Abortion: Your Intrinsic Right to No Intrinsic Rights
No materialist literally believes in materialism -- or believes in materialism literally. To the extent that he believes he does, it is only because he is uncritically lost in his own abstractions, a victim of what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
This doesn't mean we have to bring religion into the discussion. However, for the vast majority of people, their religion is the primary means with which they are able to think about, embody, and discuss first principles. Although few people are metaphysicians, religion allows a person to be one, just as, say, one needn't be an artist to enter the world of beauty.
First principles are axiomatic. In a way, they are simultaneously where we begin and end. One might say that we are always either arguing toward or from first principles that are either explicit or, more likely, implicit.
Now, no one can reasonably dispute the idea that America is rooted in certain first principles that, by definition (i.e., because they are axiomatic), cannot be surpassed or overturned. Calvin Coolidge famously put the matter with a finality that is exceedingly restful when he wrote that
"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776.... But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers" (emphasis mine).
It can truly be said of progressives that the further they go, the behinder they get.
(In looking up the above passage, I found many similarly luminous insights from the same speech, all of which go to the idea of first principles. A few of them are appended below, at the conclusion of the post. But here is a sample:
"In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man -- these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.")
Since I was once very much "pro-choice," it might be useful to reflect upon how I arrived at that position. To be perfectly honest, I didn't. Rather, it was completely reflexive and mimetic. Although I was in high school at the time, I don't remember Roe v. Wade making a big impact in California, where abortion was already legal. And if nothing else, I was an unthinking product of my unthinking liberal surroundings.
If you had asked me to name the principle that enshrined abortion, I suppose I would have parroted the usual talking point that a woman has the right to control her own body. If confronted with the fact that we are talking about another body, I might have deployed word magic and responded that we were actually only talking about a "fetus," not a human being. It was only "potential life," so to end its life (sic) didn't impinge upon moral considerations.
But when you come right down to it, I was probably just obeying my hindbrain, which, like all testosterone-driven men, wants to enjoy sex without consequences (although I wouldn't have expressed it as eloquently as this thinker: “Let’s stop fooling around here. What we’re talking about is our right to f*** whoever we want, however we want, whenever we want.”)
The latter is a sexuality detached from anything transcending itself, and therefore no longer human sexuality at all. Interestingly, another part of me knew this all along, so I couldn't possibly be a happy hindbrain. And thankfully it is possible to recover one's innocence, so long as one hasn't strayed too far and made a complete commitment to the lesser world.
One of Arkes' ironic conclusions is that the belief in an intrinsic right to abortion -- as opposed to being a positive right -- inevitably overturns long-settled notions about the source of our rights, and ultimately eradicates their ground.
For example, let us ask the question: supposing a woman has the unlimited right to an abortion, when and how did she obtain this right? When does it become operative? Surely it can't be in the womb, so it cannot be a natural right. And yet, the left treats it as if it is a natural and even sacred right. That is to say, they treat it as a first principle, an axiom with which they begin and therefore end the argument.
The principles upon which our nation was founded are, of course, very different. These principles affirm that our rights are not "positive" -- i.e., given by the state -- but natural, i.e., "in the nature of things." Thus, there is no point in our temporal development that we "acquire" them. Rather, they literally go with the territory -- or somatory -- of being human. We have them by virtue of existing, and that is all.
Therefore, it makes no sense to argue that we have a right to abortion as a consequence of our existence, for human existence is precisely what the abortion advocate claims the right to terminate.
And with this maneuver, we remove "the very logic and substance of rights. For what we call 'rights' then are simply things declared to be right by the opinion that is dominant in any place." And any such scheme "can be put into place only by denying, at the root, the logic of natural rights. In that event, this grand 'right' is evacuated of its moral substance" (Arkes).
Thus, in a very real sense, one can only have an intrinsic right to abortion if human beings have no intrinsic rights at all.
More cool Calidge:
"It is not so much then for the purpose of undertaking to proclaim new theories and principles that this annual celebration is maintained, but rather to reaffirm and reestablish those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound."
"The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them."
"[I]t is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature's God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say 'The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.'"
"[W]hen we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence.... They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit."
"[T]he Declaration of Independence.... is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped."