My first post by this title is here. It was sparked, in part, by a vile article at Radix Journal deploring the pro-life movement for being "dysgenic." Just to show anyone who is listening that this is not a mere accidental aspect of the alt-right, the infamous Richard Spencer has recently come out with a similarly despicable rant of his own, apropos of Tomi Lahren's firing for being pro-abortion. Jonathan von Maren quotes his comments at length here. I'm having a bit of trouble finding a link to Spencer's own video from which von Maren is quoting, but I'm going to assume that the lengthy quotes are accurate. Here are some doozies:
And if you look at the writing of people like Ramesh Ponnuru (of National Review) it is directly associated with this…that every being that is human has a right to life and so on. Well that’s not how we think as identitarians, to be honest. You are part of a community, you’re part of a family, you’re part of a collective. You do not have some human right, some abstract thing give to you by God or by the world or something like that. You’re part of a community and that’s where you gain your meaning or your rights. The anti-abortion crusade is often associated with family, the traditional family, but to be honest it’s descended into not just a human rights dogma but a kind of dysgenic “we are the world” dogma.
So if your community is dysfunctional or thinks you should die, you're outta luck, buddy. It's the community that makes it wrong or right to kill you. I guess exposing infants on hillsides in the Roman empire was just fine as long as they were exposed according to the rules of their community.
The most popular propaganda line for the pro-life movement is about “black genocide,” how this is “destroying black communities” and indeed is a racist plot by Margaret Sanger and so on. This gets to something that I think is a bigger point, and that is that the alt-right or identitarians, we can’t think about these issues in this kind of good or evil binary. We actually have to think about an issue like abortion…in a complicated manner, something that that issue deserves. Lothrop Stoddard talked about contraception, not so much abortion but contraception, as a potentially world-changing—for the good—technology, or something that could change the world for the worse. In a way he was absolutely right and I think contraception has to a large degree changed the world for the worse. Intelligent people will engage in family planning because they naturally have long time horizons, they think ahead. They aren’t just going to go run and have sex with someone without a condom and get them pregnant and so on…In a way, contraception has been terribly dysgenic in the sense that it is only the smart people that really use it. Smart people are not using abortion as birth control. Smart people are using abortion when you have a situation like Down Syndrome or you have a situation where the health of the mother is at risk. I would say that it is the unintelligent and blacks and Hispanics who use abortion as birth control, as a kind of late-term birth control. [snip] What I’m saying basically is the abortion issue is just a much more complicated issue than this kind of “good or evil” binary that the pro-life movement and the Christian movement want to use. We need to be more adult than they are.
I don't actually think the "black genocide" claim is the most popular pro-life line, but whatever. Spencer's point about what makes this "complicated" is that if the right babies are getting killed in the womb, it's okay. That's the "adult" way to think, according to Spencer.
We should recognize that the pro-life movement—this is not the alt-right, this has nothing in common with identitarians, and I think we should be genuinely suspicious of people who think in terms of human rights and who are interested in adopting African children and bringing them to this country and who get caught up on this issue. We want to be a movement about families, about life in a deep sense, not just “rights” but truly great life, and greatness, and beautiful, flourishing, productive families. We want to be eugenic in the deepest sense of the word. Pro-lifers want to be radically dysgenic, egalitarian, multi-racial human rights thumpers—and they’re not us.
As von Maren says, this does a service to conservatives. Spencer is absolutely right that pro-lifers are not the alt-right, and if he wants nothing to do with pro-lifers, the feeling should be heartily mutual. Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering if a campaign official for the Trump campaign was dog-whistling the alt-right when she referred to Mitt Romney as pro-adoption, I'd say this last paragraph bears on that.
Beyond drawing attention to this new evidence of the despicable nature of the alt-right with regard to the abortion issue, what I want to do in this post is to take you all the way back to 2009 and show some eerie similarities between Richard Spencer's disgusting recent comments and a bizarre, not-wholly-coherent column by paleoconservative guru Thomas Fleming. The overlap, I emphasize at the outset, is not total. Fleming, as a Catholic, is clearly somewhat "conflicted" (to use a jargon term) about the abortion issue, whereas Spencer is a full-bore fascist eugenicist pro-abort as long as it's the right people being aborted. But the similarities are there and are instructive, especially if one wonders how various paleocons who should know better have gotten caught up in the alt-right. Also instructive for those who want to draw a sharp distinction between paleoconservatism and the alt-right. As I've already pointed out, historically such a sharp distinction is dubious, since Paul Gottfried did an explicit "handoff" of the paleoconservative movement to the "alternative right."
Here is Fleming's column. It got negative commentary at the time at W4 from one of my co-bloggers in a main post and even more in the comments to that post.
There are some interesting similarities between what Fleming says and what Spencer says. First, both of them use a kind of vague communitarianism and the dislike they feel (and their followers feel) for the language of individual rights as sticks with which to beat the pro-life goal of outlawing abortion. Spencer says outright that you get your rights only from the community. I kind of doubt that Spencer would want to take that to mean that he can be killed with impunity by a private entity, without having committed any crime worthy of death, if that's what "the community" decides, but he's very eager to apply this "nobody has an individual right to life" mantra to the unborn child as an argument that it's perfectly fine for unborn children to be killed at will by their parents. Especially if it's the "right" babies being aborted.
Fleming, similarly, seems quite opposed to the idea that abortion should be illegal and that it should be deemed a harm to the individual child.
But the fact remains that natural reason did not teach the Greeks and Romans that it is wrong to kill an unborn or newborn child, though some thought abortion shameful. There was no prohibition on abortion in Roman law, except where the father was not consulted. In that case, she was guilty of depriving him and his ancestors of an heir. This is, at least, a more wholesome approach than our current abortion law, though it rests not on reason but on family loyalty. [LM: How nice. What if the father is the one who wants the baby dead?][snip]
The most basic error is to cover Christian truth with the tinsel trappings of Enlightenment universalism that makes everyone owe everyone else the same duties. Thus, we hear sweeping claims, expressed in a Kantian idiom, that it is everyone’s duty to prevent a nonChristian female from killing her child, whether she lives in China or Peru.[snip]
Mothers, in this tradition, do not have a universal obligation to prevent abortion but a specific obligation not just not to kill their children but to nurture and cherish them.
Fleming's sweeping talk about giving each mother an obligation to prevent other people's abortions is, of course, a strawman. I don't expect every individual pro-life mother to be out there marching for pro-life laws. She may be busy nursing her baby or doing any of a number of other good things! But Fleming's clear "down" on a duty to prevent non-Christians from committing abortion certainly looks like a "down" on pro-life laws.
The money quote is this:
The cumulative effect of much of the professional pro-life ideology is to distort and deflect the question, away from the really important thing, which is how to convert nonbelievers, who will then be far less likely to kill their babies, toward comparatively trivial legislative policies and judicial agendas.One wonders if Thomas Fleming would regard it as similarly "trivial" to outlaw the private killing of himself. As opposed to "the really important thing"--converting people to Christianity so that they are much less likely to go out and murder Tom Fleming! Like Spencer's, Fleming's disdain for the outlawing of private murder and his disdain for the wrong of murder to the individual killed is highly selective. That is, it is most likely confined to those he doesn't think much of, though he doesn't show any good reason for thinking less of an unborn child than of an adult paleoconservative.
It is not necessary to talk, if one hates "rights talk," about a right to life in order to say that abortion is always wrong. And not just a wrong to the community, much less to the father (who may be as murderous as anyone else in a given situation), but wrong because it is murdering the baby--hence, a wrong done to the baby. So if you don't like "rights talk," don't use that as a stick to beat the pro-life movement any more than you would use it as an argument for removing laws against murdering you or your five-year-old. As usual, it all comes down to the status of the unborn child and to whether it is always wrong deliberately to take the life of the innocent. Smug "communitarian" talk and pushing people's buttons about "Enlightenment universalism" and what-not are no substitute for argument on this central point.
Second, Fleming's argument resembles Spencer's horrible rant in that Fleming clearly thinks that, if you're not a Christian, you don't have any really good reason to oppose abortion in all cases:
The argument, then, that all seriously moral people would oppose abortion cannot be true. It is a little like saying anyone remotely interested in science would agree with Newton or Einstein.
Now, there is an element of truth in the argument, which is that just as we do not wish to be killed unjustly, we should not kill unjustly. But what if abortion is not unjust? What if we regard it as, in some cases, a necessity or at least a preferable option? After all, just because we do not wish to be executed does not mean that we necessarily oppose the death penalty. We might even say that were we to commit a cold-blooded murder, we should deserve killing. Thus, if we think life is not worth living without an IQ above 75 or without a reasonably healthy body or without loving parents, we might say that abortion in such cases is reasonable and just...
Wow, that's a toughie. I'm sure George Weigel, at whom Fleming is launching his ire in this piece, would find himself utterly at a loss for words in the face of such an argument.
Speaking for myself, I find Fleming's words here extremely creepy. He obviously has a lot of sympathy for this pro-abortion "argument." Throughout the piece he repeats statements to the effect that Christian women don't kill their unborn babies (that's nice), and he regards himself as a Christian. So presumably he thinks (to this extent unlike Spencer) that it's actually wrong to kill unborn children.
But he clearly regards the wrongness of abortion as really hard to see and as a distinctively religious proposition, which explains his disdain for the "trivial legislative policy" of outlawing abortion. One can gather, hopefully, that as a Catholic he would say that it's even wrong to commit abortion if the child would otherwise have to live with an IQ of 75 or below (!) or without loving parents, but Fleming takes little trouble to say so, and he certainly has no passion for saying so. Instead, all his passion is directed at spitting out the word "liar" at Weigel for arguing that abortion can be seen to be wrong by the natural light:
The real question is not whether abortion is consistent with reason but rather,whether it is right to lie in a good cause. That is, at best, what Weigel has done. Many pro-life arguments I have studied come down to well-intentioned lying, by which I understand not only a conscious and deliberate lie but the reckless disregard for truth engaged in by pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to learning and authority they do not possess.
What did George Weigel say to bring down the charge of "lying"? This:
And just reading that should make it evident that the charge of "lying" is the merest spittle-flecked silliness.
[The Pope] told Pelosi, politely but unmistakably, that her relentlessly pro-abortion politics put her in serious difficulties as a Catholic, which was his obligation as a pastor. He also underscored — for Pelosi, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Rose DeLauro, Kathleen Sebelius, and everyone else — that the Church’s opposition to the taking of innocent human life, at any stage of the human journey, is not some weird Catholic hocus-pocus; it’s a first principle of justice than can be known by reason. It is a “requirement of the natural moral law” — that is, the moral truths we can know by thinking about what is right and what is wrong — to defend the inviolability of innocent human life. You don’t have to believe in papal primacy to know that; you don’t have do believe in seven sacraments, or the episcopal structure of the Church, or the divinity of Christ, to know that. You don’t even have to believe in God to know that. You only have to be a morally serious human being, willing to work through a moral argument — which, of course, means being the kind of person who understands that moral truth cannot be reduced to questions of feminist political correctness or partisan political advantage.
Also slightly creepy is Fleming's attempt to play gotcha with other arguments against abortion:
Among the worst are the utilitarian arguments that tell us we may be losing countless Beethovens and Shakespeares, to say nothing of millions of taxpayers who will pay my Social Security. But what if if turns out that in economic terms, abortion is a net gain, in preventing the birth of millions of welfare-dependent blacks and Mexicans? Would that make abortion a civic duty? Live by bad arguments, die by bad arguments.
I hold no brief for the "countless Beethovens" argument against abortion. But it's obvious from everything else in the article that Fleming would have no more sympathy for a pro-life argument that started with the premise that it is always wrong even to kill eugenically inferior unborn babies because all human beings are intrinsically valuable. That would be "Kantian idiom" and the "tinsel trappings of Enlightenment universalism." So the non-utilitarian pro-lifer can't win either with Fleming.
At a minimum, we can say that Spencer's position represents the non-Christian logical outcome of Fleming's position concerning non-Christians and abortion. Richard Spencer doesn't pretend to be a Christian, so he does believe that eugenic abortion is great, that killing millions of (otherwise) welfare-dependent blacks and Mexicans is good, and that it wouldn't be a bad idea to bump off children in the womb if they will (shudder) grow up with an IQ of 75 or below. And Fleming, by his own lights, has nothing to say to him. Unless Spencer converts, I guess it's impossible for him to see that his position is monstrously wicked.
Meanwhile, both of them play to their base's gut-level loathing for "those other guys"--the Satanic neo-cons, for Fleming and his paleos, and the c------s, for Spencer and his alt-rightists. Isn't it interesting that these are pro-lifers in both cases?
The morphing of paleoconservatism into the alt-right is not an accident. There are many morals of the story. Here's one: When your movement is defined entirely by what it hates rather than what it loves, to the point of despising those opposing heinous evils, don't be surprised when your movement turns into something purely dark and destructive.