Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the New Eugenics

By Michael Matheson Miller Published on March 26, 2019

Is it “okay to still have children?” So asked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a video last month. The New York Congresswoman said that people are graduating with thousands of “dollars of student loan debt and so they can’t even afford to have kids in the house.” But she said more than that. She claimed that child-bearing “is a basic moral question” in light of climate change and threats to the environment. She argued there is “scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be difficult.”

When an American politician asks if it is still okay to have children, this is something to notice. Are you familiar with the progressive movement and their attraction to eugenics? Then you know the score. It’s a short step from “wondering” if it’s okay for people to have children to making laws that forbid children. Sound like an overstatement?

Take a look at how fast eugenic musings translated into law. The word “eugenics” meaning “well-born” was coined by the English progressive (and Charles Darwin cousin) Francis Galton in 1883. Thomas Leonard tells what happens next in Illiberal Reformers.

[T]he state of Indiana passed its forcible sterilization law in 1907, the first of more than thirty American states to do so. In 1911 Governor Woodrow Wilson signed New Jersey’s forcible sterilization legislation, which targeted “the hopelessly defective and criminal classes.” Inspired by the slogan “sterilization or racial disaster,” Wisconsin passed its forcible sterilization law in 1913, with the support of the University of Wisconsin’s most influential scholars among them President Charles Van Hise and Edward A. Ross.

The main idea of eugenic theory? To improve the quality of human population (and later to protect the environment). The means? Encouraging reproduction of the “well-born” and no one else. Galton and other eugenicists believed that reproduction too important to leave to chance. It should be managed by science and law.

“It’s Scientific Stuff.”

The eugenics movement started with sterilizing the “unfit.” That is, those with mental illness and low IQs. But as Leonard notes, it did not stop there. “The catalog of inferiority was far larger.” It included African-Americans and immigrants: Italians, Jews, Irish, Slavs, Hispanics, Asian and so on. At the core of the eugenic movement lay the racist idea that only the Anglo-Saxon, “Aryan” races had the personal qualities to govern themselves. As critic G.K. Chesterton noted, everyone else needed to be “scientifically organized.”

Now Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is young, idealist, and ideological. She got indoctrinated into a progressive worldview. Like many others, she “learned” that population growth is bad. She may not be aware what happens with eugenics movements. Or of its record of abuses against the poor and downtrodden, against Native Americans, Jews, and African Americans in the name of racial purity.

Leonard reports that eugenics became widely popular in elite circles across the political spectrum. Jack London, T.S. Eliot (!), Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, were all enthusiastic supporters. Likewise socialists like Sydney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw and Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Plus leaders in the Christian Social Gospel Movement.

Eugenics became part of biology curricula. It spread into literature and fashionable opinion. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a wealthy, establishment villain promotes it. His comment, sounds much like AOC, “It’s all scientific stuff. It’s been proved.”

The Environmentalist Connection

Leonard also explains the connection between eugenics and environmental conservation. Conservationists, from Madison Grant to Theodore Roosevelt and University of Wisconsin President Van Hise. … They all supported eugenics. Radical economist Scott Nearing, mentor to famous organic gardener Eliot Coleman, advocated eugenics. He saw growing populations as a danger to the environment. People are a threat to the environment. Sound familiar?

To get a sense of the enthusiasm eugenics stoked, see G.K. Chesterton’s debates with leading eugenic proponents in Eugenics and Other Evils.

One of the Many Things AOC Never Learned

Now Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is young, idealist, and ideological. She got indoctrinated into a progressive worldview. Like many others, she “learned” that population growth is bad. She may not be aware of what happens with eugenics movements. Or of its record of abuses against the poor and downtrodden, against Native Americans, Jews, and African Americans in the name of racial purity.

The first-term Congresswoman may not realize that today’s eugenic, neo-colonialist and imperialist policies are part of the population control programs. The United States, the European Union, and the United Nations impose them on African governments. Meanwhile, the eugenic and racist vision of Planned Parenthood supports abortion throughout the developing world.

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But such ignorance doesn’t make her musings any less dangerous. Let me put it bluntly. When an American progressive politician wonders if it is “still okay to have children,” the poor throughout the world know what that means.

Guess Who Gets Targeted?

It means they will receive the brunt of the policies. Yes some elite graduates will find themselves propagandized into childlessness. But generally they’ll be left alone. The poor, the minority, and the immigrant communities? They’ll find themselves inundated with birth control that harms their health, and abortion that kills their children. Or even forcibly sterilized. This is not far-fetched. It is what eugenics always does. This is what happens today throughout the developing world.

So, I have some suggestions for Congresswoman Octavio-Cortez. They might help undo the indoctrination she received in college. She should read Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers to get a sense of the pedigree of economic progressives’ ideas. Then read Target Africa and meet with its author, Nigerian scientist Obianuju Ekeocha. And watch this video by Guatemalan Professor Carroll Rio de Rodriguez. It explains what happens when eugenicists and population controllers gain the power to put their ideas into practice.


Eugenic ideas always harm the poorest of the poor. That happens in the U.S., Africa, Latin America, and Asia alike. Does AOC really wants to stand up for poor women and poor families? Then she should align herself with their defenders. With people like Obianuju Ekeocha and Carroll Rio de Rodriguez. And not with the inheritors and defenders of racist eugenics policies like Planned Parenthood. Now that would be really progressive.


Michael Matheson Miller serves as Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. He directed the award-winning documentary, Poverty, Inc.

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