Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era

An America’s Founding and Future Lecture

December 7, 2016
Illiberal Reformers event poster

Thomas C. LeonardResearch Scholar, The Council of the Humanities; Lecturer in Economics, Princeton University; Respondents: Christine Rosen, Senior Editor, The New Atlantis; William Schambra, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

In Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (Princeton University Press, 2016), Thomas Leonard reexamines the economic progressives whose ideas and reform agenda underwrote the Progressive Era dismantling of laissez-faire and the creation of the regulatory welfare state, which, they believed, would humanize and rationalize industrial capitalism. But not for all. Academic social scientists such as Richard T. Ely, John R. Commons, and Edward A. Ross, together with their reform allies in social work, charity, journalism, and law, played a pivotal role in establishing minimum-wage and maximum-hours laws, workmen's compensation, antitrust regulation, and other hallmarks of the regulatory welfare state. But even as they offered uplift to some, economic progressives advocated exclusion for others, and did both in the name of progress. Leonard meticulously reconstructs the influence of Darwinism, racial science, and eugenics on scholars and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing a reform community deeply ambivalent about America's poor. Illiberal Reformers shows that the intellectual champions of the regulatory welfare state proposed using it not to help those they portrayed as hereditary inferiors but to exclude them.

Thomas “Tim” C. Leonard is an historian of economics, specializing in the American Gilded Age and Progressive Era. He is Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University and Lecturer in the Department of Economics, which has twice awarded him the Richard E. Quandt Prize for outstanding teaching. His widely acclaimed book, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era, was published by Princeton University Press in January 2016.

Christine Rosen is one of the founding editors of The New Atlantis, where she now serves as senior editor and writes about the social and cultural impact of technology, as well as bioethics and the history of genetics. As a Future Tense Fellow at New America, she is working on her forthcoming book, The Extinction of Experience, to be published by W.W. Norton. Her past books include Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004) and My Fundamentalist Education (Public Affairs, 2005).  She has co-authored several other books and is the editor of Acculturated, a web magazine dedicated to pop culture and the virtues. She also writes a monthly column for Commentary magazine called “The Way We Live Now.” Her essays and reviews have appeared in publications such as The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, The American Historical Review, and The New England Journal of Medicine. She holds a Ph.D. in History from Emory University and is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  She lives with her children in Washington, D.C. and is a dedicated student of the martial art of aikido.  

William A. Schambra is Seniors Fellow at Hudson Institute. Prior to joining Hudson in January of 2003 as director of the Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, he was director of programs at the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee. Before joining Bradley in 1992, he served as a senior advisor and chief speechwriter for Attorney General Edwin Meese III, Director of the Office of Personnel Management Constance Horner, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan. He was also director of Social Policy Programs for the American Enterprise Institute, and co-director of AEI’s “A Decade of Study of the Constitution.” He was appointed by President Reagan to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and by President George W. Bush to the board of directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service. He has written extensively on the Constitution, the theory and practice of civic revitalization, and civil society in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Policy Review,Christian Science Monitor, Nonprofit Quarterly, Philanthropy, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Crisis, and is the editor of several volumes, including As Far as Republican Principles Will Admit: Collected Essays of Martin Diamond.

Video:

Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era

Location:

Lewis Library 120

Photo Album:

  • Thomas C. Leonard
  • Thomas C. Leonard, Christine Rosen, and William Schambra
  • Thomas C. Leonard