Vermont’s Middlebury College Seeks To Rewrite Its History

Middlebury College gained wide publicity for its decision to rename its iconic “Mead Memorial Chapel” due to the 100-year-old eugenics sins of its namesake, former Vermont Governor John Mead. Mead is faulted in hindsight for viewing the world through a genetic lens, even as “woke” Middlebury College signals it has embraced the current “theory” that racial discrimination is caused wholly by white oppression. As it seeks to whitewash its supposed white supremacist history, Middlebury is instead creating a record of the cyclical nature of elitist folly -- eugenics déjà vu.

John Mead was not a member of the Middlebury professoriate or administration. He was a donor of the equivalent of $2,000,000 today to build the aforementioned chapel. Mead had approvingly endorsed eugenics well before his contribution but Middlebury emphasizes it is not beholden to Mead nor is the current name change “a fundraising opportunity.“ The College seeks to distance itself from embracing eugenics in 1920 by throwing Mead under the bus as a scapegoat in 2021.

What of Paul Moody, Middlebury’s outspokenly sexist President for twenty-two years, between 1921 and 1943? Moody also reportedly commented, “The whole of the French Canadian population could be wiped out of Middlebury and no one would miss it.” Aren’t Moody’s past sins a greater transgression than Mead’s and more closely identified with Middlebury College? Middlebury College is hardly purged of past institutional guilt by eliminating Mead.

Instead, Middlebury is again allowing a social-political doctrine to eclipse rational thought. Critical Race Theory and the social justice milieu of which it is part are based on a racist dogma that stereotypes people based on genetics—White people are privileged; Black people exploited. As Professor Rhyszard Legutko has explained (in his books; he was not allowed to speak at Middlebury), these “social justice” movements are integrated into and built on the same divisive, silencing tenets.

Just as Social Justice Warriors will determine who is to be historically recast on this Animal Farm barn wall, they will decide which forms of pollution are acceptable, who is a racist committing a subconscious microaggression, who is a homophobe, or transphobe, etc. This is eugenics 2021 and Middlebury is repeating the mistakes of its past.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was an outspoken eugenicist. Has Middlebury declaimed its support of that organization or of her? Like Middlebury College, liberal media apply a double standard here: Sanger is to be forgiven. Says Time:

An advocate for women’s reproductive rights who was also a vocal eugenics enthusiast, Margaret Sanger leaves a complicated legacy — and one that conservatives have periodically leveraged into sweeping attacks on the organization she helped found: Planned Parenthood…. She was, of course, not alone in this viewpoint: In the 1920s and 1930s, eugenics enjoyed widespread support from mainstream doctors, scientists and the general public.

Assessing the past with 20-20 eyewear is what Wendell Berry labels “historical pride.” Ever-modern man looks down his nose at long-dead generations through a lens that fails to appreciate context. “Of course,” say many Christians, “I would never deny knowing Christ, as Peter did. I’d be brave.”

Middlebury’s bravery is a sham and a perversion of truth. As expressed by former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas:

“I think it’s unfair to apply a 21st century lens to another era in our history,” he said.... Taking issue with the college’s claim that the name removal does not amount to an erasure of history, Douglas replied, “Of course they are. One important element of history is that he gave the money, and his name has been on it for more than a century.

Margaret Sanger was a eugenics giant compared to John Mead. She preached in grand visions of utopian transformation that echo the urgent clamor for “social justice” today. Sanger wrote:

No permanent peace is possible without a grasp of the population problem. Birth Control is not merely an individual problem; it is not merely a national question; it concerns the whole wide world, the ultimate destiny of the human race. . . . In his last book, Mr. Wells speaks of the meaningless, aimless lives which cram this world of ours, hordes of people who are born, who live, who die, yet who have done absolutely nothing to advance the race one iota. Their lives are hopeless repetitions. All that they have done has been done better before. Such human weeds clog up the path, drain up the energies and the resources of this little earth.

(Sounds like she was describing what today’s elites would label “deplorables” or “Trumpies.”).

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York City removed Sanger’s name from its Manhattan clinic—she was their founder, not merely a donor. But as her grandson Alexander Sanger notes, her legacy exposes the risks of rash social experimentation then and now:

The downfall of eugenics came when reformers began to use it as a program of social control, promoting government intervention and coercion in human reproduction. This shift points to an ongoing issue in modern science—how to use science for good and how to define what that good is.

George Will explained that progressives of the past, much like those seeking to shape social behaviors in the name of novel “equity” theorizing (i.e., CRT), “believed that scientific experts should be in society’s saddle, determining the ‘human hierarchy’ and appropriate social policies, including eugenics.” And like today’s progressives, the eugenicists of the past felt the Constitution was a problem:

[E]ugenics coincided with progressivism’s premises and agenda.... Progressives rejected the Founders’ natural-rights doctrine and conception of freedom. Progressives said freedom is not the natural capacity of individuals whose rights preexist government. Rather, freedom is something achieved, at different rates and to different degrees, by different races. Racialism was then seeking scientific validation, and Darwinian science had given rise to “social Darwinism” — belief in the ascendance of the fittest in the ranking of races.

Middlebury College is embracing a pernicious ideology every bit as unproven and presumptuous as was the eugenics “discipline.” Observes Thomas Sowell:

In the early twentieth century, the key factor behind economic, intellectual and other disparities among different groups was assumed to be genetics…. American Progressives took the lead in promoting genetic determinism in the United States then, as they later took the lead in promoting the opposite presumption that disparities imply discrimination in the second half of the twentieth century. (Discrimination and Disparities, p. 25).

That’s right: “White supremacy” has displaced genetics as the simpleton’s cause of all disparities, in a profoundly unacademic leap into a political ideology at the expense of facts, and this is being done by Middlebury College (not its scapegoat donors) in 2021.

Presumably, Middlebury College does not endorse eugenics in 2021. The ritualistic effort to “purge” itself from past complicity by erasing a name is comparable to burning sage in the corner of each building—it fails to exonerate. Instead, it replays the mistakes of 100 years past, in a new form. Does the College perceive that in 100 years it can simply eliminate its current disgrace by scrubbing a social justice warrior’s name from the Middlebury legacy?

Instead, the administration proclaimed:

This is about moving forward and actively educating ourselves on harm that is done to members of our community, past or present.

Don’t these people ever learn?

Image: Mead Memorial Chapel on the Middlebury campus. Public domain.

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