I always look eagerly for Thomas Fleming’s article when my latest issue of Chronicles arrives, but I was shocked and disappointed to read his cavalier dismissal of “seriously retarded people” and the “lowest” in the August Perspective, “And All Shall Equal Be.” Fleming bemoans the “trillions of dollars” spent on “hopeless and useless projects to elevate the lowest a half-notch up the ladder.” What a waste of resources to put the retarded “in public facilities where therapists vainly try to teach them to use a spoon or make a sign.”
Fleming’s attitude is chillingly similar to that expressed by Alfred Hoche, a medical doctor, and Karl Binding, a judge, in their 1920 book The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value. Their philosophy set the stage for Hitler’s program to rid the Third Reich of “useless eaters” like those Fleming describes, “who cannot feed themselves or use a bathroom.” Hoche and Binding call them “incurable idiots” who impose the “greatest burden on the environment and society while at the same time they are serviced by persons who are able to live a normal life,” like the therapists Fleming mentions. The German authors go on to criticize the loss of resources, questioning “whether we should spend all of this money on ballast type persons of no value.” Fleming also bemoans the waste of “hundreds of billions of dollars per year subsidizing indolent and immoral people who bear children for the bounty received and bring them up to be tax-dependent criminals,” an argument often used to justify abortion for the poor. Hoche and Binding are also concerned about “defective people . . . having more defective children” and being a burden on the state.
Fleming doesn’t offer any solutions to the “problem” he presents, unlike the Germans who hope that “one of these days maybe we will come to the conclusion that elimination of the mentally dead is no crime, nor an immoral act, and no unfeeling cruelty, but a permissible and necessary act.” I certainly don’t think Fleming would agree, but then what does he propose? Hoche’s and Binding’s evil philosophy, first conceived in the mind, became Germany’s evil reality. The book converted Dr. Karl Brandt, who once wanted to be a medical missionary to Africa, into the head of the Nazis’ death program.
What is particularly ironic about Fleming’s article is that he turned his initial argument about quality versus quantity completely on its head, positing that money spent on the lowest members of society could be used to buy more books, more serious music, and more public buildings. Puzzling! I can only paraphrase Jesus’ reminder that each one of us, especially those considered least, is worth more than an entire flock of sparrows, a library full of books, every symphony orchestra on the planet, and all the buildings ever erected.
A culture can be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. And caring for them raised up many heroes, Fleming’s “mighty warriors,” like St. Vincent de Paul, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gemma Galgani, St. Frances Cabrini, and St. André Bessette.
I can only hope that Thomas Fleming was having a bad day, “rambl[ing] on like an old lizard,” when he penned this unfortunate and uncharacteristic article.
—Mary Ann Kreitzer
Dr. Fleming Replies:
Miss Kreitzer is puzzled by what she regards as contradictions. The confusion stems, however, from her misunderstanding of the argument. It is not the responsibility of a society or a culture to rear my children. That is the duty of parents and of the wider extended family. In taking over this responsibility, those who control our governments or profit from them deprive families of the ability to care for and educate their children. A simple parallel that can be imagined is a government system that imposed high athletic taxes and spent 90 percent of the revenue on the Special Olympics. Real sports would suffer as American culture generally now suffers from Marxist policies that distort the economy and invert priorities.
Governments always grow at the expense of people. Their most effective method is to defend the weak. Christians as persons and families have a duty to succor those they find in need, but there are limits, as both Augustine and Thomas say explicitly. States, by contrast, have no such duty and therefore no right to confiscate my money to spend on their clients. If someone wishes to harm his own children by robbing them of opportunities, it is no affair of mine. What I do object to is the Marxist assumption that there is a collective right to harm my children in the interest of other people.