2017-10-08 07:37:49 UTC
soft secular left, while those who focus on core life issues are more
likely to be active in the pro-life movement?
In America, pro-life mostly means anti-abortion. The name helps
counter the pro-choice brand and emphasize the positive concerns at
stake. It also supports closely-related concerns such as euthanasia,
embryonic stem cell research, and various reproductive technologies.
But should a pro-life movement be broader than that? After all, the name
suggests issues that are not medical or categorically resolved for
Catholics by basic moral teaching, but nonetheless have to do with human
life either directlywar, capital punishmentor in a broader sense that
could ultimately include anything that makes life better or more secure.
But that raises a serious problem. Abortion is direct intentional
destruction of innocent human life, and people who view its acceptance as
an obvious horrific evil naturally want cooperation among those who oppose
it but differ on other questions. But if the issue is life in general,
then the seamless garment approach makes it impossible to put other
issues aside, and the united front disintegrates.
For example, bungled foreign policy can mean war, terrorism, disease, and
famine, and bad social policy can lead to misery that drives some to
abortion and others to an early grave. So maybe foreign and social policy
should be viewed as life issues, and people with incorrect views placed
outside the pro-life camp.
But what views should be treated as correct? Many people think the answer
is obvious. Current political discussion favors social engineering, which
seems to call for a global structure that supervises human life top to
bottom to ensure all human needs are satisfied and all disputes settled
peacefully. Many people who identify themselves politically by reference
to peace and justice favor policiesinternationalism abroad, expanded
welfare state at homethat point toward such a system. Some even deny the
good faith of pro-lifers who reject the approach.
But is that right? Bureaucratic supervision of outcomes disrupts
individual and local self-organization. As the history of socialism shows,
that leads to poverty and social degradation. And attempts to establish
comprehensive global structuresthat is to say, multinational empires on a
very large scaletend to fail, creating conflict, repression, and chaos
along the way, because people are different, want different things, and
above all want to do things their own way. For examples, consider the
recent history of Iraq, or of the lands formerly ruled by the Russian
So theres no obvious right way to deal with basic social issues. Would
energetically progressive social policies make life better, so that social
stress and therefore abortion would plummet? To me it seems unlikely: more
likely theyd eventually lead to something like the violent English
underclass Theodore Dalrymple describes. Other people have other ideas
about how society works, though, and I cant say theyre anti-life.
The problem is that politics is the ordering of our common life, so all
political issues are life issues in a broad sense. And since everyone
believes his own political position best promotes the human good, and thus
the point of human life, he views it as the true pro-life position. A
social Darwinist, for example, would say that evolution by natural
selection has made life what it is today, which is a lot better than it
was during the Precambrian Era. So if you dont like abortion, and think
its at odds with the system of life, the best thing to dohe might
argueis let pro-lifers multiply and pro-choicers abort themselves to
For me, such considerations indicate that we should let the pro-life
movement remain what it is, a movement opposing direct intentional
termination of innocent human life in medical settings. That issue and
closely related ones are important enough to deserve their own movement,
one that lets those who agree on them come together to fight the good
fight even though their views differ widely in other ways.
That said, the life issues are indeed part of a seamless garment. The
question of abortion, for example, touches on the nature of sex and
family, male and female, and the relative value of equality, autonomy,
career, duty, human relationship, and life as such. Those issues cant be
dealt with apart from an overall vision of human nature and the good life.
However such matters may appear to others, the Catholic vision must be
comprehensively pro-life. As Jesus said, I am come that they may have
life, and may have it more abundantly.
But problems remain. What is the understanding of life that the fight
against abortion should, for Catholics, be part of? And how it it to be
furthered in the world around us? Everyone has his own ideas, but two main
tendencies seem clear.
People who emphasize the seamless garment tend toward views like those of
the soft secular leftenvironmentalism, inclusiveness, welfare programs,
foreign aid, international organizations, effectively open bordersbut
with a concern for reducing abortion added in. For many the reduction is
expected to follow automatically from increased respect for human life and
reduced numbers of women forced into abortion resulting from the other
policies. More active measures, such as criminalization, are mostly not
People who focus on core life issues rather than seamless garment talk are
more likely to be active in the pro-life movement, to volunteer at crisis
pregnancy centers, and to insist abortion should be treated as a crime.
They are also more likely to favor patriotism and private enterprise over
internationalism and the welfare state, and to doubt the claimed benefits
of immigration, environmentalism, and inclusiveness.
Commentators are convinced the split makes no sense. After all, if you
believe in peace and justice you ought to take protecting the unborn
seriously, and if you want to protect the weak and vulnerable in the womb,
why not in the world at large? But high-minded efforts to unite the two
sides get nowhere. Evidently, commentators are missing something. But
At bottom, the problem is that modern thought cant make sense of human
beings. In its dominant scientific form it presents man as active and
autonomous, for example as the scientific investigator, but also as the
object of scientific investigation, and thus as a passive object of
manipulation. The two views cant be reconciled, but both seem necessary
for modern natural science.
The divided view of man causes problems in politics. To govern, man must
be free, active, and law-giving, but to be governed he must be subject to
control. The most obvious political interpretation of the modern
scientific outlook, then, is to make some men free and active rulers and
others passive, rule-bound subjects. Bureaucratic experts should
deliberate and command, the rest of us hear and obey.
The arrangement is morally inadequate. Human dignity depends on freedom,
so it seems we all should all be free and not just a small governing
class. Even so, control is necessary. Contemporary liberal thought tries
to solve the problem by making us free but ineffectual. It tells us we can
do whatever we want, so were free, but our actions should be deprived of
effect, so they affect other people and even our own well-being as little
as possible. If something goes wrong, it can then be treated as a failure
of social engineering. The demands of human dignity and a scientific
approach to life are thus satisfied simultaneouslyor so it is thought.
But that too seems inadequate. How free can we be if were part of a
system that deprives our choices of significance? And is an approach in
which people dont take responsibility actually going to work? So
liberalism has provoked contemporary conservatism, which views us as
active and effective but subject to rules. It tells us that we should look
out for ourselves and those for whom we are responsible in accordance with
settled duties, and if we fail the consequences are ours to deal with.
The effect overall is that we have a scientific view that cant make sense
of human life at all, a liberal view that slights human responsibility,
and a conservative view that lacks a good understanding of human weakness
and suffering. We also have various mixed or nonconforming
viewsdistributism, for examplethat lack the coherent public presence
needed for effectiveness.
The result is a political order inadequate to human nature, and arguments
between liberals and conservatives over abortion reflect that. The way to
something better lies deeper than politics, in a fundamental
transformation of life and thought based on a better understanding of man.
That transformation, which wouldamong other thingsmake the life issues
truly part of a seamless garment, is the most important goal of Catholic