From the editor of this site:
One of the things that has surprised me about setting up this site is the interest in the allegation that James Dobson, and by extension, the ‘evangelical’ community in general, are actually ‘eugenicists.’ The argument, if you can call it that, goes like this: Paul Popenoe was a eugenicist, he founded his American Institute of Family Relations to further his eugenics aims, James Dobson eventually worked for this organization, James Dobson is an evangelical leader, THEREFORE Dobson is a eugenicist and all the evangelicals are, too; or, if not eugenicists, RACISTS!
I am not entirely sure what the origination is for this accusation, but the discussion about it was taking place on my ‘about’ page, which seems to me to be a less than ideal location for such a discussion. For this reason, I am creating this page, and I have moved the comments from the ‘about’ page to this page.
Now, I’ve been studying eugenics in earnest since 2007. I dedicated most of my doctoral study to the researching of eugenics. As of this writing, that’s almost fifteen years of intensive reading of the eugenicists in their own words and monitoring and documenting their shifting positions and policies. Popenoe was a lesser light in the eugenics movement if ever there was one (Margaret Sanger shines much brighter, by contrast) which makes Dobson’s putative role puny by comparison, even if legit. I will later expound on this here, but my point is that as someone interested in carefully cataloging the ACTUAL writings of ACTUAL eugenicists and documenting their ACTUAL activities, the Dobson angle is so trivial it is almost laughable.
Nonetheless, the application of this ‘angle’ is not trivial. It is pure slander of a large segment of the population and may in fact be actual libel when it comes to Dobson. Treating people who are not racists as racists cannot, and will not, end well. Especially when the truth is that it is the actual racists accusing people who are not racists of being racists. We cannot let the matter go unexamined.
As of this writing, I have yet to be presented with ACTUAL evidence that Dobson is an ACTUAL eugenicist. Nor have I yet to see actual evidence that his affiliation with the American Institute of Family Relations was animated by ACTUAL eugenics motivations. I have no objection to anyone providing ACTUAL evidence of such a thing, as this site is chock full of showing how people we wouldn’t expect nonetheless were animated by ACTUAL eugenics considerations. If any such evidence is ever presented, I will endeavor to post it here.
In the meantime, I submit the ‘discussion’ that is in the comments below until such time as I write something more suitable.
I should mention that anyone who wishes to dig into this deeper should at least make sure they understand what eugenics IS. I have a whole essay dedicated to that, here. It seems to me that it would stand to reason that someone should actually espouse actual eugenics principles before they can be termed a eugenicist, but it appears that in our current climate, there is both utter ignorance about what the eugenicists themselves really believed and desire to WEAPONIZE the term against political opponents–the truth or falsity of the accusations being irrelevant.
Sounds like something a fascist would do, and I hate the fascists almost as much as I hate the eugenicists.
Immediately above I said, ” It seems to me that it would stand to reason that someone should actually espouse actual eugenics principles before they can be termed a eugenicist.”
I discuss at length ‘the’ definition of eugenics on this page, here: https://eugenics.us/definition-of-eugenics/40.htm
Any attempt to try to hang the label of ‘eugenicist’ around someone’s neck without explaining how that person believes or is acting consistent with eugenics principles–as the eugenicists themselves understood them–is playing a dangerous game. I am going to briefly re-state some of those principles here. Anyone who has actual evidence of Dobson engaging in eugenic activities is invited to provide it, but it must (obviously) be shown in what sense these are actually ‘eugenic.’ For example:
- Does the person explicitly embrace Darwinism?
It is extremely rare to find a eugenicist who does NOT embrace Darwinism. The form of eugenics advocated often tracks with whether or not someone believes that ‘hard heredity’ or ‘soft heredity’ are at work, but what they have in common is the ‘heredity’ part, as understood in evolutionary terms. There was racism before there was eugenics. In order for there to be EUGENICS there needs to be the notion that the ‘racism’ being applied is ‘scientific’ in nature. Which leads to…
2. Does the person believe that SCIENCE! carries with it an ‘ought’? Res ipsa loquitu!
Eugenicists always insisted that they had only the best of intentions and a deep care and concern for their fellow man, but that the incontrovertible nature of SCIENCE! compelled them to act… obviously as humanitarian-ly as possible. One can see how #1 and #2 fit together like a hand and glove.
3. Does the person believe that the State is the most obvious entity to act on INCONTROVERTIBLE SCIENCE “for the common good”?
Here there is a historical divide within the eugenics movement, pivoting precisely on the WW2 implementation of various eugenics-laced ideologies. Prior to WW2, eugenicists were much more explicit in their advocacy for having the State spearhead eugenics policies. After WW2, they were much more coy about it. Some wrote off the possibility of the State being active at all and appealed to trying to promote things like “voluntary unconscious selection.”
(Where ‘selection’ refers to Darwinian selection, ‘voluntary’ means exactly what you think it means, and ‘unconscious’ means operating on eugenics principles without knowing that you are doing so. Eg, for example, ‘freely’ aborting your child, without knowing that the reasons you are doing it are ones that the eugenicists provided.)
Even after the post WW2 pivot, the eugenicists were avowed statists (eg, Julian Huxley, Harrison Brown, etc).
If a person is NOT a statist, they are probably not a eugenicist; this does not mean a person is not promoting eugenic principles (see #1 and #2), because as already pointed out, one of the explicit goals of post-WW2 eugenicists was to implant their rationale in the minds of citizens so that citizens would carry out eugenic aims without knowing they were doing so. Such citizens are not eugenicists merely for this fact. The eugenicist is not the one acting unconsciously, but consciously, on eugenic principles. The former is merely a dupe.
Of special relevance, here, Popenoe himself identified ‘Hitlerism’ as a turning point in the eugenics movement. [Source]
4. Does the person believe that ‘sacrifices’ must be made in order to improve the ‘social body’?
On a Darwinian basis, the deaths of certain individuals is not necessarily a bad thing, as the removal of ‘defectives’ will improve the race as a whole in future generations. (See #1-#2). If you can’t physically remove them, or segregate them, at least you can get them somehow to stop reproducing. The key is that a utilitarian ethic tends to permeate the thinking of actual eugenicists, who reason that “for the common good” it is good and appropriate that some people suffer (or even die), leaving the strong and capable to reproduce. Due to the fact that the State is the most persistent ‘agency under social control’ of all of the agencies, the ‘State’ and the ‘social body’ tend to become equated in their minds. That is to say, the moral rules that apply to individuals do not necessarily apply to the State (indeed, they usually don’t).
Eugenicists tend to believe they are acting on a ‘higher’ moral plane than the rest of us, applying scientific principles with the cold, unwavering reason–for the good of ‘humanity’ of course… that is, for the sake of the ‘social body,’ which includes not just the assembly of individuals but the continuity of generations. Think: just as your individual cells eventually die but the YOU is still YOU, you might do certain things to get rid of ‘defective cells’ (eg, amputate an arm, irradiate a cancer, etc), in order to benefit the YOU, who exists as an entity above and beyond the life and death of the cells within your body.
Update 1 conclusion:
The above description of the beliefs of eugenicists is based on what the eugenicists themselves said about themselves. There is a big difference between things said ABOUT eugenicists and what the eugenicists said THEMSELVES. This whole site is dedicated to letting the eugenicists speak for THEMSELVES. The reason for this is precisely because there are people acting on eugenics principles ‘voluntarily’ but without knowing they are doing so (unconsciously). And if you hate the eugenicists… I mean, really hate them… then you’d want to know if you had somehow fallen into doing their dirty work, such as in your own life (eg, aborting your child diagnosed in the womb with a birth defect).
But as it applies to the accusation that someone specific, like Dobson, is knowingly pursuing eugenic principles, it must be SHOWN that he has principles related to the principles described above. Does he believe in Darwinism? Does he believe that SCIENCE! must be implemented if for no other reason that it is SCIENCE!? Does he believe such action should be done by the State, preferably? Does he believe that the State enjoys a different set of moral imperatives that do not apply to individuals, up to and including the idea that it is quite alright if some people die, providing it is the right sort of people?
If you don’t have these 4 components… especially if you don’t have the first. you’re not talking about a eugenicist.
Any evidence presented will be compared to this criteria.
I reserve the right to continue revising this in further updates.
So, at this time, we have our first attempt to give definitive evidence that Dobson was actually a eugenicist, linked to by someone in the comments (ACF). The title of the article is “The Eugenics Roots of Evangelical Family Values.”
I said in the comments below that I didn’t have time to correct progressives and boy, if ever there was an article filled with claims that needed correction, there you go. However, this post is about Dobson in particular. That is how it began, years ago, and that’s what I’ll address here.
As I stated above, and alluded to in the comment section, mere similarities between the goals and activities of eugenics is not anywhere close enough to justify the label. As with all subjects disputed by humans, even adherents of eugenics often quibbled with each other on the details, especially when it came to tactics, but generally speaking, the word had–and has–definite propositional content. It is not the kind of thing that one can just throw around willy-nilly as though on some days ‘eugenics’ means tall people and decades later it refers to the study of origami. So, to actually show someone is a eugenicist, one has to actually link them to that propositional content.
There is an entire essay on this site dedicated to exploring that content. I sketched out some of the main principles driving those propositions, above. Did ACF offer any evidence that Dobson was motivated by any of those principles? No.
Let’s take one sample [‘substantiating’ link in the original]:
Dobson, who retired from FoF in 2009 and now hosts the radio program Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, has repeatedly betrayed his personal anxieties about a dark-skinned takeover. After visiting the southern border in 2019 at the Trump administration’s invitation, he claimed to fear “illiterate,” “unhealthy,” “violent criminals” would “bankrupt” and “take down” America, if not controlled.
Let us note that the phrase “dark-skinned takeover” is ACF’s characterization. The words “illiterate,” “unhealthy,” “bankrupt,” “violent criminals” and “take down” are from a paragraph in a newsletter provided not even by ACF, but in her corroborating link… and is the ONLY primary source material we are given by her source. We’ll just accept for the sake of argument that these are terrible things to say–even though the paragraph in question uses modifying terms like “some” and “many,” which makes some of the arguments made by Dobson undeniably and objectively true. Just ask Kamala “Root Causes” Harris. Where do we hear Dobson try to link these attributes to the intrinsic nature of “dark-skinned” individuals? Never. It does not happen.
Indeed, we must conclude that since it was not Dobson that heard the words “illiterate” and “violent” etc and thought it referred to ‘dark-skinned’ people, but rather it was ACF who heard those words and instantly thought of ‘dark-skinned’ people, if anyone is the racist (eugenicist?) here, it is ACF. Remember kids, only dogs hear dog whistles.
Setting aside the fact that it is the progressives who view everyone in terms of their skin color and genitalia, and not the conservatives, we must come round to the heart of the matter. ACF pledged to provide information showing not that Dobson was a racist, but that he was a eugenicist. There is no hint of that. What we are witnessing in both ACF’s characterizations, and the ‘corroboration’ by Brandon Massey, is nothing more than uncharitable mind reading.
Allow me to drive this point further home: even if someone is a racist, it doesn’t follow that he is a eugenicist. Reminder, ACF’s title was “”The Eugenics Roots of Evangelical Family Values.” It was not “The Racist Roots of Evangelical Family Values.”
ACF seems to recognize her own shallow argumentation, prefacing the above quote with this:
In a copublication of Political Research Associates and the Women of Color Resource Center, political scientist Jane Hardistry has noted that by carefully avoiding overt statements of the inferiority of people of color, organizations like FoF managed to spread the idea that African Americans constituted the bulk of welfare recipients (they do not); obscure racial and gender discrimination as causes of poverty; and tout white Christian norms as the solution to any and all social ills.
In other words, Jane Hardistry could not find any statements by Focus on the Family saying that people of color were inferior. More mind-reading. It could be that these statements were not made because FoF does not believe them. Right?
Earlier in this post, before we even had the opportunity to see ACF’s grand demonstration, I said, “There is a big difference between things said ABOUT eugenicists and what the eugenicists said THEMSELVES.” I said this because it was apparent that ACF has zero clue what actual eugenicists said and believed. Her sources appear to consist completely of what other people–and all of them seem to be of the sort that perk up when they hear a dog whistle–say. In short, her argument that Dobson is a eugenicist is that other progressives say that Dobson is a eugenicist.
And therein is an irony; neither Massey nor Hardistry make any mention whatsoever to eugenics!
Hilariously, then, not only are we left to rely on the testimony of ACF’s fellow travelers for bridging the gap between Dobson and eugenics, but ACF’s own witnesses don’t even mention eugenics. Ideally, we would hear from Dobson himself. On that score, we get one measly paragraph quoted by someone else, a fair number of statements about or by other people (eg, Jim Daly, Focus on the Family), and so on.
By contrast, if I describe someone as a eugenicist, I don’t quote someone else’s views on a person, I quote the person. For example, if I want to say that the progressive Helen Keller advocated for the killing of disabled people after submitting them to a jury of ‘experts,’ I am not going to quote a book talking about Helen Keller, I’m going to link directly to Helen Keller. If I’m going to contend that the progressive Theodore Roosevelt argued that man foolishly allows their inferior samples to breed, I’m not going to quote a book talking about Theodore Roosevelt, I’m going to link directly to Roosevelt. If I’m going to state that progressives like Margaret Sanger spearheaded the idea of having concentration camps for ‘defectives,’ I’m not going to provide someone talking ABOUT Sanger… and certainly not a a conservative source! lol… I’m going to link directly to Sanger.
[No one should be too hard on Keller, Roosevelt, Sanger, etc. They merely “believe[d] the experts who’ve stablished” that the human race was degenerating and swift action was necessary and justified. People like Leonard Cole or Karl Pearson or EA Ross or Horatio Hackett Newman (one of the ‘expert’ witnesses at the Scopes Trial). Trust the experts, that way if your belief leads to ruinous consequences, you can always say you meant well and expect progressives a hundred year hence to forgive you completely.]
These are certainly compatible with eugenic ideals, but to really make the case, ultimately we need to find them making explicit references identifying themselves as such (this site is chock full of such), or participating in eugenic conferences (eg ) or affixing their names to manifestos, or making plain that when they say one thing, they definitely do mean another.
There are a number of reasons for operating this way. First of all, the truth about the eugenicists is so terrible that there is no need to invent anything about them. Actually, if you try to tell someone about what they really believed, they often won’t believe you, because they can’t bring themselves to imagine ‘good’ people said and did such horrible things. Letting the eugenicists speak for themselves leaves no doubt. Never forget–every eugenicist believed they were furthering the ‘common good’ as experts had determined it, backed not by sentiment, but by SCIENCE. As such, many eugenicists did not even think they were racists!
Second of all, it helps curtail one’s own biases, which is actually what we see so vividly at work in the case of ACF. If one asked himself, “Do I believe this because I’m a self-righteous person who thinks he is more noble than my political foes, or is this because its actually true? How would I find out?” Quite simply, if the person you are reflecting on SAYS he is a eugenicist, then you are probably not just engaging in self-congratulating, bad faith mind-reading. If you can find no such evidence, another possibility should be considered: like the eugenicists themselves, you are a bigot who cloaks your political agendas in euphemisms and smear; you know, because the ends definitely justify the means when Utopia is on the line.
Not to get too far away from Dobson, but ACF engages in the same kind of sloppy smearing in other places in her paper. For example, she says this about Rushdoony:
“This modernized form of eugenics gelled with racist notions of Christian dominion, which avowed segregationist and eugenicist R.J. Rushdoony would popularize in the 1960s and 70s.” [Link in the original]
On ACF’s telling, Rushdoony is an ‘avowed segregationist and eugenicist.’ Do we know what the word ‘avowed’ means? It means, “openly acknowledged or declared.” So, when I clicked on the link she provided, I expected to hear Rushdoony himself affirming segregationism and eugenicism. Is that what I got? Nope. Once again, we have someone else’s words telling us what Rushdoony believed. Incidentally, none of the words in the corroborating link were ‘segregationist’ or ‘eugenicist.’
As in the case of Dobson, Rushdoony may be a eugenicist for all I know or care. But someone isn’t a eugenicist just because a progressive says they are.
At this point, it would seem that the ‘best’ evidence for the contention that Dobson was a eugenicist has been provided. You may make of it as you wish, but I for one will chalk it up as one more reason why we can’t have nice things where progressives are involved.
I will post another update, leaping off of the ‘guilt by association’ angle which, I think if we’re being objective, is the whole sum of ACF’s argument. However, rather than waste any more time dealing with non-evidence, I think I might be able to do a service in providing legitimate insight into ACTUAL eugenicists, by explaining in some detail the difference between the tactics and viewpoints of pre-WW2 eugenicists and post-WW2 eugenicists. For those who think the jury is still out on Dobson vis a vis eugenics, perhaps because of the connection to Popenoe’s clinic, this account might suggest some other interpretations for that affiliation.
I’ll get to it when I get to it.