John Kang


The Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell, while never overturned, endures in infamy among those who know it. For in that case the Court had tacitly sanctioned what Adolph Hitler made unequivocally evil a few years after the Court’s adjudication: eugenics. However, the case was only partly about that. Indeed, I will argue in this essay that the Court’s opinion, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, turned perhaps more significantly on the trope of manliness as an organizing theme. In a sense Holmes was filtering the facts of Buck through his own ordeals and triumphs with manliness, particularly as they were experienced through his service as a combat soldier in the Civil War.