The Soldier and the Imbecile: How Holmes's Manliness Fated Carrie Buck

19 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2015

See all articles by John M. Kang

John M. Kang

St. Thomas University School of Law

Date Written: December 7, 2014


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. This Article is part of an invited symposium in the Akron Law Review.

Keywords: Oliver Wendell Holmes, war, manhood, manliness, eugenics, manliness, masculinity, Buck v. Bell

Suggested Citation

Kang, John M., The Soldier and the Imbecile: How Holmes's Manliness Fated Carrie Buck (December 7, 2014). Akron Law Review, Vol. 47, Issue 4, Article 6, 2014; University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 2017-02. Available at SSRN:

John M. Kang (Contact Author)

St. Thomas University School of Law ( email )

16401 NW 37th Avenue
Miami Gardens, FL 33054
United States
305.474.2460 (Phone)
305.623.2397 (Fax)


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