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“Unworthy lives”: Sophie Scholl vs. Richard Hanania

DNA strands on Scientific background. 3d illusation .

“Eugenics” was trending last week, and it was all thanks to one tweet–or, more properly, one tweet thread. The author, political scientist Richard Hanania, was reacting to the news of Texas’s Bill 8, which has effectively put the brakes on abortions beyond six weeks (the detectable heartbeat stage). The bill has caused chaos throughout the state, as abortion clinics scramble to assess a confusing new legal landscape. Some pro-lifers have been celebrating, while others have demurred that the bill’s odd structure makes the current status quo fragile and subject to change. 

Regardless, the new legislation certainly raised widespread shrieks of dismay across social media from abortion providers and their copy-writers, even prompting ugly comparisons with the fall of Aghanistan. Naveed Jamali asks “If you’re an Afghan woman and they offer to resettle you in Texas, what do you do?” (“Leap at the opportunity for dear life,” replies Jonah Goldberg. “Or were you looking for a different answer?”) 

Calm, Cool and Collected

Richard Hanania is not one to shriek in dismay. The Columbia University scholar generally prefers to give his analyses from an elevation of at least flight level 250, amusing himself as he watches bumbling operatives at work on both sides of the political aisle. Of late, you might have seen him show up on The Hill or Fox News as he registers his concerns about the spread of woke ideology in public schools. 

This appeals to conservatives, even if Hanania himself is far too cool to call himself a conservative. Many people have found themselves waking up with strange new bedfellows as the culture wars take a turn for the nonsensical. Former enemies have agreed that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. Conservatives might be inclined to look at a figure like Hanana in this way.

That is, until they read his reaction to Bill 8.

All He Said Was…

The initial tweet, which so far from scrubbing, Hanania has proudly left up and defended, read “You can’t screen for Down syndrome before about 10 weeks, and something like 80% of Down syndrome fetuses are aborted.” Underlining the point, he followed up, “If red states ban abortion, we could see a world where they have five times as many children with Down syndrome, and similar numbers for other disabilities.”

After getting “ratioed” (a Twitter phenomenon where a tweet gets orders of magnitude more retweets and quote tweets than “likes”), Hanania artfully shrugged his shoulders. All he said was that this was all really interesting. He was just conducting a little political thought experiment. What’s all the fuss about? He wasn’t saying more Down syndrome kids was a bad thing. It was those pro-lifers who jumped to that conclusion. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Of course, his replies soon filled with people who weren’t buying this either. As no one should. He may not have been as blunt as Richard Dawkins on selective abortion, and he can always cleverly claim he didn’t outright endorse anything icky. 

But why raise the issue at all? Why is he so fixated on this? Is he just really worried about what people think of Texas? Inquiring minds want to know.

A Voice From the Past

I was reminded of a moving scene in The Last Days of Sophie Scholl, a German film dramatizing the final week in the life of a schoolgirl who resisted Hitler’s machine with her plucky crew, The White Rose. Had she not been executed, she would have lived to be a hundred years old this summer. In the film’s most intense scenes, she is cross-examined by a not unsympathetic interrogator, a father old enough for her to be his daughter. He’s a ruthless ideologue who tells her in no uncertain terms how he would have raised her if she were his daughter. He wants her to recant, but he quickly realizes he has more than met his match in the young firebrand. 

Soon their exchanges turn to the “undesirables” being quietly disappeared and exterminated by the regime. The Jews. The disabled. The mentally retarded. “Do you realize how shocked I was to find out that the Nazis used gas and poison to dispose of mentally ill children? My mother’s friends told us. Trucks came to pick up the children at the mental hospital. The other children asked where they were going. ‘They’re going to heaven,’ said the nurses.” Blissfully unaware of its destination, the children reportedly climbed aboard the truck and were carried away singing. By now Sophie is in tears. “Do you think I wasn’t raised right because I feel pity for them?”

The inspector seems to hesitate for a fraction of a second, but the mask quickly falls again. “These are unworthy lives,” he says, with a dismissive small hand wave. He then mentions that Scholl has trained to be a nurse, where she undoubtedly saw people who were mentally ill. 

“Yes,” she says quietly. “And that is why I know.”

Watch the whole scene below, especially minutes five through seven.