‘Liberty of the Nation’: Eugenics in Australia and New Zealand and the Limits of Illiberalism
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Desmond King has argued that eugenics was a prime vehicle for the advance of ‘illiberalism’ in America and Britain in the first half of the twentieth century, characterized by increasing constraints on individual rights and liberties in the name of science, race and nation. Many nations and states around the world enacted sterilization legislation to control the ‘menace of mentally deficiency’. Britain and her dominions were notable exceptions—eugenics was popular but sterilization legislation (with the exception of two Canadian provinces) never succeeded despite its many adherents. In this chapter, Stephen Garton explores this failure, concentrating on Australia and New Zealand as case studies in the resilience of liberal institutions when they were under considerable internal challenge.