“Those who are kind to the cruel in the end will be cruel to the kind.” — The Talmud • I don’t suppose I will ever understand the logic that Progressives utilize in striking moral equivalence between the death penalty and selective abortion. Time and time again, I have encountered some acolyte of the Left who firmly believed he had uncovered my philosophical nakedness: pointing out my supposed inconsistency between affirming death for convicted murderers and my advocacy for innocent nascent human life. I suppose the Progressive worldview, in their own contextual reflection, would hold that human life is the highest possible good and that any actions by an authority to abbreviate it, for whatever reasons, are inherently immoral. By the same token, can they not see in themselves that same moral inconsistency when the termination of unborn human life is on the line?
The Progressive take on abortion is akin to the chattel slave relationship between master and slave. In this situational instance, the life of the unborn child is not paramount. In fact, the value of the helpless infant is utterly dependant on the whim of the mother. It is her ultimate moral prerogative that renders value to her charge. Therefore, she can either choose to carry it lovingly to term, or as late as the ninth month expel it like an ignominious kidney stone into a metal sink. To highlight the arbitrary rationality of holding nascent life hostage to the mother’s sole appraisal of value, one need only meditate on the knowledge that in some jurisdictions, her decision to terminate that life mere weeks before it passes into the sunshine carries no legal repercussions. However, her same arbitrary act of “termination” immediately following a healthy live birth renders her a monster and a criminal. In this peculiar theatre of the absurd, a child’s being–who is fully formed behind its mother’s veil of flesh, is a legal hostage contingent on the capriciousness of a choice. Sadly, that choice, whether informed through utility or mood, does not matter in the final accounting.
It is glaringly apparent that I and my liberal foil generally will hold positions of diametrical opposition. It is as if we are from different worlds: He feels I am inhuman for terminating monsters who have been deemed beyond society’s pale and I am scandalized by the wholesale slaughter of millions of precious lives of inestimable value. Perhaps it is our understanding of justice that has opened the rift between the ways we view our disparate worlds.
In The Republic, Plato’s 2400 year old dialogue on the nature of justice, Socrates and his interlocutors, after many pages, reach a working definition that justice is “that each man gets what he deserves.” This pivotal notion of “just desert” as justice ripples throughout Western Civilization and colors how we view merit, value, and how we apprehend the texture of the Good Life. Justice tells us that cold blooded murder is a frightful act which no commensurate penalty can duly rectify. While the gradations of manslaughter or even crimes of passion may warrant confinement as punishment, it is the killing of the innocent through the intention of malice or premeditated gain that justice deems deserving of this ultimate forfeiture. [pullquote]…the paradox of exacting a murderer’s life has the reciprocal effect of affirming the sanctity of life. This severe justice reveals to us that there are diamond-hard consequences for the pre-meditated and malicious shedding of blood.[/pullquote]
Similarly, in the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible, revelatory justice receives its resounding authority through the Divine Command: “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. “ Given the sundry aggravating and mitigating circumstances surrounding murder and mayhem, even modern men have given assent to the idea that in select cases, the manslayer’s life must be deemed forfeit as the just recompense for taking a life or lives. Whether murder was instigated through dark passion, calculation, or by cavalier intent, both Reason and Revelation buttress one another in affirming capital punishment.
Viewed through the intellectual legacy of Athens and Jerusalem which forms our Classical heritage, the paradox of exacting a murderer’s life has the reciprocal effect of affirming the sanctity of life. This severe justice reveals to us that there are diamond-hard consequences for the pre-meditated and malicious shedding of blood. Moreover, it asserts that a society that holds this harsh knowledge in its heart of hearts effectively proclaims to the world that it, above all else, esteems human life as paramount– and is willing to go to the wall to avow that claim.
By contrast, in societies that have relented to the spirit of this age, which collectively view the death penalty as an arcane barbarism of tribal justice, the cheapness of life becomes nowhere more apparent than in our penitentiaries. In this microcosm of liberal consequences, a contorted diminished justice works its tortured logic. Since one cannot be sentenced to more than one life term and many jurisdictions have outlawed capital punishment, the taking of singular or multiple lives behind bars bares no appreciable penalty. So often, correctional officers and other prisoners must bear the brunt of unintended outcomes wrought by misplaced liberal compassion.
As a result of such injustice, the absolute value of human life therein dissolves—releasing that selfsame stench which infects the entirety of civil society on down the line. When capital punishment is abolished by sentimental moral fiat, the weight accorded human existence diminishes. Consequently, how common it is to find first and second degree murderers walking free in a relatively brief span of years and these same murderers serially re-offending. Clearly, considering such a state of affairs, can anyone categorically proclaim that a civilized society that eschews the death penalty and winks at selective abortion ultimately cherishes life in absolute terms?
As to my Progressive colleague, I would like to be able to strip him of the preconceptions of his jaundiced compassion and show him that he has, through the noxious prism of our age, inverted justice in the interest of ideology and contaminated the value of life in flesh and blood terms. If a true compassion and affirmation of life are the marks we aim for, then in the interest of a substantive justice, heinous murderers should surrender their lives to uphold the incalculable dignity of human worth. Many worry that in condemning a person to death, we use them as an object lesson to others and therefore use death as an instrumentality of fear. In truth, we need not proceed down that road. Heinous murder merits death—period. That such justice is socially instructive is really beside the point here. [pullquote]…can anyone categorically proclaim that a civilized society that eschews the death penalty and winks at selective abortion ultimately cherishes life in absolute terms?[/pullquote]
As for the helpless infant residing in the body of its mother, we are adjured by our Creator, who knows the very number of hairs upon our heads, to protect the innocent and to sustain the miracle that he has woven together in love. Rather than asserting our superiority through the cavalier exercise of power to destroy the innocent, we should consider the miracle of life; and as valuing creatures conform ourselves as to be worthy of life’s blessing that we take for granted. Such a gift was not intended for us to look upon with derision.
As a child, I was taught that it was a noble act to subdue the wicked and to uphold the plight of the innocent. Somehow, in our fiddling outside the boundaries of reason, we have reversed the moral polarities. Consequently, we now wickedly implore for the guilty just as we have grown deaf to the cause of our most helpless and benign. In moving away from Right Reason and the Moral Law that governs the universe, we are reaping the terrifying backlash of unaided human moral autonomy. Can our immoral actions any longer be explained away by feigning moral/intellectual ignorance? Has not our foolish exercise of radical freedom, unhinged from a purposeful mercy and substantive justice, led our civilization inexorably down the path to alienation, desolation and madness?
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.