Editor’s note: This is part of TNR’s Letters to Legislators Series.
An open letter to Gov. Phil Scott:
Abortion’s debate is often framed by the monikers of “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” But behind these relatively simple slogans are the not-so-simple metaphysics and epistemology that undergirds them. Generally speaking, metaphysics has to do with the philosophy of being or the order of nature, and epistemology is the philosophy or study of how one knows.
Our Declaration of Independence enshrined natural law and rights as our founding metaphysics. This isn’t legitimately debatable, as one merely has to read the document, which references God four times. Its very first paragraph reads, “The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” and shortly thereafter decrees that our “unalienable rights,” are “endowed by [our] Creator.”
Progressivism rejects this kind of metaphysics for something very different. John Dewey, born in Burlington, Vermont, a graduate of UVM and a leading progressive philosopher in the early 20th century, said this about the philosophy of natural rights: “Natural rights and natural liberties … exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology.
A predecessor of Dewey, the 19th century philosopher Auguste Comte, likewise came to detest natural law and rights. Known as the “father of sociology” and for the “Religion of Humanity,” Comte found man, not God, to be the measure of all things. Progressivism’s goal was to systematically enhance the material well-being of humanity through the perfection and management of its social institutions. The “Religion of Humanity” — writ large — was to eventually exclude borders and nation states.
One can look at a rock and then a flower and then a dog and then a man, and one might infer, through reason, an ascension or an order of nature arising. In a sinking ship, we all understand “save the children first.” In a burning home, as much as we’d regret the loss of a pet, it’s “save the people first.”
So an ideology that denies natural law’s order of nature is an ideology that can then deny this amendment to Vermont’s H.57 abortion bill: “The State of Vermont recognizes that a viable human fetus is a person under Vermont law.” When Vermont’s House of Representatives rejected this amendment, lawmakers simultaneously rejected the necessary ascension of human life itself. Among other amendments rejected involved minors and their parents.
What perverts, and what could possibly falsify, this kind of humanistic metaphysical thinking?
On February 6th, the Vermont House Joint Committee was taking public testimony on the proposed legislation known as H.57, or the abortion bill, which allows essentially unrestricted abortion. I traveled to the State House in Montpelier to publically give my testimony. The lines to do this were already formed out the door and I was not able to present my testimony, but did submit it for review. Below is that testimony:
Former Vermont resident and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his prescient 1978 Harvard University Commencement Address, said the following:
‘The split in today’s world is perceptible even to a hasty glance …
Freedom toward evil has come about gradually … to which man … does not bear any evil within himself, and all defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected.
The humanistic way of thinking … did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth.
And yet in … American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility …
We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: Our spiritual life.’
And in Daniel J. Mahoney’s penetrating book, ‘The Idol of Our Age,’ Dr. Mahoney writes:
‘Evil can ensconce itself in the very substance of the good, leading to a profound spiritual, theological, moral, and political corruption, through a terrible … falsification of the good. This is the most insidious path that evil can take, since it insinuates evil in the very heart of goodness.’
The unborn child is the good. The claim of ‘choice’ is the ‘falsification of the good.’ Abortion is the evil.
Progressivism doesn’t stop at birth, but at its more natural habitat, death.
The elderly are the good. The claim of ‘death with dignity’ is the ‘falsification of the good.’ Euthanasia is the evil.
The order of charity demands the defense of the vulnerable.