It was one of my proud moments as a Dad, that day when my 13 year old son said he could not finish his reading for American Government.
That day his reading was “The Cornerstone Speech” of Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy. In it Stephens praises what he sees as the points of superiority that the constitution of the Confederacy has over the US constitution.
Now, my son is an avid reader. He read Lord of the Rings for the first time when he was eight. At that age he also struggled for half an hour trying to make sense of my Beowulf text before coming for help. It was written in old English on one page with the translation on the facing page. At age thirteen he would breeze through classics of literature and be able to tell me all about them. So why couldn’t he read this rather short speech?
It made him sick! As it should any morally sane person who reads it.
Just before the half way point of the speech, Stephens begins his discussion of the most important point of the Confederate constitution:
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization.
After criticizing Jefferson and the other founders for their flawed understanding that “all men are created equal” and the allowance of slavery as a temporary concession to the times. Stephens continued:
They [the founders’ views that slavery would eventually end] rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
It was at this point in the speech that my son became physically ill. The confrontation with such base wickedness held up as enlightened thought in contrast to everything he knew to be true was hard to swallow. And I was glad for it. It was plain moral common sense that drove him to reject with violence everything that Stephens said.
And yet Stephens and his audience were scientifically convinced of the “fact” that black men and women were naturally inferior. In their minds it was all but proven that the old naive traditional ideas of equality upon which the nation was founded were backwards and ignorant. To hold to such view of human equality was fanatical and insane.
How little things have changed. The pro-abortion movement has become more radical…more extremist. Like Stephens, they do not reject the humanity of anyone–not the unborn. They simply reject the idea of equality by virtue of…what? Convenience? Social rank? Economic status?
Think I am exaggerating, just look at a few articles by avid abortion advocates.
Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in the Salon article, “So what if abortion ends life”:
I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.
She goes on to say,
Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always. (http://www.salon.com/2013/01/23/so_what_if_abortion_ends_life/)
How much does that sound like the slavery argument of Stephens? And her treatment of her opposition is quite similar. She refers to pro-life arguments as, “diabolically clever” and refers to our “sneaky, dirty tricks.” Our arguments are “sentimental fiction.”
And of course her arguments are as grounded in Philosophical truth as Stephens’ ever were.
Williams is not alone in her stance. Pro-abortion philosophers in general do not deny that the baby in the womb is human. Instead they argue that there are criteria for being a person that the baby does not meet. It is persons, not merely humans, that have moral rights. How like the Dred Scott decision. The language was different…insert “citizen” for “person”…but in the end we are dealing with the same evil, the denial of life and dignity to another human over who we have no right to claim power. And honestly, is there any real difference between the view that Scott was property and Williams’ view that the rights of a woman “trump” those of the “non-autonomous” baby in the womb.
Sadly, these arguments aren’t new. They are true. But I doubt the people who most need to here this will really listen. How can anything but prayer wrought miracles get through to people who will reject moral common sense. Every person who hears about Planned Parenthood videos, who simply thinks seriously about abortion, ought to get as sick as my son did when he first read Stephens’ speech. But they have gotten too old and sophisticated…and too proud and self interested.
In the end I can only offer this truth. G K Chesterton talks about the “ethics of elfland,” those moral realities we understand from childhood. Perhaps Dr. Suess fits within that description. In the end, his common moral sense has provided me with the simplest way to speak truth here. Perhaps you are too sophisticated to listen. (I imagine there are many sophisticated people in hell.) But, I’ll end with this. As Horton says it:
“A person’s a person no matter how small.”