Beware of Pity, by Stefan Zweig

The author is Stefan Zweig. I picked up this book after reading Leo Carey’s discussion of him in the New Yorker, and because Beware of Pity was published as an NYRB Classic. I wanted to learn more about Austria in the ‘20s – there was such a concentration of talents: Freud, Mahler, Hayek, Schumpeter, Schiele, Klimt, Wittgenstein, Kraus, Berg, Schoenberg, Popper, Kafka, Rilke, Carnap, and more. So: psychoanalysts, musicians, logicians, satirists, artists all talking with each other.

It’s a book about feelings. There are some vivid descriptions of pity and guilt. And the narrator shares in too great detail his feelings of pride and shame. No surprise that it gets so strong: Zweig’s characters are obsessed with suicide.

Good read if you like the above and if you want to know what Austria was like before the First World War.

Buck v. Bell

Carrie Buck was sterilized against her will by the state of Virginia in 1924. She sued the state, lost in the state supreme court, and then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She lost 8-1. The decision by Oliver Wendell Holmes is breathtaking.

Here are some excerpts from Trevor Burrus at Cato, on Buck v. Bell and on Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The most famous case of forced sterilization was the 1927 Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck, a “feeble minded” woman from Virginia who was deemed the “probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring,” challenged the state’s attempt to forcibly sterilize her. In an opinion that even his colleagues called “brutal,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. curtly did away with Buck’s pleas, ramming home his decision with one of the most heartless and ignominious lines in all of the Supreme Court history:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

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