Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

American Progressives Inspired Hitler (and Vice Versa)


In case you’ve ever wondered where German leader Adolf Hitler got his ideas on how to purify German society, especially through medical experimentation on people, the answer is: American progressives and, specifically, their eugenics program.

There is lots of information on the Internet on this subject. Just Google “eugenics progressives” and you’ll come up with an extensive list of online articles. A good one is “Eugenics, American Progressivism, and the ‘German Idea of the State’” by Tiffany Jones Miller, which is posted at the Library of Law and Liberty website. Another one is “Eugenics: Progressivism’s Ultimate Social Engineering” by Art Carden and Steven Horwitz, posted at The Foundation for Economic Education’s website.

The basic principle of progressivism is that the force of the state can and should be used to improve society. It’s not sufficient for the state to simply leave people alone who are engaged in purely peaceful activities, progressives say, because doing that will result in undesirable consequences. So, government must step in to remake society through the use of force.

A good example is minimum-wage laws. Progressives hold that in the absence of such laws, employers will pay employees subsistence wages or less. The state must step in and correct things.

Of course, never mind that minimum-wage laws hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder — those who labor is valued in the marketplace at less than the state-mandated minimum. That’s why black teenagers suffer a chronic unemployment rate of some 40 percent. That doesn’t bother progressives. They say judge the law by its good intentions, not by the actual consequences of the intervention.

Guess where American progressives originally got their philosophy and their ideas. From socialists in Germany in the late 1800s. The German socialists came up with all sorts of socialist and interventionist programs that would later be embraced by German leader Otto von Bismarck, the so-called Iron Chancellor of Germany, as well as American progressives.

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the U.S. Social Security Administration has a bust of Bismarck on its website. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that Nazi Germany embraced wage controls, Social Security, public schooling, a government-managed economy, a military-industrial complex, and other programs that have long been central to the American progressive program.

A quote by Hitler regarding the importance of public schooling, one of the main German socialist programs that progressives imported to the United States, should be contemplated by every American who enthusiastically supports the idea that the state should be responsible for the education of people’s children:

When an opponent declares, “I will not come over to your side,” I calmly say, “Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.”

When President Roosevelt brought the progressive revolution to fruition here in the United States, it was none other than Adolf Hitler who wrote him a letter commending him on his new economic program for America. Hitler pointed out that his and FDR’s New Deal program shared many of the same core principles and programs. He was referring to such programs as Social Security, which became a permanent welfare-state program under FDR, and the National Recovery Act, which was a perfect model for economic fascism.

The American eugenics program was guided by the same mindset — that government force could and should be used to remake and improve society by removing and modifying the imperfect people within it. So, under the eugenics program, government officials here in the United States engaged in the involuntary sterilization of people who they considered to be imperfect, with the goal of making sure that they didn’t produce imperfect children. According to Wikipedia, the imperfect people included people with mental and physical disabilities, people with low IQs, criminals, deviants, and members of disfavored minority groups.

That inspired Hitler to do the same in Germany. Miller writes:

In 1923, Fritz Lenz, a German physician and geneticist advocate of forced sterilization–a man who became one of the leading advocates of the Nazi’s “racial hygiene” program–criticized his countrymen for lagging behind the United States in the enactment of sterilization laws.  In June, 1933, several months after Hitler became Chancellor of the Third Reich, the Nazis began to catch up in earnest.[1]  In consultation with Lenz and other German eugenicists, Dr. Arthur Gutt, a leading official in the Ministry of the Interior, drafted a statute entitled “The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.”  This proposal, which became Nazi Germany’s first sterilization law, mandated sterilization for all persons believed to be afflicted with congenital feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, manic depression, hereditary epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea, hereditary blindness, hereditary deafness, serious physical deformity or chronic alcoholism.  The purpose of this law, as Gutt explained, was “‘to prevent …poisoning the entire bloodstream of the race.’”

Wikipedia observes that “many of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials attempted to justify their human rights abuses by claiming there was little difference between the Nazi eugenics programs and the U.S. eugenics programs.”

Notwithstanding the war-crimes trials at Nuremberg, U.S. officials continued to carry out forced sterilizations for decades. Progressives, whose philosophy had now taken hold all across the United States, believed it was the right thing to do, in combination, of course, with Social Security, minimum-wage laws, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, and other welfare-state, managed-economy programs. They were (and are) determined to make the United States the perfect society and were (and are) prepared to use the full force of government to accomplish their goal.

We also shouldn’t forget that while Hitler was inspired by American progressives on eugenics, the inspiration went in both directions. The Interstate Highway System, the biggest socialist project in U.S. history, was inspired by Hitler’s Autobahn.

Whenever a progressive challenges someone who opposes the welfare-warfare state by accusing him of hating the poor, needy, and disadvantaged, he should ask the progressive what progressivism, including eugenics, has ever done for the poor, needy, and disadvantaged, not only here in the United States but also in Nazi Germany.

This post was written by:

The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government.