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 Who Is to Say? 

October 20, 2005 
When I was growing up, about fifty years ago, my liberal elders were always making light of pornography. Who was to say what was “obscene,” anyway?

The “Who is to say?” argument, Today's column is "Who Is to Say?" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.still in common use, makes the odd assumption, though only for sexual matters, that moral judgments depend on some single authority. Nobody asks “Who is to say what murder is?” or “Who is to define burglary?” Liberals aren’t afflicted by agnosticism about what “social justice” and “racial discrimination” are.

Anyway, I got the strong impression that liberals didn’t want to admit that anything was obscene or pornographic. They talked as if only prudes would even use these words. The more philosophical ones went further, holding that all morality is “subjective” or “emotive”; that is, when you disapprove of something, you’re only talking about your own feelings. Murder is wrong really means only I don’t like murder.

Later I noticed that liberals aren’t always consistent in their moral relativism, even when it comes to sex. When the Starr Report described Bill Clinton’s conduct with Monica Lewinsky, liberal pundits attacked it as “pornography.” Hostile reviewers used the same indignant word for Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, which they also accused of “sadism” and “sadomasochism” and so forth.

Liberals tend to cloak their moral judgments in clinical language, disguising censure as diagnosis. I guess they think it sounds more “scientific” to call your opponents sick rather than wicked, and liberals always want to have science in their corner. Nevertheless, their moral passion is evident, even if it takes the distorted form of scientific rhetoric.

[Breaker quote for Who Is to Say?: Arguing for abortion]We’re seeing a related distortion in the reaction to Bill Bennett’s remark about aborting black babies to reduce the crime rate. I have my own objection to what he said, which must await another column; but none of his liberal assailants has attacked it on its own ground. They say the idea is so evil that it’s shameful that Bennett even let it cross his mind, let alone uttered it, which doesn’t meet his point. (As if the thought has never occurred, even fleetingly, to a liberal.)

Yes, the idea is ugly, and Bennett said so; but no liberal will say why it’s ugly. Yet everyone knows why; it’s because abortion itself is evil.

For a generation liberals have tried to insinuate that abortion is good. They call it a “constitutional right,” even a “fundamental human right.” They adopt euphemisms like procedure and choice and terminating a pregnancy. They call the child a “fetus” (it sounds so scientific!) and they avoid the word kill. They call their opponents “extremists” who want to “impose their views” (especially “religious” views) on everyone else, and they object to pictures of the results of exercising this “fundamental human right.” Abortionists are now solicitous humanitarians: “abortion providers.” When the president nominates someone to the Supreme Court, liberals’ first concern is whether the nominee will protect that “right” — even to the point of crushing and draining a viable baby’s skull in the birth canal. And of course they ask that old, tiresome, sophistical question, “Who is to say when life begins?”

But the moment someone points out one logical application of their own position, they erupt in fury at his evil mind. That tells you they really know what abortion is. We all do.

There’s no great mystery about it, no baffling metaphysical enigma. But liberals want us all to pretend we don’t know. Bad faith is now good form. It’s a breach of good taste to call abortion baby-killing, even if the baby is several months along and its mother feels it kicking. (It’s “part of her own body,” liberalism insists, so she must be kicking herself.)

Thanks to modern science, abortion can now be used for sex selection, which usually means, especially in Asia, that unwanted girls are killed before birth. The specter Bennett raised isn’t a fantasy. China’s one-child policy, enforced by compulsory abortion, has produced an imbalance, with males now outnumbering females. Is that “reprehensible”? Do you hear many liberals objecting to it?

Abortion itself is reprehensible, for the same reason infanticide is reprehensible. Some philosophers, from Aristotle to Peter Singer, have favored both as ways of getting rid of a surplus population. Are they wrong? Well, who is to say?

Joseph Sobran

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