The Left is tremendously excited about what they see as the hypocrisy behind the pro-Life movement because one of their own murdered George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider. Their excitement isn’t surprising, since they seem incapable of separating a crazed individual from the vast majority of pro-Lifers, all of whom routinely condemn violence generally and have strongly condemned this particular murder.
With the focus on Tiller’s murderer, of course, nobody in the MSM is thinking about what Tiller stood for. In the blogosphere, though, there are more thoughtful people, one of whom is Melissa Clouthier. She writes an impassioned post about the fact that something can be legal (late term abortions) and still be completely immoral (late term abortions). She doesn’t condone vigilantism, but she does remind us what kind of a man Tiller was.
When she emailed a link to her post to one of my email groups, someone commented that the moral person, when he sees a truly great crime committed (such as murder) must take all means possible to prevent it. The fact that people are just letting late term abortions happen while awaiting a change in the law suggests that they don’t see late term abortion as a truly great crime (such as murder). I’m not sure that’s true. I think we do see it as murder, but most people are law abiding and will not themselves commit a cold-blooded murder.
In other words, the problem for the babies, but the good thing for Americans, is that we are a nation of laws. People do not take the law into their own hands and, for the most part, that’s a very good thing. Absent that respect for law, you end up with violent anarchy, which is quickly replaced by the strong brutally oppressing the weak.
As a law-abiding American, if you don’t like the laws, you have three choices: leave the country; work to change the laws; or engage in acts of civil disobedience.
The first choice — or voting with your feet — is a problem because it’s very hard to find a place today in which abortion is not routinely performed.
The second choice is what all pro-lifers work towards. If numbers mean anything, the pro-lifers are starting to make a difference. People are leaning away from the Democratic obsession with infant death. (And I do think sonograms have an enormous role in that change.)
As for the third choice, civil disobedience, that’s the most interesting one. That’s what my email correspondent would say good citizens should do. But at least since the time of Thoreau, people who actually think about civil disobedience think of the actor’s role as a very public one. You don’t just shoot and run, you shoot and then turn yourself into jail, and make impassioned polemic speeches about the evil you were fighting. You become a martyr for your cause, not an ugly whacked out fugitive. A few years ago, in the wake of Gavin Newsom’s unilateral decision to ignore law and allow gay marriages, I wrote I post on civil disobedience, some of which I’ll quote here:
Although civil disobedience has always been around — that is, at all places, at all times, people have been willing to risk their lives, safety or comfort for their beliefs — it was Henry David Thoreau, in the mid-19th Century, who best articulated the “official” definition of that doctrine.
Thoreau objected to a poll tax because he felt the money was being improperly spent to support slavery and the war with Mexico. Rather than paying the tax, he took a principled stand, refused to pay the tax, and went to prison. His single night in jail inspired him to write an essay about a citizen’s obligation to strike out against unjust laws — and to demonstrate the law’s invalidity through the citizen’s personal martyrdom.
In his essay, Thoreau ruminated about irritating laws versus unjust laws, and about the vehicles available for protesting the latter. These protests include voting or, if that won’t work, doing such things as refusing to comply with an unjust law, or refusing to pay a tax that supports something unjust. Significantly, Thoreau felt that, if voting was not an option, the other actions gained weight from an attendant sacrifice — which, in America, is usually imprisonment:
Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her–the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.
The notion of civil disobedience gained great currency on the liberal side in the 20th Century because of two men who put it to its highest and best use. Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Had each not been willing to accept imprisonment, thereby demonstrating the manifest unfairness and immorality of the laws against which each struggled, neither would have even appeared as a footnote in the history books.
Nowadays, though, whether in the fictitious world of The West Wing, or in real life, people break laws with impunity and to applause. I was most strongly reminded of this when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, in February 2004, suddenly announced that he was going to ignore California’s laws against same sex marriage, and have the City issue marriage licenses to all gay couples desiring them. Newsom was a fifteen minute wonder. The Press oooh’ed and aaah’ed about his bravery. But, really, what was so brave? Newsom wasn’t running any risks politically in San Francisco, where a critical mass of voters approve his step. He wasn’t running any risk of humilitiation or ostracism, because he became the media’s darling. No one even mentioned prosecuting him for breaking the law, or impeaching him for violating his official obligations. It was a media stunt, but it wasn’t civil disobedience, because we didn’t get the spectacle of a righteous man felled by an unjust government.
In other words, unless Tiller’s killer takes a principled, public, martyr-like stand on the matter, he’s just a regular old murder, and a domestic terrorist, and is no better than the man he killed.