Why, for the pro-life movement, to rest is to die

Whenever elections come around, Republicans always start pleading for a “truce” on social issues.  This truce is, of course, entirely one-sided.  It’s not like they’ve made an agreement with the ACLU or the gay activists for an end to agitation on the other side.  That itself should tip us off that the truce in question is actually an unconditional surrender.  In any event, social conservatives, and the pro-life movement (or as I like to call it, the “fetal-rights movement”) can never lay down its arms for a second.  If it did, it could never pick them up again.

Let me start out by stating a fact that everyone knows but no one at any point on the political spectrum will say, because it’s in no one’s interest to say it:  abortion will never be restricted in the United States in any serious way.  Never.  Not in a million years.  Americans would legalize cannibalism before they would restrict abortion.  They would elect Darth Vader president before they would restrict abortion.  They would turn over the country to foreign conquerers before they would allow any woman to be denied the right or opportunity (including, if necessary, the funds) to murder her prenatal child.  The stated purpose of the pro-life movement–to illegalize abortion–is utterly hopeless.

Why is it hopeless?  First of all, the entire elite class is pro-choice, and nothing is done against their will.  Second, liberalism bases human dignity not on having a human essence, but on having an active will, which excludes the unborn, infants, and the mentally incapacitated.  Third, liberalism demands that sex have no intrinsic meaning, which can only be made to seem true if its telos is eraticated.

Most significantly, the evil of abortion can never be admitted, because America could never bear to assume the guilt that this would imply.  It would mean that we have committed the greatest crime in human history, the greatest mass-murder of all time.  Even this understates the magnitude of our infamy, because our murders were not, like those of the Jacobins and Bolsheviks, directed primarily at strangers, but rather at our own children.  And this was not only allowed by statute, but according to our Supreme Court, demanded by our fundamental constitution.  In God’s sight, America is more contemptible than Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  Simple justice, it would seem, demands that the USA be exterminated, its cities burned, and its ground sown with salt.  That we be utterly forgotten is a greater mercy than we deserve.  No country can bear to admit this about itself, unless it also believes in some supernatural agency for redemption.

Just because a movement is hopeless doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve a useful purpose, though.  The constant agitation of the pro-life movement has succeeded in getting the issue of abortion labeled as “controversial” in the public mind.  This is no small feat.  Compare what’s happened to other reactionary causes when they ceased to be thought controversial.  Two examples would be the Italian Risorgimento and women in the military.  Today, these are not considered controversial:  it’s just assumed that any sane person would see how obviously good these things are.  So, for example, that nitwit Father Leo thought it was a good idea once to compare Jesus Christ to Garibaldi.  So, looking at the recruitment ads on the television, one would hardly guess that there are any men in our armed forces.  If I were to tell someone that unprovoked Piedmontese aggression was not justified just because it was sucessful, or that men who let their women defend them are cowards, I would simply be regarded as a lunatic.  These are settled issues.

Most of America, and all of the elite, would like to “settle” on abortion, too.  In this case, though, there’s a minority that’s large and vocal enough that they can’t convincingly do it.  Everybody knows that abortion is controversial.  If I want it outlawed, most people disagree with me, but they don’t regard me as a lone nut.  You can have supposedly noncontroversial commercials about a soldier coming home to her children–we’re all supposed to find this heartwarming.  You can’t yet have heartwarming commercials about a mother and daughter bonding over memories of their first abortions.  Even most of the pro-choicers would find that creepy.  Even in their minds, abortion has been flagged as “controversial”.

The instant pro-lifers stop making noise, this issue will be “settled” just like all the others before it.  If, a year later, someone tries to take up the cause again, people will look at him like he’s a lunatic (rather like when I say something about wanting the Papal States restored, or hoping for a Stuart restoration in England).  Hardly anyone can bear that sort of social ostracism (which is why I let so very few people in on my sympathies).

To sum up, our situation is like that of the last remaining humans in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  If we fall asleep for a second, our souls are sucked out, and we become pod-people.

11 Responses

  1. An interesting post – the problem of guilt you bring up in the fourth paragraph is one I’ve never thought about before. I’m not wholly convinced that it is an insurmountable problem, though, as I do think history suggests a possible escape route. Consider this: Germans have arguably owned up to and moved beyond the Holocaust far more than Russians have with the Holodomor, say, or Japanese have with the Nanking Massacre. I think the reason is that while Nazism had no influence or credibility at all in post-war Germany, Stalinism and Showa nationalism still cast long shadows today. The German can bear to contemplate his country’s past crimes while the Japanese or the Russian cannot because the former is more exempted from guilt. The German can tell himself that the Holocaust doesn’t truly belong to him, committed as it was by now-dethroned men following a now-discredited ideology; but the Japanese knows that his government still refuses to acknowledge that the Rape of Nanking took place at all, and the Russian knows that former Soviet bureaucrats still run the Duma and the Kremlin. Bluntly, then, conservatives can win on abortion through a sort of new denazification: a regime change which works on a cultural as well as a governmental level, and which is broadly *perceived* as a regime change. Once effected, it will remove the stumbling block of the pro-abortion elite and make it bearable to contemplate the crimes of the past through the recognition that they were motivated by the virus of liberalism, which by then will be dead and alien. Of course, this still leaves us with the question of whether we can realistically expect such a regime change to take place within our lifetimes.

  2. Hey, rkirk, good to hear from you again. I hope you’re enjoying your summer vacation.

    This issue of dealing with historical guilt seems interesting enough for a post on its own. Your examples show how difficult it can be. It’s my impression that, despite the visible regime change, most Germans have renounced even innocent patriotism out of national shame. I think the connection between American culture and abortion is closer and more direct than any connection between German culture and National Socialism. I think you are right: to really be able to come to terms with our guilt, we Americans would have to renounce our entire ruling ideology.

  3. That’s a good point. You’re certainly right about German patriotism; I think a recent survey showed that Germans are less proud of their nationality than any other European nationality. But to labor a previous comparison, the Japanese and Russian governments still issue school textbooks that don’t mention or actively deny their respective atrocities, while the German government is obviously doing nothing of the sort. As far as I’m concerned, these two approaches exist at opposite extremes of a spectrum: the Germans are just being cautious — probably overcautious — about giving foreigners the wrong impression or repeating history, while the others are still incapable of admitting that an atrocity took place at all.

    I’m also not convinced that abortion is uniquely American. National Socialism was particularly German, at least in a superficial sense, but abortion does not belong to any particular race, people, or nation — after all, we Western Europeans are at least as guilty on that front as are you Americans. If anything, I think it would be easier to renounce the liberalism which fuels the pro-choice movement as a ruling ideology, since its hatred of patriotism and ethnic loyalty makes it incapable by definition of meaningfully attaching itself to a particular culture.

  4. […] about abortion, America’s other candidate for greatest crime?  In a comment here, rkirk argues that this is a guilt from which we Americans may actually be able to extricate […]

  5. I think I agree with you on all major points. I even wrote an essay once arguing that America is not equal to liberalism. The two can be separated, intellectually (today) and institutionally (hopefully someday). History will make it difficult, though. Every German can look back on times when Germany was not nationalist, not aggressive, and not particularly racist. They are still the people of Beethoven, Kant, and Goethe, and they should be proud of it. On the other hand, an American who wants nonliberal icons has to look back to the Puritans. (Russell Kirk–whose arguments you presumably know well–thought otherwise, claiming to find an unbroken tradition of conservatism in America. I’m afraid I don’t buy it. It’s too bad, because my case would be stronger if it were true.)

  6. In writing that Nazism was in some superficial ways uniquely German, I certainly didn’t want to imply that Germans shouldn’t be as proud of their nation as any other people. Their history is, as you point out, a glorious one, and should be tarnished by single horrific distortion of its spirit.

    A few words on Russell Kirk: I don’t hold his ideas in the quite the same esteem as I did when I started blogging. (For instance, I now take strong exception to his dismissal of Hegel and his anglocentrism.) The man was an indispensable popularizer and a great prose stylist, but I’m actually starting to regret my choice of username a little bit. Still, I happen to agree with his view that a more-or-less continuous line of American traditionalism can be drawn from the pilgrims to the present. For me, nonliberal icons between the Puritans and Kirk include, among others, certain corners of the anti-federalist movement, Randolph of Roanoke, Henry Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer Moore, Albert Jay Nock, Robert Taft, and the 12 Southerners.

    One of the most important things things I got out of your essay on American conservatism was that for most of its history, the US was only a liberal country on paper. The fact that it drifted into decadence at about the same time as Europe and that it is arguably still not as depraved as, say, Scandinavia or the Netherlands indicates to me that there’s still a chance of redemption. Then again, maybe the fact that I’m on the other side of the Atlantic is making me more optimistic about America’s future than I ought to be.

  7. I obviously meant to write “should not be tarnished” in the first paragraph. I’ve also just realized that said paragraph misconstrues the point you were making, so feel free to disregard it. That’s what I get for not rereading before posting, I guess.

  8. A very interesting post, Bonald. I’ve not quite considered abortion from this angle before. I know you say “not in a million years,” for rhetorical effect. But of course it is very possible in, literally, a million years. And to be less extreme, it is very possible within a thousand years. A hundred years? That seems depressingly unlikely for exactly the reasons you explain here.

    But the one lesson of history is that we cannot predict history. My hope is probably ill-founded, but I retain hope nevertheless. I also second your excellent point about keeping abortion controversial. It is not nothing. It is something, and it should continue.

  9. Hello rkirk,

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I think you’re right that I’ve contradicted myself. If, as I argued way back, the American order actually rests on a basis of authority and particular loyalty, then we don’t have to go back to the Puritans to find a conservative reality in America. You give examples to show that there has even been a tradition of theoretical conservatism in American thought. I admit that the only ones on your list that I’ve actually read are the 12 Southerners, but I count them as genuine conservatives. (I’m actually a little surprised that Kirk didn’t pay more attention to them in The Conservative Mind.)

    I owe a lot to American conservatism (including Kirk and Nisbet). Like you, I’ve been evolving away from the Kirkian formulation of conservatism (starting shortly before I started this blog), but this probably leads me to exaggerate my differences with them.

  10. […] Most significantly, the evil of abortion can never be admitted, becaue America could never bear to a… […]

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