What I am about to write here is not another tome about the abortion debate within the GOP. I have found over the years that, if we conservatives were to listen to each other more than we preach at each other, we would find that there is very little substantive moral distance between the positions of most Republicans who are pro-life, and most Republicans who still claim to be pro-choice. To debate and disagree over the edges of the inalienable rights of life and liberty is a strength, not a weakness, of American Conservatism, as long as we eventually recognize that we agree on so much more than we disagree.
But my concern today is not over where to draw the line in that debate, but over how we have damaged the morality of liberty over the last generation, and how that damage is now manifesting itself in a courtroom in Philadelphia.
In the Grand Jury Report supporting the indictment of Dr. Kermit Gosnell [http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf], the chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, when asked to justify why the agency failed to investigate horrific complaints about Gosnell’s clinic over the years, is quoted as answering “People die.”
Well, yes they do, Ms. Dutton, but it is your Marie-Antoinette-style indifference to who died, and how and why they died, that is so shameful—and so remarkably telling about who we may be becoming as a people.
To place my thoughts in a context, I want to quote the 17th Century British theologian and poet, John Donne, who wrote the following in 1642:
…all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language…God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another…. No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Over the last 40 years we, as a society, have tried to disprove Donne’s timeless observations that “no man is an island,” and that when the bell tolls for one of us it tolls for all of us. Our attempt to isolate ourselves from our neighbors in the name of liberty has poisoned our sense of community, and dulled us to the requirements of common decency. Although we still can recite the Golden Rule, we forget that it is a rule that requires that we care for each other.
For forty-odd years we have promoted a society that no longer seeks to foster caring relationships among neighbors. In the process, we have become self-absorbed—forever striving to become independent from each other, from our society, and from our nation, and forever strengthening our allegiance to ourselves rather than to others. Without the solace of neighbors, we seek the protection of the state, or of a self-anointed class of experts, in a vain attempt to save us from the inevitable risks of everyday life. And we call this “liberty”.
This definition of “liberty” is not what our founders meant by the term. They believed that we were to be vigilant in maintaining our independence from the control of our lives and wills by the state or an elite class, but we were never meant to be independent from each other. The founders didn’t declare independence from King George then say to each other, “so long, and see you when the war’s over!” They ended their declaration with a pledge of loyalty and solidarity: the pledge of their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Folks, that’s as interdependent as it gets!
Liberty is not autonomy, and a society of free people can’t survive in a place where every man is an island unto himself. The morality of liberty is a life in which we try to live by the Golden Rule.
The irony is that the security we need to live autonomous lives doesn’t exist. Without caring human relationships that support a society, no government or elite class can give us the security we crave. When we disengage from each other, and stop caring for each other, “all the kings horses and all the kings men” cannot replace the bonds we’ve lost.
If you don’t believe me, and you need the re-assurance of experts, you need look no further than to the ongoing research conducted by Professor Robert Putnam at Harvard. In several noted books and papers published over the last 20 years, including the bestseller, Bowling Alone, Putnam describes this forty-year phenomenon through the use of detailed sociological data. In these works, Putnam presents his basic findings of how we have become disengaged from our communities, and from the traditional forms of association that built our communities. He finds that the phenomenon of disengagement cuts across all age groups, genders, socio-economic, educational and ethnic groups.
Now, the consequences of this disengagement—the consequences of abandoning the Golden Rule—are vividly unfolding in the trial of Dr. Gosnell. A person who loves their neighbor, and who treats their neighbor as he would treat himself,
- doesn’t kill children after they are born alive—healthy, breathing, and crying—by plunging scissors into their backs and cutting their spinal cords;
- doesn’t keep the hands and feet of the murdered children as trophies in his kitchen;
- doesn’t maim and kill women just to remove a viable baby in order to kill the baby;
- doesn’t subject such injured women to unsterile environments, or fail to provide life-supporting medical treatment to them, or fail to get them to an emergency care facility in time to save their lives;
- doesn’t prey on the vulnerable members of at-risk communities, and kill their children in the name of family planning; and
- doesn’t look the other way and not investigate complaints about such conditions for decades.
And that last point applies to so many of us today—the bystanders. Where were the families and neighbors of these women, who knew what they had endured but stayed silent? Where were those government agencies that we’ve created to replace caring neighbors so we could be autonomous? Where has the media been since the existence of this case first broke several years ago? Where is the outrage of community activists and politicians, whose mouths seem to be in perpetual motion about the alleged outrages suffered by the members of their communities at the hands of the ever-present oppressive majority, but whose silence now is deafening when the perpetrator is found among them?
And finally to my conservative friends … Dr. Gosnell’s evil is a perfect example of what has festered in too many neighborhoods for too long because we haven’t engaged in the lives of those communities.
Dr. Gosnell’s evil is a price we’ve all paid for our autonomy. That autonomy we’ve purchased may be a lot of things, but it’s not liberty.