In an effort to define contemporary conservatism, Dartmouth professor emeritus Jeffrey Hart (no slouch, he) provokes. Aside from the typical critique of GWB’s "Wilsonian" foreign policy, there’s this about abortion:
Burke had a sense of the great power and complexity of forces driving important social processes and changes. Nevertheless, most conservatives defend the "right to life," even of a single-cell embryo, and call for a total ban on abortion. To put it flatly, this is not going to happen. Too many powerful social forces are aligned against it, and it is therefore a utopian notion.
Roe relocated decision-making about abortion from state governments to the individual woman, and was thus a libertarian, not a liberal, ruling. Planned Parenthood v. Casey supported Roe, but gave it a social dimension, making the woman’s choice a derivative of the women’s revolution. This has been the result of many accumulating social facts, and its results already have been largely assimilated. Roe reflected, and reflects, a relentlessly changing social actuality. Simply to pull an abstract "right to life" out of the Declaration of Independence is not conservative but Jacobinical. To be sure, the Roe decision was certainly an example of judicial overreach. Combined with Casey, however, it did address the reality of the American social process.
Get it? Asserting a right to life is "not conservative but Jacobinical." This from a man who insists upon the importance of "religion in its magisterial forms," which is to say something like the Roman Catholic Church, which I guess is "Jacobinical" in its magisterial pronouncements on abortion. I suppose that the Roman Catholic Church--or any other--should only assert its authority in a manner consonant with "the reality of the American social process." It shouldn’t stand athwart history shouting "Stop!", but perhaps only "Slow down a tad, would you please?!?"
Professor Hart also invokes the shade of William James, whose philosophy was "always open to experience and judging by experience within given conditions." But isn’t Jamesian pragmatism an "enemy of the permanent things"?
I could say much more, but this seems sufficient to provoke some discussion. Can Professor Hart have it both ways, appealing to the power of the magisterial religious traditions and accommodating to "the reality of the American social process"? Is prudence the equivalent of Jamesian pragmatism, or is it informed by high principle, attempting to instantiate and embody it in ways consistent with "the facts on the ground."
Update #2: There’s lot’s more at The Corner.