Mere Commentator Russell D. Moore calls our attention to Wilfred M. McClays excellent review of Ramesh Ponnurus The Party of Death. The thrust of McClays review is that Ponnurus rights-based absolutism is in many respects insufficiently attentive to the emotional basis of our relationships, not to mention to the prudential judgments and figurative appeals required by successful politics. In McClays view, Ponnurus book has some real strengths, but also some significant weaknesses.
Above all else, he contends, its not clear that Ponnuru correctly describes and confronts the real challenge we face:
It is this commitment to radical individualism, this aspiration to human mastery, the godlike mastery of the sovereign will of those living here and now over all they survey and encounter, the ability to control and dictate the terms of existence, that distinguishes the so-called “party of death.” Such an aspiration is perhaps most ominously figured, not in the abortion industry, but in a different prospect, about which Ponnuru has surprisingly little to say: the very real possibility that our biogenetic mastery will give us the power to replace human procreation with the willful arts of manufacture, remaking our condition by engineering human life and “hybrid” forms of transhuman life.
Ponnuru is downright enthusiastic about the prospect of deriving pluripotent stem cells, for medical purposes, from certain nonviable, manufactured, human-like “biological entities” that carry the human genetic code but are not human embryos. What is more, he is surprisingly disdainful of critics who find such a prospect morally troubling. What, one wonders, if his concern were less exclusively focused on the narrow question of what constitutes embryo-killing, and more broadly on the ways that our readiness to destroy embryos is but one symptom of a larger problem, the way in which our ever-expanding exercise of our scientific powers of manipulation may be causing us to lose all sense of nature as a source of normative values? Such thoughts might have led to a more guarded conclusion. This is not to render a judgment about the specific procedures in question, except to say that they may themselves not be entirely morally unproblematic, even if they seem clearly preferable to embryo destruction. But it is to indicate a way in which Ponnuru’s overriding concern with the politics of abortion, and with an argument based on the natural rights of the individual human being, tilts his argument out of balance, and makes his book far less illuminating than it might have been. Natural rights, after all, have no authority apart from the larger authority of nature.
If this last statement is true (as I think it is), then a return to nature would take seriously some of the considerations I summarized above.
But I cant adequately summarize the whole of McClays rich argument, which youll have to read for yourselves.