperity whose prospects are only improved by thinning the herd. Nothing elitist or cynical about that at all.
It will be the drama of labor until labor finds its real enemy. That enemy is the reproductive ability of the working class which gluts the channels of progress with the helpless and weak, and stimulates the tyrants of the world in their oppression of mankind.
Sanger’s demonization of prostitution is yet another example of outrageous feminist hypocrisy, would-be moralism and puritanism which carries on to this day. Apparently, “my body, my choice” only applies to women seeking access to abortion clinics. It especially doesn’t apply if celebrity feminists disapprove. There are undoubtedly arguments to be made around the forces that contribute to anyone’s decision to pursue prostitution as an occupation, but Sanger’s denial of individual agency and self-ownership is deeply revealing.
By far, her most asinine claim is that excessive child bearing is the cause of war. While the nation state certainly needs the malleable minds and youthful vigor of its population in order to power its war machine, she’s giving the politicians an inexplicable pass on the one moral question that truly deserves a more robust rebuke than the manipulative sophistry with which she presents us. It’s especially mind boggling that she would attribute warmongering to excessive breeding given the fact that her analysis of the deceptive machinations of the political class is surprisingly accurate.
Diplomats make it their business to conceal the facts, and politicians violently denounce the politicians of other countries. There is a long beating of tom-toms by the press and all other agencies for influencing public opinion. Facts are distorted and lies invented until the common people cannot get at the truth. Yet, when the war is over, if not before, we always find that “a place in the sun,” “a path to the sea,” “a route to India” or something of the sort is at the bottom of the trouble. These are merely other names for expansion.
Even the preface penned by sexologist Havelock Ellis parrots this moronic, elitist nonsense. Ellis and Sanger apparently share the belief that the decisions made by those who wield actual power don’t really count. One wonders if he counts himself among the “the ignorant, emotional, volatile, superstitious masses,” or if he’s flattering the pretensions of intellectual superiority of his progressive audience.
These facts have long been known to the few who view the world realistically. But it is not the few who rule the world. It is the masses—the ignorant, emotional, volatile, superstitious masses—who rule the world. It is they who choose the few supreme persons who manage or mismanage the world’s affairs.
Sanger attempts to bolster her case with what amounts to an extended appeal to emotion through a collection of anecdotes. She piles on one tale after another of crushing, Dickensian poverty and woe. Using correspondence from what we assume are authentic letters from women living lives of abject desperation and are afflicted with physical ailments ranging from tuberculosis to typhus, Sanger plunges the reader into a pit of misery. While it’s fair to concede that the stories were true, it’s equally fair to regard these stories with some measure of skepticism, too. If Sanger were truly an empiricist, she would have to perform a longitudinal study tracing economic outcomes for every child born into what she considers a large family to prove the causal link she asserted.
Conversely, she indulges another common fallacy that pervades contemporary intersectional feminist theory to this day. Sanger automatically accords legitimacy to the mother of financial means as one who is able to raise children properly and instill virtuous values. Modern feminists reflexively view race and economic status as evidence of “privilege,” but Sanger views the mothers in good economic standing as good mothers by definition. The possibility of a wealthy mother who is, in fact, a bad mother is never mentioned nor is the possibility that a mother of a large family is a good mother. Wealthy mothers are just as capable of abuse and neglect just as anyone else just as a mother of a large family of modest means is capable of providing love and guidance to her children.
Even when Sanger attempts to illustrate the medical reasons excessive child bearing is unhealthy, she punts her entire argument with what amounts to a handwave. Nowadays, we can use the internet to look things up, but Sanger would have bolstered her case with some actual citations as she does in other sections.
The opinions which I summarize here are not so much my own, originally, as those of medical authorities who have made deep and careful investigations. There is, however, nothing set forth here which I have not in my own studies tested and proved correct.
Sanger devotes a great deal of attention to the plight of immigrants and views their economic status and squalid lives as an intractable reality which leads directly to lives of moral degeneracy. If Sanger were to utter these sentiments today, one presumes she would be as reviled as Donald Trump is today. Sanger certainly raises valid questions around how well equipped immigrants were to compete in a market economy that was undergoing rapid industrialization and technological advancement. They’re questions that are even more relevant now given the rising numbers of Muslim immigrants in Europe and the US. Unless the government were to initiate a compulsory mass sterilization program as Sanger has proposed in other writings, contraception would not address the skill and education gap amongst of the immigrant population that was already alive.
Over one-fourth of all the immigrants over fourteen years of age, admitted during the two decades preceding 1910, were illiterate. Of the 8,398,000 who arrived in the 1900-1910 period, 2,238,000 could not read or write. There were 1,600,000 illiterate foreigners in the United States when the 1910 census was taken. Do these elements give promise of a better race? Are we doing anything genuinely constructive to overcome this situation?
Woman and the New Race reveals what is perhaps at the root of modern feminism’s pretentious aura of mysticism, mantle of unearned moral superiority and quasi-religious overtones. Throughout the book, Sanger makes appeals to the liberation of the “feminine spirit”. She insists that this spirit is both unique to the female, and is also uniquely benevolent when liberated. For Sanger, this “liberation” means abstention from procreation, and It is a premise that is both unfalsifiable and vaguely supremacist. If anything, this belief has been inculcated into subsequent generations of feminists and has metastasized into an overt hostility to motherhood.
It is this: woman’s desire for freedom is born of the feminine spirit, which is the absolute, elemental, inner urge of womanhood. It is the strongest force in her nature; it cannot be destroyed; it can merely be diverted from its natural expression into violent and destructive channels.
One of the more delicious ironies of Woman and the New Race is how Margaret Sanger’s attempt to remove the fear of childbirth from sex through contraception has become completely undermined by the fear mongering wrought by the modern feminist myth of a “rape culture”. Sanger was a clear and vocal proponent of enjoying sex without the consequence of giving birth to a child, and yet, her “free love” advocacy has been completely upended by modern feminism’s pursuit of so-called “affirmative consent”. If anything, feminists have seemingly turned back the clock on sexual liberation and are solidly intent on instilling a culture of fear through a state enforced neo-Victorianism. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find Sanger’s brand of sex positivity coming from a porn star than a feminist.
Perhaps the most interesting of ironies in the book is Sanger’s open opposition to abortion. Most people likely equate Planned Parenthood with abortion, but Sanger herself wasn’t terribly supportive of the procedure itself as a form of birth control.
While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.
Woman and the New Race is a book that’s both of its time, yet completely contemporary in that so much of what she sought has been achieved and the ideas she promoted are so deeply embedded in feminist thought. Roe v. Wade is an article of faith for feminists everywhere, and anyone who opposes it is automatically branded an enemy of womynhood. Birth control of every kind is readily accessible, but if an employer dares to oppose compulsory payment on religious grounds, the feminist hysteria machine will go into overdrive. Apparently, women are too incompetent to purchase their own contraception without government subsidies or mandates. The feminist industrial birth control/media/academic complex are so deeply invested in propagating the notion that access to birth control educational materials, contraception and abortion clinics are a mere federal motion away from being outlawed out of existence. Feminists and Planned Parenthood activists seem unwilling to acknowledge how much ground they’ve gained. Like Sanger herself, they portray themselves as an embattled special interest under perpetual assault by forces that are so much more powerful.
The saddest legacy of Sanger and Woman and the New Race is that Sanger’s Marxist sophistry, nihilism, racism and postmodern, relativist moralism has become its own contemporary article of faith. Intersectional feminism has become its own perverse cult with pretensions of a secular morality which reflect the very rottenness and moral void at the center of Sanger’s wretched and detestable worldview. The fact that we now live in a world where you demonstrate your commitment to “women’s rights” is by proclaiming your political allegiance to the politicians who promise access to abortion services is the very expression of the “morbidity” against which Sanger inveighed in her time.
Margaret Sanger can be given a modicum of credit for challenging the strictures and prohibitions of her time by promoting birth control, and subsequently, a woman who enjoys greater liberty to procreate or not. But the bulk of her philosophy must be recognized for what it was: a vile, hateful, supremacist, and cynical view of the world which negates individual responsibility and promotes a sense of victimhood.