rights' and the moral threat to freedom
From 'The Crisis of the Republic'
July 30, 2007
When I was working in the State Department, someone described one of my superiors as the sort of person who would always be persuaded by the last person who talked to him. This meant that if you wanted a favorable decision, you had to be the last one through the door before it was made. Timing was everything.
This turned out to be pretty good tactical advice, but it indicated that the official in question suffered from a dangerous flaw when it came to the best interests of the United States. He apparently lacked an overall understanding that would have provided the basis for a sense of priority in his decision-making.
The Foreign Service Officers who work at State are generally smart people. Like expert lawyers, they are skilled at making almost any position sound plausible and correct. Since their reasoning is unlikely to show obvious gaps, its stated or implied premises have to be carefully searched out and evaluated, in light of principles that correspond to the decision-maker's understanding of the overall values and best interests of the American people. Absent such an understanding, an official's decisions become a matter of time and happenstance, both of which can be manipulated by shrewd players who understand his vulnerability, toward ends that may have more to do with their personal or bureaucratic ambitions than the Republic's good.
Yet, as we observed earlier, every public official in the United States is sworn to preserve our republic, the form of government — of, by, and for the people — established by our federal and state constitutions. How can public officials fulfill this oath without an overall understanding of the principles and prerequisites of constitutional self-government? How can their decisions be consistent with this oath unless they reflect the priorities such an understanding entails? But if it is essential for the faithful execution of their offices (faithful, that is, to the oath they have sworn), are any fit for office who cannot demonstrate that they possess this understanding?
Moral principle and the tyranny of passion
These questions are obviously most salient when it comes to electing the most important legislative and executive officials in our states and nation, especially the members of the U.S. Congress and the president of the United States. Yet the people of the country cannot make judgments about the understanding of candidates for these offices if they themselves lack the understanding they are to judge.
That's why for the past several weeks these essays have focused on encouraging thought about the essential principles and prerequisites of our liberty. Such matters are obviously not the only important issues in our politics, but they are the most important, especially at a time when liberty is, on every front, so much in danger. Moreover, the sense of priority that arises from our understanding of these matters must affect our judgment about the right policies and actions in every department of government, so that all government action preserves and perpetuates our life as a free people.
The moral principles of the Declaration of Independence, and the moral character required to sustain them, are the bedrock foundations of American liberty. Politicians who disregard these essentials in order to win votes may pose as the champion of this or that individual right, but as Hamilton observes in the Federalist #1, they are likely to be among "those ... who have overturned the liberties of republics ... commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants."
Such demagogues enlist the passions and desires of licentious individuals as the allies of their ambition. With such allies in individual hearts, they can pose a grave threat to the liberty of the people as a whole. They promote ideas and policies that break down individual self-discipline in order to build a constituency for their own power and advancement. They encourage each individual to think of his/her rights in terms that acknowledge no discipline, no boundaries established in deference to principle, no obligations that must be respected by the superior force of resources, zeal, or numbers. They promote the tyranny of passion within individuals in order ultimately to establish tyrannical government over them. They achieve the decisive stage of this corruption by encouraging people to gratify their personal passions at the expense of the God-given rights of those too weak to resist them.
By accepting personal gratification on these terms, people implicate themselves in practices that sanction the oppression and destruction of the weak by the strong. They thereby discard the notion that there are principles of justice to constrain superior power. What people discard in order to gratify themselves when they have superior power, they cannot thereafter rely upon in order to defend themselves when superior power is brought to bear against them. If justice is the good of the stronger in the first case, how can justice for all be the rallying cry against abuses of strength in the second?
In our day, the issues connected with sexual gratification implement the demagogues' strategy for establishing tyrannical power more clearly and destructively than any others. The substitution of hedonism for procreation as the aim of sexual activity unbridles physical lust. Impatient with any and all constraints, this unbridled passion responds eagerly to rhetoric about sexual freedom, and its attendant rights. This rhetoric arms passion with a sense of self-righteousness that gradually corrupts or silences the voice of conscience. Every rule and norm of sexual behavior is challenged and must give way, including the rule that transcends sexual activity in order to establish the rights and obligations that constitute respect for life itself.
But as life is the first unalienable right, disregard for the rights and obligations that constitute respect for life involves abandoning the principle of respect for unalienable rights. Once that is gone, the whole idea that justice requires government based upon the consent of the people goes with it. The foundational premise of republican self-government crumbles to dust.
On today's political scene, the chief representatives of the demagogues' strategy and its consequences are the advocates of so-called "abortion rights." Tragically, they have turned the just demand for an end to discrimination against women into support for a practice that vitiates the principle of equal rights for all.
Some arguments for the idea of "abortion rights" (those that focus on the viability of the infant in the womb) sanction the destruction of the most weak and helpless form of humanity precisely on account of the dependency its weakness entails ("might makes right"). Others rely on arguments that deny the humanity of the child in the womb, repeating the logic the slaveholders of the nineteenth century used to justify their abuse of black people ("inequality by birth"). Still others simply appeal to the passionate selfishness of individuals impatient with any law or norm that interferes with their pursuit of personal pleasure or satisfaction. Though the people who advocate "abortion rights" pretend to be "liberal" and "progressive," their arguments require that we abandon the progress the United States has made for true liberty, and against tyrannical control based on force, parentage, or the gang mentality of selfish personal passion.
Though the "abortion rights" advocates have clothed their claim in the form and language of constitutional decision, their position not only abandons the Declaration principles on which the Constitution is based, it defeats the ultimate goal of the Constitution's existence. The people of the United States set forth the Constitution's goals in the Preamble. Though itself containing no provisions of law, the Preamble has been accepted throughout our history as a guide for the interpretation of the Supreme Law of the Land, so that where two interpretations conflict, the one consistent with the Preamble's stated goals is to be preferred. At various times, goals from the Preamble have been used to establish federal police powers ("insure domestic tranquility"), support the federal military establishment ("provide for the common defense"), and expand, wisely or not, federal involvement in education and in other social welfare activities ("promote the general welfare").
But the ultimate stated goal of the U.S. Constitution is "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." When it comes to the blessings of liberty, the Constitution places our posterity on an equal level with ourselves. Now, human life is the prerequisite for the enjoyment of all liberty, which makes the protection of human life a prerequisite for achieving the ultimate goal of the Constitution. Since it places our posterity on an equal level with ourselves, this implies an equal obligation on our part to respect the life of our posterity.
This means that we cannot simply disregard the effects that our present decisions and actions will have on our descendants, even those we will not see and can barely imagine. This has implications for every area of policy, requiring at the constitutional level that every exercise of liberty or government power be mindful of its impact upon future generations. Conservatives tempted simply to reject the idea of conservation or environmental responsibility should take heed. But the "abortion rights" advocates are especially admonished by this consideration, since we obviously and directly contradict the equal claims of our posterity when we destroy the life of our offspring in the womb in order to serve our own desires, our own convenience, our own ambitions.
The advocates of "abortion rights" thus assault the Constitution in fact, as well as principle. How can it make sense to hand constitutional power to people who have adopted a position that openly assaults the Constitution in this fashion, setting them at odds with the sworn duty of every official who serves under it? I realized many years ago that no pro-lifer who really understood the constitutional basis for the pro-life position on abortion could rationally support or vote for anyone who accepts the idea of "abortion rights." Even if it were just a matter of weighing the rights of one individual against another, the Constitution demands that the infant be treated equally. This means that only a direct and immediate threat to the mother's physical life would justify risking the unborn infant's life. But since the issue also involves our allegiance to the fundamental principle of constitutional self-government, it is a test of any candidate's loyalty to our republican form of government, the one required by the Constitution. With that in mind, a vote for any abortion rights advocate is a vote for the destruction of the Republic.
Giuliani and abortion
I've had to revisit this thinking more than once in recent months. Not long ago, I received an email from someone I have known and worked with since the Reagan years. He cordially invited me to attend a fundraiser for Rudy Giuliani. I've been regaled with arguments from various such associates touting Giuliani's supposed accomplishments as mayor of New York: his stands for law and order, his effectiveness as an administrator, his courage and firmness during the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. They actually seem surprised when I tell them that I cannot and will not vote for any advocate of so-called "abortion rights." They then dutifully repeat absurdities about the irrationality of being a one-issue voter when faced with someone who has so many other good positions and accomplishments.
Unfortunately for them, I cherish the advice of someone I consider far wiser than myself, who once warned against being like the man who gains the whole world, but loses his own soul. According to the historical record, Mussolini was an efficient administrator famous, among other things, for making Italy's trains run on time. Hitler shrewdly rebuilt German military power, restored the morale of the German people, and helped to organize Germany's economic recovery, despite the burdensome effects of onerous reparations from WWI and the Depression era collapse of the German economy. The list of conquerors, emperors, and dictators with great leadership qualities and impressive administrative achievements is as long as human history. The list of free peoples who remained free for any length of time is far shorter. An efficient administrator who has abandoned the principles of self-government may prove most efficient in its destruction.
Line of demarcation
This is the reason I never give a moment's thought to the possibility of voting for most of the Democrats who run for office these days. They slavishly adhere to the party's "abortion rights" position, as well as other stands that unbridle the selfish passions of individuals, no matter what the cost to our moral principles.
In some ways, though, the push to nominate Republicans who mimic the Democrats' disregard for principle is more disturbing than the candidacy of any Democrat. Since its inception, the Republican Party has been the party that most explicitly promoted Declaration principles in American political life. As Lincoln made clear in his famous Gettysburg address, the party stood for a nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Moreover, in recent decades the party has offered itself as the political home for voters concerned to preserve the nation's allegiance to its moral premises, beginning with the acknowledgement of God's authority as the basis for representative government and our claim to unalienable rights. Republican politicians who advocate "abortion rights," therefore, not only abandon the party's foundational commitment to the Declaration, they cynically betray the support and hopes of moral conservatives who have rallied in support of the Republican Party precisely because it championed the cause of life and other unalienable rights as the God-given heritage of our people.
If they nominate "abortion rights" advocates like Rudy Giuliani, Republicans erase the moral difference that otherwise establishes a clear line of demarcation between the two major parties. They expose the party's supposed allegiance to America's moral principles as a cynical play for power. But most importantly, they deprive the nation of true defenders against the assault that is crumbling its moral foundations.
Because the brand name promises moral relief, people who vote Republican may think they have done something to restore the Republic's moral hope. Yet "abortion rights" candidates and officeholders do nothing that effectively turns back the tide of moral dissolution. In this regard, Republicans who have abandoned Declaration principles are to the body politic what the AIDS virus is to the physical body. They masquerade as defenders against disease, but actually leave the body vulnerable to opportunistic infection. Its immune system undone, it eventually succumbs to the ravages of multiple infections.
This suggests, though, that active advocates of moral corruption are not the only ones who become more dangerous when flying Republican colors. The cynical opportunists who switch on the rhetoric of moral concern, but have no real understanding or commitment to moral principle, pose a perhaps more insidious threat.
Mitt Romney, for example, spouted "abortion rights" rhetoric as long as it served his political ambitions in Massachusetts. Having decided to run for the Republican presidential nomination, he suddenly changed his tune, feebly claiming some personal revelation as the basis for his abrupt abandonment of long-held views. Given the self-serving context of his supposed conversion, I marvel that any reasonably intelligent people are willing to accept the change at face value.
When considered along with his rank duplicity on the issue of marriage for homosexuals, such acceptance is incomprehensible. Though he now claims to be a champion of the God-ordained, procreational form of family life, Romney used his power as Governor of Massachusetts to force officials there to perform marriages for homosexual couples. He did so despite the State Supreme Court's pronouncement that no change could take place in Massachusetts laws about marriage without action by the legislature.
Rather than champion efforts to assure that the state's marriage laws would be preserved, and the state courts rebuked for their effort to usurp legislative power, he used the power of the Governor's office to force officials in the state to perform illegal acts. What he now opposes in theory, he arbitrarily established in fact, assuring that Massachusetts could become a staging ground for the nationwide offensive for gay marriage that has already begun. (Consider, for example, the recent move to allow homosexuals from New Mexico to marry in Massachusetts on the grounds that New Mexico has no law explicitly invalidating such marriages. This sets the stage for an assault against the natural family in the New Mexico courts.)
Fred Thompson to the rescue??
Rudy Giuliani is an advocate for moral corruption who truthfully proclaims his views. Mitt Romney is a self-proclaimed advocate of moral principle who is lying about it. To nominate either would confirm growing doubts about the current integrity of the Republican Party's long-held commitment to American moral principles. But just when it looks as if all hope for principle is lost, out of the blue of the Tennessee sky comes a new Ronald Reagan to the rescue (or so we are being told). The grassroots sways in the fresh breeze of principled hope that is ... Fred Thompson??
True, both Fred Thompson and Ronald Reagan had careers as actors. However, there's a major difference. By the time he ran for president of the United States, Reagan's acting career was long over. He was a principled conservative who paid a heavy price in terms of ridicule and exile from the party establishment for the sake of his convictions. He spent many years in the trenches, developing his character rather than playing one. Fred Thompson is still acting. The best we can expect from him is that he learn his lines for electoral purposes. For the cynical clique that hopes once more to exploit grassroots conservatives as their ticket to power, this may be good enough. It is far from good enough for a republic deep in the throes of the life or death crisis of its survival.
This is painfully obvious when it comes to the foundational moral issues we have been discussing. Fred Thompson's position on abortion, at first the subject of extensive ignorance, has become the subject of equally extensive apologetics. Even the arguments of staunch supporters (like those which Warner Huston presented in his recent renewamerica.us article about Fred Thompson's position on abortion), prove that Thompson is at best an advocate of "abortion rights" with some limitations. He has been willing to accept some restrictions on abortion, and goes so far as to suggest that the Supreme Court should have left the matter in the hands of state governments.
In this respect, his stand is reminiscent of the one that Lincoln's nemesis, Stephen Douglas, took on the issue of slavery — a states' rights position that ignores the issue of constitutional principle at stake every time the Declaration's premise of equal unalienable rights is violated. Thompson appears to favor an end to Roe v. Wade, but without acknowledging the nascent child's moral and constitutional right to life, accepting the notion that it would be enough to return the issue to the discretion of the states. This ignores the enormous moral damage that has resulted from the Roe v. Wade decision.
Prior to the era in which Roe v. Wade came before the Supreme Court, every state in the Union prohibited abortion. During that era, a small minority agitated for the right to kill children in the womb, but with few exceptions, state after state reaffirmed the illegality of abortion. When their state-based efforts failed, the agitating minority took action through the federal courts. At that point, the issue of right was joined at the national level, and wrongly decided by the Supreme Court. This unleashed a regime of enforced abortion rights that has resulted in the deaths of scores of millions, in violation of the Constitution's principles and stated goal.
This purposefully-established national regime of injustice, which subverts the fundamental principle of constitutional self-government, has corrupted the moral understanding and expectations of many of our citizens. The notion that we can simply turn the clock back without addressing the corruption of national principle and conscience that it has produced is either naïvely irresponsible or shrewdly malicious. Having poisoned the soil in which it is planted, can we leave the roots of our national liberty to shrivel and die?
When we get past posturing and politically-contrived "pro-life" indicators, the simple fact is that Fred Thompson does not defend the moral and constitutional right to life of the child in the womb. He speaks from no moral conviction. He will therefore have no effective argument against "abortion rights" advocates who will surely decry his willingness to risk forcing women at the state level to endure labor against their will and at great emotional cost, in order to satisfy an arguable procedural objection to the Supreme Court's authority on matters of human rights.
If the only objection to abortion involved this jurisdictional dispute, I too might question the wisdom of usurping a choice fraught with such deep personal consequences. In fact, however, the issue involved goes to the very heart and soul of our claim to liberty. Asking people to accept a difficult personal discipline out of respect for the child's right to life is no less justifiable than asking them to accept the discipline of military life — risking limb, and life and all — to preserve the liberty of the people. The sovereignty of the people cannot survive unless in their exercise of personal sovereignty, every individual maintains the integrity of society's moral and political foundations.
We must ask women to respect the right to life of the helpless child in the womb, so that all of us together can demand that superior ability, or wealth, or military might respect the rights of the people, who might otherwise sink back to the level of the human masses throughout history, who cowered submissively when faced with such proofs of power. As patriots had to give their lives to build our freedom, women and men must live their lives so as to keep it.
What Fred Thompson and all Republicans like him fail to appreciate is that the issue of abortion is just one cutting edge of the assault on personal sovereignty, an assault that aims ultimately to destroy the sovereignty of the people. The aim of statesmanship, therefore, is not just to deal with the issue, but to restore the moral basis of our sovereignty as we do so. Sadly, it is clear that Fred Thompson's script for the presidency includes nothing of the kind.
None of the above
From this discussion of their treatment of the unalienable right to life, none of the candidates being promoted for the Republican presidential nomination by the media touts and unprincipled party money bags represents a commitment to constitutional moral principle consistent with the party's heritage, or the party platforms adopted by the assembled grassroots delegates at every National Convention since 1980. Other Republican candidates, though more emphatic in their declarations of support for the pro-life position, have shown little ability to articulate the principles involved so that Americans clearly understand the threat "abortion rights" advocates pose to the perpetuation of our free institutions.
On this issue of life or death for the moral and political sovereignty of the American people, we are left with the tragic possibility that the issue of principle on which liberty depends will never be properly framed and debated for the people's decision. The further tragedy is, however, that without this debate, other life and death issues for the Republic cannot be seen and addressed as such. For in other vital areas — national security, immigration, taxation, education — the moral possibility of democratic self-government is at stake, as the general assault on the foundations of liberty takes its toll in every critical area of political decision.
© 2007 Alan Keyes