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Unformatted text preview: 5 6 2 P D R 3 4 ( 3 ) B O O K R E V I E W S MATTHEW CONNELLY Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population* Review Symposium: Review by Malcolm Potts Matthew Connelly’s Fatal Misconception is a paradox. It provides a dangerously mis- leading description of the history of international family planning programs in the twentieth century. Connelly has been industrious in his research, however, and in the process he has illuminated, albeit unintentionally, one of the core intellectual issues in international family planning that over time scarred governmental efforts to slow population growth. History is a vital discipline for anyone interested in population and development. A true historian invites the reader to enter the world of the past he or she has recre- ated in vivid detail. The history—warts and all—of the struggle of women to control whether and when to have a child is one of the most important stories of the twen- tieth century. The Victorian inability to handle sex, except to condemn it as sinful, stymied research into contraception and burdened the West and its colonies with anticontraceptive and antiabortion laws. As late as 1950, the best any Western nation had were “rubber goods” sold in seedy shops, clumsy vaginal diaphragms, and with- drawal—all inevitably backed up by abortion, although the operation was still illegal. Predictably the few brave family planning pioneers who began to overcome millennia of patriarchal control of women’s fertility were a feisty, sometimes eccentric lot. Connelly recognizes that the prime responsibility of a historian is “imagining oneself in the place of another,” yet he studiously avoids recreating the world in which his principal actors lived and moved. Instead of documenting and recreating a rich and fascinating world, he vacuums up facts and idiosyncratic personal interpreta- tions of history to support his personal ideology. The early chapters of Fatal Misconcep- tion are reminiscent of the testimony of the UFO zealot who interprets every wisp of information as evidence of extraterrestrial invasions. Connelly’s favorite ﬂying saucer is “population control.” He spies it several times on every page. The aliens he invents to frighten his readers are all those who ever worked in international family planning, whom he invariably portrays as eugenicists, often only one step removed from Nazi Germany. In the 1950s, the distinguished British historian Sir Herbert Butter¡eld wrote, “The greatest menace to our civilization today is the conﬂict between giant orga- nized systems of self-righteousness—each system only too delighted to ¡nd that the other is wicked—each only too glad that the sins give it the pretext for still deeper hatred and animosity.” It would make an insightful description of Fatal Misconcep- tion. Connelly fails to capture a world where most married women worried whether they would see their period this month. Instead, he trawls the writings of pioneers they would see their period this month....
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- Spring '11
- Demography, World population, Matthew Connelly