Wednesday, January 22, 2014

“Raw Judicial Power” I: “The Beginning of the Quarrel”


Given that today is the annual “March for Life” in Washington, DC, and that the Just Third Way as applied in Capital Homesteading can (at least in one sense) be described as a “Pro-Life economic agenda,” it seems appropriate to post a few comments about what, from a natural law point of view, must be regarded as a fundamental human right, that of life.

The Pro-Life movement has placed a great deal of emphasis on overturning Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113, 1973).  This has become something of a mantra, in fact.  Overturn this profoundly unjust decision, a violation of the laws of God and man (so the reasoning seems to go), and everything will be all right.

Unfortunately, given the current political climate and the state of economic and social development for the past two centuries or so, the sad fact is that overturning Roe v. Wade would do absolutely nothing substantive.  Unless there is a profound and fundamental restructuring of the social order affecting key institutions at the most basic level, nothing can change.

Don’t get me wrong.  Overturning Roe v. Wade is essential on many levels and for many reasons.  It is not, however, the first step, much less a solution.  It is, rather, something to be achieved after reaching certain critical goals that must be attained before abortion becomes not merely illegal, but unthinkable.  Unless abortion first becomes unthinkable, no law abolishing abortion on demand would be effective, if it could even be passed.

The fact is that Roe v. Wade is simply the logical outcome of a contradiction that has been inherent in the United States from the beginning, and which caused the bloodiest war in this nation’s history.  The contradiction developed out of the question as to what, exactly, this thing called “man” is, and who or what has the right or duty to rule over him.

Put another way, is man made for the State, or is the State made for man?  Is the human person sovereign in human affairs, or is something outside the human person in charge?  More to the point, does every child, woman, and man — every actual or potential human being — have rights by nature, or are rights, “personality,” a grant or gift from some authority, temporal or divine?

According to the Founding Fathers of the American Republic, every human being, whether potential or actual (“potentiality” and “actuality” are both stages of “being”), has rights by nature, that is, built into the definition of what it means to be human.  This was believed to be “self-evident,” according to Thomas Jefferson.

There was just one slight problem, however.  Slavery.  A “slave” is, by definition, a human being without rights.  A slave is not a “person,” because “person” means “that which has rights.”

The bottom line was that you had people demanding rights for themselves, at the same time they insisted on denying the rights of others.  This inserted a certain degree of schizophrenia into the structure and culture of the new country from the very beginning.

True, there were slave owners who knew slavery was wrong, and even tried to abolish it.  George Mason of Gunston Hall comes to mind.  A slave owner who hated slavery, he never missed an opportunity to condemn the institution.

The problem was, slavery was such an integral institution that halfway measures to abolish it partially or only in particular circumstances would inevitably fail.  As Mason and a few others were fully aware, individual slave owners could not free their slaves unless everyone freed his slaves.

If an individual slave owner freed his slaves, it would actually be bad for both slaves and slave owners.  Under the law that prohibited a freedman from living near his former owner, a freed slave could easily be kidnapped and re-enslaved with no one being the wiser, to say nothing of being subjected to horrific treatment for being a “runaway.”  The former slave owner would face financial ruin as a result of not being able to compete with producers who used slave labor instead of free labor.

Abolishing slavery in some areas but not in others merely created a conflict that, unresolved, would eventually tear the nation apart — as it did.  As Abraham Lincoln put it, no nation can long endure being half free and half slave.  It would have to be one or the other.

The new country was thus in a state of conflict caused by an inherent contradiction from the very beginning, the results of which have lasted down to the present day.

This might not sound important, but having a system based on contradiction, or that embodies a contradiction, is a recipe for disaster.  The principle of contradiction (that nothing can both “be” and “not be” at the same time under the same conditions) is the first principle of reason.  To abandon the first principle of reason, as the late Fulton Sheen pointed out in his first book, God and Intelligence (1925), is “mental suicide.”

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