mercoledì 2 novembre 2016
On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States, by a 7-2 majority, discovered a sweeping constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy and struck down abortion laws across the country. Within five years, the number of abortions in America annually climbed above a million, where it would remain for 20 years. To be pro-life, to regard abortion as obviously a form of murder and all those millions of dead unborn as its nameless victims, is to believe that the Roe v. Wade decision was a moment of deep moral rupture in the history of the republic. When it comes to the possibility that the modern American order is corrupt and under judgment, nobody is more “woke” than the committed opponent of abortion.......
On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States, by a 7-2 majority, discovered a sweeping constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy and struck down abortion laws across the country. Within five years, the number of abortions in America annually climbed above a million, where it would remain for 20 years.
To be pro-life, to regard abortion as obviously a form of murder and all those millions of dead unborn as its nameless victims, is to believe that the Roe v. Wade decision was a moment of deep moral rupture in the history of the republic. When it comes to the possibility that the modern American order is corrupt and under judgment, nobody is more “woke” than the committed opponent of abortion.
Yet abortion opponents, in the 1970s and afterward, responded to Roe v. Wade for the most part like normal citizens of a normal democratic state, not as dissidents within a murderous dystopia. The pro-life movement accepted, even in the face of what it considered a monstrous evil, the good of civic peace, and treated the evil of abortion as something to be addressed through the usual work of democratic politics — however long that work might take, across however many presidential elections and Supreme Court battles and public arguments and acts of private persuasion, and through however many setbacks and defeats along the way.
To the pro-choice side, especially to lukewarm pro-choicers looking to feel better about their own muddled sense of things, this choice has sometimes been cast as evidence that pro-lifers don’t really believe our own rhetoric — that if we really believed abortion to be murder, really murder, we wouldn’t be incrementalists and small-r republicans on the issue; we would support violence, rebellion, nullification, secession, you name it.
It’s an argument that rears its head whenever someone on the pro-life fringe turns to violence — the idea that abortion-clinic shooters are acting appropriately given full anti-abortion premises, that the logical implications of the pro-life position point to a wild radicalism rather than an acceptance of democratic politics’ continuing ebb and flow.
The strongest counterpoint to this line of argument comes from the Roman Catholic catechism’s teaching on just war. As the Catholic writer John Zmirak noted in the aftermath of the Planned Parenthood shootings last years, the church does not allow nations to take up arms and go to war merely when they have a high moral cause on their side. Justice is necessary, but it is not sufficient: Peaceful means of ending the evil in question need to have been exhausted, there must be serious prospects of military success, and (crucially) “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”
What this teaching suggests is that we should have a strong bias in favor of peaceful deliberation so long as deliberation remains possible. And that bias can be reasonably applied to the internal peace of a republic as much as to the peace between nations. So long as your polity offers mechanisms for eventually changing unjust laws, it’s better to accept the system’s basic legitimacy and work within it for change than to take steps, violent or otherwise, that risk blowing the entire apparatus up.
Perhaps you have already guessed that this argument has some application to the position of principled conservatives in the year of Donald Trump.
A vote for Trump is not a vote for insurrection or terrorism or secession. But it is a vote for a man who stands well outside the norms of American presidential politics, who has displayed a naked contempt for republican institutions and constitutional constraints, who deliberately injects noxious conspiracy theories into political conversation, who has tiptoed closer to the incitement of political violence than any major politician in my lifetime, whose admiration for authoritarian rulers is longstanding, who has endorsed war crimes and indulged racists and so on down a list that would exhaust this column’s word count if I continued to compile it.
It is a vote, in other words, for a far more chaotic and unstable form of political leadership (on the global stage as well as on the domestic) than we have heretofore experienced, and a leap unlike any that conservative voters have considered taking in all the long years since Roe v. Wade.
And what is striking is how many conservatives seem to have internalized that reality and justified their support for Trump anyway, on grounds that are similar to ones that the mainstream pro-life movement has rejected for four decades: Namely, that Hillary Clinton would usher in some particular evil so severe and irreversible that it’s better to risk burning things down, crashing the plane of state, or whatever metaphor for Trump’s potential effect on the republic you prefer, than to allow the other political party to hold the presidency for the next four years.
It is not just pro-life writers (including Zmirak, I should note) making versions of this argument. It is constitutional conservatives arguing that permitting another progressive president would make the Constitution completely irrecoverable, so better to roll the dice with a Peronist like Trump. It is immigration restrictionists arguing that Clinton’s favored amnesty for illegal immigrants would complete America’s transformation into Venezuela, so better to roll the dice with a right-wing Chávez. It is a long list of conservatives treating an inevitable feature of democratic politics — the election of a politician of the other party to the presidency — as an evil so grave that it’s worth risking all the disorders that Trump obviously promises.
I agree with them that grave evils will follow from electing Hillary Clinton. But the Trump alternative is like a feckless war of choice in the service of some just-seeming end, with a commanding general who likes war crimes. It’s a ticket on a widening gyre, promising political catastrophe and moral corruption both, no matter what ideals seem to justify it.
It is a hard thing to accept that some elections should be lost, especially in a country as divided over basic moral premises as our own. But just as the pro-life movement ultimately won real gains — in lives saved, laws altered, abortion rates reduced — by accepting the legitimacy of the republic even as it deplored the killing of the unborn, so today’s conservatism has far more to gain from the defeat of Donald Trump, and the chance to oppose Clintonian progressivism unencumbered by his authoritarianism, bigotry, misogyny and incompetence, than it does from answering the progressive drift toward Caesarism with a populist Elagabalus.
Not because it is guaranteed long-term victory in that scenario or any other. But because the deepest conservative insight is that justice depends on order as much as order depends on justice. So when Loki or the Joker or some still-darker Person promises the righting of some grave wrong, the defeat of your hated enemies, if you will only take a chance on chaos and misrule, the wise and courageous response is to tell them to go to hell.
di "Ross Douthat per "nytimes.com"