Thursday, July 27, 2006

Food for Thought

While I rarely agree with the politics of the various contributors over at NRO’s The Corner, I nevertheless find myself intrigued by a couple of statements posted over there in the last couple of days.

The first, by Ramesh Ponnuru, regards the use of the term “murder” in the stem-cell and abortion context. Ramesh states that the term “murder” in these contexts is incorrect because “it is a legal concept with technical definitions, and these are not uniform across jurisdictions.” Very true, though not in and of itself convincing, however, his second point, that “murder” even when simply used in a non-legal “ordinary parlance,” “connotes a malicious homicide” and “[e]ven those of us who oppose certain forms of stem-cell research because they involve what we regard as the unjust taking of human life do not believe these unjust acts to be malicious in motivation. (For the same reason, I think it a mistake to describe abortion as ‘murder.’).”

I think this is absolutely true as a matter of both law and language, but as to the political rhetoric, I think it only holds true for reasonable scholars/commentators like Ramesh and others say like my friends here on TPS. I don’t think it is necessarily true of the “rank and file” members of the pro-life movement who have had, to be perfectly honest, considerable success with the phrase “abortion is murder” and aren’t about to stop now because a bunch of lawyers try to tell them there statement is far from accurate. Nonetheless, I appreciate Ramesh’s sentiment and commend him and others for trying their best at tamping down the rhetoric and making a more reasoned and perhaps ultimately more persuasive argument against activities like stem-cell research and abortion. (I should point out that while I’m not personally persuaded by these arguments; I can both see and admit how they are objectively more persuasive than the “abortion is murder” line of rhetoric).

The second post was from Jonah Goldberg (Paul’s reported favorite columnist) who touches on a subject near and dear to my mind and way of thinking about politics, law, and philosophy, namely, the tension between liberalism (note the little l) and democracy. The first of course being both a philosophy as well as a system of thought that leads to a type of government, while the latter is, as Winston Churchill famously stated, “the worst form of government except for all of the others.” I’ll let Jonah’s point speak for itself, but he is as correct as correct can be when he says that “[democracy-boosters] use democracy as an umbrella term for liberalism. The problem is that this leads to a corruption of rhetoric and, eventually, thinking. I think it's pretty clear that liberalism and democracy go together in the long run. But I think it is obviously false that democracy automatically yields liberalism.” He’s right; nothing in liberalism or a government based on a liberal philosophy requires or in any way mandates democracy. In fact, it is possible to argue, and many have, that democracy actually harms liberalism and prevents liberal government as true democracy more often than not leads to other forms of government like tyranny and fascism. This is why people like Paul, GC, and I nearly always point out that the United States is best described as a “liberal republic” and not a democracy, despite what many politicians and commentators from both sides of the spectrum would have people believe. (I know I shouldn’t speak for Paul and GC, but this is a main reason why I make this distinction quite often and I’m pretty sure they agree, and I don’t for a second think if they don’t that they will correct me)

Anyway, I thought I would call attention to these two excellent points, and see what, if any, discussion we might have about them.


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