The biggest idea of the 21st century -- mark my words! -- will be a dated neologism from the 20th. Eugenics is set for a come-back and will be the mother of all battles for the human race.
That's why Edwin Black's new book The War against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (New York: Four Walls, 2003) is so timely. Black takes us back in depressing detail to the vast and enormously popular eugenics industry that caught the diseased imagination of the United States in the first part of the last century. An epigram - and epitaph -- for this time in U.S. history could be Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' notorious words in the Supreme Court decision Buck v. Bell: "Three generations of imbeciles is enough."
Carrie Buck's sad story is well known, immortalized in this judgment which has been compared to Dred Scott in its infamy. We know also that Justice Holmes, the most distinguished jurist of his generation, was that same man whose speech on "The Path of the Law" was a manifesto for positivism and the idea that law should evolve over time to meet the needs of the people. This view was opposed to the prevailing common law viewpoint of the time which believed that law should be based on absolute moral truth. The results of such flawed thinking by Holmes and others could hardly be better illustrated than in the eugenics tale that Edwin Black lays out.