Why So Much Hatred for Margaret Sanger?

Margaret Sanger, photo probably taken Jan 30th 1917, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Margaret Sanger, photo probably taken Jan 30th 1917, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

There’s been a widespread and concerted effort to vilify Margaret Sanger and remove her name from the public roll of great contributors to human rights history. In my research for the Sanger project I’m working on, I find scores of examples of this effort every single time I do an internet search using her name.

Last year, for example, Ted Cruz and other conservative senators called for her portrait to be removed from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, where her portrait bust is included in the Struggle for Justice exhibition. In justification of his campaign, Cruz used part of a quote lifted from its original context and present as saying something nearly opposite of what it was originally meant to say: that her birth control campaign was based on racism. He may have borrowed this idea from Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican Party, and Ben Carson and Herman Cain, one-time Republican presidential hopefuls. These three influential conservative men, in turn, received this bit of distorted wisdom from Angela Davis and some others in the black power movement who, concerned that the reproductive justice movement might have ill effects in the long run on the empowerment of black people, (mis)represented Sanger’s words, works, and character in the worst possible light. The radical origin of the charges against Sanger may surprise followers of these conservative political figures. And what was this purported insight into Margaret Sanger’s character? Why, that she was so racist that she wanted to exterminate the black race through preventing the conception of ensuing generations.

In my research and in early responses to my Sanger project I’ve also encountered frequent charges that she was a eugenicist, which is true, and in league with or at least sympathetic to Nazi beliefs, which is false.

So let’s first consider Margaret Sanger’s beliefs and whether they justify her inclusion among the great freedom leaders. And let’s consider her beliefs in the light of her own time and whether they deserve admiration today, on the whole, or are at least understandable given the circumstances of her time.

Gregory Peck and June Havoc in Gentleman's Agreement, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Gregory Peck and June Havoc in Gentleman’s Agreement

As to Nazism, Sanger is actually an early and particularly vociferous opponent, much more so than many others in an American so rife with anti-Jewish sentiment in her time. I was surprised many years ago, in my late teens or early twenties, when I watched an old Gregory Peck movie (always been quite a fan of that talented and oh-so-handsome man) in which he played a reporter planning to write an exposé on the issue. To discover how prevalent antisemitism really was in America, his character Philip Schuyler Green goes undercover, putting it out there to his friends and colleagues that he was, in fact, Jewish, and had just never happened to mention it before. It doesn’t take long for his work and then his whole life to fall apart as he experiences terrible discrimination, his friends and colleagues turning against him one by one. At that time, I was surprised to learn that when Peck made this movie, anti-Semitism in America was enough of a thing that a major motion picture star would make a movie about it.

Theodore Roosevelt, American President and yes, a eugenicist too

Theodore Roosevelt, American President and yes, a eugenicist too

But Sanger is a eugenicist. This belief in the power of genetic inheritance to cure the ills of humankind by selectively breeding them out of existence was widely accepted at the time, even by such luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt. Eugenics is often divided into two types, positive and negative, and eugenicists are now often judged now by which of these they promoted. Positive eugenics was the idea that healthy, intelligent, hard-working, creative, and wealthy people should have more children so as to increase the stock of human beings who would, in turn, pass down positive genetic traits. Roosevelt was a eugenicist of this sort. Negative eugenics was the idea that disabled, diseased, unintelligent, idle, and poor people should have fewer children so as to decrease the stock of human beings who would, in turn, pass down negative traits. The latter brand of eugenics can further be broken down into the idea that decreased breeding of the ‘unfit’ should be entirely voluntary and encouraged through education, or that is should be imposed by certain authorities. (Positive eugenics could also be broken down this way but I have yet to find an example of imposed human breeding of the ‘fit’, though Communist Romanian president Nicolae Ceaușescu’s policies on reproduction could conceivably be considered a sort of coercive positive eugenics).

Sanger promotes negative as well as positive eugenics principles, but as to whether she believes it should be voluntary or coerced, she’s incoherent at best. At times she’s opposed to any sort of official coercion, as in her many statements against the Nazis and in her stated principle that all human beings, women included, should have the individual right and power to determine their own destinies. Yet she also often declares that since many people are incapable of rational judgment, including the ‘insane’ and ‘feeble-minded’, others need to make that decision for them. Though she criticizes the Nazis harshly for doing that very thing, she never makes it clear who should do the sterilizations, who should decide, and how coercive they should be if their ‘patients’ refuse. I believe she places herself in a moral dilemma in this matter. She so firmly believes in the power of eugenics to cure the terrible set of human ills that she encountered as a nurse that she wants it, no, needs it, to work. She’s well aware that most people would never consent to such a thing, be it for religious reasons or simply that most people, well or mentally ill, rational or not, naturally recoil at the idea that they should be sterilized because others think they should be. So how to cure these ills in the next generation, since Sanger knew there was no way they could be cured in her own?

Her vehement opposition to the Nazis goes back, first, to the race issue. One of her main criticisms of the Nazis is not that sterilization is a bad thing in principle, or even that the state might impose sterilization in special circumstances, such as the case of criminally insane people (an idea we find abhorrent today but that many in Sanger’s time do not). It’s that the Nazis decide to ‘perfect’ the race along racial lines. To Sanger, this idea is both irrational and unscientific. In Woman and the New Race, she writes glowingly of the great wealth of contributions that people of all races and cultures have always brought and still bring to the world, and that much of the promise of future human greatness lies in this diversity. Since it’s clear that all races include people of great intelligence, health, and abilities, she believes that all races should be likewise bettered through eugenics, both positive and negative, and the latter only if and when necessary (though again, she’s incoherent on that point). Sanger is opposed to ‘human waste’, as she puts it, not only of human beings she considered physically and mentally ‘unfit’, but also the human waste of the lives of those children born in such numbers only to have many of them suffer terribly before dying early deaths, often taking their mothers with them; or permanently disabled by hard factory labor, malnutrition, and neglect; or shipped off as cannon fodder. She’s also opposed to the waste of human potential, of throwing away the great contributions, genetic and otherwise, of the best and brightest of all races to the human race as a whole. In this, she reminds me of Alexander Hamilton, who also offers the waste of human potential inherent in race-based slavery.

It seems to me, in hindsight, that though many of her eugenics beliefs are founded on bad science, or rather, pseudoscience posing as science, they do not come from a malicious place. They form in the mind of a woman who cares enough about her fellow human beings to devote many years of her early adulthood nursing the poor immigrants in the slums of the Lower East Side of New York City, something few of us have the courage or the vision to do. Sanger is appalled by the suffering and privation she witnesses and desperately wants to help these people, especially the women and children who bear the brunt of society’s ills, but she recognizes that she and her fellow nurses don’t have a prayer of keeping up with the ever-growing need. And she realizes that even if they could keep up with the pace, they were only treating suffering that didn’t need to exist in the first place. She believes, over time, that she’s found the answer.

So given all of this, I ask again, why single out Margaret Sanger for such hatred? Why not call for Teddy Roosevelt’s portrait to be taken down too, or of many others who held problematic beliefs?

And why hate Sanger so much as to spread three major falsehoods about her, again and again and again, that have been so often and thoroughly debunked?

The first lie and second lies, as we’ve considered, are that Sanger’s a racist and a Nazi sympathizer. The other lie is that she’s pro-abortion. In fact, she’s more anti-abortion than anything.

Flyer for Sanger Clinic, Brownsville, Brooklyn, image courtesy of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project

Flyer for Sanger Clinic, Brownsville, Brooklyn, image courtesy of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project

The fact that Sanger is opposed to abortion in most circumstances may surprise many people, especially many conservatives, though I believe the Sanger-as-abortionist lie is as prevalent and persistent as it is because her views on abortion are politically inconvenient to many on the left, so they don’t trouble to contradict it. She does allow that there are some extreme circumstances in which it’s permissible, such as to save the life of the mother (a standard adhered to today), and she can’t bring herself to blame the women who resort to abortion out of desperation. It’s the Comstocks,the self-righteous anti-sex moralists, the Pope, priests, and bishops, the government, the medical establishment, and the exploitative labor system that cause abortions, not desperate women. They’re the victims. In fact, as you can see from the flyer for her groundbreaking birth control clinic, Sanger lists the prevention of abortion as one of the clinic’s primary purposes.

And yet, the hatred of Sanger rages unabated in so many quarters. There’s plenty to criticize in her eugenics beliefs, in fact, enough to make the three lies I’ve just discussed seemingly unnecessary if you feel the need to discredit her. Other people who have had a dramatic impact on our history, like her, are complicated and had some bad ideas, but no Cruzes, Steeles, and Cains are so vehemently, and I would say dishonestly, trying to undermine the validity of every part of their life’s work and demand that their legacy be erased from our public institutional memory. They’re not calling for the removal of the portraits of antisemitic Henry Ford or pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh, for example. To be certain, there are such efforts on the left to challenge the legacies and even mostly discredit influential historical figures as Cecil Rhodes, Woodrow Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson. But those are for things they actually did: promoted imperial colonialism, instituted scores of racist laws in our nation’s capital, and owned slaves. The debate is only whether their legacies on the whole are worthy of respect and admiration.

So I ask one last time: why single out Margaret Sanger for such a degree of hatred and slander, given her work with the immigrant poor and minorities, her strong anti-Nazism, and her anti-abortionism? Why is she not excused for her flawed ideas on the understanding that she was a woman of her time, or that the good parts of her legacy outshine and thus have outlasted the bad, as we excuse so many others of our flawed heroes? In New York City, teeming with statues, monuments, and portraits of noteworthy historical figures, I could find no monument to her, however modest, in the city she called home for so long and served so well in such difficult circumstances.

When it comes to Cruz and many others who are adamantly anti-Sanger, I strongly suspect that one of their primary objections to her is really her anti-Catholicism and irreligion. For example, Cruz is a self-proclaimed religious man who, like many prominent conservative politicians these days, often stresses the Christian heritage of the United States. He’s also often regarded as a proponent of dominionism, the idea that the Christian faith should guide all matters of government, because of his frequent praise of his father, who promotes that ideology. To Cruz’s credit, in his 2016 Republican convention speech he stated that religious freedom includes the freedom to be an atheist, in contrast to a declaration he made a year ago that only a religious person is fit to be president of the United States. But the targeting of Sanger from Cruz, and Carson, and Cain, based on easily-disproved, thoroughly-debunked attacks on her character, makes me wonder how committed such conservative leaders are to the idea that Americans should be free to believe in accordance with their conscience and their reason.

Margaret Sanger Portrait Bust, image credit National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, Washington DC

Margaret Sanger Portrait Bust, image credit National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, Washington DC

So why hate Margaret Sanger? Could it simply be because she was a strong woman, a fearless woman, a truly self-liberated woman who did not chase after monetary success or choose acceptable or glamorous routes to fame, an outspoken atheist who stood up to such a powerful man as the Pope… in other words, a self-realized, so-fully-human woman that she’s a mass of greatnesses, ordinarinesses, and deep flaws? For all our self-assurances that we’ve achieved a sex-equal, religiously tolerant society which places such a high value on free speech, are too many of us still unable to accept such women?

I’m quite sure the answer is yes.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and inspiration:

Birth Control or Race Control? Sanger and the Negro Project‘ The Margaret Sanger Papers Project Newsletter #28 (Fall 2001)

Cruz, Ted. ‘2016 Republican National Convention Speech‘, abcnews.go.com, Jul 21, 2016

Davidson, Amy. ‘Ted Cruz vs. Margaret Sanger’s Portrait‘. New Yorker, Oct 28, 2015

Davis, Angela. Women, Race, & Class. New York: Random House, 1981.

Fea, John. ‘Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America‘. The Washington Post: Religion (Commentary), Feb 4th, 2016

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)‘, from IMDB

Jenkinson, C.lay. ‘Self-Soothing by way of Erasing the Complexity of Human History‘. Clayjenkinson.com, Dec 28, 2015

Nicolae Ceaușescu‘. Encyclopædia Britannica

Parkinson, Justin. ‘Why is Cecil Rhodes Such a Controversial Figure?‘ BBC News Magazine, Apr 1, 2015

The Sanger-Hitler Equation‘, The Margaret Sanger Papers Project Newsletter #32 (Winter 2002/2003)

Sanger, Margaret. The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Free online version courtesy of Project Gutenberg, 2008, 2013.

Sanger, Margaret. Woman and the New Race, 1920. Free online version courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company

Sullivan, Martin. ‘Margaret Sanger Portrait‘: talk for Face-to-Face, National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian

The Portraits: Margaret Sanger‘ from the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian website

Wirestone, Clay. ‘Did Margaret Sanger believe African-Americans “should be eliminated”?PolitiFact, October 5th, 2015

Margaret Sanger NYC Sites, Day 1 Part 1, and a 100 Year Anniversary

Flyer for Sanger Clinic, Brownsville, Brooklyn, image courtesy of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project

Flyer for Sanger Clinic, Brownsville, Brooklyn, image courtesy of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

I start the morning preparing my itinerary for the day as I fortify myself with coffee and the first half of a sandwich.

My first stop is also the furthest east I’ll go this trip, to the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. I take the C train to the Rockaway station, head south on Saratoga, and wander around getting a feel for the neighborhood. It’s predominantly black, solidly working class, with lots of handsome old buildings, mostly well worn with peeling paint. I see lots of mothers and grandparents with strollers and very small children (it’s around noon during work hours), people taking smoke breaks in backdoors, and some very poor and homeless people. Reaching Pitkin’s busy sidewalk, I see shoppers, people going out for lunch, and shop and cafe proprietors in front doorways under brightly colored signs, and I hear many accents and many languages spoken, English, Spanish and French, and many others I don’t recognize. It reminds me of neighborhoods I frequent at home in Oakland. I turn north on Amboy Street, which runs north and south between Pitkin and E. New York Ave.

At 46 Amboy Street, just north of Pitkin, Margaret Sanger opened the United States’ first birth control clinic two days less than 100 years ago, on Oct 16th, 1916. Though just a  little late for the anniversary, I’m happy to be here at this historic place, humble as it now appears. The clinic was in the tall red brick building to the right of the tan one with the ‘diamond’ pattern on the upper center front of the façade. You’ll find a photo below that shows the clinic as it originally appeared, and here as well.

46 Amboy St, site of Sanger's first birth control clinic

Sanger’s first birth control clinic, given address 46 Amboy St. One thing’s more or less the same: the little pale brick building with the crenelated top still stands next to where the clinic was, as you can see two photos down. The narrower red brick building against and to the left of the larger one, with a sign now identifying it as 42 Amboy, stands on the former clinic site.

46 Amboy St, site of Sanger's first birth control clinic

Another view, angled more like the view in the photo below. The two red brick buildings appear not to be original unless they’ve been changed so much as to be unrecognizable. As you can see from the photo below, there was space between the original clinic building and the tan one, but not so for the current structure. The clapboard building beyond may be original.

Photograph shows women and men sitting with baby carriages in front of the Sanger Clinic, LOC

Women and children sitting with baby carriages in front of the Sanger Clinic, with the white curtains in the windows. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Before opening this clinic, Sanger had trained and worked as a nurse for many years among the poorest and most oppressed Americans, the immigrant and minority working class and poor. Originally a Socialist radical, Sanger came to realize that Marxists, philanthropists, and charity workers alike were getting it all wrong. Since they failed to identify the root cause of human misery in the slums, the crowded tenements, and the factory floors, all of their well-intended efforts to help were failing and sure to continue to fail. Sanger came to feel this way about her own nursing, which addressed the effects and not the cause, so she turned her efforts to where she believed she could do the most good: birth control activism.

Margaret Sanger as a nursing student around 1900, photo courtesy of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project

Margaret Sanger as a nursing student around 1900, photo courtesy of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project

As a nurse, Sanger cared for poor women broken down in health and mind by laboring all night and caring for children all day, often pregnant all the while, often miscarrying, and the infant mortality rates were very high. So were death rates for the mothers, be it through childbirth, disease following exhaustion and malnutrition, and worst of all, self-inflicted abortion. The mothers who resorted to the latter were desperate: they had often already watched their children die, or suffer every day from hunger, or forced into the factories or other labor at a very young age in the struggle to survive.

Though there were plenty of organizations trying to help these families, governmental and charitable, they could not keep up since the need was so great and increasing every day. Industrialization, Sanger recognized, encouraged rapid population growth by the ever-increasing demand for more labor and more future customers. And the workers responded to the social pressure by producing more children in hopes that their offspring could help the family by going out to work. But those hopes were in vain since the population growth always kept up with or surpassed the need for laborers, constantly driving down wages. And so the cycle continued: immiseration through near-starvation wages, families barely keeping up with the cost of feeding themselves if at all, and children deprived of an education and health as factory and other hard work often left children stunted, with malformed and weak bones, and often injured by machinery and chemicals.

Sanger thought: instead of trying vainly to keep up with the spiraling misery caused by this cycle, why not get at the root of it? After all, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If women were empowered to decide whether to have children, and only as many as their health and financial circumstances would allow, all this misery could be prevented in the first place since parents could adequately care for the children they did have, mother’s bodies would no longer be broken down by constant pregnancy, infants and mothers would more likely survive childbirth, overcrowding and its accompanying epidemics would be mitigated and even disappear, and a reduced labor force would force employers to compete for workers, driving wages up. And as we’ve seen over the decades, high population growth is strongly correlated with endemic poverty, high infant and mother mortality rates, women’s rights abuses, and high income inequality.

But people will never stop having sex, Sanger pointed out. Sex is too powerful a force in human nature. Our need for love, for affection, for physical pleasure and release, are too powerful to be squelched, and in fact, should not be. Love and the need for physical connection are positive things, indeed, two of the best things in human nature. Birth control, thought Sanger, was the answer.

I’ll be exploring Sanger’s ideas on these and other topics in more detail in upcoming essays, stay tuned. In the meantime, the Margaret Sanger Papers Project has a wealth of articles and original works by Sanger available online, and I’ve relied on them more than on any other single resource for my own project. (See below for the links). Thank you so much to the good people at the MSPP!

Photobombed in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY

Photobombed in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY

Street with handsome row houses on Bergen Street, Brownsville, Brooklyn, NYC

Tree lined street with attractive row houses on Bergen Street, Brownsville, Brooklyn, NYC

Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, near the Rockaway station, 2016 Amy Cools

Street scene at the Rockaway station entrance near the northern edge of the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY

Hipster Gourmet Deli in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Amy Cools 2016.

Hipster Gourmet Deli in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I took this photo on the way to Amboy St, after my laughter subsided enough to take a picture.

I head back to the station, on the way stopping to photograph some scenes the neighborhood, including an especially pretty row of houses on Bergen Street as a young man photobombed my pic with a laugh and a smile. On the train back, I eat the now rather smashed second half of my egg salad sandwich and write my notes. I transfer a couple of times and head north to Grand Central Station…. To be continued

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and Inspiration:

Alter, Charlotte. ‘How Planned Parenthood Changed Everything‘. Time.com, Oct. 14, 2016

Chesler, Ellen. ‘Was Planned Parenthood’s Founder Racist?Salon.com, Wed, Nov 2, 2011

Child Labor in U.S. History‘. From the Child Labor Public Education Project by the University of Iowa Labor Center

Demographics and Poverty‘, Center for Global Development.

Jacobs, Emma. ‘Margaret Sanger Clinic (former): the First Birth Control Clinic in the United States‘. From Places That Matter

Margaret Sanger Papers Project by New York University.

Regan, Margaret. ‘Margaret Sanger: Tucson’s Irish Rebel.Tucson Weekly, Mar 11, 2004.

Sanger, Margaret. The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Free online version courtesy of Project Gutenberg, 2008, 2013.

Sanger, Margaret. Woman and the New Race, 1920. Free online version courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company


New Podcast Episode: The Little Way of Goodness

therese-of-lisieuxListen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Growing up Catholic, my siblings and I were taught many stories of saints and their heroic exploits in their quest to attain union with God. One of these was Thérèse of Lisieux, a young Frenchwoman who became a nun at 16 and died of tuberculosis at the early age of 24. She was an especially beloved saint of my family; one of my sisters is named after her.

Thérèse was a romantic and an idealist, and as a young girl, admired the glorious deaths of Christian martyrs and wished to emulate them. Realizing that she was unlikely to find herself in a situation where she could likewise be killed for the sake of her religion, she devised her own system for attaining heaven. She called it her “Little Way”, in which she would regularly perform acts of holiness in day-to-day life. The trials and tribulations of ordinary life would be elevated and be made important by virtue of their being endured with patience and good grace, and opportunities for sacrificing oneself for the good of others would be seized and fulfilled to their utmost… Read the written piece here:

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

To New York City I Go, in Search of Margaret Sanger

margaret-sangerHello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the examples they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my sixth philosophical-historical themed adventure, a rather impromptu trip to New York City to follow in the footsteps of Margaret Sanger.

Though the timing was spur of the moment, I’ve read and thought about Sanger quite a bit over the years and have some of the research done already for this long-planned trip. So when this little window of time opened up in my schedule, I happily seized the opportunity! As central to the history of women’s rights, free speech rights, and rights to sexual self-determination and privacy as she is, Sanger’s also the most problematic figure in the history of ideas I’ve followed so far for this series, with the possible exception of the brilliant but slave-owning Thomas Jefferson. She’s certainly the first that sparked immediate controversy when I casually mentioned my plans for following her on social media. Here’s a brief introduction, a condensed version of a short bio I published about a month ago in honor of her birthday:

Margaret Higgins Sanger was born on September 14, 1879 into a large Catholic family with 11 surviving children. Her mother died at about age 50 from tuberculosis. As young Margaret saw it, her mother was worn out from her 18 pregnancies, and would cite this as one of the many reasons she so passionately advocated for the right of women to control their own bodies and fertility.

She went on to become a nurse who worked with poor women in New York City in the 19-‘teens and twenties. As she saw these women struggle with the toll that large numbers of pregnancies took on their families’ finances and their own health, Sanger became convinced that ‘birth control’, a term she invented, was essential if these women hoped to escape poverty and sexual oppression. She opened America’s first birth control clinic and despite numerous arrests and fines, she continued her fight for reproductive rights. In this regard, she’s best known today as one of the founders of Planned Parenthood and a key figure in the development of the first birth control pill.

Sanger remains a controversial figure. An ardent feminist, human rights activist, and advocate of sex-positivity, Sanger was also a eugenicist, believing that birth control was at least as important a tool for limiting the production of ‘the unfit’ (her words) as it was for women’s liberation.  She did not, however, support any kind of compulsory or coercive forms of birth or population control. Instead, Sanger was an ardent advocate of self-determination, free speech, open discussions of sex and sexuality, and education, education, education. It was up to informed and thoughtful people, Sanger believed, to take responsibility for their own sexual choices and to convince others to do the same.

Aside from her ideas about human rights and personal responsibility, I find Sanger’s beliefs about human sexuality and its important role in spiritual and mental health particularly fascinating

So off to New York City I go, from October 17th thru the 21st. There, I’ll visit landmarks associated with her life, places where she lived, worked, thought, wrote, studied, and rested, to see for myself how the places informed the woman, and vice versa.

Here is the story of Margaret Sanger as I discover her:

Happy Birthday, Margaret Sanger!
Margaret Sanger NYC Sites, Day 1 Part 1, and a 100 Year Anniversary
Why So Much Hatred for Margaret Sanger?

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Patrons of the Margaret Sanger series: Christopher Wallander, Magaly Gamarra Grant, Devin Cecil-Wishing, Sally Lee ~ With warmest gratitude, thank you!

O.P. Recommends: ‘Capitalism’s Crisis of Care’ – Sarah Leonard interviews Nancy Fraser for Dissent Magazine


Capitalism’s Crisis of Care is a discussion between Sarah Leonard of Dissent magazine and critical theorist and feminist Nancy Fraser, which focuses on Fraser’s concept of today’s ‘crisis of care’, which, as she explains, is a product of capitalism. In capitalist societies, ‘social reproduction’, the social and family bonds necessary for raising families and caring for the elderly, have ‘no monetized value. They are taken for granted, treated as free and infinitely available “gifts,” which require no attention or replenishment’ and which, like nature itself, is ‘an infinite reservoir from which we can take as much as we want and into which we can dump any amount of waste.’ Capitalism, unjustifiably and artificially, splits ‘economic production off from social reproduction, treating them as two separate things, located in two distinct institutions and coordinated in two different ways.’ This leaves us with this crisis of care, in which working people are stretched to the breaking point, trying to make a living while trying to maintain the level of care and attention that children, the elderly, and social bonds in general need as much as ever.

Fraser outlines the history of the development of this crisis of care, ‘trac[ing] a historical path from the so-called liberal capitalism of the nineteenth century to the state-managed regime of the mid-twentieth and on to the financialized capitalism of the present day. In a nutshell: liberal capitalism privatized social reproduction; state-managed capitalism partially socialized it; financialized capitalism is increasingly commodifying it.’

If we are to resolve many of the most pressing social problems we face today, from funding health care to adequately providing for the elderly, ill, and disabled to giving working families sufficient time and resources to raise the very families society depends on, we need to start by examining our assumptions and habits with the same care and rigor Fraser reveals in her analysis.

Here’s another excerpt from this absorbing and enlightening interview:

Leonard: Many of the questions that you raise about social life and the family have come to seem utopian again, like some remnant of the 1960s, and not necessarily central to a socialist program. And yet, you argue that we’re actually at a crisis point—these issues must be central. The challenge of social reproduction is so fundamental to everyone’s lived day-to-day experience that it’s been surprising to me that it’s often absent in the current revival of socialism.

Fraser: I agree very strongly with that. Given the acuteness of this crisis of social reproduction, it would be utopian, in the bad sense, for the left not to be focusing on this. The idea that we could somehow bring back manufacturing, that’s what’s utopian—again, in the bad sense. Unlike the idea that you could build a society that assumes every adult is a person with primary care responsibilities, community engagements, and social commitments. That’s not utopian. It’s a vision based on what human life is really like.’… Read more

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Philosophy as Love of Wisdom and in the Public Sphere

Sophia, goddess of wisdom

Sophia, goddess of wisdom

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Some years ago, the economic downturn inspired me to put aside my business endeavors and return to school to study philosophy. I had loved philosophy for as long as I can remember, before I even knew what to call it, and later as I understood it in its broadest sense: the love and pursuit of wisdom. Wisdom was pursued through asking questions about everything, from the metaphysical and theological sort of questions that my religious and argumentative family used to debate around the dinner table and family gatherings (I credit these discussions and arguments, more than anything, with inspiring my philosophical curiosity) to all other questions about what’s true and false, just and unjust, good and bad, right and wrong. Wisdom was found through reading and learning as much as possible, then applying this learning to carefully thinking through possible answers to these questions. And wisdom was loved not because it brought understanding and meaning to life, but rather because its pursuit seemed beautiful to me.

Because my love of philosophy was formed prior to any introduction as a school of thought and my formal education was rather piecemeal, my approach was whimsical, idiosyncratic, unsystematic. Any and all subjects that aroused my curiosity and admiration could be brought to bear on what I understood as philosophical inquiry: literature, history, art, love of nature, social activism, law and justice, ethics, travel, architecture, science, in fact, every subject that involves human thought and appreciation…. Continue reading

This piece was written for the American Philosophical Association blog, originally published there on Sept. 22nd, 2016, and edited by Skye Cleary.

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The Golden Rule

‘What is hateful to thee, do not do until thy fellow man; this is the whole Law. The rest is commentary’ – Hillel the Elder, ca. 30 BCE – 10 CE

This is a particularly beautiful iteration of the Golden Rule, as I remember hearing Christopher Hitchens point out. Rather than recommending that you do to others what you would want done to yourself, which assumes you know best what others would prefer, this Golden Rule is one of restraint and respect. Do not impose, it says: we do not always know what’s best, so live and let live, and do no harm.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Source and inspiration: 

Kloppenburg, James T. Towards Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 41.