First Thigs Editor, Canadian-Born, Intellectual, influential free thinker, who became a Catholic after a long conversion process. Later on, as a Christian, he was a powerful pen, liberal and ortodox. Himself and Novak were the pieces around which all Catholic intellectuals turned to press John Paul II. They forced him to produce the philosocialist (according to them) Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Thus there came out to life short later Centessimus Annus. That is the main reason why the Communitarian and Anti-Capitalist Catholics ussualy quote Sollicitudo Rei Socialis whereas the Liberal-Capitalist Catholics instead quote more the encyclica Centessimus Annus. Before he became a Catholic priest he was a Lutheran. His life and writtings give witness to his commitment and loyalty.
Read the following postumous article, The Pro-Life Movement as the Politics of the 1960s

by Richard John Neuhaus

The Pro-Life Movement as the Politics of
the 1960s

by Richard John Neuhaus


   Whatever else it is, the
pro-life movement of the last thirty-plus years is one of the most massive and
sustained expressions of citizen participation in the history of the United States.
Since the 1960s, citizen participation and the remoralizing of politics have
been central goals of the left. Is it not odd, then, that the pro-life movement
is viewed as a right-wing cause? Reinhold Niebuhr wrote about «the irony of
American history» and, were he around to update his book of that title, I
expect he might recognize this as one of the major ironies within the irony.These are the issues
addressed in a remarkable new book out this month from Princeton University
Press, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, by Jon Shields, a
political scientist at Claremont
McKenna College.
The book is by no means a pro-life tract. It is an excruciatingly careful
study, studded with the expected graphs and statistical data—but not to the
point of spoiling its readability—in the service of probing the curious
permutations in contemporary political alignments.The Port Huron Statement
issued by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962 called for a
participatory democracy in which, through protest and agitation, the «power
structure» of the society would be transformed by bringing moral rather than
merely procedural questions to the center of political life. Almost fifty years
later, Shields notes, «some 45 percent of respondents in the Citizens
Participation Survey who reported participating in a national protest did so
because of abortion. What is more, nearly three quarters of all abortion-issue
protesters are pro-life, an unsurprising fact given that the pro-life movement
is challenging rather than defending the current policy regime. Meanwhile, all
other social issues, including pornography, gay rights, school prayer, and sex
education, account for only 3 percent of all national protest activity.»

Shields says there are
three categories of pro-life politics: deliberative, disjointed, and radical.
Representative of the «deliberative» are Justice for All (JFA) and the Center
for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), which have trained thousands of young people to
engage in nonconfrontational pro-life persuasion on college campuses. The
«disjointed» politics includes innumerable and loosely organized activities
such as sidewalk counseling, prayer vigils, marches, demonstrations, and
counter-demonstrations. The «radical» includes what he calls «the broken
remnants of the rescue movement,» focusing on civil disobedience and the
closing of abortion clinics. «In many respects [the radical] is the exact
opposite of deliberative politics, except for the fact that it too is highly
coordinated and organized.»

He cites striking instances
of the campus efforts of groups such as JFA and CBR meeting with frequently
vicious hostility, often led by faculty members. The truth is that such
hostility reflects vehement opposition to civil deliberation and argument about
abortion. Pro-life students eager to engage others in serious discussion find
this very frustrating, but it is not entirely surprising. Shields writes: «Such
frustration is fueled by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, whose
leaders discourage their campus affiliates from debating or even talking to
pro-life students. NARAL’s ‘Campus Kit for Pro-Choice Organizers,’ for example,
gives this categorical instruction: ‘Don’t waste time talking to anti-choice
people.’» The campus organizer for Planned Parenthood told Shields that she
«discourages direct debate.» Feminists for Life has had more success on
campuses, mainly because its members shake up conventional notions on the
«woman question.» As leaders of the organization put it, the goal is not to
«fit into a man’s world on men’s terms,» which means above all not «troubling
employers with their fertility problems.» As they repeatedly assert, «Women
deserve better than abortion.»

But pro-abortion
intolerance of discussion or debate is sometimes given dramatic expression. In San Francisco, the city and county board of supervisors
unanimously declared January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, «Stand
Up for Choice Day» and officially declared San Francisco a pro-choice city. Supervisor
Bevan Duffy declared that pro-lifers were «not welcome in San Francisco.» Supervisor Tom Ammiano
complained about the audacity of pro-life activists who «think that they can
come to our fair city and demonstrate.» The head of the Golden
Gate chapter of Planned Parenthood was outraged that activists
«have been so emboldened that they believe that their message will be tolerated
here.» The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley
in the mid-1960s has come to this.

A Movement for Change

The pro-life movement is a
movement for change, indeed for what some view as the radical change of
eliminating the unlimited abortion license. «Meanwhile,» writes Shields, «the
pro-choice movement is a conservative movement defending the status quo.
Pro-choicers have little to gain from engaging their opponents and from the
deliberative norms that facilitate persuasion.» And, of course, they have the
establishment media massively on their side. The head of New York State Right
to Life explained to Shields that «a major part of her work is simply trying to
convince journalists that pro-life activists are ‘normal.’ It is hard to
imagine a pro-choice leader describing her work that way.»

«The current demographic
makeup of the pro-life movement,» writes Shields, «also confounds the politics
of motherhood.» The conflict is often depicted as one between housewives and
career-oriented women. But a striking percentage of pro-life women are
university educated, and many have given up professional careers to do pro-life
work full-time. Although Shields does not mention it in this connection, it is
also striking how many female leaders in the pro-life cause had one or more
abortions, an experience that helped turn them against the current license. He
does note that surveys indicate that pro-life citizens, men and women, «are
only moderately less likely to be ‘very concerned’ about women’s rights» than
pro-choice respondents. «The pro-life movement,» he writes, «is actually quite
diverse, and abortion politics more generally does not [as some claim] pit
working-class Catholic housewives against professional, career-oriented women.»
In short, it has over the years increasingly stretched credulity to claim that
the pro-choice cause is a «woman’s movement.»

An influential book in
these discussions is Kristin Luker’s Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood.
Luker’s argument is that the abortion debate is not so much over abortion as it
is an expression of worldviews in conflict, along the lines of some analyses of
the «culture wars.» Shields arrives at a different conclusion: «The great
conflicts in American history, especially slavery, civil rights, and abortion,
have been unusually hard fought and passionate because they cannot be
understood as symbolic fights over different worldviews or cultures. Instead,
they are better understood as clashes over how common liberal values should be
extended to different categories of humans. These conflicts have been
disagreements over who counts as a human person.»

Well yes, the abortion
battle is over abortion and whether the unborn child counts as a human person,
but where one comes out on that question is, I believe, powerfully influenced
by a host of other beliefs and attitudes aptly summarized in the pro-life language
of a culture of death versus a culture of life. There are two cultures, one
focused on rights and laws and the other on rights and wrongs; one focused on
maximizing individual self-expression and the other on reinforcing community
and responsibility.

Shields is, I believe, on
firmer ground when he writes: «The sociology of the academy may matter as well.
Perhaps Luker’s book has been so appealing to academics because they do not
want to entertain the possibility that these conservative reactionaries might
be agents in progressive history. Central to the self-understanding of
liberalism is the belief that the left cares about justice and human rights,
while the right is obsessed with crabbed cultural preoccupations such as gay
lifestyles, pornography, and traditional gender roles. Conservatives, in this
view, must be seen as reactionaries to the civil rights movements rather than
its heirs. If this is right, Luker’s book may say more about contemporary
American liberalism than it does about abortion politics.»

Of particular interest is
Shields’ analysis of the role of intellectuals and intellectual inquiry on both
sides of the conflict. The reluctance of the pro-choice leadership to engage in
public debate is another mark of its conservatism. As Shields writes: «As a
movement that wants to preserve the status quo, it simply has nothing to gain
from engaging its opponents, especially on college campuses where the
pro-choice view is a default progressive position for many students. But the
pro-choice movement does have something to lose if bested in public debate.
Moreover, pro-choice advocates know very well that even the minds of activists
in their ranks can be changed. Prominent examples include abortion providers
and the cofounder of NARAL Pro-Choice America, not to mention many less
prominent rank-and-file activists.»

Intellectual Hindrance

While the pro-life cause
welcomes, and has been greatly bolstered by, the support of many distinguished
intellectuals, the same is not true of the pro-choice movement. On the
contrary, intellectuals who share their policy preferences are always raising
inconvenient questions about the intellectual coherence of arguments advanced
in favor of the unlimited abortion license. For instance, Rosamund Rhodes of
Mt. Sinai School of Medicine confessed three decades after Roe that
abortion proponents are simply not prepared to explain «how or why the fetus is
transformed into a franchised ‘person’ by moving from inside the womb to
outside or by a reaching a certain level of development.» One of the most
prominent of abortion proponents, Judith Jarvis Thompson, concedes that the
«prospects for ‘drawing a line’ in the development of the fetus look dim.» And
of course there is Peter Singer of Princeton,
who has written, «Liberals have failed to establish a morally significant
dividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus.» Singer concludes from
this that it is therefore permissible to kill babies outside as well as inside
the womb. Needless to say, his argument is not helpful in advancing pro-choice
politics. In short, pro-life intellectuals, like pro-life activists, insist on
talking about the science and moral reasoning pertinent to the moral status of
the unborn. So do the more honest of pro-choice intellectuals, which is why
they are more hindrance than help to the pro-choice movement.

But it all comes back to
the much touted «participatory democracy» of the 1960s being turned upside
down. The writings of Robert Putnam of Harvard on social capital and civic
involvement have received much attention. It is with a palpable sadness that
Putnam writes, «It is, in short, among evangelical conservatives, rather than
among the ideological heirs of the 1960s, that we find the strongest evidence
for an upwelling of civic engagement.» As Shields writes: «In the 1960s liberal
intellectuals and reformers longed for a more ideological politics. Greater
moral controversy, in their view, would revitalize democratic life. Yet today
many observers of the culture wars, particularly those on the left, claim that
our democracy would be more participatory, deliberative, and just if
controversial moral issues were pushed to the margins of American politics.»
They got the moral controversy that they wanted, but it appeared in the form of
controversy about issues they would prefer to see ignored.

In his 1969 work The End
of Liberalism, Theodore Lowi wrote of a politics deprived of conflict over
great moral principles. As Lowi saw it, American politics was dominated by
opaque interest-group bargaining, which left the public paralyzed by a
«nightmare of administrative boredom.» We have already mentioned the Port Huron
Statement, which began with the declaration: «Making values explicit—an initial
task in establishing alternatives—is an activity that has been devalued and
corrupted.» Shields puts the matter nicely: «One might suppose that present-day
conservatives would have declared war on a political system that was largely
engineered by 1960s liberals. Yet it is liberals who are mounting a counterattack
against this liberal revolution. What is more, their arguments often have a
surprisingly conservative ring to them. For example, those who hope to enlist
centrist voters against divisive moralists sound much more like Richard Nixon
than Tom Hayden. In a strange political turn, they have embraced what Nixon
called ‘the silent majority’ as the source of their salvation from 1960s

Again, the pro-choice
proponents are the defenders of the status quo. They routinely cite data
indicating that a majority of Americans do not want to see Roe
overturned. As has often been pointed out, these same Americans believe that Roe
created a restrictive abortion policy. In what sociologist James Hunter calls
«mass legal illiteracy,» it is widely believed that Roe permits abortion
in the first trimester, allows it for serious reasons in the second, and
forbids it in the third. But, of course, as Roe and companion decisions
make clear, the law as presently imposed by the Supreme Court allows abortion
at any time for any reason and up through the fully formed baby emerging
halfway out of the birth canal. As Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon has
written, it is the most permissive abortion regime in the Western world. When
those same Americans are asked about the circumstances in which abortion should
be permitted, a great majority says that abortion should not be permitted for
the reasons that 90 percent of abortions are procured. It is understandable,
however, that pro-choice advocates trumpet popular support for Roe,
dependent as they are on the ignorance of «the silent majority.»

Shields’ study concludes
with thoughtful reflections on the apparently inevitable connection between
passion and participation. «Whatever the limits of deliberative partisanship,
there has simply never been a social movement of moral skeptics and doubters;
only strong convictions mobilized and sustained them. So, however desirable
metaphysical doubt might be in theory, it collides with the democratic ideal of
participation. To put the trade-off starkly, perhaps a degree of close-minded
certainty is the price of a more participatory democracy.» He cites James
Madison on the dangers posed by «factions.» «Madison argued that deliberative
decision-making was possible only in institutions that are insulated from
public passions. Therefore, keeping the public weak and distant from their
representatives was a necessary though insufficient condition for deliberative
decision-making.» Obviously, that is not how the American experiment in representative
democracy has worked out.

«One of the great political
ironies of the past few decades,» writes Shields, «is that the Christian Right
has been much more successful than its political rivals at fulfilling New Left
hopes for American democracy. Far more than any movement since the early
campaign for civil rights, the Christian Right has helped revive participatory
democracy in America
by overcoming citizens’ alienation from politics.» As one has all too many
occasions to observe, history has many ironies in the fire. To the 1960s
proponents of participatory democracy, the maxim applies: Be careful what you
hope for. To those flirting with despair in the face of an Obama presidency,
the advice is offered: You might want to get a copy of The Democratic Virtues
of the Christian Right by Jon Shields. And all of us would do well to
ponder the wisdom in the observation that there are no permanently lost causes
because there are no permanently won causes.

Copyright (c) 2009 First Things (January 2009).
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