The urge to sterilize the socially expensive or inconvenient on the grounds that they reproduce themselves is often treated as though it were a German nationalist or extreme right-wing aberration, but it is not…Nor is it true that eugenics as a means of dealing with social problems was particularly attractive to the authoritarian right (if statist nationalism is on the right): it was equally attractive to the authoritarian left. The intellectual progenitors of the British welfare state, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw were strongly in favour of eugenics, both positive and negative. And by now it is well-known that Scandinavian welfare democracies continued with their eugenic programmes into the 1970s.

…Eugenics, I suspect, was in reality a symptom of a growing impatience of intellectuals with the intractability of the human condition, with the fact that that Man was irredeemably imperfect. And this impatience grew because of a decline in the religious understanding of life (it was no coincidence that Chesterton, who saw so easily through the pretensions of eugenics, should have been firmly Christian, while none of his opponents was). In the 1920s sterilization of the unfit would do for humanity what psychopharmacology is now supposed to do: render it happy because perfect. No one with an understanding of Original Sin could believe such a thing – even if Original Sin is not based upon an actual historical truth.

— Theodore Dalrymple, “Destiny of Crime”, Threats of Pain and Ruin

Jonah Goldberg’s primary theme in his book Liberal Fascism centered on what he called the “fascist moment” in Western culture around the beginning of the 20th century. He was referring to the then-widespread belief among the intelligentsia that classic, laissez-faire liberalism was outdated and incapable of meeting the challenges of life in industrialized societies. Hard as it may be for us to imagine in hindsight, many American progressives saw both fascism and communism as equally valid “experiments” in new ways of organizing society along more rational lines. The retroactive mythologizing of history has most of us thinking that the progressives were mainly concerned with busting up corporate monopolies and sanding the rough edges off of capitalism by means of labor and safety regulations, whereas there must have been some mysterious evil peculiar to European life that led to people being marched into concentration camps and crematoria. This allows us to ignore that the progressive vision of society as an organic whole, akin to an ant colony or a beehive, with everything scientifically managed by an elite caste of university-credentialed experts, is inherently illiberal. We’ve seen in the past year alone how easily the intelligentsia can succumb to the illiberal temptation to “dissolve the people and elect another,” in Brecht’s phrase. As our knowledge and technical mastery increase, the more likely it becomes that we will find it increasingly intolerable to accept a certain amount of inherent tragedy and imperfection in life, and the more likely that recalcitrant elements in society who are perceived to be holding up progress will be dealt with harshly. As Steven Ozment said, those who have glimpsed a fantasy of resolution cannot forgive the grinding years of imperfect life that still must be lived.