Margaret Sanger Answers Professor Conklin on Quality and Population
Many of the disagreements and differences of opinion concerning the great racial problem of Birth Control grow out of a failure to recognize all the fundamental factors involved. In an interview published in the New York Times upon the occasion of the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, Edwin Grant Conklin, head of the department of biology at Princeton, declared that those of us who advocate Birth Control failed to give sufficient attention to the fact that it is just as bad to have too few people as it is to have too many.
More than one hundred and twenty-two years have passed since in the second edition of his epoch-making “Essay on Population” Rev. Robert Malthus pointed out the dangers of overpopulation to the world at large and advocated prudential checks and late marriages to limit the birth rate. From the beginnings of the Neo-Malthusian movement, the problem was approached as a merely quantitative one. It concerned itself with pointing out the dangers of too many people in the world, just as Professor Conklin today has pointed out the danger of too few. It was a problem of birth rates and death rates and the establishment of a proper population ratio. In brief, students of the problem were interested primarily in quantity, not quality.
In contradistinction to the Neo-Malthusian movement, though growing out of it, and agreeing with it in the primary necessity of teaching the restriction and intelligent control of the reproductive powers, the younger Birth Control movement has emphasized the importance of quality in human life and racial health. We have done all in our power to agitate for education in contraception as a means to sustain and elevate standards of living, and to prevent healthy stocks or families from sinking into poverty, dependency, delinquency and defect. We have emphasized that the human race is susceptible to the same cultivation and breeding as plants, trees and animals. In this we agree with the eugenists. But whereas Eugenics must perforce attempt to control human breeding by a predetermined standard of what is “fit” and what “unfit” for reproduction in the race Birth control or “negative” Eugenics, as it has been described, realizes the danger of external or paternalistic interference in human lives, and aims without any prescriptions of personal liberty, to place in the hands of the parents themselves the means of economic and racial salvation. Birth Control does not seek to prohibit parenthood, but to arouse men and women to a sharp sense of responsibility toward the children they bring into the world. If these children are brought into the world through voluntary choice, instead of chance, they will thereby be assured of a greater opportunity for development and growth in the world while the standard of living in the homes into which they are born will likewise be higher than in an overcrowded and economically poorer domicile.
To encourage people of good inheritance to produce larger and larger families, as Professor Conklin does in the interview quoted above, is to approach the problem not from the newer and more illuminating qualitative standpoint, but to fall back on the less adequate quantitative approach. Our problem is no longer one of “too many” or “too few.” It is a problem of quality--of better or worse; of fit and unfit; of healthy or diseased stocks; of independent self-reliant, populations, of dependent and defective and delinquent masses; of intelligence or imbecility; of talent and genius or half-wit and moron.
But we view humanity in another light than the eminent Princeton biologist--in a less pessimist light, perhaps. We picture humanity at large as a vast reservoir of potentialities worthy of future development. Genius, we are convinced, lies buried deep in the common lot, in the masses of humanity. Given the opportunity, with proper spacing and proper attention in childhood through the care of strong, healthy, loving motherhood (instead of unwilling overburdened slave motherhood) all these inherent talents might be encouraged to develop and by proper appreciation be brought to maturity and fulfillment in the world. On the other hand, if we fail to emphasize the necessity of a limited reproduction among the “lower types,” we are tacitly encouraging the unlimited reproduction among tainted and defective stocks, even against their will. We are burdening society with the maintenance of prisons, insane asylums, hospitals and institutions for the feeble-minds, prisons for the criminals--who are mostly mental defectives or mentally diseased. Instead of spending vast or even adequate appropriations for schools, universities and scientific research, instead of encouraging undeveloped geniuses and artists and scientists, we are compelled to expend one-fourth of the incomes of the states upon the care of prisoners, of the insane, the feeble-minded, the delinquent and other incompetents.
A “cradle competition” between the fit and the unfit between those of good inheritance and those of poor physical and mental endowment will aid humanity not one iota toward the solution of the race problem now confronting it. Yet to emphasize, as Professor Conklin does a higher rate of reproduction among the cultured and intelligent, is to invite these classes to enter such a competition, and thereby to jeopardize the racial gain already acquired through the long process of “good breeding” which, in the final analysis, is merely another and more generally accepted name for Birth Control.