Updated 9 June, 2003
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) Oral History Project
Immigration is a sensitive topic. Many of the histories of past immigration reform efforts have been written by the opponents of reform, and understandably, the proponents have often been depicted in less than sympathetic terms.
Realizing this, we decided to give the founders and early staff members of FAIR an opportunity to put on record what they were trying to achieve, and their reasons for doing so. It was our hope that these oral histories will provide the raw material for any future histories that might be written, and will enable a more balanced treatment of the goals, objectives, and methods of these reformers.
John H. Tanton, Founder
Garrett Hardin Interview with Otis Graham
OTIS GRAHAM: This is Otis Graham with Garrett Hardin at Hardin's residence in Santa Barbara, California. It is March 9, 1997. Garrett, let me begin by asking you where were you born. Tell me something about your home and your parents.
GARRETT HARDIN: Well, I was born in Dallas, Texas. That was more or less an accident because after about 6 months, I think it was, we left Dallas, and I have never lived there since then, so I have few recollections of Dallas. My parents were both from Missouri. My father was from a farming family and my mother's father came from Kentucky. In the Civil War, my grandfather on my father's side fought in the Union Army, whereas my grandfather on the other side, had he entered would have been, of course, on the Confederate side, but I've no idea why he didn't enter. Most of his life he was a buyer in the stockyards - still connected with the farm again in a different way. On neither side was there any college education and, in fact, my father only had two years of high school, so it was an obscure background in that way. My father spent most of his life working for the Illinois Central Railroad as a solicitor of business. He was a salesman, and he got moved around from place to place. We moved from Dallas to Little Rock and stayed there until I was about 3 and a little bit more, then moved to Kansas City and stayed there for 6 years, then to Memphis for 2 years, Chicago for 10 years. By that time I was through college and the family sort of broke up and my father got reassigned to Buffalo, New York, and I came to California.
GRAHAM: Tell me about siblings. Were you the only child?
HARDIN: No. I had an older brother, 5 years older than I, who was an ideal big brother to me. There was enough distance, so I think there wasn't competition, and he was a caretaker.
GRAHAM: So I take it that Chicago was where you spent most of your youth.
HARDIN: Yes, that's true. Long ago, I came to the conclusion that I had sort of an ideal childhood in this sense. I think there are advantages to being in one place, having one place that's really home - a sense of place. On the other hand, you get too parochial if you always stay in one place, and I combined, just fortunately, both kinds of lives because my parents moved around and almost always in the summertime I went and lived, and later worked, on the family farm in Missouri, south of Kansas City. The farm has no electricity, no gas, and no paved roads. Battery-powered radio was just coming into our lives. What I later harped on, ecology and the consequences of limits, had their origin in my rural experiences. On the other hand, by living in several cities (because my father's railroad job assignment kept changing) I automatically learned to adjust to different cultures and their different values. This experience made for objectivity rather than emotional commitment. So I had both a fixed place with which I identified, and also freedom from parochialism, moving around seeing different ways of doing things.
GRAHAM: I like to ask in these interviews about early intellectual and political influences in the family that you remember.
HARDIN: I don't think there were any political influences that I know of. As for intellectual, the only thing was an emphasis on reading and studying, being a good student. Maybe I've changed so much because my brother and I lived a different sort of life. He became a lawyer, by the way. But I had polio when I was four, which left my right leg weak and ultimately 2 ½ inches shorter, and so I knew from a very early age that I was going to have to make it with my brain and not my body, and I think that influenced everything I did. So I was a great reader, just a voracious reader.
GRAHAM: What was there to read around your house? Your parents were not college- educated people.
HARDIN: Oh, that's right, they weren't, but astonishingly my grandfather's place where I spent the summers, they had the works of innumerable important Victorian writers. It was quite a library, and the whole family read. There were two brothers who continued living there and running the farm, and they were voracious readers of periodicals. They got the Saturday Evening Post, and Colliers and so forth and so on and kept up with political things. So in that sense, I gathered information through the fact that they always took this seriously.
GRAHAM: So let's move to college. You became 18 and how did college work out, fit into your life?
HARDIN: Well, how can one say? The point is this that I lived in Chicago. It was during the Depression. I knew I really should go to the University of Chicago, but actually I had wanted to go to this college in Ohio.
HARDIN: Oberlin. I had a scholarship there, but still couldn't afford to go, because the scholarship paid tuition and almost nothing in the way of living expenses.
GRAHAM: What year is this?
HARDIN: Well, this is in 1932. After I got the scholarship, without consulting my parents, I just said I thought that I was going to the University of Chicago instead. I knew I could get on the streetcar and go there, so I was one of the streetcar students. Always I was very well satisfied with Chicago. It was an exciting place. This was the second year of the so-called Hutchins New Plan and intellectually it was really jumping. For instance, the school paper would have almost nothing about sports, but the paper would have headlines about Thomas Aquinas and people like this. You know, it was so ridiculous in a way, but it was intellectually a very exciting place, and I was glad I was there. I had some very good teachers, no question about it.
GRAHAM: Did you go four years straight through?
HARDIN: Yes, straight through. When I went, I was nominally a major in chemistry, but that was just because I had to tell my folks something. I didn't know what I wanted to do. But one quarter of chemistry turned me off on that. I disliked the instructor very much. I think he was probably very good, but every third word was "obviously," and I couldn't see that this material was obvious at all. So I didn't want to do that. Then, of course, the Chicago system was suited to people who floundered. They left the paths open, you could take your time in settling in. Well, you had two years roughly. The first two years we took very much the same courses no matter where you were going. During that two years, besides the courses I took for credit, I also audited many other courses. It was quite exciting, and by the end of two years, I knew I wanted to go into science of some sort and decided that zoology was it. So at the end of two years, I went into the zoology department - in my junior year.
GRAHAM: At Chicago, did one, in the last two years, major in something?
HARDIN: Yes, you had to major the last two years.
GRAHAM: And you majored in zoology?
HARDIN: Majored in zoology, right.
GRAHAM: Did you do well as an undergraduate?
HARDIN: Well, I had a very mixed record. There were too many A's and too many D's.
GRAHAM: How do you explain that?
HARDIN: Well, if I didn't like the teaching, I just said, "the hell with it," and I got not many D's, but some C's I shouldn't have gotten. I took an overload all the time. The system allowed you to. I think it's a good system, but many people hear of it with horrors. During the first two years, the exams that you took throughout the year counted for nothing in the end. The only exam that counted was the one you took in June, and that was a six-hour exam, three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon. You had four subjects, and so you had twenty-four hours of exams in June. By June, you knew there was no point in studying. You either knew it or you didn't. It was too late. So my principal friend, a physics student, and I would spend the time going downtown to the movies and then take our exams.
GRAHAM: Now Garrett, these are the years, am I correct, 1932 to 1936 when you are in college?
GRAHAM: The nation is going through the New Deal. Were you so busy with college - do you have any memory that you were at all engaged or at all particularly concerned or ...
HARDIN: No, I wasn't concerned with political things at all, just a remote observer. There is one thing I should say, in terms of my later career: my major professor in the zoology department was W. C. Allee, and had I gone on in graduate work there, which I thought I would for a while, he would have been my graduate mentor. He was one of the early ecologists, with high standing in the field, and when it came to population - of course, in those days, stories were coming out about the low birthrate and why the nation would just disappear because not enough babies were being produced - his attitude was just wait, just wait. He didn't use the word, "blip," which hadn't been coined then, I think. His attitude was this is just a blip.
GRAHAM: Are you telling me that he foresaw the baby boom?
HARDIN: Oh, yes. He would say, "It's bound to happen, it's just a matter of time when things improve then zip, up it'll go."
GRAHAM: So, as an undergraduate, you encountered the population issue in a serious way?
HARDIN: Yes, that's right, and that was a very serious way and it stayed with me the rest of my life and perhaps kept me from being independent. Who knows? That really formed my mind, there was no question about it.
GRAHAM: And the term "ecology" as a scientific study? Was it familiar to you then in those days?
HARDIN: Oh, yes, for people in biology, yes. It was not a very well-known word in the outside world.
GRAHAM: You graduate in 1936. Then what happens?
HARDIN: Well, I'll show you how carefully my career was planned. I thought, "I've got to get away from home" just for personal reasons. I thought, "I've GOT to get away from home." I had a fellowship for graduate work in Chicago, some financial support, so it looked good. And I'd be with Allee, but I've gotta get away from home. During the summer, Allee, who was just remarkable, a remarkably fine man ... He was a Quaker, by the way, and he went every summer to Woods Hole, which was a great gathering place for the biology specialists. That was the powerhouse, so to speak, of the whole country in biology. He went every summer and toward the last of the summer, I got (I guess it was a telegram, we didn't use the phone much in those days), a telegram from him saying that Willis Johnson was going to be coming through Chicago next week, "would you be interested in taking up a research position at Stanford University?" And I wired back, and I said "yes, I will," and made the appointment. And then I real quick went and looked in the encyclopedia. I knew Stanford was either in California or Connecticut, and I didn't know which. Now that's how carefully I chose my career.
GRAHAM: So, you did go immediately then after college to Stanford?
HARDIN: That's right.
GRAHAM: In graduate school, was it graduate school?
HARDIN: Graduate school. And I took five years getting through for various reasons, among which was the fact I was a TA much of the time. First, I was a research assistant for a year, then I got into teaching. I couldn't have been at a better place. You know this business of how U.S. News rates schools and so on?
HARDIN: God, all you could do then, at best, was rate the schools from 20 years before. You didn't know.
GRAHAM: That's right.
HARDIN: And Stanford, in biology, was not known for being particularly good then because they had a declining faculty that was really on the way down. But new ones had been brought in, and they weren't well-known yet. Now, the man I was working with was a second-rater. I stayed with him - this is a complicated story; I shouldn't have, but I did. But my principal contact at Stanford was George Beadle. He had come there after several fellowships abroad and a year at Harvard and so on, a geneticist and, as I say, he was my principal contact. I took his seminar courses, and I was his friend in every way and consulted with him about things. I wasn't interested in the color of fruit flies' eyes. That was just his work then, and I didn't see the significance; that this was getting into in the nature of genes. I didn't see that. I really should have changed, but at any rate, he was really my mentor, in school and out. He later got the Nobel Prize; a very eminent person. He was a very fair and decent person to help me along. I couldn't have been at a better place than Stanford, and that was a place where new directions in genetics were taking place.
GRAHAM: Well, I don't know quite how to ask this question since I don't know biology, but what sort of intellectual work did you wind up doing? What was your focus? You had to do a dissertation, of course.
HARDIN: That's right. I was working on populations of Paramecium, which is a protozoan. I don't think I will go into the details of what it was I was trying to show about the growth curve and so on. I was interested in the theoretical point of view trying to verify the theory of all that because I kept having trouble time after time after time. I'd lose my cultures and couldn't figure out what was wrong, and then one day I noticed that there was a sort of scum on the surface of my petri dishes, or watch glasses, and I looked into that, and it turned out that there was a tiny protozoan about 8 microns in length; a protozoan of a different group. A very tiny thing, and it turned out that if it was there, the culture flourished; if it wasn't, it didn't. This was symbiosis in a way nobody had ever noticed. So I studied that, and that was all decided about the last three months of my career. Once I focused, then I just worked day and night, got it all out, got my degree.
GRAHAM: And that was in 19 ...?
HARDIN: So that would have been in 1941, and I finished my research about June. By then I'd become engaged to Jane Swanson who was an undergraduate there. Her home was in the valley, near Hanford, California. The family, I think, decided that they better break this up so this young man could get on with his work. So her aunt took her to Alaska, and I stayed home, and I was supposed to write, and I did because of no distraction, you see. I had to write furiously and got my thesis done by September. We got married in September, September 7th, and I would say three months later, the war began.
GRAHAM: Yes. Now during the war, what happened then?
HARDIN: Oh, well this is complicated. First of all, it was hell on wheels trying to get a job as a fresh young Ph.D. No job because at all the schools when somebody died, they didn't replace him; somebody retired, they didn't replace him. Already the source of new students was drying up through the military training program ...
GRAHAM: Yes, a shortage of students.
HARDIN: You see, new graduates, they weren't getting a job, and I only had two feelers at the time I got my degree. One of them was in Ohio, and I sort of made the conditions such that they didn't want me. The other was in Nevada. Beadle said, "you can take it if you want to, but you'll never get out, it will be an absolutely dead end." So here I was wanting to get married, wanting a job, and I say, "'no." At which point, my major professor, Johnson ... he was a decent guy. I don't respect him as a scientist, but he was a very decent person. He made a job for me at Stanford as a research assistant, again helping him with his work. That would support me. So I had a verbal promise of a job that paid $125 a month, and I owed $100 to pay the typist for typing my thesis. Jane insisted I get a new suit to get married in, that was another $100. So I was $200 in debt with nothing but a verbal promise, and we got married.
GRAHAM: Well, that's not an unusual story. It sounds pretty impetuous, but that's the way life is lived.
HARDIN: I know, and I just think, when I give younger people advice to take things cautiously, I have to be careful, because I realize I'm not the model.
GRAHAM: You apparently intended to be a teacher, or did you have an open mind about government service, or Woods Hole-type places, or ... ?
HARDIN: No, no. I intended to be in university work. In other words, I was thinking of Stanford research plus teaching, and for the immediate present, just research, that's all. No job ahead. That was in September when I started that, and then along in January, I was offered a job at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, which had a laboratory on the Stanford campus, a Division in Plant Biology, and I took it. This was a little bit more pay, and they agreed that they would let me work for a month and a half at both jobs, because I had obligations to my old professor as well as to them. So for a month and a half, I worked harder than I ever wanted to work before in my life. I worked from 8:00 to 4:00 at one job. Jane brought over sandwiches, and we sat and had lunch together at 4:00 - quickly. Then I worked from 4:00 to 12:00 midnight at the other job.
GRAHAM: This is on the Stanford campus?
HARDIN: This is on the Stanford campus. No problem there.
GRAHAM: Well, then what direction did your career take?
HARDIN: Well, what Carnegie wanted me for - I was part of a team; all the rest of them were chemists. They were working on the chemical problems of plants. At the moment they were working on chemical problems of the protozoa and that's one reason they wanted me. They had to have somebody who could culture them, which none of them could do. I mean, they knew that, and so they got me, and I realized after I'd been there a while they got me because they couldn't get anybody better, i.e., a chemist! Such was the case since I was 4F because of my physical condition; they didn't have to worry about my being taken by the war, you see.
GRAHAM: How long did you stay there?
HARDIN: Four years. And very pleasant years because they were very decent people. After a year or so, it was apparent the director changed his mind about my being a biologist rather than a chemist. After that, things were much smoother because I had a very definite niche, culturing algae, many different algae, and growing them so that we could do the pigments of them and various other experiments. Anyway, so I was with them for four years. Very pleasant. I was advanced in my duties, and so forth, and so on. It's a sort of place that has a long tradition. Once you got into Carnegie, and you'd been there for a year or two, and they accepted you, then you absolutely stayed for the rest of your life. You don't ever need to worry about going anyplace else.
GRAHAM: Marvelous institution.
HARDIN: Marvelous institution.
GRAHAM: But you obviously didn't stay.
HARDIN: No, because I realized that ... well I should say this. I don't know that you've picked this up in what you've read of me or not, but you see, I had other interests in high school, and my principal interest was in acting. I won the prize for being the best high school actor in Chicago one year. I was given a scholarship in an acting school downtown. When I started off in the fall of 1936, I was going to the University of Chicago in the daytime and late afternoon going down to the Chicago Music Academy to take the acting courses. I said to myself, "this is insanity." So I gave that up, but I always had an interest in the stage. I gave it up for the one reason that I would have very limited chances, because I could only play character parts or get into directing, which I'd be perfectly willing to do, but you don't get into directing just overnight by saying, "I want this job." So I gave that up as unrealistic and went into the academic thing. I've always been interested in teaching. I regard that as more my gift than research. After four years at Carnegie, the war was ending. It was 1946 and places were starting to take on people, and I heard about the position here in Santa Barbara, came down, accepted it, and went back up and told the lab that I was leaving for Santa Barbara College. They called, wanting me to come right away, which meant in a month, which I did. Then later, apparently my leaving the Carnegie lab had caused something of a concern in Washington, D.C., the home base of Carnegie. They'd never had anybody leave them before, except the ones where they came in and said, "This guy is unsatisfactory, we're letting him go." My lab director was satisfied with me, yet I left. So they sent a guy out from Washington to talk to me because if there was something wrong with the lab they wanted to know what it was.
GRAHAM: And particularly, perhaps, because you came to a place called Santa Barbara College. And that was 1946?
HARDIN: Nineteen-forty six. It was a poor school. I knew that, but I figured it's going to build up now that it's part of the University of California.
GRAHAM: And you spent your entire career at this campus, which became the University of California, Santa Barbara?
HARDIN: That's right. It became so in 1944, formally. First change was in 1946, that's part of the first of the new crew coming in 1946. After that, rapid change.
GRAHAM: I know now, of course, that you are a writer and have been a writer a long time and with much productivity. I haven't heard you discuss this. Did you think of yourself as a scientist or a writer? When did the writing bug really begin to take hold? Did you write scientific papers?
HARDIN: Well, you write scientific papers only when you have something to say. So the first scientific papers were three offshoots of my thesis, which were published in the usual way. Then the others were joint affairs with various people at Carnegie.
GRAHAM: Scientific papers?
HARDIN: Scientific papers. By the time I came to Santa Barbara, I had about a dozen papers under my belt.
GRAHAM: That had been your writing career at that point, scientific writing?
HARDIN: Yes, except for one thing. At one point, I wrote a little essay called "The Last Canute." This was concerned with library problems - concerned with the problems of dealing with information, and it was done as fiction, which I sent to a magazine that no longer exists, The Scientific Monthly.
GRAHAM: When was this?
HARDIN: This was in about 1948.
GRAHAM: So you were a busy professor, a young assistant professor probably?
HARDIN: Yes. When I wrote this paper, a new publishing house was being formed in San Francisco by a man named Bill Freeman, W. H. Freeman & Company, and they had three advisory people, faculty people, two from Stanford, one from Berkeley - and they recommended me as a writer to do an elementary biology textbook. The two from Stanford were Douglas Whitaker, assistant chairman of biology, and George Beadle, generally recognized as the most promising of the new faculty. From UC-Berkeley came Ralph Emerson, a botanist who took the word of the Stanford people. Bill Freeman made an appointment, and met me down at the railroad station in between trains, and we sat on the bench and talked there, and he said, "could I do this?" At that time, I tried to do some research at Santa Barbara, but the facilities were impossible and crowded. For instance, I would set up my apparatus, whatever it was, then after 5:00, work until midnight and then have to put it all away so it wasn't in the way of the class the next day. So when Freeman came and asked, "How about writing a textbook"?, I decided that's for me because I can do that under these conditions. I'll write at home. I had a little shack I could use as a study, and I said I would do it in two years. I finished it in 25 months. That was pretty good. Hard work, but I realized what I was doing. I knew the University of California was going to put pressure on research plus teaching with the emphasis on research. I thought well I can coast along for a while on those dozen papers I already had, and if I can write a good textbook even though there are some looking down on textbooks - writing as not quite proper. If it's successful, I can probably get away with becoming a writer, and that's what happened. So from then on, all the emphasis was on writing.
GRAHAM: Were there children that came along?
HARDIN: Yes. Jane could tell you that. We had two children while we still lived in Palo Alto. We came down here in 1946, and then had two more in 1947 and 1949. So she was busy as could be with those four children while I'm working two jobs.
GRAHAM: Let me ask a bridging question. You're a very well-known writer and thinker (some people would say almost notorious), and you've been very active and very public in many lectures and appeared in many places. What's the bridge between this busy assistant professor who has a growing family, plenty to do in a small, growing young college - what's the pathway that leads to the other career?
HARDIN: Well, I always took up any opportunities to speak in public. For instance, one other thing: I taught adult education for a while. That was an additional thing that didn't pay much money, but you met older people, which was kind of nice, a different kind of audience from the young people. I taught several terms and several courses of adult education, and in public areas generally. At the university, I figured if I took over the general courses of biology for general students, not majors (which I liked anyway), that will have a large enrollment and will be a safety factor, so to speak. They are not about to fire me because if they fire me, they gotta teach those damn courses.
GRAHAM: That's the way it works!
HARDIN: So here's this course: the first year I taught it I think I had 20 students. Before I got through, it filled Campbell Hall with 900. After that we went to television. I don't know how many I had then, 1500 or something; just a lot of students. A big course, and I had assistants, of course, to do part of it.
GRAHAM: This sounds again like a very successful academic career. What is it that gets you off the campus and your reputation off the campus. What springs you into that dimension?
HARDIN: Well, the abortion thing was the key. As part of my course of general biology, with my background, I naturally took population seriously, and I talked to them about population, and the various methods of controlling fertility, and so forth. Of course, I knew that abortion was one of them, and I thought about it, but I didn't say anything. This was a pretty shocking topic. Finally, in the spring of 1963 or maybe the winter of '62 or '63, students in one of the dorms asked me to come to one of their bull sessions. Bull sessions were, by tradition, very free. Do whatever you want to, they'd take anything, there was no publicity or anything because the university kept its hands out of it. I figured this could be a time I could find out whether I can sell "abortion on request." Already medical experience showed that an early medical abortion, requested by the pregnant woman, was safer than a normal and later childbirth. My presentation to the men students in a dormitory was unprecedented. I got such a thoughtful and friendly reception I decided the time was right to make this public; so when along in April or something of that sort, the university committee asked me to take one of the all-campus lectures the next fall, I said I'd be glad to. I didn't tell them what I was going to talk about. I waited until after July because by that time, most of the faculty would be gone to their summer jobs. At that time, I could say, "Oh, by the way, here is the title of my talk, The Case for Legalized Abortion." I never heard a word, but later, pulling strings, I found out that in fact the committee had been concerned and debated whether they should disinvite me. The university administration had some concern, but they decided not to interfere. Furthermore, they never put any pressure on me, they never raised the question, and things went through swimmingly. But at that time, many of the newspapers from around the country (and as I recall, Santa Barbara was one of them) would never print the word "abortion." If the subject came up, they would say that the doctor was practicing criminal operations.
GRAHAM: A euphemism of some kind.
HARDIN: That's right. And then if somebody spoke in favor of it, they'd have to say he's in favor of decriminalizing it, which is nonsense.
GRAHAM: You gave that talk apparently.
HARDIN: I gave that talk and, well, here's part of it. I'm not modest about this because I think I did wisely. As a biologist who had done a lot of hunting, I know that one of the things that causes disturbance in animals is surprise. You can get close to a lot of animals if you don't surprise them. And I thought, "I mustn't surprise anybody." By that time, I did a lot of public lectures. I always lectured without a script, usually without notes. I felt it was much better to have it spontaneous. That had always been the way I did it. This time I wrote up the whole lecture because I was afraid I would crack a joke or two and regret it later. You know, if you're free and easy, you don't know what you're going to say. So I wrote the whole thing out, and I read the whole thing from the manuscript.
GRAHAM: Stuck right to the script.
HARDIN: Stuck right to the script.
GRAHAM: And the reception?
HARDIN: One more thing. I said to myself that I would like to get publicity on that. We had a publicity agent, an office of public affairs, whatever it's called, and he may be afraid of this. So I got a copy of my speech to him two months in advance so he had plenty of time to adjust to it. I think probably he also had plenty of time to get in touch with the News Press and get them to adjust to it. The result was when I gave the lecture, two-thirds of the lecture was reprinted in the paper. Now that is unusual.
GRAHAM: And the word "abortion" was used?
HARDIN: Oh, yes. All the way through. Two-thirds of the script was there. It took up a lot of space, you see. It was a turn-away crowd. Campbell Hall was filled with 900 and several hundred not getting in. The next day, the next morning, I got a phone call from a woman, and she asked, "Where can I get an abortion?". I never thought of that. I was just taking this as an abstract, interesting fact, you see, but I realized I really had some responsibility for going through this. So I put her off and said, "Look, call me back Friday, and I'll see if I can find out," and then I had the problem of what to do because I knew two or three doctors in town that I was sure gave abortions. But I cannot give their names, because if I do that, sooner or later, the police are going to come in with an undercover agent, and then we're all in trouble. The doctor's in trouble, I'm in trouble. So I found - I don't know what I found, but I think someone in Mexico - and gave the women in need that information. Presently I became part of an apparatus in southern California headed, thank God, by a minister, Hugh Anwyl, a Welshman, who was concerned with getting good abortions for people in Mexico. His organization had the same feeling - that they should not give anybody the name of a doctor in the United States. In Mexico, it was illegal too, but Mexico didn't pay much attention to laws anyway. So, we had several people who'd go down to Mexico and case the doctor as to whether he had a clean place and so on, and that the price was reasonable. He would be the doctor we would recommend, give out his address and so on. Typically what happened, the price would go up and up and presently we would have to find another Mexican doctor. They tried to take advantage of us; we had to constantly get new ones. We occasionally sent somebody to Japan, but that wasn't very satisfactory. One or two to Sweden. That wasn't satisfactory. In Sweden, they took forever. They wanted to drag everything out before granting an abortion, but the baby might be nine-months old by the time ... Whereas in Japan, they easily granted abortions. The Japanese approved of abortion, but not of contraception, and the reason was that abortion brought more money to the doctor. And you always paid money, never wrote a check. We had to warn our clients about that.
GRAHAM: This is the beginning of a ...
HARDIN: That changed my life completely, because now I was an activist, which I never had been before.
GRAHAM: Would you say that once an activist, you continued to have that dimension in your life, you never retreated from the activism?
GRAHAM: I want to put on the record that an extensive interview with you has been conducted over 13 sessions, I believe (so it's quite extensive) by David Russell at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and that manuscript, a reading copy of that interview, either is now, or will soon be, available to scholars at UCSB archives. It goes into much more detail than I can here for our purposes. We are intending to talk about your involvement in the immigration issue, but I did want to indicate that this is enormously interesting and there is much in your career to talk about. I'm glad that you've had that interview with David Russell and talked about it in a more extensive way.
Well, now we've got you from birth to activism in 1963. The Tragedy of the Commons is written in 1968, and that raises your national visibility considerably more. You are a writer on population and also lecturer on population, and I want to ask you how the immigration issue finally took up some of your time and some questions about your involvement in that. But perhaps you would tell me in a condensed way what your population activism consisted of - writing and speaking and some organizational involvement. What would be the highlights of that population concern?
HARDIN: On the [abortion] organizational thing I was always the secondary person, principally going through L.A., joining up with people there. That was the source of that thing, I was just one of their supporters, so I was only secondary in the organization, whereas I was very active in speaking and writing.
GRAHAM: Your involvement in the immigration issue. First you had written on immigration.
HARDIN: Well, now, here I don't know. I'd have to go back over the record. I might not find anything. My basic point about population, the one I stuck to all along, was emphasizing that a body is a body. I didn't want to get off into discussions of relative quality, get into eugenics (when the word "eugenics" comes into a discussion, you've lost half your audience, they just jump and holler "Nazi") so stay away from that. My life story was caught in a paradox here. As a biologist, I was led to the topic of abortion by its effect on population growth. Up until 1964, I gave many public addresses on population. But the minute I began on abortion, I was it as primarily part of women's rights; the decision to have the operation should rest with the woman. To mention abortion's effect on population growth would be to arouse the suspicion that I was a nasty nazi. So for the ten years of my abortion activity, I religiously stayed away from population in my public presentations. Like I say, a body is a body no matter where it comes from. When there are too many bodies, you're in trouble. People having children they don't want, that means bodies that aren't wanted. And when people come in from other countries, that means bodies we don't want and there is no reason we should take them. So it just came about as a natural development.
GRAHAM: Do you remember the first time that you wrote the immigration issue into your population thinking, your population framework?
HARDIN: No, I don't.
GRAHAM: It would have come naturally.
HARDIN: Yeah, yeah, no milestone there, though.
GRAHAM: The population movement, if we can call it that, the population limitation movement in the U.S., of course, is quite old. It goes back quite far. That is, the current one that we now have has roots, you tell me, that go back organizationally far into the past. Would Planned Parenthood be the organization?
HARDIN: Well, you see, there has been a snarl from the very beginning between "birth control" and "population control." They're quite different problems because birth control should be something a person herself should decide. It's a very personal thing. She can do it all by herself, have more or have less children. Whereas population control has to be a community thing, because if you wanted to keep the population stable then that means that each woman has to have 2.3 children. There is no way she can have 2.3 children. A child is a child, you see, so the decision has to be a community effort. Some people would have more, some less and it's very much a community thing. Over the past fifty years, they are being separated, but from the beginning, way back to Margaret Sanger, they got confused with each other and it confused the audience and confused the speakers as to which they were talking about because the criteria are so very different.
GRAHAM: Would you say The Tragedy of the Commons is your first, of course, it's published in a scientific magazine, but it was written for the public, it was written to be read.
HARDIN: Well, the circumstances are these: I was president of the Pacific Division of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and the story is the usual thing. You're elected for one year, you're president for a year and then you're the retired president for a year, and at the end of the third year, you give a talk. So, I had to give a talk as a retired president. I had sort of forgotten this. My wife and I had gone to East Africa for a month and a half, and we got as far home as Albany, New York, where we stayed with a colleague. The secretary, sort of the permanent secretary of the Pacific Division, got in touch with me there, and said, "We need a title for your talk." "Oh," I said, "well," and I started on it. This was late February or early March. I can't remember when.
GRAHAM: Nineteen-sixty seven?
HARDIN: Nineteen sixty-eight. When I got home I started working on the speech that had to be given in June in Logan, Utah. It was the hardest thing I had ever written in my life. By this time, I'd gotten quite good at writing. The first draft I thought was usually pretty good. The second draft was a little better. This thing went through seven drafts.
GRAHAM: Most of us have that same experience you had.
HARDIN: What I realized when I scratched my head was I was having so much trouble because I did not like my conclusion. I was driven to this conclusion by logic and I didn't like it. I was fighting, fighting, fighting to prevent that because the conclusion means that you have to give up complete individual freedom when it comes to reproduction. It's a community affair. More and more in the welfare state, the cost of having a baby is a burden on the whole community, You're putting a burden on everybody.
GRAHAM: Now the setting in which you are living at that time in 1967-1968 is a setting in which world population growth is a growing concern. These are the years when Paul Ehrlich hits a big audience with his book.
HARDIN: Yes, a year before he brought out his book on the growing population problem. Back in 1967.
GRAHAM: So this was a growing concern in the U.S.
HARDIN: That's right. GRAHAM: It was intended to be global in its focus?
HARDIN: Well, it still is for some people like Paul Ehrlich. But this is a mistake if I ever saw one.
GRAHAM: So you were having trouble with it but you obviously got it done. HARDIN: I finally got it done. As I say it was like a difficult birth. O.K. here's another common failing of academic people. I'll give you the history, I went to Utah, went to Logan, and I apologized to the group first of all and said "I am sorry. I've read this over carefully several times with a watch and it takes an hour and fifteen minutes," which I said was just inhuman. But I said "If any of you want to get up and go out at any time go ahead, I'll understand." So, I gave that hour-and-fifteen-minute talk. It was just wicked.
GRAHAM: Beyond their tolerance, you'd think.
HARDIN: That's right, but having been warned they settled in and they stayed with me. I think there were very few people who walked out. Then I sent the manuscript to the editor of Science, and it disappeared for a while. I knew what happened - it was being referred. Finally, I think the last of August, I got a letter from the editor. He said, "your manuscript is accepted," period. "It's too long," period. Two sentences, in that order. He didn't make any condition, he just said it was too long.
GRAHAM: That's not very explicit.
HARDIN: Not explicit, but I took the hint, and I looked at it again. I discovered I could cut it in about half and take the first, it was just an introduction. It was like nobody on base and you wind up and wind up and finally you have to pitch.
HARDIN: The first part of that paper I sent to Biological Bulletin and it was eventually published. Nobody noticed it, and I don't think there is any reason they should. The second part I sent to Science, and it had an immediate effect. The editors of Science made no changes in it of any sort. I ordered 500 reprints, and they were soon exhausted. Obviously people were interested, and after that, one after another, there was somebody getting together a collection of readings asking to reprint it. It's now been reprinted more than a hundred times in anthologies in many different fields. So I really hit on something that was worth struggling with to get it right.
GRAHAM: That led to speaking engagements.
HARDIN: Led to all sorts of things, honors of this sort and that, honorary degrees and so on.
GRAHAM: But the controversy?
HARDIN: Oh, yes, the controversy.
GRAHAM: You made enemies, or least people who were ideological combatants.
HARDIN: That was 1968. In 1973, I think it was, I published a paper called ... well it had two titles, "Lifeboat Ethics" or "Living on a Lifeboat." And that made even more enemies because that described in detail the human situation, not just in the abstract. What we have to do. The world is limited. We've got to live on this lifeboat. Many people just kind of accept that God will provide - science will provide - so you don't have to worry about limits. That's crazy. You do have to worry about limits. Space is not a god. We've been to the moon, and it isn't worth it. Mars is no good, and the next nearest planets are 4.3 light years away. It might take a hundred-thousand years to get there, which is ridiculous.
GRAHAM: Do you have anything you want to say about a phrase, which I vividly remember from The Tragedy of the Commons, "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon?"
HARDIN: Yes, I can say something about that. I had the manuscript, as I said, all done, written out, typed. We drove to Utah, stopping in eastern Nevada to spend the night with some friends of ours, a doctor from Santa Barbara who had a ranch there. Our party included Jane (my wife), our oldest daughter, Hyla, and our little granddaughter, Rachel. We put the granddaughter to bed, and then we sat around the fire. I read this manuscript to them just the way it was going to be.
GRAHAM: An hour and fifteen minutes?
HARDIN: That was the idea.
GRAHAM: You have a long-suffering family.
HARDIN: I choose my friends carefully. I read this thing, and as a result of that, Hyla didn't like this coercion business. It really disturbed her. That was when I dreamed up this "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon." Though I didn't say so in this paper, I later said that is exactly the description of a democracy. We don't wait until everybody agrees. We agree, most of us, that robbing a bank is wrong and then we coerce the rest. We accept mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon. That's it. I didn't explain that in the original thing, but that's where that came from - because of family criticism. Because of that, I had to revise the paper in handwriting in places.
GRAHAM: Well now that you have emerged as one of the leading writers on population questions, obviously there are organizations in the field that wanted you to speak for them, with them, to them. What organizational involvement were you drawn into in the population field?
HARDIN: Well, I'll tell you what I wasn't drawn into, and that was the organization of demographers. They're not interested in this. They want figures. They want to work with figures. They don't want to worry about things. There are some exceptions among like Paul Demeny. Paul Demeny has been a great supporter of mine, and he was president of the Society of American Demographers. I did join for a year or two to see what it was like. When he was president, I went up to San Francisco to hear him give his retiring presidential address. I went around to various small meetings and found the intellectual climate absolutely impossible.
GRAHAM: I'm glad you made that observation about those professional circles. What other organizations were you drawn into?
HARDIN: Well, ones that I was drawn into depend on certain individuals more than anything else. People in ecology and biology are generally on my side. They are my audience, they're my supporters. With only a few people whose formal training is in population do I find much acceptance. Demographers just ignore me.
GRAHAM: That's another interesting observation about your professional reception in professional circles where you found support and interest in where you found either hostility or lack of interest. But in activist circles, and if you think of an activist organization, were you drawn into any of that, like Zero Population Growth (ZPG), which was formed by Paul Ehrlich very soon after his book?
HARDIN: Yes, I was one of the founders of that; there were about six of us. But Paul was the leader, of course. I withdrew from that, and I withdrew when I realized there was no possibility of getting them to look at what I would have described as some of the most important issues. The first thing was, I said, "look, we are appealing, only to university audiences. If we persuade all these university women to have fewer children than normal, what we're doing is extinguishing a certain class of people, the ones, in other words, that get the message about sterilizing." I said, "We have to do better than that." but they wouldn't buy that at all. The university supporters are not the ones who need to get the message. Then the second thing: in recent years, I don't know when this started (well, I know I can say it started by 1980 because it was an argument I had in Washington). I said, "It makes no sense what you're doing unless you take a strong stand on immigration." And from 1980 on, talking with numerous leaders of ZPG, I couldn't get them to change from a policy of welcoming all people. "That's the nice thing to do. We mustn't become bigots." I replied, "This has nothing to do with bigotry; there's only so much room in the lifeboat."
GRAHAM: Well this 1980 is interesting. You mention that year and you're feeling that ZPG at least was hopeless from your point of view on certain tough issues. It's just a couple of years before that that John Tanton has come to the same experience with ZPG. I don't know if you knew him. I'd like to ask you if you did, but he founded the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1978. What's your background on John Tanton?
HARDIN: On John Tanton? I must have met him in 1973, the year I gave the talk in San Francisco on "Living on a Lifeboat."
GRAHAM: Who was John Tanton? When you met him, who was he?
HARDIN: He was just a doctor in Michigan.
GRAHAM: And you met him at a meeting where he heard you speak?
HARDIN: I think he heard me speak, but at any rate, we spoke in the hallway quite a bit, I can't remember the details, but that was the first contact that I had with him. Of course, gradually, I came to realize what he was doing.
GRAHAM: So you had known him, and you knew that FAIR was founded in 1978 or so?
HARDIN: Oh, yes, I knew from the beginning about it, and I joined it very early, I'm sure.
GRAHAM: Followed its work?
HARDIN: Yeah, that's right. See, from 1980 to 1981, I was in Washington, D.C., I agreed to be the acting chief executive officer of ...
GRAHAM: The Environmental Fund.
HARDIN: Environmental Fund, that's right, and later it became Population/Environment Balance. I agreed to take that job on a temporary basis while we looked for a permanent executive director. I got acquainted with the FAIR people then, Roger Connor and others in Washington.
GRAHAM: When did you join the FAIR board?
HARDIN: Well, it was 1984, 1985.
GRAHAM: In the middle of the decade.
HARDIN: That's right, yes.
GRAHAM: Just before the first reform law was passed?
HARDIN: I joined the board. They asked me to attend the June meeting as my first meeting, but I said I couldn't because I had to host the Environmental Fund meeting in Santa Barbara. So I joined FAIR, but I didn't attend my first board meeting until the fall.
GRAHAM: And you served about 10 years on the FAIR board?
HARDIN: Yes, I resigned very recently, about a year ago. I resigned for health reasons. The muscles in my left leg have been deteriorating. "Late polio syndrome" it's called, and I first noticed the degeneration in 1957, so I've had a run of 40 years of very slow degeneration. It finally got to the point that twice on a trip to Washington, D.C., I fell down and had trouble getting up, and I decided I just can't go on like this. When you go to strange cities, there are too many uncertainties. So I've got to live a sheltered life, which means here. I have a wheelchair if I need it. Incidentally, just a week ago, I gave my first lecture from a wheelchair. I was asked would I give a lecture to a class on campus, and I said I would, provided I could lecture from a wheelchair. I thought I better get used to that and they better get used to arranging for it and all that. It went off fine. I'll give another one in April, and from now on that's it. Much of the time, I walk around with these crutches. I do fall now and then, and when I get down on the ground, I cannot get up. I have to crawl to a chair or a bed and pull myself up.
GRAHAM: As a historian interested in Franklin Roosevelt's career, I can tell you that's somewhat familiar.
HARDIN: Yes, that's right.
GRAHAM: He had the same situation. Let me ask you then, what comes to your mind during your years on the FAIR board, that the organization - what with turning points, big events, big decisions, tough decisions - one of the salient moments? You've got a decade at least of this immigration reform battle, and there were some big issues.
HARDIN: Well, more and more we became involved in trying to influence congress, which I think was right. So that has been the biggest change. We haven't been very effective, but then nobody's been effective, and that's the tragedy at the present time. The majority of the people in this country literally want immigration to be clamped down on, and congress won't do anything.
GRAHAM: What's your explanation of this peculiarity that the poll results on immigration for a very long time have shown a large majority of Americans wanting lesser numbers and yet we don't get ... ?
HARDIN: I like the phrase that John Vinson introduced at the American Immigration Control Foundation (AICF). He spoke of the iron triangle of the business people who want cheap labor; the politicians who want to get elected and have to have money; and the third group, the idealists who have other fish to fry and are opposed to limiting immigration.
GRAHAM: You know, that's in many ways a strange coalition over there on the other side.
HARDIN: I know it is, but that's the reason it's so powerful.
GRAHAM: Would you agree that it's a bit of a strange coalition on the reform side?
HARDIN: Oh sure. In other words the ordinary distinction between conservative and liberal, or conservative and radical, cuts across both camps.
GRAHAM: Would you say in your observation of these at least 10 years that you were paying attention long before? How's it going, the effort?
HARDIN: Oh, I don't think we're making any decided progress, and I think (well this is the sort of thing that maybe it's impossible to predict) maybe some event, I don't know what, may touch things off. One thing that might happen would be a real scandal over the welfare payments and so on, the realization that this is all getting out of hand. Welfare plus socialized medicine and the costs.
GRAHAM: What about fraudulent voting?
HARDIN: Damn it! People don't seem to react to that sort of thing; they ought to. Partly this is because we have had at least a century of propaganda in favor of one world and we're all God's children and there's no difference between somebody and anybody else because we're all God's children no matter where we live. You see, how can you refuse to let any of God's children not vote?
GRAHAM: It may be that the fraudulent voting doesn't take hold much with the media elites and people who run the country because the last two victims of it have been Michael Huffington and Bob Dornan, and they're not particularly popular anyway. Wait until a leading liberal loses his or her seat because of fraudulent voting and it might be another matter. I can fully see why you or anyone else would have the feeling that it's uphill with not enough progress, but you live in California. This issue has changed, has it not in your state?
HARDIN: Well, I would feel I had more to say about it if I lived in San Diego and got around, or Los Angeles and got around. I think it's really pretty vicious there, but unfortunately, the media, while not ignoring it completely, do not put the proper emphasis on it. They should perceive this as a primary problem. They're too busy talking about international things.
GRAHAM: Do you discern a global increase in the number of people concerned about immigration?
HARDIN: Yes. Because after all, globally there have been people all over the world for a century or so that worked for one world. Everybody's the same, all the same, and they're finding it doesn't work. Germany has taken in so many Turkish people, France so many from North Africa. Fighting is getting on the vicious side, and that's why it's impossible to say what will happen to them. It may swing around and become very nasty indeed. In Australia at the far end of the world, they imitate the rest of the world later. They're doing it now.
GRAHAM: Let me ask you if you have anything to say (and if you don't, that's fine) about the FAIR board personalities; how it operates, I mean. You've probably been on other boards or seen other boards. What comes to your mind that's worth saying about that experience and the people there?
HARDIN: Well, I think it's the best board I've ever been on. The people are realistic and hardworking. It's not the type that makes a revolution; they're too comfortable. I mean, I am too. I'm part of that thing. I get the impression that AICF is better at organizing the grassroots than we are. God knows there's a lot of improvement possible. I don't think we should try to be what we can't be, but we should maybe cooperate more with some of these other groups where they recognize that we can do one thing, they can do another, and interchange to see if we can't help each other. I can't get out on the streets and rouse them all.
GRAHAM: Do you have any observations about the sort of people who come and work for FAIR in Washington and elsewhere?
HARDIN: No, there I don't, other than the obvious thing. When FAIR first started, it was up against the problem of any new organization: they have to take the manpower that they can get and people who come to them at first aren't really sold on it - they're looking for a job. Many of them, I think, worked for FAIR for a number of years before finally they came around to the point where they could say "This is a good thing to do." Most of the people who come to Washington to look for a job are liberals.
GRAHAM: It's true that FAIR staffers ... I think any of our executives, either of our executive directors, would say that there is a lot of education before you get a fully up-to-speed staff member on this particular issue. You don't have a large pool of people who have thought as deeply about it ... coming out of the universities, for example. What other writers on the immigration issue have been particularly effective, in your assessment, or is there nobody?
HARDIN: Well, I'm sorry, I would have to look over my roster thing and see. I don't usually do it in those terms, I just pick out this and pick out that. I don't have a good balanced view. In England, I've been favorably impressed with Jack Parsons, but he's in England, and they've got different problems, you know. Basically the same, but the details are different.
GRAHAM: Now, a population approach was taken by, for example, a non-professional, Roy Beck.
HARDIN: Roy Beck has done very well indeed. Yes, he'd be one of the ones I would cite as being particularly effective. He's just a natural born teacher. His presentation is terrific.
GRAHAM: A sense of history on this question is something that I've tried to develop, and you've been around a while. I wonder, what's your sense of how long is this reform movement or this issue? Are we at the end of it, in the middle of it? Which way are the winds blowing on this thing?
HARDIN: Oh, I think we are only at the beginning of it. What will happen, I don't know, or at what pace, because that's where the accidents of history come in, and you particularly cannot foresee them. For example, the Supreme Court decision of 1973 just changed everything. Yet nobody really foresaw that.
GRAHAM: You have a sense of contingency and of openness and of unpredictability?
GRAHAM: In the politics of it. Now in the demography of it, we're not going to get surprises?
HARDIN: Oh no. That's been clear since the time of Tertullian in the third century. My book really deals primarily with the question, "How come, in 200 years of no progress on the population theory, we haven't really moved beyond Malthus?". And you ask, "Why is that?", and it's because of the great resistance of the public. What I'm saying in the book is that I think that the underlying thing here is the resistance to the idea of a closed world, "Limits" - this is a terribly shocking thing. Actually that was a conservative idea for most people for all man's existence on the planet until about the time of Galileo. Then science and technology came along, and said, "Look, we've opened all these worlds." Only in the 19th and 20th centuries did we see that we still have limits.* What we've got to do is to get people's minds adjusted back to before Galileo and realize that those people were right and we've been wrong for 300 years.
GRAHAM: So, it's an educational problem? Well, I think, given your career, that's a good place for us to stop this interview. Thank you very much.
End of interview.
(*The first and second laws of thermodynamics, and so forth.)