While wandering around the mini-greenmarket by my work when I stepped out for lunch today, I found myself listening to a really compelling podcast.  (4th podcast on the page that link takes you to.)  It was a presentation given this past February by this guy Andrew Bodoh, a law student and recent graduate (’07) of Christendom College.  Caveat caveat caveat: I’m not Catholic, and a lot of Christendom’s rhetoric (not to mention their theology) doesn’t sit right with me.   It can feel abrasive, triumphalist.  Despite this, though, I do occasionally listen to some of their lectures: and this one from today had no leaven of triumphalism at all, but was instead truth spoken in love.  The lecture was called “Understanding the Culture of Life,” and its main premise was that being pro-life, in the thought of John Paul II, was deeply connected to being in favor of a larger vision of human thriving.

It’s so funny.  I no longer feel surprised at myself for agreeing with the pro-life position, even though I was so pro-choice in high school.  But I do still feel surprised at how much more comfortably being pro-life fits with the overall vision of liberalism, as I was raised to believe it, than it does with the neo-conservatism and libertarianism to which it has become so linked by political exigency.  I feel like this podcast shows that fit pretty clearly.

It is our business, say liberals, to help other people in our community thrive.  We can’t just withdraw into our own houses like snails into our shells.  “Mankind ought to have been my business!” says Scrooge, in his transformation from (what you could read as) Manchester school libertarian to progressivist. “The common welfare ought to have been my business!”

Precisely, says John Paul II in his discussion of abortion.  Each person in the human community is deserving of care.  No person, however small or insignificant, should be made an instrument of another person’s use.  Even if aborting her baby could genuinely promote the thriving of a mother, still, cutting off one human person from the possibility of ever thriving in order to promote the disconnected good of another human person is inherently wrong.  And it’s also missing the point.  It’s seeing human thriving as a zero-sum game, as though there was only a certain amount of thriving available between every mother-and-baby pair, and to ensure her own good the mother would have to attack the good of the baby.

The kind of communitarian liberals who I was raised to believe had the most accurate bead on reality know in their bones that this zero-sum game model of human good is bogus: it’s the same lie that produces toxic nationalism, where the good of my nation must be, and should be, pursued at the expense of the good of others’ nations.  No, that’s not how it is, I was taught.  We’re all connected, I was taught.  An injury to one is an injury to all.  Anyone who tells you that your good has to be bought at the expense of another’s ill is deeply wrong and quite possibly trying to sell you something.  Don’t let yourself be fooled: don’t be duped into seeing life as a competition, because then you’ll be afraid, and more easily manipulated.

I still believe that.  My pro-life-ness now comes almost directly out of that belief.  The contrary worldview– the social darwinism of the ninteenth century robber barons– seems like a much more congenial home for pro-choice assumptions.  I don’t understand how, really, I ever thought otherwise.


2 responses to “Pro-Thriving

  1. I absolutely agree. I think there is a way of saving pro-life for liberalism.

  2. What you say about the libertarians and the robber barons of the 19th Century is true, but I do not think what you have said bring the pro-life cause philosophically closer to liberalism. Conservative communitarianism also a long history in the Anglo-American world, from Burke through Kirk; social conservatives today ally with classical liberals (with whom I disagree) because their visions of the human person both value individual freedom in a way socialists do not. To be sure, utilitarians are well represented among conservatives, but I would argue it is a predominantly liberal strain of thought. Liberal “community” seems to really be a mechanism for increasing the sum of pleasures and likewise decreasing pains without a vision of any higher good–and without such a good in mind, the pressure to discount the preborn as non-persons (or degrade them to “potential persons”!) will always be mighty strong.

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