Protecting the Vulnerable and the Primacy of the Life Issue
One of my favorite online journals is Public Discourse: Ethics, Law and the Common Good. Every day, there's a fresh essay designed to enhance general public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies. The essays themselves are frequently written by academics and philosophers but in such a way that anyone can enjoy them. It's a great exercise for both the academics and the audience.
The topics are always on hot-button issues but this week the good folks at Public Discourse have started a symposium about how voters should think about issues as opposed to the pragmatic way we think about candidates in the voting booth.
Today, Public Discourse launches a ten-day symposium on “Liberty, Justice, and the Common Good: Political Principles for 2012 and Beyond.” With a view to the next election, we’ve commissioned ten essays, each covering one of the major policy areas that scores of Public Discourse pieces have examined, to give us a survey of the landscape as we scrutinize the candidates who inhabit it. We also hope these articles will prompt the candidates themselves to think through these issues more thoroughly, as they look to enact good policy and not just curry favor with various factions.
What a great idea, no? Today's essay is on the primacy of the life issue but the editor notes that social issues aren't the only ones that require focus on the common good:
Developing a coherent conservative political philosophy can be difficult. Fiscal conservatives can seem at odds with foreign policy hawks, and both are at odds with social conservatives; but this symposium’s essays make one extended argument that a conservatism concerned to foster the common good—with limited government understood as effective government acting in proper ways, in the proper spheres—can unify and justify all three dimensions of contemporary conservatism.
O. Carter Snead begins his essay today:
Why should it matter whether the 2012 candidates for president are pro-life, especially given the vast array of other pressing issues facing the United States, including (though certainly not limited to) crushing national debt, widespread unemployment, existential fiscal strains on the social safety net, multiple wars, and the continuing menace of terrorism? Aren’t the American people tired of the intractable bickering of a handful of extremist combatants in what seems to be an endless culture war? Unless you’re a radical leftist or a right-wing Christian, why should any serious person in the public square waste time on these issues when there are so many real matters at stake at this moment in our nation’s history?
These questions reflect an attitude that seems to be widely shared in certain circles of our polity. But I would respectfully submit that such questions reflect a badly misguided and inadequate understanding of the moral, cultural, legal, and political dispute of which the pro-life movement is a part.
At bottom, the “life issues”—including especially the conflicts over abortion and embryo-destructive research—involve the deepest and most fundamental public questions for a nation committed to liberty, equality, and justice. That is, the basic question in this context is who counts as a member of the human community entitled to moral concern and the basic protection of the law? Who counts as “one of us”? Equally important is the related question of who decides, and according to what sort of criteria? These are not narrow concerns commanding only the attention of a small number of highly motivated activists at the fringes of our society. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a public matter that is more important than this “question of membership.”
I'm sure Ricocheters will want to follow this symposium.