Archive for the ‘rights’ Category

Obama on Abortion

Judith Jarvis Thomson, near the end of her well-known article “A Defense of Abortion,” writes,

… while I am arguing for the permissibility of abortion in
some cases, I am not arguing for the right to secure the death of the
unborn child. It is easy to confuse these two things in that up to a
certain point in the life of the fetus it is not able to survive outside
the mother’s body; hence removing it from her body guarantees its
death. But they are importantly different. I have argued that you are
not morally required to spend nine months in bed, sustaining the life
of that violinist; but to say this is by no means to say that if, when you
unplug yourself, there is a miracle and he survives, you then have a
right to turn round and slit his throat. You may detach yourself even
if this costs him his life; you have no right to be guaranteed his death,
by some other means, if unplugging yourself does not kill him.

Now Barack Obama, it seems, disagrees with Thomson. He thinks that a fetus who survives an abortion attempt and emerges from the mother’s body alive has no right to life and may be allowed to die. At any rate, that’s how he’s voted in the past, no matter how much that fact causes him to wriggle now. Thomson explains why someone might hold Obama’s position:

There are some people who will feel dissatisfied by this feature of my argument. A woman may be utterly devastated by the thought of a child, a bit of herself, put out for adoption and never seen or heard of again. She may therefore want not merely that the child be detached from her, but more, that it die. Some opponents of abortion are inclined to regard this as beneath contempt-thereby showing insensitivity to what is surely a powerful source of despair. All the same, I agree that the desire for the child’s death is not one which anybody may gratify, should it turn out to be possible to detach the child alive.

I’m one of those who considers a desire that the child die to be beneath contempt, a sign of such astounding selfishness that you would prefer your own child to die rather than to live apart from you.

How long, anyway, does a mother have to make this decision? A few minutes? A few hours? A few years? How does letting a child die on that table differ from later child abuse or infanticide?

In any case, favoring infanticide, if only in this kind of case, puts Obama on the extreme fringes of the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.


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The Supreme Court upholds the Second Amendment:

Answering a 127-year old constitutional question, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have a gun, at least in one’s home. The Court, splitting 5-4, struck down a District of Columbia ban on handgun possession. Although times have changed since 1791, Justice Antonin Scalia said for the majority, “it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Examining the words of the Amendment, the Court concluded “we find they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weaons in case of confrontation” — in other words, for self-defense. “The inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right,” it added.

But the decision was 5-4; it could easily have gone the other way, and, if we had had a President Gore or Kerry, almost certainly would have.

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Wretchard quotes Mark Steyn, speaking in Vancouver before he goes on trial:

What we’re up against is not primarily defined by what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are still essentially military campaigns and we’re good at those. … it might be truer to say that this is a Cold Civil War – by which I mean a war within the west. The real war is a domestic war: the key terrain is not the Sunni Triangle but every major city within the western world. …

Even if there were no battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if no one was flying planes into tall buildings in New York, even if no one were blowing up trains and buses and nightclubs in Madrid and London and Bali, even without all that, we would still be in danger of losing this thing – without a shot being fired.

Wretchard himself remarks:

But what “kinda guy” is modern Western multiculturalism, that proud creation of “progressive” thought? It is, in the last analysis, the principal ally of every fascist unicultural force there is. Steyn soon warms to the point that what is at issue isn’t what Islam is; because Islam will be what it will be. What is at issue in the hate speech proceedings is what the West wants to be.

In the comments, he continues:

Islam and Marxism are examples of “greedy ideas”; ideas whose main purpose is to reproduce themselves, in part by eliminating all competition until they literally rule the world.

In contrast, the notion of diversity as a good springs precisely from idea that even ideas which are “unfit to survive” deserve preservation on the grounds that they contribute something even if we do not know what that something is.

The phenomenon of a “multicultural society” coming to the rescue of a “unicultural tyranny” is the outcome of a greedy idea coming into an environment where it’s very greediness — its will to power — is protected.

I am not persuaded that the current multicultural leadership is truly committed to diversity. Rather, diversity is used as a cover under which a “greedy idea” can be advanced. The problem with totalitarian notions is that by their nature they are all or nothing affairs. As one Englishman put it, “they are either at your feet or at your throat”.

The key problem is how to face down greedy ideas like Marxism and Islam without becoming a species of totalitarianism ourselves. I am not convinced this is possible, at least in the militant stage. Totalitarian ideas must be beaten down until they are discredited. They are unsafe to leave in virulent condition.

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Jonathan Rauch argues that John McCain is a true conservative, in the mold of Edmund Burke–and that “movement” conservatives aren’t. Rauch starts with a nice precis of an aspect of Burke’s thought that influenced, among others, Freidrich von Hayek:

Burke is the father of modern conservatism, and still its wisest oracle. Tradition-minded but (contrary to stereotype) far from reactionary, he believed in balancing individual rights with social order. The best way to do that, for Burke, was by respecting long-standing customs and institutions while advancing toward liberty and equality. Society’s traditions, after all, embody an evolved collective wisdom that even (or especially) the smartest of individuals cannot hope to understand comprehensively, much less reinvent successfully.

That much is basically right, though “advancing toward liberty and equality” is simplistic, from Burke’s point of view, for there are many other values we should uphold and advance toward, including virtue, religion, stability, civility, prosperity, strength, peace, and happiness.

Rauch continues:

The Burkean outlook takes individual rights seriously, and understands that civic order serves no purpose if its result is oppression or misery.

It’s important to realize that Burke does not share the view of Locke, Madison, and Jefferson that some rights are natural–independent of government–and inalienable. He sees rights as granted by government for various purposes. Contemporary conservatives, who owe much to Burke, owe even more to Locke and the founders, and maintain with them that rights to life, liberty, and property are natural and inalienable. From that perspective, the Burkean outlook doesn’t take rights seriously enough.

But let’s move on:

It also understands that social stability, far from being endangered by institutional change, positively depends upon it. Burkeans no more believe in a golden past than they do in a perfect future. For them, the question is not whether society should change, but how.

I’d prefer to put this, somewhat anachronistically, by saying that, according to Burke, society should evolve. Burke’s model is fundamentally evolutionary. It isn’t hostile to change, but it has no sympathy with “Change we can believe in” either. Changes may be adaptive or maladaptive. And most of us are poorly positioned, at the time, to judge which.

If Burke were around today, he might paraphrase Reagan’s famous witticism about the Democratic Party: Burke didn’t leave the conservative movement; it left him. Starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign of 1964, American conservatism repositioned itself as a revolutionary movement, intent on uprooting illegiti­mate and ineffective liberal structures. Partly this grew from a canny assessment that Eisenhower-style Republicanism had played into liberals’ hands, consolidating instead of confronting the welfare state. Partly, however, it grew from narcissism: no less than their left-wing peers, right-wing Baby Boomers liked to suppose it was their destiny to reshape the world.

And so conservatives came to associate themselves with a romantic narrative of radical change—a narrative of counterrevolution, but revolutionary all the same.

This is misleading. The question, for Burke, is not revolution–as Rauch notes, he favored the American Revolution, but opposed the French Revolution. Why? It isn’t just that the latter was more “radical,” as Rauch puts it, but that the American Revolution respected the past. The colonists sought to reclaim their rights as Englishmen, the rights they had been guaranteed by the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Rights of 1688 but were now being denied. The French Revolutionaries, in contrast, were utopians, who sought not to reclaim their long-recognized rights but to define new rights and even a new conception of rights and implement it in practice. From Burke’s point of view, then, the contrast between a utopian revolution and a restorative counterrevolution could hardly be more significant. Just as the American founders sought to reclaim their ancient rights, contemporary conservatives seek to reclaim theirs–almost exactly the same rights as those the founders fought for, actually, but transgressed now not by a tyrannous King but by an overreaching Congress empowered by the Supreme Court, which began in 1937 a long process of dismantling the Lockean conception of general rights and substituting a Rousseau-inspired conception of positive rights in its stead.

I don’t mean to deny one of Rauch’s main theses, that McCain is, in many respects, a Burkean conservative.  But I do deny the other.  Contemporary conservatives hold a political philosophy that combines Lockean and Burkean elements.  Far from clashing, these most often support each other.  Locke provides a theory of the ancient rights described in the Magna Carta, the 1688 Declaration, and the Bill of Rights, but ultimately inhering in us as human beings and defining our dignity.

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Jonah Goldberg captures the political half of the course I’m now teaching precisely:

I think the fundamental difference, the difference that defines the difference between American, Anglo-American conservatives and European welfare states, leftists or liberals, is Locke versus Rousseau. Every philosophical argument boils down to John Locke versus Jacques Rousseau.

Locke holds that we have natural rights, rights that inhere in us as human beings independently of our being members of a political community. Rousseau denies it, maintaining that all rights come from the state. This has sweeping consequences for the legitimacy of government power. Locke holds that government authority is legitimate only within certain limits; it is bounded by our natural rights, which we construct governments to preserve. Since Rousseau recognizes no such rights, he recognizes no such bounds. For him, government may exercise authority over anything to promote the common good. That doesn’t mean we have no rights; we have the rights the government allots to us, and no others.

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I recently attended a talk by Hadley Arkes on jurisprudence in which, among other things, he criticized the reasoning of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case from 1954. The Court declared the unconstitutionality of segregation on the basis of Kenneth Clark’s social science research on the self-esteem of black children, contending on that basis that “separate but equal” education was a myth: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” In addition to mischaracterizing the research, the Court’s decision was limited in several respects: (1) It failed to address the question whether separate facilities would be constitutional if they could be made equal; (2) It offered at best a contingent reason to reject segregation, finding nothing objectionable in segregation per se; and (3) it struck down segregation in education on grounds specific to education; its reasoning could not simply be duplicated in other cases involving segregation in other contexts.

What puzzles me is a question I have heard Robert Bork raise: Why didn’t the Court address segregation much more directly? Consider Chief Justice Warren’s introduction:

In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a nonsegregated basis. In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Why not continue:

In every case, white students were permitted by law to attend the schools in question; black children were not, solely because of their race—a factor, all parties agree, of no relevance to providing or achieving the goal of education.

And then simply conclude, with Warren:

[S]uch segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.

Arkes thinks the Court could not take this direct path because it had eschewed natural law. Undoubtedly natural law would reinforce the direct approach, but I don’t see why it’s necessary to it. I suspect the answer lies in the Court’s understanding of equality itself—roughly, in understanding it substantively rather than procedurally, as involving rights to equal things instead of rights to equal treatment under the same rules.

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John McCain reaches out to conservatives.

I am proud to be a conservative, and I make that claim because I share with you that most basic of conservative principles: that liberty is a right conferred by our Creator, not by governments, and that the proper object of justice and the rule of law in our country is not to aggregate power to the state but to protect the liberty and property of its citizens. And like you, I understand, as Edmund Burke observed, that “whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither . . . is safe.” …

My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative. I believe today, as I believed twenty-five years ago, in small government; fiscal discipline; low taxes; a strong defense, judges who enforce, and not make, our laws; the social values that are the true source of our strength; and, generally, the steadfast defense of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which I have defended my entire career as God-given to the born and unborn.

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