Ross Douthat has a column in the New York Times about the bad old days before the Second World War when the Yankee utopian impulse and reform culture had found an outlet in the American eugenics movement:
“The American elite’s pre-World War II commitment to breeding out the “unfit” — defined variously as racial minorities, low-I.Q. whites, the mentally and physically handicapped, and the criminally inclined — is a story that defies easy stereotypes about progress and enlightenment. On the one hand, these American eugenicists tended to be WASP grandees like Fisher — ivory-tower dwellers and privileged have-mores with an obvious incentive to invent spurious theories to justify their own position.
But these same eugenicists were often political and social liberals — advocates of social reform, partisans of science, critics of stasis and reaction. “They weren’t sinister characters out of some darkly lighted noir film about Nazi sympathizers,” Conniff writes of Fisher and his peers, “but environmentalists, peace activists, fitness buffs, healthy-living enthusiasts, inventors and family men.” From Teddy Roosevelt to the Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, fears about “race suicide” and “human weeds” were common among self-conscious progressives, who saw the quest for a better gene pool as of a piece with their broader dream of human advancement. .
That access, until recently, has required invasive procedures like amniocentesis. But last week brought a remarkable breakthrough: a team of scientists mapped nearly an entire fetal genome using blood from the mother and saliva from the father.
The procedure costs tens of thousands of dollars today, but the price will surely fall. And it promises access to a wealth of information about the fetus’s biology and future prospects — information that carries obvious blessings, but also obvious temptations.”
This was discussed years ago in the movie Gattaca and Lee Silver’s book Remaking Eden.
Note: The leading eugenicists in America were Yankees like Charles Davenport, Harry Laughlin, Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, and Margaret Sanger. With the exception of Stoddard, they were mostly concerned with the threat of racial deterioration posed by intermarriage with Appalachian white trash and Catholic immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Hitler was a polarizing figure who forced the Yankee “paleo-progressive” elite to choose between their commitment to liberalism and their campaign for race betterment. By 1900, the Yankees had given up on Reconstruction and lost their enthusiasm for racial equality, but the Second World War changed all of that and switched them back into their ideological mode.