I’ve been reading a fascinating book by economist, Stanford University professor, and Hoover Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Sowell called Black Rednecks & White Liberals.In an essay titled “The Real History of Slavery,” Sowell analyzes the complex reasons why most Americans who were morally opposed to slavery did not side with the radical abolitionists. A whole host of reasons stopped good men — including Washington and Jefferson — from supporting any endeavor to simply declare slaves free and release them into the wide world, and foremost among these concerns was the well-being of the slaves themselves.
Sowell quotes Edmund Burke, the 18th century British philosopher and opponent of the slave trade.
… Burke put the problem, as he put so many other problems, in the context of the inherent constraints of circumstances. While seeing slavery as “an incurable evil,” Burke was concerned with what would happen to the slaves themselves after they were freed, as well as the implications of their freedom for the society around them.
The “minds of men being crippled” by slavery, Burke said, “we must precede the donation of freedom” by developing in the enslaved people the capacity to function as responsible members of a free society…
[N]owhere did Burke view this is an abstract question without considering the social context and the consequences and dangers of that context.
Slavery is almost as old as humanity, and as widespread as the globe. The Islamic world was notorious for its slave trade. Slavs were notoriously slaves. In fact the word “slave” comes from slav. Arabs and North Africans enslaved Europeans, Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Africans enslaved other Africans. Everyone enslaved someone. It was all the rage. Sowell again:
While slavery was common to all civilizations, as well as to peoples considered uncivilized, only one civilization developed a moral revulsion against it, very late in its history — Western civilization…
Slavery did not die out quietly of its own accord. It went down fighting to the bitter end — and it lost only because Europeans had gunpowder weapons first.
Why am I going on and on about slavery on a pro-life site?
In thinking about abortion — which I do rather often — I come back to the issue of slavery again and again. Both are grave moral evils, and both these evils — buying, selling and owning slaves, and procuring or committing abortions — have at some time been recognized as legal rights by our nation. Both involve the absolute, unquestioned power of one human being over another. Both are emotionally charged, divisive issues that split the nation practically in half — although, in this case, not geographically.
Here are two unsettling facts about abortion:
1. Abortion will not go down without a fight. Now, before you go screeching to your local news media that I’m about to bomb a clinic and inspire yet another “pro-lifers are violent” episode of “Law & Order,” let me make myself clear: I’m not talking about gunpowder. This movement has long since established itself as non-violent, and anyone who deviates from that is soundly condemned… far more loudly than, for example, butchers like Brigham and Gosnell are condemned by the pro-choice crowd, but I digress.
I am not predicting another Civil War. I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea, considering it cost the U.S. one life for every six slaves freed back in the day. I know many good people who would die to end abortion, but let’s put that on the back burner.
No, what I mean is, like the emancipation of slaves, the end to abortion will be something that law will have to force on the unwilling half of the country. It may not be physically bloody, but it will be uncomfortable.
I believe firmly, for many reasons both cerebral and spiritual, that Roe will be overturned in my lifetime. As we all know, this does not mean an absolute end to abortion in this country, but it is the essential first step, and goes a long way towards making it a punishable crime.
Changing hearts is all fine and good, but if we think that we are going to do that one at a time until everybody is pro-life and we all hug each other and gather on a hillside singing and no one has abortions anymore, we are all delusional. At some point, we’re going to have to make abortion illegal. We are going to have to make lots of people really, really mad.
About half the country will not take this sitting down. It will be an incredibly divisive, traumatic event.
2. Like Burke before me, I consider the practical, tangible results of an end to abortion, and I see that many problems will result. Unless changes are made in the way young people perceive and learn about sex, and unless a major shift occurs in the average American’s approach toward personal responsibility, we are going to be in trouble. If about one million more babies are born every year to mothers who are not prepared to take care of them, the strain on various government aid programs — WIC, Medicaid, etc. — will be disastrous to an already struggling federal system.
You probably hear anti-lifers throw out this rhetorical question all the time: “What are we supposed to do with all those new babies?” I usually reply with, “It’s a complicated problem, but I know what the answer isn’t: kill them in the womb.”
However, while we reject their evil Nazi idea that it’s better these children were never born, we’d better take the problem they bring up seriously if we want good lives for those children, and a solvent America for them to grow up in.
The solution to this problem is simple, but not easy, and I’ll tell you more about it in my next column.