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January 24, 2010



Always rather agreed with Jorge Luis Borges's fictional Heresiarch of Uqbar myself: 'mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number of men'

Anthony Zacharzewski

Doesn't the argument fail at the point where someone has to predict who will bring up feral children? Plenty of novelists, academics, and otherwise successful people have a hard background.

Mark Brinkley

And arguably we tried this experiment when we deported our underclass to Australia. Left to their own devices in a free(ish) land, this underclass prospere. And we still have an underclass.


@Anthony - you're right that it's hard to predict this. But is this really a clinching argument? I mean no other policy works perfectly. And all that's necessary is that this one works probabilistically - it's probable we'll prevent more scrotes than geniuses, at least if the filter is set loose.


Surely we don't (and shouldn't) do this because it's morally wrong. Utility doesn't (or shouldn't) come into it. It would be otiose to explain why.

Paul Sagar

1. An intrinsic point: all human beings are equal, and have equal rights to conceive and raise children - the right is forefeit only ex post facto when poor parenting has been proved, not ex ante based on class prejudice

2. Instrumental point: I would rather live in a world where the above equality of rights is respected and maintained. We've seen what happens not just in societies that sterilise, but which generally deny people these equal rights. This is way more than just 'urgh' factor. This is 20th century experience. Think not just Nazi Germany, think also South Africa.

3. practical point: who decides who to sterilise and how? On what grounds? What happens to democracy and the rule of law in a nation where the underclass don't want to be sterilised? (this applies even if the state does it in secrecy, cf South Africa)?

You've used a bunch of straw men in your post.

But in the spirit of your post, let's recall that the intellectual and political forebearers of the modern Tory party DID favour sterilisation and eugenics. See Spencer and then later the preWW1 eugenics advocates. Still, it's a concession the horrors of history wrung out of the Tories. Oh and don't forget that D-Cam supported the apartheid government by visiting South Africa when the rest of the world was impossing embargo.

On the subject of Foucault and prisons, I've got something up today.


@Paul: Didn't Fabians support eugenics too?


Paul: I'd also point out that they actually tried eugenics in the US.

"the right is forefeit only ex post facto when poor parenting has been proved"

Huh? When is it forfeit even ex post facto?

Paul Sagar

"Huh? When is it forfeit even ex post facto?"

When parents abuse or neglect their children, or use drugs, usually.

That's the grounds on which the state usually puts children into care and takes them out of the custody of their parents.

I'm not saying anything particularly controversial. And as a model of social organisation, I vastly prefer that to ex ante sterilisation of the "underclass".


@ Paul - the argument that people "have equal rights to conceive and raise children" might clinch the argument against sterlization for egalitarians. But would it really appeal to those who believe my three premises - because these deny that people have equal rights to live and work where they want?
My point is simply that, if you believe those premises and in immigration control, then compulsory sterlization is not an unattractive policy.


That seems a trifle draconian and illiberal - the sort of thing they'd have done in 1970s Sweden.

Instead of that, why not stop subsidising an underclass, the tax-funded expansion of which over the last 30 years has given the lie to those who say that incentives aren't important - and also given the lie to those who say the state 'can do nothing' ?

My children know that it's going to be a struggle for them to get their own homes (prices where I live are 9 times average wages). They also know that a friend's 17 year old daughter who had a baby has been given a flat and an (admittedly not high) income. Monkey see, monkey do.

No welfare reform will happen, of course, because the children are the hostages for the sake of whom we'll keep on paying up.


1. It is unacceptable to allow children to be born in deprivation. The production of human beings cannot be a right because it affects others (the newborn) and puts a strain on society's resources.

2. It is unacceptable to infringe people's autonomy on class grounds. E.g. underperforming bankers may well deserve being banned from passing on their genes before any capital punishment!


Solution: State parenting qualification for every citizen, regardless of class.

Paul Sagar

Chris: non-egalitarians who reject claim 1 on (say) metaphysical grounds alone can (and really should) endorse it when taking into account claim 2.

Of course, equal rights lose their 'intrinsic' nature on this approach, but the utility of continuing to treat them as such should be evident even on purely instrumental grounds.

One thing that the horrors of the last 100 years taught anti-egalitarians is that even if the fundamental equality of persons is denied or questioned, the world goesmuch better if for practical purposes we treat people as equal within some broad brush limits, eg we don't sterilise them by assuming equal rights to child rear until proven incapable.

This is quite compatible with lots if other anti-egalitarianism of a low-level sort - protecting private education, repealing inheritance tax, etc - but prevents sliding into really nasty regimes that even most non/ant- egalitarians don't want.

Futhrtmore, there's nothing to preclude anti-egalitarians from holding that even the less equal should not be sterilised because e.g. there ate integrity issues about inflicting such a thing on even less-equal humans.
And indeed, it's now worth pointing out another of your straw men: anti egalitarians are not committed to saying that the less-equal have NO rights - they can consistently say they retain some, eg the right not to be sterilised.

There's a lot of things you can get the right on. That they are committed to sterilising the 'underclass' isn't one which applies to any rightist with a brain who isn't a psycopath.


Far be it from me to suggest so, but Hitler had his good points, and Rachman was a good landlord....

Tim Worstall

"sterilization is associated with you-know-who. "

Quite: we're already far too much like Sweden.


@ Paul - "all human beings are equal, and have equal rights to conceive and raise children"

No, for example, putting criminals in jail for significant periods stops their ability to conceive and raise children. It's as effective as sterilization for the time they are detained; they do not have equal rights.

John Terry's Mum

Tim have you ever been in Sweden ?

the unfortunate thing is that Britain is not enough like Sweden (unless you like living in a country in tailspin, societal collapse, watching hideous women eat chips etc etc).


These ideas were debated in the 1930s under the impression that Britain Was Going To The Dogs and Civilisation Was Under Threat. See http://www.amazon.co.uk/Morbid-Age-Britain-Between-Wars/dp/0713995637 by Richard Overy (Allen Lane 2009). Although there was support from left and right, Labour politicians saw eugenics as an attack on the working class. After the war the solutions to ignorance, poverty and disease were supposed to come from the welfare state and to some extent they do. We could do more through welfare if we wanted to but at the cost of even less individual autonomy and privacy.


"Surely, the right to live and work where one wants is a stronger right than that to have children"

no! of course not! from my perspective at least. of course i'd like to choose where to live, i quite fancy working in america, but the fact that i can't isn't a massive problem, i can still have the life i want here. this wouldn't be the case if the state forcibly sterilised me! how barbaric!


Chris is suggesting that a certain, ill-defined section of the population should be deprived of a right, that is, subject to punishment, without having committed any crime to justify its forfeiture. From this it follows that the ability to procreate would not be a right at all, but rather a privilege accorded to some and withheld from others as the officers of the state would see fit. On the other hand, the state would have the right to manipulate the bodies of each and every one of its citizens. This, for some reason, Chris thinks is a less intrusive and oppressive state of affairs than the government having the right to refuse entry to people born outside the country’s borders on the grounds that it judges them to be potentially dangerous, divisive, unproductive or superfluous. This point of view can only be held by someone who believes that the state owes no greater obligation to its own citizens than to any other person in the world. That is to say, he does not believe there is a social or political contract between elected politicians and their electors, but that politicians once elected should serve the cause of humanity as a whole rather than the interests of the people who elected them in the first place. This is what socialists believe and it is why that deep down they are not democrats. They believe that pursuit of universal equality trumps the duty governments owe to their electorates.

Paul Sagar

I think 'Straus' is struggling to differentiate between porte parole and ultimate authorial intention.

As for the person who missed my point above: criminals can't have children when we put them in jail, true. But rather obviously that's an example of the state having decided such criminals have forefeited their rights to have children by virtue of their actions, not that they were denied the right to have children in the first place.


"no-one has the right to impose burdens onto the rest of us"

Anyone who choses to rely on the state to fund their education, healthcare, pensions etc is imposing a burden on "the rest of us".

So if I take Chris at his word, he does not believe that anyone has a right to NHS care, university education, state pension etc.

I don't think that Chris believes what he is saying. But even if he does, it is an additional premise, and honesty should have required that it be explicitly stated together with the first three premises, not slipped in later.


"I don't think that Chris believes what he is saying."

errm - have you looked at the title?


...and if that is too difficult, what about the first sentence?

'Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you believe the following:'

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