Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

I am the State, the State is Me

A few days back, as is often the case, folks were arguing in the Vox Nova comboxes about abortion, and the question arose of whether legal protection for the unborn or a minimization of the number of abortions ought to be the primary goal of the pro-life movement. Zippy spoke in favor of the former and stated his case thusly:

The illegality of murder is more paramount. If there were a law sanctioning the murder black people, it would be more important to eliminate that legal sanction than to decrease the number of murders. One is a question of basic justice, while the other is merely a matter of what it is possible to achieve as a practical matter.

As so often happens when reading Zippy, when I read the above I had, simultaniously, two seemingly mutually incompatible thoughts:

1) what this guy is saying is absolutely nuts; and

2) he kind of has a point.

On the one hand, the idea that what is written in some book somewhere marked “the Law” matters more than the actuality of abortion seems somewhat strange. If the statute book says that it is illegal to murder blacks, but in practice this is done with impunity, how can this be said to be preferable to a situation in which it is technically legal to murder blacks but in practice this never happens? Answer: it can’t be. And were one really faced with a choice between having no abortions and having a law that says there shall be no abortions, well, you know where I stand.

On the other hand, Zippy does seem to be onto something, in that what the statute book says on such questions matters, and not simply because of the practical effect it might have. If a country passed a law declaring that blacks were second class citizens this would be a serious injustice. It would remain a serious injustice even if no one in that country acted any differently on account of it. And it would be a serious injustice in a way that a statement by a private individual or organization (even a very large and powerful one) would not be. And this is curious.

Why is it that the wrongs committed by our government sting so much worse than the wrongs of other countries. I guarantee you that if you count up the number of prisoners tortured over the past eight years, the U.S. would not break the top twenty-five either in the number of people or in the horribleness of the means used. And that’s not to excuse the U.S. It’s only to note that if the crimes of U.S. soldiers and interrogators seem so ghastly to us, and of such pressing concern, it is not only or even primarily because they are objectively speaking worse than anything else going on in the world, but because they are being done by *our* government. *Our* government, which is our agent and representative, and which claims to act on our behalf and in our name (those “not in our name” signs used by anti-war protesters are, from this perspective, quite apt). And a wrong is never so wrong as when it is done by you, through you, or in your name. As Solzhenitsyn said of the lies and evil perpetrated by the Soviet system, “[l]et that come into the world and even reign over it [if it must], but not through me.”

November 16, 2008 - Posted by | Abortion, America, Democracy, Government, Law

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