Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Does Only the Right Have a Responsibility to Repudiate?

Ann Althouse has recently written on her blog about attending a conference sponsored by the Liberty Fund about the writings of Frank S. Meyer. One of the topics during the weekend was the issue of State's Rights. Meyer supported the idea of federalism and State's Rights, and so did apparently many of the Libertarian and Conservative attendees of the conference. Althouse wrote:

I am struck ... by how deeply and seriously libertarians and conservatives believe in their ideas. I'm used to the way lefties and liberals take themselves seriously and how deeply they believe. Me, I find true believers strange and -- if they have power -- frightening.

During later posts and a running dialog with Jonah Goldberg she explains that this primarily refers to the fact that the libertarians and conservatives failed to recognize their responsibility to repudiate the real world (evil) effects that the ideology of State's Rights has had. In effect she is arguing that since those who supported slavery and Jim Crow used the idea of State's Rights to support their position, every time someone rises to argue for the idea of State's Rights, they have a duty to repudiate slavery and Jim Crow.

Jonah Goldberg correctly rejects this. He correctly identifies this as unfair to those on the Right, but fails to really develop any arguements to support his position. In some comments submitted to Althouse's blog, I try to develop some of these missing arguements, and I'm going to extend them here.

1) First of all, the idea of State's Rights is literally fundamental to our Republic. Our whole system of government was predicated on the idea that the federal government was subordinate to the States. This is explicitly laid out in our Constitution. There was no arguement prior to the Civil War that the State's Rights position held primacy, and was seen as a moral good. It is only after the Civil War that the idea of Nationalism takes control, and is seen as morally superior. For the last 150, we have seen a struggle between these competing ideas, with the Right usually supporting State's Rights or federalism, and the Left supporting nationalism. (an interesting aside: before the Civil War our nation was almost always referred to in the plural, the United States are. After the Civil War it is almost exclusively the singular, the United States is.)

2) Our nation has been making compromises with the evil of slavery since before its founding. Our Constitution was forced to make accomodations for it, and some of the more important early pieces of legislation are compromises over the issue. I argue that the taint on the idea of State's rights produced by the supporters of slavery (and later segregation) is just another one of these accomodations our nation has been forced to make.

3) This "duty" to repudiate also seems to be exclusively the purview of the Right. It is clearly a strategy of the Left to force the Right to behave defensively as much as possible. Thus while the Right is forced to repudiate (and punishes) Sen. Lott for his remarks apparently supporting racism, the Left is allowed to continue to support Sen. Biden and Sen. Clinton after their blatently racist remarks. It is simply undeniable that no Republican could have survived making the kind of racist remarks that the two Democratic senators did. Republicans are forced to defend their handling of the Foley scandal, even though they forced Foley to resign. Yet few people in the national media brought up the case of Gerry Studds, who not only survived his much worse scandal and continued to serve as a Democrat in Congress, but was rewarded with a sub-committee chairmanship. When a Republican president attempted to obstruct justice while in office, he was forced to resign by Republicans. When a Democratic president attempted to obstruct justice while he was in office, the Democratic party defended him. When a Conservative nominee for the Supreme Court was accused of sexual harassment, he was pilloried by the Left (specifically feminists such as NOW). When a Republican Senator was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault, he was hounded out of office by the Left. (specifically feminists such as NOW). When a Democratic president was proven to have committed sexual harassment and sexual assault, he was supported and defended by the Left. (specifically feminists such as NOW) The outright and blatent hypocrisy of the Left in these cases is astounding, but yet the Left still manages to consistently force the Right to behave defensively. Althouse's position on State's Rights is just another example of this.

4) Other ideas have resulted in real world effects that are considered evil. Althouse herself cites the case of communism:

Imagine a left-wing conference going 9 hours talking about Karl Marx's ideas and disqualifying discussion of the evils wrought in the name of communism.

Well as I and another commentor point out in her comments, this is usually precisely what happens. As pointed out, the most repeated phrase ever uttered in the history of economic theory is: "true marxism has never been tried!"

I myself attempted to develop an arguement concerning abortion; and eugenics. The Left embraces the premise that there is a fundamental Right to have an abortion. Many of the early pioneers of the movement to legalize abortion believed in eugenics, and in using abortion to further their aims. Margaret Sanger, who founded the organization that would become Planned Parenthood, explicitly advocated using abortion to improve humanity. Today, proponents of abortion make explicitly eugenic arguements to support abortion. The most frequent and widely approved arguement is that there would be millions more criminals today except for abortion. This arguement is set forth in the book Freakonomics. As Ramesh Ponnuru points out in his book Party of Death, in a paper that eventually led to Freakonomics, it is acknowledged that the arguement is based on race:

abortion disproportionally effects Black children

crimes are committed disproportionally by Blacks

therefore crime is reduced by reducing the Black population

Imagine someone on the Right trying to make this arguement. It is explicitly racist and eugenic. Many on the Left also point out that abortion reduces the number of handicapped children born as a justification for abortion. Again, this is an explicitly eugenic arguement. In the real world abortion disproportionally effects the poor and minorities, which is exactly what people like Sanger intended.

So we see the idea of a right to abortion not only resulting in real world eugenic effects, we also see the Left explicitly embracing these effects as a justification for abortion. No one on the Right embraced segregation as a justification for State's rights.

So, we are either left to assume that the Left sees eugenics as a positive good, or the Left ignoring the real world effects of an idea based on a "deep belief in an idea".

5) So my question for Althouse is:

Does the Left have to explicitly repudiate eugenics, and the real world eugenic effects of abortion, whenever they discuss, defend and support the idea of a right to abortion? If not, why not?


Scott Hughes said...

I think it's dangerous to use abortion or any such new-age technology to try and improve the human race. Humans simply can't be trusted with such power at this time. Similarly, we'll probably blow ourselves up with nuclear bombs before anyway.

Scott Hughes
Abortion Forums

Sl0re said...

A: Perhaps conservatives should 'note' that the concept of states right's have downsides and requires checks and balances to mitigate them.
B: Like you said, putting people on the defensive is the political goal of the left and once you admit a shortfall it is like throwing blood in the water... Politics is real and this has to be taken into account...

Sooo, both sides are right and where you draw the line in such matters is a good question. I think it is fair that the downsides of a policy be mentioned… dealing the downsides of a proposal, or idea, make it a more viable policy option…

As to the left, they deal with downsides by just rewriting the history (even the current history) to make everything fit neatly. Example, abortion is ALL about women's 'rights'. There are NO elective late term abortions (only those protecting women’s 'health'). ALL bad things are 'right wing'… like racism... even though it was once common among progressives too.... Its no wonder lefties hate republicans and the 'right', they basically accuse it of being the cause of EVERYTHING that is, and ever was, wrong... and they tend to write the history books and create the pop culture that perpetuates this...

Raoul Ortega said...

Don't forget that so-called Progressives looked the other way for decades when it came to Jim Crow because they needed those Southern Democrat votes to get their New Deal agenda passed.

Tully said...

Raul--WHAT? How dare you notice that it was the GOP promoting civil rights before JFK/LBJ, and the Democrats who shot them down for decades?

Sorry, I can't resist. The parties change over time, which the party faithful of either side seem never to recognize in the other guy.

ScottM said...

States' Rights did not cause slavery and Jim Crow; it limited them to those states where they had broad support among the (white) populace.

Ms. Althouse and the other nationalizers need to address the vexed question of whether they would really have preferred having these racist laws imposed on the whole country, rather than confining their pernicious influence to the south.


Or to put it more seriously, the Constitution does indeed leave states largely free to govern themselves, and this leaves them considerable scope for stupidity and wickedness.

However, the alternative is to have uniformly wicked and stupid governance imposed by the bloated and remote government in Washington. This is, of course, precisely what the left wants, since they will have an easier time imposing their own special brand of wickedness and stupidity if they can do it in Washington rather than in 50 state capitals.

Kevin Price said...

The decline of State Rights has led to the continued deteriatin of individual freedoms. Although I strongly believe that slavery was terrible and set the foundation for State Rights to be weakened over time, I don't believe the Civil War was the answer. When the Civil War began, slavery was in decline. Given a few years, the other states would have abandoned it without the biggest lost of American lives in history.

It is too bad we couldn't have put that horrific institution behind us during the founding of this Republic.

I appreciate your thoughtful analysis.