Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Jeffrey Hart responds on abortion

Here. Two representative paragraphs:

The actuality in elective abortion is that the woman is not willing to derail her life because of an unwanted pregnancy, a life she had worked for many years to shape, perhaps studied and worked. That now is an actuality different from the situation of most women fifty years ago. The women’s revolution has happened. And in the "town meeting" the women’s voice, and that of those who understand what the women’s revolution means, will be heard and heeded.


Now, no woman is obliged to have an abortion if her convictions are opposed. The convictions of many women, no doubt a majority, are not opposed. There is the political problem for those who would outlaw abortion. And of course the women’s revolution has happened. We are living with its results. The year 1950 is not going to be restored, any more than the ancient regime was going to be restored after the Revolution. I didn’t think I needed to say that revolutions have consequences. As Burke said in effect, to resist the inevitable effects of revolution is to throw sand into a hurricane.

In his view, opinion seems to be fixed, in an almost reductive way, largely determined by interest and largely unchangeable by argument.

There’s also a rather harsh swipe at Richard John Neuhaus, who hasn’t yet responded at
his blogsite.

I’ll be watching to see how this develops.

Discussions - 13 Comments

A few things that jumped out as I was reading:

But the woman knows what a "child" is and what it is not.

Even though medical doctors will not agree on when a fertilized ovum is properly called a child, Hart somehow bestows potential mothers with this knowledge?

Two times: "Women in the educational process, pursuing careers that may take years of preparation and also are later very demanding of their time, are going to demand -- in fact are demanding -- control of their reproductive capability." and "The actuality in elective abortion is that the woman is not willing to derail her life because of an unwanted pregnancy, a life she had worked for many years to shape, perhaps studied and worked."

Women are given justification for having an abortion, based on societal pressures in place before the pregnancy. However, men are not routinely given the same discretion. "Your Honor, I was just not ready to have a child" will not relieve a man of his child support duties in this country, no matter what his prior plans were. Hart suggests that women deserve a ’free pass’ in this context for some reason.

Hart praises? Burke (while dismissing everyone since):"Edmund Burke provides a model of the thinking process. He is the origin not only of conservative thought, but of all realistic thought about society."

But he dismisses the DoI apparently because it is old (although it is from Burke’s era):

"But the Declaration was written in 1776, the Constitution in 1787, and ratified. All such ’unalienable’ rights are made effective only through the constitutional process, the deliberate sense of the people, based on their collective experience. Until such "rights" become law they are only theoretical rights. It will not..."

He continues: "Under the Constitution, such "unalienable" rights in fact become alienable, as men are hanged and conscripted."

The obvious difference he does not acknowledge is that such men have violated other laws that usually include intruding on the rights of others. The unborn fetus has done no such harm.

He asserts more than once that majority opinion is pro-choice, which may be true but I am skeptical of based on my experiences..

"The idea that abortions, in a free society, are going to be banned during the first trimester, let alone at the first moment of conception, strikes me as, to put it mildly, extremely unlikely."

Why not? Untold thousands of responsible men prevent abortions daily (or nightly) by choosing abstinence, condoms, NFP etc. What’s wrong with encouraging more personal responsibility instead of making more excuses?

Professor Hart talks like a realist, thus ignoring how many "impossible" things have since come to pass. How many people in 1981 expected the collapse of the Soviet Union 10 years later? Did Professor Hart predict that outcome? Accurately predicting the future is not a gift of mortals. Professor Hart speaks of historical trends. There was a time when Communism seemed unstoppable, too.

Hart again abuses Burke by talking about his distaste for abstractions. But the demographic collapse of Europe, Russia, and Japan is not an abstraction and we can avert that fate by ending this massacre of innocents.

To pretend that Burke was nothing more than an amoral realist is simply false. Burke’s politics were intensely moral. Otherwise, there would be nothing wrong with the French Revolution. Even if it was unsustainable and would cause a great deal of suffering in the interim, what’s the problem? From an amoral perspective, there is absolutely nothing wrong.

The recognition that the French Revolution was contrary to the fundamental realities of human existence does not necessarily mandate opposition to the revolution. One has to make the moral judgment that the price in blood was unacceptable.

Hart also pretend as if Burke passively accepted the reality of the revolution by writing: "He proclaimed: ’The glory of Europe is gone forever.’ Now Burke, against his deepest preferences, recognized the inevitable". This completely ignores Burke’s advocacy of war against the revolutionary government of France. Burke was not a passive watcher of events. He played an active role in calling Britain to go to war.

It’s interesting that Hart actually remembers that: "For a free people, such as ours, who make the laws under the Constitution through their representatives write the laws, it follows that as a derivative of the women’s revolution the demand by women for control of their reproductive capability will be reflected in the laws." If Hart actually believes that, there is no need for further argument. If the goal of pro-lifers is unattainable, it will not happen. On the other hand, if it is attained, then perhaps the effort is not as futile as Hart thinks.

It’s also curious that Hart ultimately adopts the liberal position of "right to choose". Leaving aside the vital issue of the fetus as human life, (After all, why not respect the "right" of murderers to choose to murder their victims?) Hart is substituting a fundamentally libertine position for a conservative position. It’s bad enough that there was a time when people were given the authority to decide whether Africans are people or sheep. Hart wants to give mothers the power to decide when their unborn is alive. The idea of allowing parents to decide the life or death of their children is a barbaric notion which is not supported by anything Burke had ever written.

Burke did not reject progress. But he did note that not all change is progress. Therefore, when the change in the government of France occurred, Burke chose to fight it because he knew it was a change for the worse, that it would not last, and therefore he should do everything possible to hasten its passing. Roe v. Wade is only 32 years old. The pre-Roe era is far longer. If it is true that the pro-life cause is hopeless, then, like the anti-fluoridated water cause, it would have been marginalized long ago. Instead, pro-life politicians are increasingly empowered.

Hart cites statistics without dealing with the issue of intensity of conviction. Just because a person dislikes the noise of a leafblower does not mean he will relocate. Similarly, just because a majority are pro-choice does not mean they will throw out any politician who is pro-life. If that is the case, Reagan and the 2 Bushes would never have been elected in the first place.

Conservatives have the self-appointed task of being the conscience of the people, of upholding virtue against the tide of libertinism. Pro-lifers are continuing to make progress, contrary to what Hart thinks. Most people who are pro-choice are not single issue voters and the pro-life cause is not going to destroy the Republican Party. Now is the time to "Stand Athwart History, Yelling Stop", not "Stand Athwart History, Yelling Surrender". Who knows? Perhaps in time, Hart’s confident assertion that abortion is forever will be as ridiculed as those who in the early 1980s also confidently asserted that the Soviet Union was forever.

This guy is getting more airplay than he deserves!

Mr Hart is the liberal’s dream conservative. When the left manage to usurp the constitution (like with Roe) and get away with long enough (several decades) we have to give up because opposing an old usurpation is not conservative. Anyone who does continue to oppose the usurpation is now a "Jacobin," like the "Jacobin priest" Father Neuhaus, because the revolution is now a fact of life. But I thought the Jacobins were the revolutionaries...? Are Jacobins counter revolutionaries? Soooo confusing!

I share Peter’s sentiment (in the Burkean sense of "sentiment"), although I very much appreciated luke and htjyang taking Hart to the historical, moral-political, and philosophical woodshed.

I agree with Professor Lawler, this article has gotten far too much attention...but I can’t resist putting down a few comments. Correct me if I am wrong.

Why is Burke the expounder of modern conservatism? He was intelligent, smart, helpful etc., - but our intellectual leader? No thank you. He rejected natural law and natural right out of hand (goodbye St. Aquinas and Leo Strauss). He had little to do or say about religion in the public square. So much for Witherspoon. He was more concerned with maintaining tradition and making change come slowly. That is a very narrow strand of conservatism. Call it the “traditionalist” strand – represented, of course, in the 20th century, by Russell Kirk and now Jeffrey Hart. But Hart isn’t justified in claiming his brand of conservatism is the only one.

He is right, insofar as he goes, on Constitutional government. But he leaves out natural rights. According to the passage in this article, the Constitution is just a procedural document, concerned with checks and balances…there is no question of right and wrong in it. This is a far cry from what Lincoln thought, or say, a Founder like Benjamin Rush.

Then Hart has a brief paragraph on religion where he appears to take a swipe at all versions of religion that don’t fit under a “high liturgy” camp. Of course there are strands of modern evangelicalism with problems, but everyone that doesn’t read from the ’28 book of Common Prayer (good as it is) should not simply be dismissed. This is simply arrogance.

My main problem is that Hart’s view of “utopianism” is far too broad. Anything that he doesn’t consider “realistic” is thus utopian. This article has gotten a lot of criticism in the last few days, and his comments on abortion have probably gotten the most attention – for calling the pro-life movement “utopian.” Thanks Hart. That was helpful. The Republicans were told the same thing in 1854.

This is a real problem with Burkean conservatism. Because it is based almost entirely on traditionalism and not natural rights, it has no real rationale for continuing to oppose an action purely because it is wrong – and not just against religion. This is the same reason that Lincoln eventually had to leave the Whig Party and become a Republican. The Whigs were largely a traditionalist, Burkean party, and they had no answer to the question of why slavery was wrong. The Republicans and Lincoln did.

For Hart to call Jacobinical the desire to talk about the Right to Life in the context of the Declaration is simply an ad hominem attack and one that should be deplored...Again, Hart’s apparent fear of natural rights rears its head.

Finally, Bush’s foreign policy may or may not be justified (I think it is), but it is not Wilsonianism. If it was, Bush would have insisted on going in with UN/NATO approval and we would be splitting Iraq into Kurdistan, Shiiteistan and Sunnistan. And I’m sorry, but for Hart to compare Wilson with Locke and Rousseau in the same sentence is just silly. If anything, Hart is making himself sound like a Machiavellian.

Perhaps the most frightening comment in his article is at the end – when he compares good conservatism to the pragmatic philosopher William James. What on earth? I can’t even begin to address this one.

Listen, this guy is not even a Burkean, if you mean by Burkean a "traditionalist" in the spirit of Russell Kirk and all that. The Burkean criticism of the Lockean "enlightenment" is that it knows no principle of limitation. All of life will be transformed in "pac man" fashion by the principles of calculation and consent if we don’t watch out. That’s why we have to remind ourselves in gratitude of the unbought grace of life and defend what makes life worth living. The Court in ROE and PLANNED PARENTHOOD and LAWRENCE are engaged in a project to transform all of American life according to Lockean principle of the free individual having absolute property in his or her person. These decisions, as Hart admits, are libertarian; the both register and add to the promiscuous libertarianism that pervades the elite parts of our country. Shouldn’t we Burkean conservatives be for the decent person’s (and even or especially the evangelical’s!) opposition to this elitist destruction of democratic deliberation about the goods we share in common? Did Burke take the side of the hyper-calculating and self-obsessive secular elitists of his time?
The best Burkeans of our time--such as Roger Scruton and Mark Henrie--surely wouldn’t agree with Hart on abortion.

Ever get the feeling that some people are just exhausted when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s as if, they personally can’t resolve it; it’s just too complicated. So, everyone, just give it up please so I can sleep...the more I read and hear these arguments, the more I realize it’s worth fighting for. Bring it on.

Carol, I feel the same way. It is a really complicated subject. A man and a woman have sex, the sperm and egg unite, and a human being starts growing. Aborting it is killing that human life. I just don’t know how I can comprehend such a complex subject! I’ll keep thinking about it.

Tony, I am pretty sure Carol was being sarcastic.

This is a very interesting argument, despite that is becoming vituperative, in that it defines two conservatiove positions on abortion, while it is generally considered that there is only one. Since there is no stable grounds for consensus, we do become exausted with the argument.

Luke, I have often wondered if abortion is possible for women because of a failure of the imagination to picture the person growing within. Can you imagine it?

Hart didn’t start but wanted to end an argument over abortion by endorsing judicial review as the way of settling it. We need to reject his opinion on judicial review in order that we can dicuss his opinion on abortion on its merits.

I don’t have time to read the guy but judging from all the comments he said enough to piss a lot of people off.

In any case I had to laugh when I read this: "(the Supreme Court) are engaged in a project to transform all of American life according to Lockean principle of the free individual having absolute property in his or her person." Really?? and this is a bad thing?

Here I was about ready to accept the realist position and give up arguing against the various worshipers of the state out there, but though and behold the court is with me? Also where is this promiscuous liberterianism that I have never heard anything about. A Libertarian revolution, John Locke glorified in the supreme court??? Wake me up, please, maybe I have been in Iraq for too long.

Also, Hayek predicted the fall of the Soviet Union long before the 1980’s and he said that conservatives in the United States were to be trusted because they still read Locke... I guess conservatives today no longer read Locke and even oppose his "libertarianism" they all rush to declare that Big Government is here to stay, that it is the norm, that it can’t be undone, but some fellow named Hart takes it one step further and applies the same argument to abortion and suddenly there is an uproar?

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