Reading from C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man (1943) I was struck by how his discussion of “Man’s Conquest of Nature”, particularly regarding contraception, is pertinent to abortion debate. At this point in time abortion is, at the very least, a method of contraception. Following is a quote from the book, and if you substitute “abortion” for “contraception” you will see what I mean:
“[A]s regards contraception there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument…. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones. The latter point is not always sufficiently emphasized, because those who write on social matters have not yet learned to imitate the physicists by always including Time among the dimensions. In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, insofar as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have preordained how they are to use them. And if, as is almost certain, the age which had thus attained maximum power over posterity were also the age most emancipated from tradition, it would be engaged in reducing the power of its predecessors almost as drastically a that of its successors.” (added emphasis mine).
Decades of data and decades of legal, political, and cultural developments have combined to teach us a few, simple realities about abortion in the United States:
1. Presidents have been irrelevant to the abortion rate;
2. Judges have been forces of stability, not change, in abortion law;
3. State legislatures have had more influence on abortion than Congress;
4. Even if Roe is overturned, abortion will be mostly unchanged in the U.S.; and
5. The pro-life movement has an enormous cultural advantage.
If the points above don’t seem to make sense to you, then you’re likely unfamiliar with the way that decisive numbers of Americans think about abortion—not in crystal-clear terms of life versus choice (or “baby” versus “clump of cells”), but through much hazier and subjective reasoning. This means that absolutists are consistently frustrated with the political process. Unless Americans change, that process will not yield the results they seek.
Do Pro-Lifers Who Reject Trump Have ‘Blood on their Hands’?
I recently read “Abortion is the leading cause of death.” I checked with Snopes. They challenge that:
If WHO’s estimate of 56 million abortions annually held steady through 2016, when they released their survey on the top ten leading causes of death globally, it would be true that the number of abortions worldwide outnumbered overall deaths from heart disease and stroke, the top two causes of death that year.
And then this:
……Stating that abortion is the “leading cause of death” worldwide (as opposed to a medical procedure) is a problematic pronouncement, because that stance takes a political position, one which is at odds with the scientific/medical world. The medical community does not confer personhood upon fetuses that are not viable outside the womb, so counting abortion as a “cause of death” does not align with the practices of health organizations such as WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
That is pathetic and gutless.
Historically it usually takes years to effectively change behavior and attitudes, both culturally and individually. It is the heart and mind that must be changed, not merely legislation. In fact, I would say that legislation is barely effective in addressing social issues. It is far better when society and individuals are motivated by what they believe to be true or good.
Thankfully it seems that attitudes about abortion have changed. From National Review:
In 2015, the last year for which the Centers for Disease Control reports data, fewer abortions per 1,000 women were performed in the United States than at any time since 1973. That’s when, in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the practice. It may be a reflection of the public’s increased sensitivity to the morally troubling nature of abortion that it is being performed not only at a lower rate but, on average, earlier in pregnancy and gestation. State laws restricting abortion have contributed to the decline, but it’s not unique to America. It runs through developed countries around the world over the past quarter century. The pro-life movement has always worked hard to change people’s minds. Increasingly its function is to articulate what they already think.
I’ve frequently been told that the problem with our political parties today is that they are not moderate enough, they are too liberal or too conservative. In an article titled Betraying Politics: The Mystique of Public Life John Schweiker Shelton disagrees:
“Everything begins as a mystique and ends as a politique,” observes French essayist Charles Péguy. In other words, that which begins as a pure idea—mystic, even transcendent—devolves into profane politics, the slow grind of policy divorced from any sort of sanguine idealism. The politique politician is an automaton, swayed by the slightest breeze of public opinion and party leadership. Such a man considers himself to be “eminently practical.” If he is always choosing an evil, at least it is the lesser of two. He takes what he can get; he desires the possible and worries not over the good, the beautiful, the true. He scoffs at Plato, even Aristotle. His man is Hobbes—Machiavelli, if he is forthright. He esteems them not for their realism but their cynicism. Such humdrum pessimism is fit cover for this man without a chest.
The mystique politician is not the philosopher satirized in Aristophanes’ The Clouds: staring up absentmindedly into the starry night, falling into a well. He is instead the philosopher of The Federalist Papers, the man who, if he stares up into the starry night, does so not unto stumbling but because he will soon travel there upon Apollo 11. He articulates the natural rights of humanity and believes in them sufficiently to fight till liberty or death. His is a lusty romanticism that purges the will to power of Nietzschean materiality with the fires of Platonic idealism. He is a Kierkegaard and not a Foucault; a martyr and not a critic. Where is such a person today?
….In the American political tradition, two fonts of mystique
predominate: the liberal and the conservative—each a scion of the Western Christian tradition in its own right. The liberal mystique
enunciates the eternal dignity of each individual, purposed for transformation and glorification; the conservative mystique
praises the divine vocation of the church, the family, the nation, and other institutions, each tasked with preserving the moral order and transmitting knowledge of truth and human virtue. That there are two major streams of mystique
driving the American experiment, embedded in its constitution of rights and laws, is not insignificant. Were there only one, a solipsistic individualism would reign—or a fascist collectivism. That there are two streams is definitive of American politics and is necessary for its weal. This is why libertarianism is the death of politics just as much as authoritarianism. Rights must always be balanced with responsibilities; without a shared community, there can be no shared justice. And without justice, the experiment fails.
…The wisdom of the day reports that all of our problems arise because our nation is too ideological. But the wisdom of the day is no wisdom at all. Our conflicts arise, not because we are too ideological, but because we are insufficiently so. The wisdom of the day reports that there is no reconciling those who believe abortion is murder and those who believe a woman has the right to decide this for herself. Though they may be right that the culture war between will never end, they are wrong to think this is a problem of ideology. The battle between pro-life and pro-choice lobbies is not a battle over mystique, it is a battle over politique. No doubt, these positions emerge from mystiques but they are not mystiquesthemselves. Rather, the conflict arises because politique has devoured the mystique from which it came. It is the loss of mystique in politics, not its presence, that has led to the trench warfare we have seen in Washington, DC. Péguy proclaims, “All parties live by their mystique and die by their politique.” For some long time now, the Republicans and the Democrats have both been dying of a politique shorn of mystique. The liberals are not liberal and the conservatives are not conservative! Inside of the Beltway this is painfully obvious.
And his conclusion reaffirms my decision not to vote for Clinton or Trump:
Péguy offered an alternative to the destructive politiques of his day: to betray the Machiavellian calculations of politics. We will be called ‘traitors’ for our refusal “to enter into the derivative, parasitical, devouring politique.” And yet we must be such ‘traitors’ so that we do not become true traitors: those who sell their faith, their souls, and give their very selves up. We must not betray our faith, our ideals, or our values for a political victory. We must discern the dividing line between mystique and politique and refuse to budge over it. We can go no further, for, as Péguy warns,
Continuing, persevering, in that sense, is all that is most dangerous to justice and to intelligence itself. To take one’s ticket departure in a party, in a faction, and never to bother where the train is rolling to, and above all, what it is rolling on, is to put oneself resolutely in the very best situation for becoming a criminal.
In our desperation to win the culture war, we must not follow the path of wicked Saul, who called upon the Witch of Endor to shore up his position. We cannot afford the disastrous, Pyrrhic victory that awaits us there. We must be better conservatives. We must be better liberals.
A friend of mine posted this challenge recently:
“I love my guns! However, I would gladly give them up IF the USA passes a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion. 3,500 preborns are killed EACH day in the USA thru abortion. This is true carnage and yet it receives NO press. Abortion is a very gruesome and barbarous process. Any takers on my offer?”
I have many friends who are in favor of legal abortions AND stricter gun control. It is so hard for most of us to understand the opposing view in these two issues. My friend’s challenge comes the closest I’ve heard to bridging that gap.
I checked the CDC statistics on abortions, violent deaths by gunshot and suicides by gunshot (in only our country). They are stunning and sobering. I wish I had a visual.
2012: 699,202 abortions
2013: 11,208 homicides related to gun violence
21,175 suicides by guns
If these numbers were in a pie chart or graph the gun related violence would be hard to find.
699,202 abortions, and a total of 32,383 gun related deaths
The gun related deaths are 4.63% of the number of deaths by abortion.
What is wrong with us that some of us celebrate the right to kill 700 THOUSAND pre-born babies in just one year?