Leithart’s reflections in my last post reminded me of Patrick Deneen’s essay on Hobbes and the role of the modern state as the universal defender of its citizens’ liberties that I read recently. Perhaps the Athenian example shows the patterns that Deneen discusses are older than Hobbes, but the essay still works, I think, for the modern state. Modern states are much larger than the ancient Athenian city-state and their aspirations to and achievements of power throughout larger territories have been very consequential for modern life.
Deneen argues that the philosophical underpinnings of progressive liberalism can be found in Hobbes, who argued for a state that superseded other institutions.
William T. Cavanaugh describes in his excellent study of the rise of the modern state, Migrations of the Holy, how Hobbes’s new arrangement promised liberation, not oppression:
For Hobbes, the individual was not oppressed but liberated by Leviathan. In his view, the State is not enacted to realize a common good or a common telos, but rather to liberate the individual to pursue his or her own ends without fear of interference from other individuals. In the peculiar new space created by the state, the individual members do not depend on one another; rather, they are connected only through the sovereign—as spokes to the hub of a wheel.
The rise of the state hinged on the promise of liberation of the individual from the constitutive constraints (as well as rights and liberties) of non-state organizations and institutions. The state acted as liberator of an oppressed humanity; its power, concentration, and extent increased as a necessary counterweight for the control of non-state institutions. Thus, Robert Nisbet wrote in his classic work The Quest for Community, “The real conflict in modern political history has not been, as is so often stated, between State and individual, but between State and social group.”
The only liberty that could be recognized was the liberty of individuals to “pursue his or her own ends.” The ancient rights, privileges, immunities and liberties of institutions—the Church, universities, guilds, localities—were redescribed as forms of oppression. The increased power, even intrusiveness, of the state, was justified not as a form of oppression, but rather in the name of liberation of the individual. The protections against distant, abstract, and impersonal forms of power, understood to be protections of local liberty, were dismissed as parochial limitations and antiquated restrictions. As Lord Acton accurately described in his History of Freedom,
The modern theory, which swept away every authority except that of the State, and has made the sovereign power irresistible by multiplying those who share it . . . condemns as a State within the State every inner group and community, class or corporation, administering its own affairs; and, by proclaiming the abolition of privileges, it emancipates the subjects of every such authority in order to transfer them exclusively to its own. . . . It recognizes liberty only in the individual, because it is only in the individual that liberty can be separated from authority, and the right of conditional obedience deprived of the security of limited command.
As Hobbes’s illustration to the Leviathan so eloquently depicted, an increasingly “liberated” citizenry, resulting from the diminishment of constitutive memberships in social groups and associations, would be connected only through one bond, one relation, one connection—the state.
Foremost in Deneen’s mind in writing this is the Health and Human Services mandate that forces almost all employers to provide for contraception (including some abortifacients) in their insurance plans. He notes that its defenders “described the HHS mandate as the necessary requirement that will liberate women from the “coercion” of the Church that seeks to restrict their access to free contraception—including abortifacients—and sterilization. The expansion of state power is justified for its liberative effects, freeing women from the oppression of an antiquated institution (its irrelevance was reinforced by frequent citation of the questionable statistic that 98% of Catholic women use contraceptives).”
This is as good a place as any to express my wish that the Catholic and evangelical critics of this measure would not only make their case based on religious freedom but also on liberty more broadly. Their request for broader exemptions basically says that it’s OK to coerce other employers into providing insurance that they may or may not want to provide, but just not us. The religious liberty implications are of course enormous, but so is the idea of limited government.
Filed under: Church and State, Modern World, Sanctity of Life | Tagged: early modern world, health care reform, modern state, Obama administration, Patrick Deneen, religion and politics, Thomas Hobbes | 14 Comments »
Atlantic Cities has a set of maps up that show different aspects of abortion: availability of providers, rates per thousand women, and others. The commentary is from a pro-abortion-rights perspective, but I found the information interesting.
A Breakpoint commentary from last year by the late Chuck Colson noted a disconcerting development and an effort to fight it:
There is, as we can see, a culture of death at work in the U.N. and other groups. Their representatives use false claims about abortion to push developing nations into changing their pro-life laws. And they’re not above blackmail, demanding that countries comply or lose development aid. Currently nearly one hundred pro-life countries have been told that treaties demand that they permit abortion.
In order to give these nations the ability to fight back, an international group of “human rights lawyers and advocates, scholars, elected officials, diplomats, and medical and international policy experts” released the San José Articles. Among the signers is my colleague and Manhattan Declaration co-author Robert George.
The Articles begin, “As a matter scientific fact a new human life begins at conception.” It then follows, “From conception each unborn child is by nature a human being.”
You can see the San José Articles here. I don’t know how much impact they will have, but the goal is to have a document signed by experts that’s available for citation in these kinds of disputes, as well as for other purposes.
I thought that I would pass on some links of articles that I read about this phenomenon that occurs not only abroad, but even here in the US, especially among immigrants from India, China, and Korea:
- Breakpoint commentary on sex-selective abortion in general, with links to (among others) Ross Douthat’s column on the 160 million “missing women,” an article in the Christian Post about a Live Action recording of a Planned Parenthood staffer (now fired) who was willing to help the Live Action caller obtain an abortion based on sex, and a more technical article from The New Atlantis that looks at the global phenomenon. This last article has a link to a study on sex ratios discussed in the two articles from the previous bullet point. I have not read the study.
Nicholas Eberstadt, author of the article in The New Atlantis, believes that the unnatural sex ratios that result from sex-selective abortions will continue to proliferate around the world. See the article for predictions for what this could mean for societies with large male-female imbalances, what’s been called “missing women.” The consequences include things like trafficking of women because their scarcity leads to a higher value.
While it’s easy to think that only ignorant people would abort their daughters, he believes that the explanation is quite different:
As we have seen, sudden steep increases in SRBs are by no means inconsistent with continuing improvements in levels of per capita income and female education — or, for that matter, with legal strictures against sex-selective abortion. Two of the key factors associated with unnatural upsurges in nationwide SRBs — low or sub-replacement fertility levels and easy access to inexpensive prenatal gender-determination technology — will likely be present in an increasing number of low-income societies in the years and decades immediately ahead. The third factor critical to mass female feticide — ruthless son preference — is perhaps surprisingly difficult to identify in advance. In theory, overbearing son preference should be available from demographic and health surveys — such as India’s National Family and Health Survey, which demonstrated that prospective mothers in the state of Punjab desired their next child to be male rather than female by a ratio of 10 to 1. Yet ironically, despite the many tens of millions of dollars that international aid and development agencies have spent on the hundreds of demographic and health surveys they have supported in low-income countries over recent decades, information on sex preference is almost never collected. (Evidently, Western funders of Third World population programs are concerned about the number of babies local parents desire, not their genders.)
Differential infant and child mortality rates arguably also offer clues about son preference: societies where female rates exceed male rates (patterns arising from systemic discriminatory mistreatment of little girls) may be correspondingly disposed to prenatal gender discrimination as well. According to theWorld Health Organization’s 2009 Life Tables, over 60 countries currently experience higher infant or age 1-4 mortality rates for girls than for boys: a roster including much of South-Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, and over a dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa. If such gender bias in mortality turns out to be a predictor of sex-selection bias, this global problem may get considerably worse before it gets better.
- And finally, an example of how abortion rights advocates can’t oppose this very well:
But now our slogans about individual rights — “my child, my choice” — have been appropriated as ad copy for the sex-selective clinics we find troubling. Even if people use new technologies to select for girls, and evidence suggests Caucasian women do, they apply the notion of “choice” to germinate restrictive notions of gender. When we fought for autonomy, this did not mean the right to engineer your own namesake or a pinkalicious-shopping buddy. What it meant was a right for women to define who they were and wanted to be on their own terms, on their own timeline.
Research shows that the language of “choice” has left audiences cold. Studies in cognitive linguistics, psychology, and even marketing contend this framework suggests action quickly considered and of little consequence — hardly a rhetorical counterweight to “life” or apt description of how most women undertake this decision.
But the concept of choice no longer fits either. Not only did we not want government out when it comes to financial assistance to access the abortion, we’re not vying for a mandate that says anything goes in the world of parenting.
Sex selection forces us to take stock of what we believe and start saying it. Here is our chance to leave behind the tired, consumer-led, conversation. “My choice,” or even “my child,” never described our community-supported ideals of child rearing. We must move from choice and it’s inevitable follow-up — “What kind of child do I want to have?” — to the more meaningful question: “What kind of parent do I want to become?”
Filed under: Human Trafficking, Sanctity of Life | Tagged: abortion, Anat Shenker-Osorio, bioethics, Chuck Colson, Live Action, Nicholas Eberstadt, Richard Miniter, Ross Douthat, Sujatha Jesudason | Leave a Comment »
In April, I linked to a New York Times Magazine article about the “reduction” procedure, which aborts some but not all of the unborn babies that a woman is carrying. Particularly controversial are those procedures that go from twins to a single child.
Today, I read some other links relating to that article and wanted to share them as well:
There are three broad camps in contemporary debates over bioethics. In the name of human rights and human dignity, “bio-conservatives” tend to support restricting, regulating and stigmatizing the technologies that allow us to create, manipulate and destroy embryonic life. In the name of scientific progress and human freedom, “bio-libertarians” tend to oppose any restrictions on what individuals, doctors and researchers are allowed to do. Then somewhere in between are the anguished liberals, who are uncomfortable with what they see as the absolutism of both sides, and who tend to argue that society needs to decide where to draw its bioethical lines not based on some general ideal (like “life” or “choice”), but rather case by case by case — accepting this kind of abortion but not that kind; this use of embryos but not that use; existing developments in genetic engineering but not, perhaps, the developments that await us in the future.
The liberal camp includes many thinkers I admire, and it has produced some of the more eloquent reflections on biotechnology’s implications for human affairs. But at least in the United States, the liberal effort to (as the Goodman of 1980 put it) “monitor” and “debate” and “control” the development of reproductive technologies has been extraordinarily ineffectual. From embryo experimentation to selective reduction to the eugenic uses of abortion, liberals always promise to draw lines and then never actually manage to draw them. Like Dr. Evans, they find reasons to embrace each new technological leap while promising to resist the next one — and then time passes, science marches on, and they find reasons why the next moral compromise, too, must be accepted for the greater good, or at least tolerated in the name of privacy and choice. You can always count on them to worry, often perceptively, about hypothetical evils, potential slips down the bioethical slope. But they’re either ineffectual or accommodating once an evil actually arrives. Tomorrow, they always say — tomorrow, we’ll draw the line. But tomorrow never comes.
- Douthat’s first link in the second paragraph that I excerpted above is by William Saletan of Slate. He noted that the article caused consternation among pro-choice writers. Here’s some of what he writes about Jezebel, which he describes as a “pro-choice website”:
Look up any abortion-related item in Jezebel, and you’ll see the developing human referred to as a fetus or pregnancy. But when the same entity appears in a non-abortion item, it gets an upgrade. A blood test could help “women who are concerned that they may be carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome.” A TV character wonders whether she’s “capable of carrying a child to term.” Nuclear radiation in Japan “may put unborn children at risk.” [Note: this reminds me of the time when I saw on John Kerry's 2004 campaign website claimed that the Bush administration's insufficient regulation of the emissions from coal plants put, as I believe the phrasing went, "pregnant workers" at risk. It was a different way of avoiding the obvious.]
This bifurcated mindset permeates pro-choice thinking. Embryos fertilized for procreation are embryos; embryos cloned for research are “activated eggs.” A fetus you want is a baby; a fetus you don’t want is a pregnancy. Under federal law, anyone who injures or kills a “child in utero” during a violent crime gets the same punishment as if he had injured or killed “the unborn child’s mother,” but no such penalty applies to “an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman … has been obtained.”
Reduction destroys this distinction. It combines, in a single pregnancy, a wanted and an unwanted fetus. In the case of identical twins, even their genomes are indistinguishable. You can’t pretend that one is precious and the other is just tissue. You’re killing the same creature to which you’re dedicating your life.
A while back, John Knight at the Desiring God blog linked to a New York Times Magazine article called “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy,” which describes the recent trend of using selective abortion or “reduction” to eliminate a twin in utero so that the mother only gives birth to one child. This section sums up the amoral (or perhaps falsely moral) tone of the article:
For all its successes, reproductive medicine has produced a paradox: in creating life where none seemed possible, doctors often generate more fetuses than they intend. In the mid-1980s, they devised an escape hatch to deal with these megapregnancies, terminating all but two or three fetuses to lower the risks to women and the babies they took home. But what began as an intervention for extreme medical circumstances has quietly become an option for women carrying twins. With that, pregnancy reduction shifted from a medical decision to an ethical dilemma. As science allows us to intervene more than ever at the beginning and the end of life, it outruns our ability to reach a new moral equilibrium. We still have to work out just how far we’re willing to go to construct the lives we want.
Jenny’s decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love. Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. “This is bad, but it’s not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have,” she told me, referring to the reduction. She and her husband worked out this moral calculation on their own, and they intend to never tell anyone about it. Jenny is certain that no one, not even her closest friends, would understand, and she doesn’t want to be the object of their curiosity or feel the sting of their judgment.
It’s an interesting article for what it reveals about the reasoning of the doctors and parents who make these decisions, revealing the moral bankruptcy of the whole enterprise.
UPDATE (6/10/12): I posted some links of articles reacting to Padawer’s article today.
Peter Leithart passed on Paul Stephenson’s contentions about why Christians grew numerous in the Roman Empire: the requirement of husbands’ faithfulness to their wives, the forbidding of anal and oral sex, and the rejection of abortion and infanticide.
Infanticide often targeted girls in Rome. Leithart here quotes Stephenson’s book Constantine:
“If the population of the Roman Empire was sixty million at the time of Constantine’s birth, only around twenty-four million of these were women. Given that boys are more problematic in the womb, more sickly and more inclined to die at a young age in military activity or by violence, this figure is quite remarkable and can be explained only by the fact that baby girls were frequently murdered.”
He goes on: “It was rare for all but the wealthiest families to raise more than one daughter, however many were born . . .
“and infanticide was the surest way to dispose of unwanted girls. It was legal, philosophically justified and widely practiced. An infamous letter sent by a man to his pregnant wife in 1 BC instructs her: ‘if it’s a boy keep it, if it’s a girl throw it away.’ . . . far fewer girls than boys were allowed to grow to maturity, that is to child-bearing age, and consequently the general rate of reproduction in the late Roman world was kept artificially low.”
A Facebook friend shared this article by Mark Steyn, portraying PP as a bully that guzzles taxpayer money to perform abortions and pay its executives exorbitant salaries. Steyn notes that these salaries place the executives in “the 1%.” Chuck Colson makes similar comments here. Of course, one of the big scandals is that PP doesn’t have mammogram equipment, only doctors to refer women for mammograms.
On the other hand, William Saletan believes that PP actually is far more concerned with contraception, to the point that if it had more money, it would distribute more contraceptives and perform fewer abortions.
All of the authors cite facts and figures to back up their points. Which do you think is a the more accurate portrayal? PP gives me the creeps, not only because they are the biggest abortion providers but also because of their historical connection to eugenics. That’s not going to change, but I do want to think through this particular issue fairly and honestly.