[Once in a while an exchange of comments occurs in response to one of my posts that is so instructive that I believe it should be shared with everyone. Such is the following exchange arising in response to my last post, The saving grace of the republican imperative. )If you have not read it, I suggest doing so before you continue.) I hope this will encourage readers to click more often on the comments button; to leave their own, or just read what’s in progress. It’s often worth the time.]
Dr. Keyes, you are apparently making an accusation…but I fail to see the substance or even the sense of it.
My point (and I did not see any others being made), was that you appear to disparage the one tactic for restoring a moral consensus and legal system in opposition to abortion which has any hope of being successful, which also happens to be the one most in line with the particular wording and intent of the Constitution.
If, as you seem to imply, there is some definite agenda expressed on the part of the Pauls to fix the ‘peculiar institution’ of abortion as an inviolable states’ right for all time, I would appreciate it if you would address such statements. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have enough interest in the Pauls to follow their statements in any great detail.
On the other hand, if they have made no such statements of nefarious intent to use the mantra of states’ rights to perpetuate the practice of abortion against all attempts to restrict it, then I don’t see how their choice of the Constitutional strategy to remove control over abortion law from the province of the national government should be counted as support of abortion.
I once mentioned that even the hopeless battles must be contested sharply. I do not believe this implies that one must deliberately fight all one’s battles on the worst possible ground. A hopeless battle is only worth fighting when the alternative is not fighting at all, when the alternative is an advantageous battle, one must wonder at the decision to fix one’s standard in ground that cannot be defended.
Especially as I simply do not see the guiding principle that would give such a decision ‘moral’ merit. Restricting the power of the national government to purely Federal issues (as the Constitution provides) would seem to be the more ‘principled’ way to address this issue, as well as being more likely to provide success.
If you were to answer the following questions I might better understand your position.
Do you really believe that reversing Roe v. Wade would not be a substantial victory for pro-life activists?
Have those who express a desire to precisely reverse the Roe v. Wade decision made explicit statements that they foresee such a reversal being a fundamental victory for pro-abortion activists?
Is there some essential flaw in the design of the Federal system described in the Constitution, such that it should be considered unacceptable to leave the states with any significant role in making laws?
I would not ordinarily think to ask you these questions, but this last post leaves me in considerable doubt as to what your answers to them could possibly be.
Alan Keyes said:
The Pauls take the position that the states may abrogate their responsibility to secure the unalienable right to life of posterity. Along with McCain, Sarah Palin, etc. they have repeatedly said that laws permitting abortion are legitimate at the state level.
But the goal of republican government is to secure unalienable rights. This is not optional. It is a positive obligation of justice.
If a state abrogates responsibility for the security of the right to life (by declaring open season on posterity via so called abortion rights) it departs from the substance of republican government. The Constitution mandates that the Federal government guarantee adherence to the republican form of government. It is therefore constitutionally obliged to act to remedy the state’s breach of republicanism.
This by no means implies taking away the state’s right to make laws. Rather it enforces the state’s obligation to make provision in the law for the security of unalienable rights, in this case the right to life.
By the way, on account of the constitutional requirement that all persons be accorded equal protection of the laws, the selective abrogation of the state’s responsibility for the security of the unalienable rights of nascent posterity is not only a substantive formal dereliction of republican government, it is also a violation of a specific constitutional provision. (By the way, the Pauls, McCain, etc. do not hold to the view that nascent human offspring are not persons. They allow that they are persons, but claim that states can legitimately confer a right to kill them anyway. In this respect, their contradiction of republican constitutional justice is more egregious than is the case with those who hold that nascent posterity are not human beings.)
I am disinclined to put too much moral weight on the issue of legitimacy of laws. It is nothing more than which laws will actually be treated as law, when you get right down to it. In that sense, it is nothing more than a pragmatic judgment. And in just this sense, those who say that the states have the more legitimate authority to make such legislation have a very strong case.
If we are to hope for a reversal of Roe v. Wade by persuasion of the electorate rather than overthrow of democracy, then stating the principle of that reversal in terms of preserving the guarantee of self-government is prudent. In order for it to be moral, such statements should represent a real willingness to let the issue of abortion be settled by state laws. This in no way implies a abdication of the moral responsibility to advocate good laws, only to keep that fight at the level of the state legislatures.
I have mentioned before that a complete ban on abortion is unenforcible. While I’m willing to withhold the explicit details which would turn that argument into a de facto instruction in how to perform one, I will not let the point slide. Legitimacy of abortion laws may be a matter of pragmatism, but in the case of a law that can so easily be circumvented, it is not unimportant.
To put it very bluntly, where abortion is not regarded as wrong in and of itself, laws restricting it are likely to be ineffective. They will not be obeyed, and are likely to be difficult to enforce as well. A commitment to pursuing such laws through the democratic process at the state level implies persuasion of the majority in each state that abortion is wrong and should be eliminated by law. This persuasive process is precisely what is needed to actually eliminate (rather than unenforceably outlaw) abortion.
A declaration of absolute commitment to achieve some objective which rejects the methods by which it has any possibility of actually being achieved is…not prudent. If one understands that one is undermining the potential for success, then such a statement would be downright deceptive. Fortunately for my opinion of your honor (though it perhaps is something you wish to mend), you do have a notable tendency to lose sight of political realities in your pursuit of ideals.
To argue that the states have the authority to regulate abortion through their democratically elected legislatures is to imply that they may decline to do so. I’m afraid that one cannot disparage this reality of limited government…where an explicit law cannot be enacted through the legislative process, the law is silent. I favor limited government for a number of reasons, not least because it provides for laws to be explicit and regular rather than corresponding only to the whim of those in power. Regardless of whether or not it serves any given social or political end at some moment, limited government is one of the chief principles of the Constitution (and the Declaration of Independence, where–if you’ll recall–the whimsical and arbitrary nature of the King’s rule was the essential focus of most of the complaints).
In my life-time, there have been a number of different state laws which denied my right to exist or live because of my racial or religious background. I do not hold that any of these laws were good laws, but it never occurred to me that there was any point in disputing the authority of the various states to make them. The point was to fight to get them reversed (a fight in which I never had much interest, to be honest). States may make bad laws, or fail to make good laws. But if you have any love of the principles of limited government then you have to grant someone the authority to make laws, and the Constitution grants the authority over all but a few laws to the states.
Alan Keyes said:
The question of legitimacy is not a “pragmatic” issue unless one assumes that there is no standard of right and wrong apart from human will and imposition. The doctrine of unalienable rights invokes a higher standard, a higher law, the will of the Creator God. Human actions and legislation that contravene the Creator’s provision for human nature are unlawful.
The people of the United States, and of each state respectively, base their claim to be the ultimate arbiters of authority for law and government on this provision. When, through their representatives, they make laws they cannot contradict the provisions of the higher law without vitiating their right to govern themselves.
If, without regard to the provisions made for human nature by the Creator, we accept as lawful whatever the people decides to be such, there would then be no difference between constitutional government and the arbitrary rule of despots and tyrants. However, the Constitution does not establish or sanction a tyranny of any kind, including tyranny of the majority.
To be sure, some Americans now wish to overthrow constitutional government, and to replace it with a socialist tyranny claiming to act on behalf of the people. They deny the existence of God, of any higher law and of any standard for human affairs except “history” (i.e., what happens determines what’s right.) Put simply, this returns us to a world in which might makes right and success justifies everything.
The majority of Americans don’t want to live in such a world. Since our tactical aim is to build a majority, the right tactical goal is to make sure people realize that whether or not we live in such a world is what is really at stake in all our present discussions. Because this is most directly clear when dealing with respect for unalienable rights (like the right to life,) emphasizing this aspect of every issue is the most salient and effective way of achieving the tactical goal.
By the way, the moral consensus we seek to achieve is not just about abortion, it is about justice and liberty. Making clear the unlawfulness of abortion serves and must be seen in the context of this overall purpose. Reducing abortions without restoring respect for God’s provision of justice for humanity does not achieve the purpose, though all too many people presently regarded as pro-life leaders mistakenly think that it does.)
The precise point of disagreement is whether directly reversing the national government’s arrogation of the authority to decide the legality of abortion would ‘vitiate’ the principles on which America is based.
My argument (I don’t know the details of the Pauls’ position) is that the several states, while not individually necessarily any better stewards of this authority, are collectively better because they face competition and work under Federal limitations rather than acting as totally sovereign governments. Whether or not this argument is persuasive, you have advanced nothing in opposition to the argument itself.
I have no vested interest in holding this position, given that I believe that the Federal government is irreversibly delegitimized. I am perfectly willing to be persuaded…but you must make an argument that I can follow from premises I accept.
Alan Keyes said:
Where respect for the republican form of government is concerned, the Constitution clearly states that the U.S. government has responsibility for guaranteeing that it is maintained. This is a positive Constitutional duty. If a state respects the premises of republican government, no U.S. government action is needed. But if it departs from that respect (as it does with legislation that violates the unalienable right to life, for instance) the U.S. government has a Constitutional duty and obligation to act.
Those of us who work under the banner of the Constitution cannot treat its terms as optional. According to those terms, the states must adhere to the republican form of government.
Finally, though we act at a time when strong forces are working to abuse the power of the U.S. government, it has not been “irreversibly delegitimized”. Its legitimacy depends on proper respect for Constitutional limits and duties, and will be restored along with that respect. Such is the aim of the work I and others are doing.
See, the leap you make between “Republican form of Government” and “advocating direct reversal of Roe v. Wade is pro-abortion” is the place you’re losing me.
I realize you’re connecting them. I just don’t see the logic of that connection. Maybe you need to go through it a little slower or something.
For myself, I think the word “form” is in there for a reason. The Founding Fathers may well have realized that it would simply not be possible for the Federal government to actually guarantee that each state would be an ideal Republic. So they might have meant “Republican form of Government” quite literally, since it is easier to enforce forms than ideals. Just thinking…they paid a lot of attention to what might actually be possible in their design for the United States.
I believe in miracles. My existence cannot otherwise be explained, after all. And yet…I also believe in prudence. I don’t actually practice it, but I do believe in it.
Alan Keyes said:
In matters of perception the word “form” refers to an object’s distinctive appearance in perception. Our sense of its meaning must obviously take account of the faculties through which perception takes place. Reference to the ‘form’ of a tree calls to mind something different than referring to the ‘form’ of a piece of music, or of a dancer in action.
The ‘form’ of government is rather more like the dancer, in that it cannot be perceived except in action. Unlike the dancer, however, its ‘body’ appears mainly as an object of intellectual rather than material perception. Its form thus corresponds to a certain body of ideas (understood as a logically coherent arrangement of premises and conclusions to be carried into action.) In this respect it is more like the dance than the dancer, in that its form at any given moment is determined by choreography, which exists prior to action as an object of intellectual judgment and perception, an object of thought.
As an object of thought the republican form of government is a body of ideas that starts from the basic premise that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. Just as a ballet dancer must respect the rules that govern the body’s carriage during movement (appropriate flexure of the feet, rectitude of the spine, correct alignment of the shoulders, neck and head, etc.) a republican government must respect this basic premise (and its consequences) in all its arrangements and actions. If and when it departs from it (as legislation violating the unalienable right to life does) it is no longer maintaining the republican (i.e., just and legitimate) form of government.
I believe this clarifies the connection between ending “legalized” abortion and maintaining the republican form of government. The latter involves implementing a certain understanding of justice, so that its ‘form’ and its ‘substance’ (from the Latin sub stare, meaning to stand under) are inseparable.
The American founders had nothing but contempt for the idea of letting the U.S. Constitution become an arrangement of insubstantial “parchment provisions.” A constitution is justice in action. That’s why the oath of all government officials in the U.S. (including officials at the state level) binds them to carry it out (respect it in their actions.)