Archive for morality
By Rev. Edmund Opitz, author of The Libertarian Theology of Freedom and Religion and Capitalism: Allies, Not Enemies. This essay was originally published in the June 1966 issue of The Freeman. Read more in the Edmund Opitz Archive.
The effort to prevent people from obtaining certain kinds of reading matter on the grounds that its perusal may inflict damage on the minds exposed to it, springs from a “father knows best” psychology. Men of this persuasion assume that they know what is bad for people — even if the people themselves do not—and, further, that they are called upon to invoke statutory safeguards to prevent these latter from injuring themselves unawares. Paternalism is not limited to a concern for the purity of literature, however; the “father knows best” attitude is rampant in every sector of our society, and it is the key to the “liberal” mentality.
The liberal draws a clear distinction between himself and the average man. The average man, in his ignorance and innocence, is at the mercy of his employer; he is gulled by the hucksters of the advertising profession; he is regarded as fair game by the patent medicine men, food faddists, hidden persuaders, and other such extremists. The liberal, therefore, attempts to regulate industry, fix wages, control profits, enforce social security, and otherwise protect the consumer against the wily agents of Madison Avenue and the obscene lure of tail fins.
Tags: censorship, Edmund Opitz, freedom of speech, government, morality, self-control
This guest article is by Ryan McMaken, and was originally posted at LewRockwell.com.
I refer of course to the Catholic theologians known as Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine, both of whom concluded that the immorality of prostitution was not sufficient to justify a prohibition of the practice by civil governments.
I was reminded of this recently when I encountered the reaction to a recent column written by Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. Jindal, of whom I am generally not a fan, nevertheless made some astute observations in noting that
Let’s ask the question: Why do women have to go see a doctor before they buy birth control? There are two answers. First, because big government says they should, even though requiring a doctor visit to get a drug that research shows is safe helps drive up health-care costs. Second, because big pharmaceutical companies benefit from it. They know that prices would be driven down if the companies had to compete in the marketplace once their contraceptives were sold over the counter.
These statements are accurate. The laws requiring prescriptions for certain drugs do little more than push up health care prices by forcing people to see doctors more than is actually needed. This benefits the health care industry interests, and such laws are an artifact of lobbying by medical special interests. The assumption made by proponents of prescription drug laws is that people are too stupid to make their own health care decisions.
Jindal’s conclusion is that the sale of contraceptives should be rendered non-political by simply allowing people who want them to purchase them.
Alas, Jindal can’t bring himself to advocate for real pharmaceutical freedom, and he conditions his position here on the alleged safety of hormonal contraceptives. In this, Jindal is wrong, since there is much conflicting evidence on the safety of hormonal contraceptives, and it’s ironic that people who insist on buying organic milk and who shop at Vitamin Cottage will simultaneously pump their bodies full of artificial hormones. The drug companies of course maintain that their products are wonderful, although there is much evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, grown ups can come to their own decisions about using such drugs, and the state certainly is not equipped practically or morally to make people’s health care decisions for them.
So, Jindal here is at least striking a tiny blow for liberty by calling for the de-politicization of at least one aspect of health care.
Predictably, however, the prohibitionists have struck back. Following Jindal’s comments, The Archdiocese of New Orleans issued a statement noting that: "The Archdiocese…disagrees with Governor Jindal’s stance on this issue, as the use of birth control and contraceptives are against Catholic Church teaching,"
Okay, so it’s immoral. Any actually-practicing Catholic can agree with that. The question is: Does the fact that it is immoral mean it should be illegal?
The National Catholic Register and other Catholic news outlets simply assume that if something is immoral, then it should be illegal.
This attitude, however, is not in line with historical Catholic thinking about the role of civil government and the state. A case can certainly be made that hormonal contraception is both physically harmful and immoral. But this is a completely separate issue from debating whether or not something is illegal. If one’s assumption that all harmful and immoral things should be illegal, then one should be honest and make that known, rather than dancing around the issue, as so many of Jindal’s adversaries are doing.
I’m forced to wonder then, if the people who advocate for state control and regulation of contraception are also in favor of making adultery and fornication illegal. Certainly, in the age of STDs, those things are both immoral and potentially damaging physically. Should they be illegal too?
It has never been the position of the Church, or of any reasonable person, I daresay, that just because something is immoral, it should therefore be illegal. Even from a non-religious perspective, of course, this is an important distinction, as was repeatedly noted in Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty. Many things that are immoral may not justify proscription by law.
To see evidence of this, we only need consult two of the Church’s most respected theologians: Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, both of whom concluded that prostitution and fornication should remain legal.
Historian Vincent Dever provides a nice summary on this issue:
Having concluded that fornication and prostitution were gravel immoral,
it would seem obvious that Aquinas would want to engage every force against them, especially civil law. Oddly enough he does not. Instead he notes that the state should allow fornication and prostitution to exist for the sake of the common good. Relying on the well-known passage from Augustine’s De ordine, Aquinas advocates tolerance of prostitution by noting: "Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain evils be incurred: thus Augustine says [De ordine 2.4]: ‘If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.’" If these social practices were to be suppressed, the public reaction might be such as to threaten the peace of society.
Far from being theocrats, as so many vulgar critics of the medievals claim, the medievals like Aquinas were actually in favor of greatly limited civil government, which had little use or purpose beyond the maintenance of peace. Civilized society of course, could not function while wars raged everywhere, so civil governments were tolerated for the maintenance and safety of society. The idea, however, that civil governments should pass regulations governing people’s food and medicine, and then have such regulations enforced with an army of bureaucrats, would have seemed ridiculous to the medieval mind.
Dever continues in summarizing Aquinas:
While civil law does forbid certain vicious acts such as murder and theft, and requires certain acts of virtue such as caring for one’s children and paying one’s debts, it cannot "forbid all vicious acts" nor can it prescribe "all acts of virtue." Aside from the fact that it would supplant the need for eternal law, why cannot civil law be enacted to prohibit all vicious activities? The goal of human law is the temporal tranquility of the state and not eternal salvation. Given this goal of temporal peace and order, Aquinas notes that the mandate of human law is to prohibit "whatever destroys social intercourse" and not to "prohibit everything contrary to virtue." The main reason for civil law’s inability to prohibit all vice is that it cannot effect a full internal reform of an individual. An individual in their personal moral life is wounded by original sin and can only be restored by God’s grace. Therefore the coercive and educating power of human law is inefficacious in this realm. Aquinas asserts, then, that human law cannot "exact perfect virtue from man, for such virtue belongs to few and cannot be found in so great a number of people as human law has to direct.
Any reading of Aquinas’ works on politics makes it quite clear that "civil government," for there was no "state" as we know it in the 13th century, does not exist to reform people’s minds or to increase their virtue, or to protect them from themselves.
Dever goes on:
Given these limitations of civil statute in regard to virtue and vice, Aquinas goes on to assert that human law leaves many sinful things unpunished and the example he uses is simple fornication, under which he has included prostitution. He clearly wants to include fornication and prostitution under that category of vices that human law cannot control and which must be left to eternal or divine law. Yet could not a case be made that prostitution is one of those activities that destroys social intercourse and so should be prohibited by civil statute? [Aquinas'] general principle, by which the state would tolerate prostitution without approving it, is that human laws "leave certain things unpunished on account of the condition of those who are imperfect, and who would be deprived of many advantages, if all sins were strictly forbidden and punishments appointed for them."
So, if our finest theologian thinks that even gravely immoral acts such as prostitution and fornication should be legal, why should contraception not fall into this category?
To maintain that civil government in fact exists to regulate what pills we take illustrates that 21st-century Catholics have drunk the modernist Kool-aid and accepted the modern idea that civil government exists to regulate every aspect of our lives.
The moral status of contraception, like that of prostitution and fornication, is a settled matter in Catholic teaching. Those Catholics who disagree might be more comfortable in another church. The role of civil government in this matter, on the other hand, is another matter completely.
Those who think that states should be in the business of providing corporate welfare to health care providers and pharmaceutical companies in the form of prescription drug regulation, have the burden of proving that adults are incapable of determining what substances should be put in their bodies, and that state regulation would not lead to just the sort of society-damaging effects detailed by Aquinas and Augustine in their discussions on prostitution.
This entire discussion, however, will be null and void with in a hundred years, when we will look back on this age of government prohibitions of drugs and guns and labor and laugh to think that there was ever such a time when we thought that government could actually enforce such laws. The realities of commerce and technology are already outpacing the state, and in the not-too-distant future, we Catholics will once again be left on our own, as we were for most of the past 2,000 years, and this short age of lazily invoking the state to fight our battles for us will be over.
Tags: Augustine, catholicism, government, morality, prohibition, prostitution, theology, Thomas Aquinas
By Edmund Opitz, author of The Libertarian Theology of Freedom and Religion and Capitalism: Allies, Not Enemies. This essay was originally published in the December 1969 issue of The Freeman, and is part of a chapter in Religion and Capitalism.
Nearly everyone is a moralist these days, and a moralist in popular caricature is one who always views with alarm. Even the self-proclaimed immoralists of our time fall into this category, for they denounce as "intolerant" any and all who look askance at their weird "beat" deviations. Disagreements are sharp at all levels, among the viewers with alarm, but the primary breach is between those who hold that the ultimate sanction for ethical standards must be sought in a supernatural order, and—on the other hand —those who assert that within the social and natural orders we may find the ingredients for a viable ethic. The first position is theistic; the latter humanistic.
The humanists, if we may be permitted this term for the second group, admit that the moral code which prevailed in the West until two or three generations ago was widely believed to have had its origin and sanction in religion. But, as they view the matter, the transcendent dimension has such a weak hold upon modern man that to insist on a metaphysical source of moral values in these times is to weaken ethics by tying it to a dead horse. Moral values, they assert, are autonomous if they are anything; let them therefore stand on their own feet. Detach ethics from religion, they urge, in order that men may be virtuous for the sake of happiness! Men should not do right in a vain effort to please some deity, or because they believe that God has arbitrarily commanded certain actions and forbidden others.
These nontraditionalists tout a "scientific" or "rational" ethic. The opposite of "rational" in this context is not "irrational"; it is "theistic," "customary," or "received." No one would admit that his own ethical system or moral code is irrational, and it is obvious to everyone who has checked into the matter that there have been and are ethicists of several schools who are powerful reasoners. Every philosopher relies on reason, and not only rationalists; however, reason does tell some men that reason is not the exclusive route to knowledge of the complex reality that environs us.
A distinction which arises at this point seems to elude many. It is a distinction between reason as a means for achieving a norm, and reason itself as the norm. Perhaps the point may be clarified by analogy. "How do you propose to go to Boston?" is a question which demands answers in two distinct categories. "By car" is one answer, which informs us that the means of transportation is not train, plane, foot, or horse. Having settled this point, we still need further information before the question can be regarded as answered. "By way of the Taconic, north, to the western end of the Massachusetts Turnpike, then east." This gives us the route, so that we know that the car will not proceed up the Merritt or over the New England Thruway.
Now take the serious question, "How shall we validate ethical norms?" Those who answer, "By reason," are really uttering a mere truism. "We’re going to think about it," they are saying. And everyone who thinks about these or any other matters is using his reason. This is our only means for figuring things out, and it is not a means belonging exclusively to rationalists; it is the common means employed by everyone who philosophizes. Using this means, we seek for answers to the question of how to validate ethical norms. This has to do with the realm where the sanctions may find anchorage, whether within nature and society, or in a realm beyond the natural and social orders. Reason is our tool for operating on the problem posed; it is not itself the answer.
Experts at Debate
There are dogmatists on both sides of this controversy, and the skilled among them can and do expose weaknesses in their opponent’s position. The humanist might charge his opposition as follows: The moral code is an acquired characteristic; it has to be learned anew by each generation. It is difficult enough to establish this code theoretically, even if we treat it as self-evidently useful to society and necessary for harmony in human relationships. Why, then, compound these difficulties and force things out of focus by involving ethics with metaphysics? The uncertain, in this or any other area, is shored up by relating it to the certain; but when you hook ethics up with metaphysics, you relate it to the even more uncertain, to the dubious! We don’t need a transcendent sanction in order to validate or prove a down-to-earth ethic.
To which the theist might respond: If you appeal to Nature to sanction human conduct, you haven’t looked very far into Nature. Not even Kropotkin with his mutual aid theories denied the Darwinian struggle for existence; he merely desired to point out that it was not the whole story. But it is part of the story, and a large enough part so that we are justified in saying that Nature gives a mandate to the powerful, the fleet, the unscrupulous to live off the weaker, the slower, the innocent. And if you think to draw your ethical sanctions from society, whose society are you talking about? A society of headhunters? Nazi society? Communist society? The Great Society? As a matter of fact, if a significant number of people can be made to believe that moral conduct is merely that which is sanctioned by the society in which they live, then morality is subverted into merely customary behavior and mere legality. Furthermore, you are confusing sanctions with consequences. An ethical code resides somewhere behind the sanctions advanced to validate it, and the consequences cited to justify it. If the code is put into practice, the consequences may well be personal happiness, interpersonal harmony, and a prosperous society. But these results do not constitute a set of sanctions; the sanctions are on the other side of the code, in the realm of philosophy. Once we are intellectually convinced that our moral code is valid, then muster enough will power to practice it, then—and only then—do we get a bonus in the form of well-being in society. But you have the thing turned around! So much for the preliminary give and take.
A Way Through the Dilemma
Evidently, each side has a case which might be spelled out at length. Is it a deadlock, or do we have here an instance of an impasse due to the hardening of the categories on either side to the point where their usefulness as conceptual tools has been impaired? And, if this is so, is there a way between the horns of the dilemma? There might be such a breakthrough if we could—by adopting a new perspective—pose and develop a thesis which might avail itself of certain strong points in both positions. Here’s such a thesis: The moral code plays a role in the life of man comparable to the role of instinct in the lower organisms, in that each functions to relate the inner nature of the respective organism to the full range of its environment.
The recently published Harper Encyclopedia of Science says that "the scientific study of instinct has increased greatly in recent years, and the concept itself has regained an academic respectability it has not had since the time of Darwin." At the forefront of this research, much of it under field conditions, are Tinbergen, Lorenz, Thorne and Barrends; Europeans all. "It now seems clear," the entry continues, "that instinct and intelligence are two quite different ways by which animals meet life’s problems. Instincts are essentially prefabricated answers." In a word, an organism’s instinctual equipment adapts it optimally to its normal environment. Animals—along with birds, insects, and fish—are equipped with a kind of internal servomechanism, or automatic pilot, which keeps them effortlessly on the beam. Instincts align the animal with the forces of life, or with the laws of its own nature. Organism and environment are thus kept "in play" with each other—except when environmental changes are so catastrophic that the automatic adjustment equipment fails, the organism perishes, and perhaps a species becomes extinct.
The very perfection of automatic, instinctual adjustment may prove the undoing of organisms relying on this device; when survival depends on a creative response to novel environmental changes, something other than instinct is needed. This is, of course, intelligence. Instinct is not a mere precursor of intelligence, nor is intelligence an outgrowth of instinct; they are radically different. In order for intelligence in man to have an opportunity to flourish, the instincts had to be suppressed.
The Absence of Instincts
Human beings are virtually without specific instincts. There is no servomechanism in men which automatically keeps the human organism or the species within the pattern laid down for human life. Men have to figure things out and, by enormous effort, learn to conform their actions to the relevant norms in the various sectors of life. This absence of instincts in man constitutes the ground for man’s radical inner freedom, the freedom of his will. Animal lives are fixed to run in narrow, constricted channels; they obey the will of God willy-nilly. Men, however, vary enormously from each other at birth, and the differences widen as individuals mature each into his specialized individuality. And each person has the gift of a freedom so radical that he can deny the existence of the creative forces which produced him. This freedom of his makes it not only possible but mandatory that man take a hand in the fashioning of his own life. No man creates himself, but every man makes himself, using the created portions of his being as his resources. This is what it means to say that man is a responsible being.
A magnificent animal like Man o’ War is not a natural horse; he is the product of generations of human breeders and trainers of horses. They are mainly responsible for his superiority, not he. Of all the orders of creation only man is a responsible being; everything else, every horse, dog, lion, tiger, and shark is what it is. Only man is, in any measure, responsible for what he is. Man makes himself, and therefore each person is morally responsible for himself. This is possible because man has escaped from the strait jacket of instinct.
Let me quote from a once well-known Dreiser novel, Sister Carrie, which appeared in 1900. "Among the forces which sweep and play throughout the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind. Our civilization is but a wisp in the wind, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason. On the tiger no responsibility rests. We see him aligned by nature with the forces of life—he is born into their keeping and without thought he is protected. We see man far removed from the lairs of the jungles, his innate instincts dulled by too near approach to free will, his free will not sufficiently developed to replace his instincts and afford him perfect guidance. He is becoming too wise to hearken always to instincts and desire; he is still too weak to always prevail against them."
Dreiser makes full use of a novelist’s liberties here, but his pointer is in the right direction. Something within the tiger causes it to obey the laws of its inner nature unconsciously and easily, and, by so doing, the beast is in harmony with outer nature as well. But man’s case is radically different. Does he have a true nature deep within him, visible when the environmentally imposed camouflages are peeled off? And, if so, what are its mandates? Once man knows the laws of his own being, how shall he muster sufficient will power to obey them while avoiding distractions and temptations that emanate from other facets of his complex nature?
My thesis is that the role played by instinct in the lower order—keeping the organism on target—is assumed in man by the ethical code. Animals have instincts but no morals; men have morality but no instincts. An animal’s instincts guarantee that he will neither disobey nor deviate from the law of his being; a fish does not seek the dry land, a robin does not try to burrow in the ground, a gibbon does not yearn to swing on the North Pole. But man fulfills the law of his being only with the utmost difficulty —if then—and the only means at his disposal to align him with the forces of life is his ethical code. It is this code, and this alone, which may provide him with a life-giving, life-enhancing regimen.
A Single Ethical Code
Let me anticipate two quibbles. Instinct is sometimes contrasted with intelligence, and it is the latter, some say, on which man must rely. Or reason, as Dreiser suggests above. This is a play on words. We rely on intelligence to improve transportation, but we actually ride in automobiles or airplanes, which are the end result of applying intelligence to the problem of getting from here to there. Similarly, it is intelligence that discovers, analyzes, frames, and selects the ethical code. Which brings up the second quibble. Why the ethical code? Are there not many conflicting codes? Well, no—to be dogmatic! There is a hard core of similarity, almost identity, in every one of the world’s developed moral codes. This is the Tao, the Way, referred to by the great ethical and religious teachers in all cultures. Without it, man ceases to be man. (For an expansion of this point the interested reader is referred to C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.)
This begins to move us away from the humanistic ethics referred to earlier. Do we need to part company, and if so, by how much? The two most prominent schools of naturalistic ethics are the utilitarians and the pragmatists. It was John Stuart Mill who invented the name and argued the case for the former. He described it as "the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle." It "holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure."
Pleasure and happiness are desirable indeed, and we wish more of them for everyone. But to equate "pleasure producing" with "right" at the outset of a proposed ethical inquiry is to beg the question. There is undoubtedly a connection here, for doing the right thing has a high degree of correlation with happiness, but the connection is along the lines of the intelligence-automobile illustration above. It is as if the utilitarian were asked, "What is the temperature of this room?" and he answered, "I feel chilly." Now there is some relation between this question and the answer, but the answer is not directly responsive to the question. It evades the question, implying that there is no way of finding out the temperature. There is no thermometer, perhaps. Mill and the utilitarians do not really get at the ethical question. They think they are talking about ethics when, in fact, they are discussing something else. Similarly, the pragmatists.
Why Does It Work?
The pragmatists are mainly concerned with workability; it’s right if it works. Here is a map of the New England states. The pragmatist follows it and drives to Boston without getting lost. "Wherein lies the virtue of this map?" you ask him. "This map is good because it works; it got me to where I wanted to go." "Why," you pursue, "do you suppose this map got you to your destination?" "That," says our pragmatist, "is a metaphysical question of the sort I cannot be bothered with." So, we have to answer the question for him. The map "worked" because it was not just any old map; it was a map which corresponded to the terrain over which our pragmatist traveled.
An eminent British philosopher of a generation or two ago, W. P. Sorley, neatly wraps up and disposes of utility-workability theories. "It may be allowed," he writes, that the "relation between theory and practice does not necessitate the pragmatic explanation that the truth of the theory simply consists in its practical utility. The correspondence between theory and practice can also be explained on the view that the knowledge proves itself useful in its applications because it is true: the utility does not make it true; its truth is the ground of its utility. The former explanation is open to the fatal objection that it tends to discredit itself; for, according to it, the truth of the view that truth consists in utility must consist in the utility of this view. It would be difficult to show any practical utility which the explanation possesses; but if we did succeed in showing such utility, it would be formulated in yet another proposition, whose truth again would have to consist in some practical end supposed to be served by it, and so on indefinitely. But if the truth of the proposition does not consist in or depend upon its utility, then we may hold that its utility depends upon its truth: it is useful because it expresses reality or real relations in the form of knowledge, and this brings them within the range, and possibly within the power, of the human mind."
Objective Moral Values
And now what about the weaknesses in the case for the theistic ethics, as that case is usually put? Fundamental to this position is the conviction that moral norms and standards are as much a part of the ultimate nature of things as the fact of the specific gravity of water. It might be convenient, at times, if water had other characteristics, but wishing won’t alter the facts. Likewise, moral values. Honesty is right, and most of the time it may also be the best policy. But there are times when dishonesty would pay, where honesty makes us mighty uncomfortable; there is a conflict between what I want to do and what I know I ought to do. In order to maintain the integrity of the moral life, the ethicist champions the view that moral values are "out there," objective, as impervious to human tampering as any other fact of nature. Emphasis on their objectivity seems to imply that moral values are alien to human nature, and, if alien, hostile to man. If they are equated with God’s will, God comes to seem an Oriental despot inflicting arbitrary and perverse rules upon his creatures for his pleasure and their frustration. This syndrome is, of course, a caricature.
Moral values are said to be objective in the sense that their validity is part of the system and order of the universe, of that same universe which is manifested also in persons. Neither is alien to the other, because both are part of the same reality. Sorley goes a step further. "The objective moral value is valid independently of me and my will, and yet it is something which satisfies my purpose and completes my nature." The ethical code may come into conflict with our superficial self on occasion, precisely because it takes its orders from our real self. Inner conflicts are a part of living, and we encounter them in all the ventures of life.
Take any sport played to win.
It becomes a day and night preoccupation, with hours given over day after day for years to strenuous workouts. But this is only the visible part of the story. There is also a perpetual conflict with the impulse that wants to break training, to goof off, to lead a more normal life. Then there is the agony of the contest itself where the will to win takes over and pushes the athlete beyond his powers of conscious endurance into collapse the moment after his victory. His deepest will had attached itself to a regimen for optimum functioning, overcoming the continuous static and rebellion from other facets of his personality. Similar experiences are encountered in the intellectual life, and in the moral life.
Check out the latter with a medieval theologian. Thomas Aquinas says: "If virtue were at odds with man’s nature, it would not be an act of the man himself, but of some alien force subtracting from or going beyond the man’s own identity." Go back to St. Paul. The Gentiles do not have the Mosaic law, he writes in his Epistle to the Romans, but "they show the work of a law written in their hearts." And Moses himself, as recorded in Deuteronomy, commends the keeping of God’s commandments in order that there shall be flourishing life. "Choose life," he says. Where is this commandment, he asks rhetorically; is it up in heaven or beyond the sea? No, he declares, "the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." What are we to understand Thomas, Paul, and Moses to be saying? Are they saying that to obey God’s will for us is equivalent to following the laws of our own being? It’s pretty close to that. And that is precisely what an animal’s instincts do for him. The difference is that we are free to ignore or disobey the laws of our being, whereas no animal has that power.
Tested by Time, the Human Potential Emerges
In the course of several thousand generations of human beings a slow deposit has accumulated as the result of individuals here and there successfully realizing a portion of the human potential. The recipes they left behind, tested and winnowed over the centuries, form the hard core of the ethical code. This is not a prescription for a life of power-seeking, or one of money-making, or a life devoted to fun and games, or to fame. These things are not intrinsically evil, but an inordinate attachment to any one of them breaks training, so to speak. Proper use of them, on the other hand, is part of life’s schooling process.
What are we being schooled for? A clear-cut positive answer to this question is impossible, for it outruns human experience. But a pretty clear hint comes through when we contemplate the alternatives. Wealth, pleasure, power, and even knowledge, when sought as ends in themselves, begin to send up signals that they are, in reality, only means to ends beyond themselves. The space scientists "build redundancy" into their capsules, more of everything than normal requirements would ever demand. Man, too, is overbuilt, in that each person has a wide range of potencies and a reservoir of untapped energy at his disposal, more than any of us ever use. Nor is man left on dead center with all this latent power. He has a chart containing the salient landmarks, and this chart is the ethical code. Let him begin to use this chart and the pieces fall into place, bits of the great design begin to emerge, the person fulfills his destiny. "The event is in the hands of God."
Tags: Christianity, Edmund Opitz, ethics, free society, liberty, morality
My recent article "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives" elicited a huge response – most of it positive. Some libertarians, however, were quite annoyed because I expressed my opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
I promised my critics that I responded to (I didn’t respond to profanity-laden missives or to statements like: "A libertarian is really a fascist SOB if he is pro-life.") that I would write about these two subjects individually, and sooner rather than later. I addressed the subject of same-sex marriage in an article published on June 8. There I argued that there is no libertarian position on same-sex marriage. I address here the subject of libertarianism and abortion.
Other than brief mentions in my article "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives" and in a couple of articles about Ron Paul’s views on the matter, I have only written at length about abortion in the article "Is Ron Paul Wrong on Abortion?" I have actually written more that was critical of the pro-life movement than I have about abortion: I defended Ron Paul against the attacks of pro-lifers and took them to task for their hypocrisy and warmongering.
What I recently said about abortion in my article "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives" that ruffled the feathers of some libertarians was this:
I have argued that because the non-aggression axiom is central to libertarianism, and because force is justified only in self-defense, and because it is wrong to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property, and because killing is the ultimate form of aggression that, to be consistent, libertarians should be opposed to abortion.
The link I gave was to my article "Is Ron Paul Wrong on Abortion?" in which I said these things:
Why should it be considered libertarian to kill a baby in the womb or unlibertarian to oppose such killing? And even worse, why would a libertarian say that it was unlibertarian to advocate killing foreigners in an aggressive war but not non-libertarian to kill a baby in the womb?
Killing someone is the ultimate form of aggression. Especially a helpless, defenseless fetus that is only guilty of suddenly waking up in a womb. The fetus certainly had no control over being a parasite, aggressing against a woman, invading a woman’s body, or adding unwanted pounds to his host – but its mother certainly did. If an unborn child is not entitled to protection of life, then to be consistent, libertarians should have no problem with the abortion of a fetus from one month old to nine months old. The nine-month old fetus is no more viable than the one-month old one. In fact, a one-month old baby has the same degree of viability. I hate to be so crude, but leave all three of them unattended on a table in a hospital and see what happens.
Why should it be considered libertarian to kill a baby in the womb or unlibertarian to oppose such killing? This has nothing to do with giving the government greater control over a woman’s body; it has everything to do with preventing aggression and protecting innocent life.
If Roe v. Wade were overturned and abortion laws were once again made the provision of the states, there would be nothing unlibertarian about supporting state laws making abortion a crime just as laws against murder, manslaughter, and wrongful death are considered legitimate actions of the states.
I’m not sure who bothered to click the link and read what I had previously written about abortion, but doing so would have answered some of the questions that I was asked.
I base my statements about abortion on the libertarian non-aggression principle, which I believe is also a biblical principle, or else I wouldn’t hold to it.
The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence ("aggress") against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.
Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It [is] concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation.
The libertarian position on anything is based on the question of, Does it violate the non aggression principle (NAP) about initiating or threatening physical violence. If so, the libertarian position is that it should be illegal, and punished by the full force of the law. If not, the libertarian position is that it should be legal, and it would be unjustified to use physical violence against the person who engages in that act.
Because a child in the womb is helpless, not initiating violence, not committing aggression, and not there of its own accord, I believe that, to be consistent, libertarians should not only be opposed to abortion, but in favor of making it a criminal act just like murder, rape, kidnapping, theft, assault, and robbery would be in any libertarian society based on the non-aggression principle.
Now, what sort of penalty should be imposed, how criminality would be determined, how to divide culpability between the woman and her doctor, how to handle situations where pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, how to handle situations where parents force their pregnant teenage daughter to get an abortion, how far along the pregnancy has to be, etc., etc., etc. are things that would have to be determined that I don’t profess to have precise answers to. But, aside from premeditated, witnessed, proven-beyond-a-doubt first degree murder, neither do I have precise answers as to what the penalty should be for manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, theft, assault, or robbery.
I reproduce below relevant portions of interaction regarding the subject of abortion that I had with five "pro-choice" libertarians. I only gave them brief responses because I knew from their comments and questions that it would be much better for all interested parties if I took the time to write something much more in depth than an e-mail. I appreciate them taking the time to write and hope they are reading. Judging from the whole of what they wrote to me, I don’t expect to change their minds. Nevertheless, in addition to what I have said above regarding libertarianism and abortion, I offer my comments below.
Try as I might, I can’t reconcile a position favoring small, non-intrusive government, with support for the criminalization of abortion, which necessarily involves the government sticking its nose into doctors’ examining rooms, and one could say, into the orifices of any woman being examined there.
It cannot be denied that pregnancy is inherently dangerous, therefore any abortion can always be justified as defensive, not initiated force. It is an unpleasant fact that we all start our lives as parasites, and a potential mother has no more obligation to support such a parasite in her body than the body politic has to support "welfare parasites."
I would kindly ask that you either: 1) Don’t tell people that you’re a libertarian if you’re going to defend a "pro-life" position, or 2) Don’t tell people you’re pro-life if you’re going to defend a libertarian position.
People like you are "spoiling the brand name," and if folks hear you advocate both libertarianism and anti-abortionism, it may reinforce their false belief that we are far-right wingers.
It occurs to me that I don’t remember you saying in your article or your reply that you favor making abortion illegal. If what you mean when you call yourself a pro-life libertarian is that you would use peaceful persuasion to convince women not to get abortions, then any disagreement I may have thought we had was all in my head. If, however, my original assumption was correct, then I should point out that the right to life does not include the right to live at the expense of another. If it does, then government wealth redistribution is OK, right? Making abortion illegal again would turn the gift of life into just another entitlement coerced by government force.
Also, I am given to understand that quite often a fertilized egg fails to implant in the lining of the uterus and is expelled during menstruation, making God, if you will, perhaps the biggest performer of abortions.
I would like to someday hear from the "Pro-lifers" how we would deal with a pregnant woman that does not want to carry her unborn fetus to the full term and give birth to a child. What does a "libertarian" society do with her? What does a "libertarian" society do with her…legally?
Tell us how to be libertarians and advocate criminal activity to abortion. Tell us what we SHOULD DO legally when a woman chooses to abort. Is it OK to put her in a straitjacket in a padded cell and force feed her to keep her and her fetus healthy?
How should the law deal with an unwanted pregnancy. And by the way to your question "Should abortion be legal at anytime before the child is born?" My answer is yes. You and I may not like the choice someone makes but as long as we have the "right to life" I can’t see any other meaning to that than the right to our own life. The woman makes the choice and will have to live with it her entire life.
The bureaucratic apparatus that would be required to actually prevent and or punish even a fraction of abortions would be overarching, imposing, and by necessity invade the privacy of all women.
It would be a TSA of the vagina. Not a pleasant thought, at least not to me.
Or, less poetically, it would be but another tentacle of the already metastasized and gut-wrenchingly corrupt "justice" system that has – with little effect on crime – built a gulag system filled with more hopeless convicts than any other time in history or place in the world. And you’d like to add to this? Really? Should we not be focused on limiting, or better yet removing, state power?
Such an apparatus would necessarily impose force and coercion, and as such be the antithesis of "libertarian" (as you define it by NAP.) Frankly, I think this is why so many "conservative" politicians slobber over the issue, it would allow them more justification to spend more money on prisons and police while engendering a tumescent response from their latent sadism.
It really doesn’t matter if abortion itself is "libertarian" or not, any attempt to stop it would require un-libertarian means. Just as there can never really be a libertarian war, since all war harms the innocent.
I personally take the Rothbardian position that while regrettable that the fetus cannot live outside the mother’s womb, it is slavery to force a woman to carry an unwanted child to term.
A woman’s right to have an abortion has nothing to do with a woman’s "right to privacy" and everything to do with her right of self ownership. You wouldn’t allow anyone to forcibly insert any object into your body without your consent. By the same token, it would be well within your rights to remove an object consensually inserted into your body at any time. This is the most basic application of your inalienable right of self ownership.
I see perhaps nine things that I need to address.
First, opposition to abortion is not an exclusively far-right wing or conservative position. This was the whole point of my original article, "Should Libertarians Be Conservatives?" Libertarians who advocate "anti-abortionism" shouldn’t abandon their position so they won’t be mistaken for conservatives anymore than they should abandon their advocacy of lower taxes, the free market, and other things that liberals associate with the right wing. And if a libertarians advocate "pro-abortionism," won’t it reinforce the false belief that libertarians are far left-wingers?
Second, although it is true that "often a fertilized egg fails to implant in the lining of the uterus and is expelled during menstruation," this doesn’t necessarily make God the "biggest performer of abortions." Just because God allows something to happen doesn’t mean he’s the cause of it. Otherwise he would be responsible for all abortions. God "giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25) and "in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). As the author of life, God can take life anytime he chooses in any manner he chooses.
Third, if an act violates the non-aggression principle, as I believe abortion does, then I think it inherently means that it should be punished in some way. Thus, to be consistent, pro-life libertarians should also support the criminalization of abortion just like they support the criminalization of other acts of aggression like murder and robbery. The fact that there may be no living victim to seek restitution and that all those who had knowledge of the victim (woman, boyfriend, doctor, nurse) preferred him dead is irrelevant just like it is in the case of the murder of someone who is already out of the womb.
Fourth, that the U.S. has a corrupt criminal justice system and a gulag filled with hopeless convicts there is no doubt. But abortion is not a victimless crime like drug use that should just be ignored. And just because the system is bad doesn’t mean that genuine acts of aggression should go unpunished. I am in favor of adding to prison anyone guilty of real crimes (assuming that prison should be the punishment) and removing from prison anyone not guilty of real crimes. And I should also add that abortion should not be a federal crime anymore than murder, rape, or robbery should be federal crimes. Most federal crimes (the ones that are really crimes, not the ones like taking unlicensed dentures across state lines) should not be federal crimes at all.
Fifth, criminalizing abortion would not lead to a greater police state that increases the bureaucratic apparatus and violates privacy. The fact is, we already have a police state, and it’s not because murder, robbery, and other real crimes are prosecuted. If abortion were illegal, it would no more entail the government sticking its nose in doctors’ offices and women’s wombs than murder being illegal means that the government stations agents in every home, bar, and alley waiting for a murder to take place.
Sixth, no pro-life libertarian believes in aggression to prevent possible or potential aggression. It would therefore not be okay to enslave a pregnant woman by forcing her "to carry an unwanted child to term" or put her "in a straitjacket in a padded cell and force feed her to keep her and her fetus healthy." It would not be permissible to use "un-libertarian means" to stop abortion. It’s not the job of the government – whatever form it appears in – to prevent crime. A criminal act is not a criminal act until it is committed. Preventing abortion would be no different than preventing other crimes. The way to stop abortion is by persuading pregnant women to not undergo abortions or educating them sufficiently in the pro-life position before they get pregnant so they won’t consider abortion an option should they get pregnant. People so inclined to kill, rape, or rob should be persuaded not to kill, rape, or rob or educated to the extent that they would never be so inclined.
Seventh, although a fetus is a parasite in the sense that it lives inside, is dependent upon, and obtains nutriments from a host, I hasten to point out that a newborn baby is totally dependent upon someone to feed and take care of it as well. Even a six-month-old baby left to itself will soon die. Is it okay to just throw parasitical children in the trash with aborted babies? A child in the womb a week before birth is just as much a parasite as a child in the womb six months before birth. Are libertarians who advocate abortion on demand ready to allow the procedure at any time before birth in the name of consistency? And what about the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion?
Eighth, certainly it is equally true that no object should be forcibly inserted into one’s body and that one would be well within his rights to remove, not only an object inserted without consent, but any object consensually inserted. But we are talking about a child here, not a choice. When a woman engages in an activity the natural consequence of which is pregnancy, she is obligating herself to bring to term a completely separate individual with uniquely different DNA that didn’t choose to "invade" her body or "aggress" against her. To be consistent, pro-choice libertarians should limit their argument here to pregnancy in the case of rape, a very rare occurrence. But even in the case of pregnancy via rape, it is the result of the aggression of someone else that the woman is pregnant, not the child which has, through no fault of its own, been inserted into the woman’s body. If someone owned a ship and discovered a child on board that someone had stowed away, would he be well within his rights to throw the child overboard for being a trespasser? Should he not rather give the child up safely at the end of his voyage?
And finally, based on everything I have said thus far, it should be obvious that if a pregnant woman doesn’t want to keep her baby – for whatever reason – then I see no other alternative for her than to have her baby and then give it up for adoption. If money is an issue, there are pro-life organizations that will care for women during their pregnancy. But I think pro-lifers have dropped the ball here. If pro-lifers would pay women with unwanted pregnancies to not abort their child, carry it to term, and give it up for adoption, they would do more to prevent abortions than they are doing now. But would not some women get pregnant just for the cash? Certainly, but there have always been and always will be women that will do unusual things for money. Even now some women have more children just to get increased welfare benefits. But even if a small percentage of women became baby factories because they got paid to carry babies to term, it would still be better than having a million abortions every year like occurs now in the United States. And since I mentioned adoption, let me also say that the state should get completely out of the adoption business and leave it entirely up to the free market.
I have not undertaken here a systematic defense of the libertarian pro-life position. I have merely addressed the concerns of those who wrote me.
One of the people who wrote me said that libertarians are pro-choice on everything. I see nothing libertarian about a woman choosing to kill her unborn child for getting in the way of her lifestyle.
Originally published on LewRockwell.com on July 17, 2012.
Tags: abortion, christian libertarian, christian libertarianism, Christianity, ethics, libertarian christian, libertarianism, morality, politics, theology
Cross-posted at the Values & Capitalism Project
A great many people believe that changing the law is the solution to social problems. This is a fiction.
If written law were some kind of unbreakable magic spell, the United States would not look as it now does. Nearly all of what the government does today is not by any stretch of the imagination “constitutional.” Written laws and documents do not hold the power to control individual behavior or government behavior.
It is true that when people believe the law to be important, they will obey it. But when they believe it to be unimportant they will just as easily disregard it. In the end it is people’s beliefs, not the law that determines behavior.
Perhaps we are seduced into the “Myth of the Rule of Law” because it is so hard to see what’s really regulating behavior and generating social order. The “Invisible Hand” that Adam Smith described as channeling self-interest in the marketplace to serve the diverse needs and wants of its participants is also at work in the marketplace of ideas, social norms and morality. The core beliefs we hold and the norms that emerge from centuries of social interaction are what restrain or fail to restrain behavior.
This is not merely academic. It is dangerous to persist in the belief that the law is the ultimate check on human behavior for two distinct reasons: First, law does not ultimately change the behavior of its intended targets; second, because it does change the behavior of others.
The first problem renders social reform efforts ineffective. The vast majority of attempts to restrain government, help the poor, make people healthier, more charitable, more equal, less intolerant, more responsible with natural resources, or better educated are really just attempts to change what’s written on pieces of government paper. A different combination of words in the Federal Register one day to the next cannot change human hearts one day to the next.
A powerful example is the brief experiment with alcohol prohibition in the United States. Many in the temperance movement genuinely wanted to prevent drunkenness, alcoholism and the irresponsible and even violent action that sometimes accompanies. They focused their attention mainly on what they incorrectly thought to be the source of power over human behavior—the law. They were successful in changing the law, but failed to sufficiently change hearts. A large number of people still wanted to consume alcohol because they did not believe it was immoral to do so. Because they believed in it, they did it despite the law. The main effect of making the activity illegal was to make the production and distribution of alcohol a violent business, where it had previously been much like any other beverage. There were not gang wars over the soda fountain.
Contrast the legal strategy with the strategy of an organization like Alcoholics Anonymous. AA aims for the heart. They work to change individual lives and behavior by developing a non-judgmental network of support and accountability. AA has been able to change countless lives and free people from the bondage of alcohol addiction. The law could never do that, and we should not ask it to.
I mentioned a second problem with believing the law to be the source of social order: It has a negative effect on unintended parties. This can also be illustrated by the prohibition example. Not only did the law fail to change the behavior of most drinkers, it succeeded in changing the behavior of criminals and government officials, leading to more corruption and violence. It also allowed those who wanted to lessen the damage done by alcohol addiction to feel like they’d “done something about it,” when in fact they’d not helped those that needed help at all.
The change in the average citizen’s moral sense is probably the gravest danger of belief in the power of law. It weakens our moral sense and lulls us into the belief that legality is a substitute for morality. We cease evaluating actions based on their merits as against the moral law and begin evaluating them against state-made law. We shirk responsibility to offer genuine aid because the law will do it, and at the same time we pronounce judgment on actions that are perfectly moral, just because they are illegal.
The issue of illegal immigration is illustrative. If we examine the idea without cloaking it in legal/illegal terms, we begin to see a different picture:
A friend of mine is desperately poor and wants to earn a better living for his family. He applies for a job with the local grocer. The grocer is impressed with his work ethic and is happy to offer him a job. This job means my friend can move his family out of their impoverished condition, afford a reasonable apartment and begin saving so his children and grandchildren can have a much better life. There is no trespass or harm committed in this story by any of the parties involved.
Would it be moral to hire armed men to stop my friend on the way to his first day on the job and physically remove his whole family and send them back to their old neighborhood and old life? Would you do this even if you knew it meant you were ensuring him a life of grinding poverty and very possibly death?
It is clearly immoral to interfere with another individual in this way, in particular when such interference condemns them to a much harsher life. But that is precisely what most Americans advocate when they cry for enforcement of immigration laws. The only thing that makes otherwise moral people advocate such immoral behavior is the word “illegal”—in other words a belief in the power of law.
People believe that breaking state-made law is in and of itself an immoral act that justifies the use of violence in retaliation. This absurd notion does not hold up under the slightest scrutiny, even for those who most strongly believe it. I have yet to find an American who says that those harboring Jews during the Holocaust were acting immorally and deserved punishment, or that the individuals who assisted escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad were deserving of incarceration for breaking the law.
Helping peaceful people who are destitute and persecuted is noble, and when done in defiance of the law can even be courageous. It is only a belief in the supremacy of man-made law over moral law that prevents most Americans from viewing as heroic those who assist immigrants hounded by armed border agents. I submit that looking out for the poor is better than locking them up when they have done nothing but seek a better life.
When we remove our awe for legislation we discover that genuine social change is hampered by a belief in the power of law. We also discover that good people will tolerate or even condone immoral acts when they believe that what is legal is more important than what is right. It is lazy to let the law be our agent of change and dangerous to let it be our moral compass.
Tags: immigration, law, morality