According to Sylvia Nasar in The New York Times , Princeton University’s hiring of Peter Singer, advocate of animal rights and infanticide, for a chair in bioethics has created an academic stir not seen in this half of the American Century.
Sorry, Ms. Nasar, but you’re wrong. Alas, Mr. Singer’s appointment has been anything but controversial. It has been met with none of the mainstream outrage that surely would greet the appointment of, say, a right-to-lifer to a chair at Princeton’s Center for Human Values. Few of Ms. Nasar’s readers knew that Princeton had, in fact, hired a eugenicist, a man who believes that dogs have a greater claim to life than an infant with hemophilia. Indeed, this grotesque business has passed without notice in the major media, although The Times ‘ dispassionate front-page feature on Mr. Singer (oh, sure, he thinks it’s O.K. to kill disabled infants-but he gives so much money to charity!) on April 10 may help stir things up a bit. With any luck, the controversy has just begun, and it will find its way into next year’s election cycle, when candidates looking to find common ground on social issues can point to Mr. Singer’s beliefs as something all people of good will can condemn.
I hadn’t seen Ms. Nasar’s piece until a friend brought it to my attention. He and I had talked about Mr. Singer at great length since I wrote about his appointment last August, and, being a friend, he gave me much too much credit for bringing Mr. Singer to whatever little notoriety he had achieved before April 10.
But I’m happy to take some credit, and I’m delighted to report that at my friend’s suggestion, I sent my piece to the people who run The Wall Street Journal ‘s weekend opinion pages. The Journal weighed in with three terrific pieces, one of which was quoted in The Times , describing Mr. Singer not as some charismatic and caring philosopher who loves his kids and gives money to famine relief-the Peter Singer of Ms. Nasar’s description-but as a man who wrote the following sentence: “Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.”
I could go on, and I have, in this space and in other publications. Some of my criticisms found their way into the Times piece as a sample of the complaints of unnamed critics. They were promptly swatted away. But The Times and Princeton are left with the following irrefutable fact: An advocate of murder has been given a chair in bioethics at one of this country’s most prestigious universities. And for all the controversy the paper alluded to, another fact is equally irrefutable: Mr. Singer and Princeton truly have gotten a free ride thus far.
In an example of this era’s blind faith in the cult of credentials, Ms. Nasar noted that Mr. Singer went to all the right schools and has sterling credentials. That prompted my friend Peter Quinn, author of the novel Banished Children of Eve and currently in the midst of a new novel on the eugenics movement in the 1920’s and 30’s, to offer a history lesson. “All the masterminds of the Nazi eugenics movement were from the best universities and medical schools-the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, for example,” said Mr. Quinn. “The entire German medical establishment helped design and carry out the Nazi euthanasia, and their credentials were impeccable.”
Mr. Singer’s defenders may recoil at Mr. Quinn’s comparison, because three of Mr. Singer’s grandparents died in the Holocaust. But that atrocity cannot excuse away Mr. Singer’s pernicious views, nor should it soften the condemnations of those who find in Mr. Singer’s views an echo of the race purifiers who were hard at work in Germany before and during World War II. When Mr. Singer trots out the tenets of utilitarianism to explain his emphasis on the quality, and not sanctity, of life, he begins to sound like the Nazi killers of the handicapped and mentally disabled.
I have reason to suspect that voices on the left will soon rise to Mr. Singer’s defense, no doubt trotting out familiar arguments about academic freedom that they surely would ignore if Mr. Singer advocated any number of politically incorrect positions on race, diversity, gender equality, multiculturalism, etc. Mr. Quinn agreed: “As long as murder can be dressed up in progressive language, some liberals will go for it,” he said.
With any luck, though, we will hear more from voices across the political spectrum, from John Cardinal O’Connor, Nat Hentoff, William F. Buckley Jr., Christopher Hitchens, Maggie Gallagher, Charles Peters and E.J. Dionne, to name a few, who might have something to say about Peter Singer’s views and the new home they have found at Princeton University.
And some liberals ought to bear this in mind: Thanks to their praiseworthy efforts to build a more inclusive society, our attitudes toward the disabled and the handicapped have changed for the better. Would they then defend a man who approves of the killing of handicapped children?