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Economic and social planning by the state can mean many things, but a planned society is always held in some form as a progressive goal. This is at the very heart of  “statism”. As Hayek noted, the fascination with planning is rooted in a belief that conscious, central direction is necessary in order for society to advance. This stands in stark contrast to the abysmal failure and monstrous cruelty of social planning historically, and the unmatched success of markets and a free, spontaneous social order at improving human welfare.

The faith in central direction has always been conjoined with a belief in the ability of scientific methods to address social issues. This line of thinking is flawed in many respects, but 80 to 100 years ago, an extremely perverse manifestation of this statist philosophy was a fascination with eugenics, or the intentional selection and rejection of various traits in offspring at the state’s direction. Sterilization of the “unfit”, and selective breeding of the most fit, were weirdly popular notions among progressives in that era. In 2012, Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian called eugenics “the skeleton that rattles loudest in the left’s closet”.

Most alarming, many of its leading advocates were found among the luminaries of the Fabian and socialist left, men and women revered to this day. Thus George Bernard Shaw could insist that ‘the only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man’, even suggesting, in a phrase that chills the blood, that defectives be dealt with by means of a ‘lethal chamber’. …

According to Dennis Sewell, whose book The Political Gene charts the impact of Darwinian ideas on politics, the eugenics movement’s definition of ‘unfit’ was not limited to the physically or mentally impaired. It held, he writes, ‘that most of the behavioural traits that led to poverty were inherited. In short, that the poor were genetically inferior to the educated middle class.’ It was not poverty that had to be reduced or even eliminated: it was the poor.

Hence the enthusiasm of John Maynard Keynes, director of the Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944, for contraception, essential because the working class was too ‘drunken and ignorant’ to keep its numbers down.

This post on the historical allure of eugenics to progressives is also informative. Of course, the National Socialists in Germany took the idea and ran with it, which ultimately led to a rejection of eugenics in the West. Yet the idea lives on today through various mechanisms, such as sex-selective abortion and screening for certain genetic disorders. Of course there is a widespread insistence on abortion as a “woman’s right” on the progressive left, but certain questions are seldom asked. For example, does that include women who wish not to bear children with disorders such as Down’s Syndrome? There is less unanimity on that issue.

Bruce Carroll, aka, The Gay Patriot, asks a different question: “What Happens When Science Allows Us to Abort A Baby If It Has the ‘Gay Gene’?” The mapping of the human genome has advanced to the point that it might be possible to identify the precise genetics determining certain social and personality characteristics. There is some research suggesting that regions on two different chromosomes might allow geneticists to home-in on the identification of specific “gay genes”.

The first question this raises is whether a woman (or a couple) has the right to know everything predicted about a child from its pre-natal genetic testing. I assume that all test results are private. Should the information about sexual-preference genes be off-limits to a parent? Information about gender is not off-limits, and you can be certain that even in the U.S., an occasional woman or couple decides to terminate a pregnancy for reasons of gender, whatever the motive. If the sexual preference genes are off-limits, then the inescapable conclusion is that sexual preference is “protected” in the womb by society, but gender and a whole range of disabilities are not protected. Really? Carroll takes a dim view of the LGBT politics on this matter:

I wonder if gay activists realize that their slobbering devotion to pro-abortion political organizations, and the multi-million dollar abortion industry itself, may ultimately lead to the destruction of LGBT babies before they are born within my lifetime. It truly is Sophie’s Choice for the progressive gay activists; thus far, they wave off the question with derision.

The question can be put in less drastic terms, if genetic selection can really ever be less drastic. Technologies to create “designer babies” through genetic selection are already here. That implies both positive selection and deselection of various traits. Obviously, this is not a simple subject from a either a scientific or ethical standpoint, but to zero in on our hypothetical question, I assume for now, for the sake of argument, that parents are legally empowered “to give their children the best start possible“. That would be the “best start” in the parents’ opinion, not the state’s! One wonders how the LGBT community, and the Left in general, would react to a service allowing couples, or a mother, to select for heterosexual genes in their “designer offspring”, consequently selecting against gay genes. Should such options be “off the table” as a matter of public policy? But again, if so, then what about gender? What about disabilities?

Involving the state in these decisions will lead to either bizarre contradictions or restrictions on autonomy that both Left and Right might find unacceptable.