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Chapter 13: Repairing The Road Chapter 14: The Problem of Power

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Stop Whining Start Thinking

by Christopher Chantrill
March 29, 2005 at 1:27 pm


IN EASTER Week, conservatives took a blow to the solar plexus. We thought that all we had to do was pass a law asking the federal courts to take a look at the Terri Schiavo case, and hey presto, Terri would have another two years to live while the courts mumbled over endless procedural issues, just like in capital murder cases.

Instead we piled into a locked courthouse door. And when we looked at the sign on the door of the Judicial Club, it said “Liberal Members Only. Conservative Deliveries in Rear.” Some conservatives were outraged. They started whining.

But the Terri Schiavo case is a godsend. It tells conservatives exactly where we stand in the culture wars. We have won control of two branches of government, but the other remains closed to us. First we won the presidency, the monarchical branch of government. In Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, we offered leaders to the American people that did what a monarch should: stand up for America. Then we won the Congress, the democratic branch of government. We won that because we have shown that we stand for the people against the vast Democratic apparatus of tax-eaters. Republicans stand for starving the beast; Democrats stand for feeding it. Conservatives stand for growing the country; liberals stand for growing the government.

But now the final challenge confronts us, winning in the courts, the aristocratic branch of government. With respect to the judicial branch, conservatives have a problem. The courts don’t take our ideas seriously. The reason is fairly simple; judges don’t think that conservatives have serious ideas. What conservative has not encountered the lumpen-liberal, softened by a lifetime in some tenured sinecure, who has said, “I just don’t understand how an educated man like you could think like that?”

The terms developed by Michael Novak in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism are helpful here. Conservatives must learn to lead the “moral/cultural sector” as well as the “economic sector” and the “political sector.” Right now the moral/cultural sector is big on the “quality of life” approach to medical ethics, or bioethics, that has been developing over the last decades in universities and think tanks.

Wesley J. Smith (http://www.consciencelaws.org/Examining-Conscience-Issues/ethical/Articles/Ethical11.html) reported on the bioethics community in the Weekly Standard back in 2000. He warned that it was developing a concept of “personhood,” a “quality-of-life ethic that requires individual humans to earn their moral and legal rights by displaying certain cognitive capacities.” You don’t get to enjoy full human rights unless you pass the test as, presumably, Terri Schiavo does not. It’s interesting, is it not, how our modern elite keeps returning to this theme. Once they merely wanted to cull the simple-minded, or the unfit. Then they moved on to the unwanted, and now the merely inconvenient.

The patriarch of bioethics, Joseph Fletcher, according to Smith, wanted a bioethics that was more than practical wisdom to guide physicians and hospitals. His followers agree. “Some bioethicists see themselves as the creators of a new moral paradigm that will replace the archaic Judeo-Christian order as the philosophical underpinning of society.” Maybe they are right. After they “ruminate” over a problem and reach consensus, it is surprising how quickly their agreement finds its way into law.

This utilitarian bioethics movement would not be a problem if it were engaged in a dialogue with advocates of the “sanctity of life” argument. But, as has become commonplace throughout the academy, it has built itself a walled community from which dissenting voices are excluded. Only utilitarians need apply.

In his article, Wesley J. Smith recommends a containment operation to keep the utilitarian bioethics community in check. But is that really enough? To win the culture war, to lead the moral/cultural sector, and to win over the judiciary, conservatives must occupy territory, including the walled camps of the bioethics establishment. Conservatives must “do” a better bioethics than the coterie of utilitarian secularists writing in the Hastings Center Journal and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Report.

Only when conservatives have transformed the moral/cultural sector will judges find themselves listening to advocates of the sanctity of life as much as they listen to the advocates of quality of life, and only then will they remove the “Liberal Members Only” sign from the courthouse door. Only then will they nod when a future David Brooks evenhandedly reports the Schiavo debate as “the clash of two serious but flawed arguments. The socially conservative argument has tremendous moral force, but doesn’t accord with the reality we see when we walk through a hospice. The socially liberal argument is pragmatic, but lacks moral force.”

Only then will they sagely nod when a future Mark Steyn insists that: “it may be legal under Florida law for the state to order [Schiavo] to be starved to death. But it is still wrong.”

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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