The Left & Reproductive Rights

The Left and Women’s Reproductive Rights

Tibor R. Machan

At the outset I will declare my commitment to the right of women to terminate pregnancies prior to the time a human being has developed in their bodies (roughly the 25th week*) But then I am also someone who holds that every adult individual has a full, unalienable right to his or her life. (Who else would?)

But one of the contemporary Left’s favorite doctrines, communitarianism doesn’t agree. By their standards we belong to the community. Check out what Charles Taylor says about this in his book Sources of the Self or, even better, read the famous American Leftist, Cora Weiss, who was a prominent American anti war advocate during the Vietnam era, and claimed that refugees who have fled Vietnam were traitors, because, she argued, “Every country is entitled to its people [who are] the basic resource that belongs to the country.” (Washington Post, May 29, 1978)

Weiss was by no means alone in her views. The East Germans argued they had full moral authority to shoot those trying to scale the Berlin Wall because such people were stealing themselves from East Germany, from the country. Then there is the famous Marxist doctrine of the labor theory of property according to which the source of all value is human labor which, however, is public property since it is the major means of production that under socialism is collectively owned.

Softer Leftists, such as communitarian Michael Sandel, also contend that our lives are from birth beholden to the community and we do not have the full right to it. This reiterates the views of the father of sociology, Auguste Comte who wrote this about the topic:

“Everything we have belongs then to Humanity…[Comte’s] Positivism never admits anything but duties, of all to all. For its social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of right, constantly based on individualism. We are born loaded with obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. Later they only grow or accumulate before we can return any service. On what human foundation then could rest the idea of right, which in reason should imply some previous efficiency? Whatever may be our efforts, the longest life well employed will never enable us to pay back but an imperceptible part of what we have received. And yet it would only be after a complete return that we should be justly authorized to require reciprocity for the new services. All human rights then are as absurd as they are immoral. This [“to live for others”], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely.” Auguste Comte, The Catechism of Positive Religion (Clifton, NJ: Augustus M. Kelley Publ., 1973), pp. 212-30.

OK, so what of this? Well, it is entirely inconsistent with the stance on abortion of most of those on the political Left in American. They are pro choice. But pro choice means having the right to do with one’s life as one wants, provided it is peaceful. And so long as abortion isn’t homicide, it is peaceful and every woman has a right to get one if she so chooses.

However, if one’s life belongs to humanity or society or the community or the state, this pro choice position on abortion–and on innumerable other matters–makes no sense. In general, the Left rejects the idea that choices is a vital element of human life. Instead what matters is obligation (or duty) to others (or to humanity or society)!

This idea is the ancient one, whereby everyone belongs to the country, the king, the tzar and so certainly it is utterly selfish to insist that one’s life is one’s own and that from this certain rights follow, even the right to terminate a pregnancy at an early stage. The left simply has no basis for insisting on this. (Not that the Right is much better. But I leave that for another time.)

*This isn’t geometry but biology so the exactitude is appropriately fuzzy!

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2 Responses to The Left & Reproductive Rights

  1. Jonathan says:

    I think what is going on here, and on a lot of other issues (sexual ethics in general included), is that within the Western political tradition, different sorts of ideas and intellectual/emotive tendencies have come to exist in particular political alignments because of historical exigencies and accidents, not because of any underlying rationale or logic. Hence, to use the United States as an example, the ‘left,’ as you’ve noted, maintains ‘communitarian’ or, more in keeping with Western political tradition, ‘classical republican’ views in regards to a great many aspects of society. Yet at the same time, some aspects of society are treated with a strong libertarian or at least liberal approach. There is no real logic underlying these differing approaches, and they have varied from period to period. Likewise, the ‘right’ draws upon both the communitarian tendencies in Western political tradition, and upon liberal/libertarian ones, again, usually without any clear logic or rationale. Rather, a complex mixture of historical events, economic alignments, cultural transformations, party politics machinations, and the like, have worked to naturalize the ‘logics’ within the left and right. So if you try to demonstrate to an ordinary ‘leftist’ or ‘rightist’ the contradictions of their views, they are unlikely to appreciate your attempt, or be capable of identifying these contradictions, or finding them problematic.

    Now, I say this as someone on the libertarian left, albeit a rather unorthodox leftist. My own mixture of political, cultural, and economic views and alliances do not necessarily coalesce, actually, I know they don’t. I consciously draw upon multiple strands of political, ethical, and cultural thought and praxis, from Marx to Bookchin to Chesterton. I don’t consider my views ‘natural’ or fixed, however, and I don’t have any single political grouping I automatically and consistently identify with. All of that is to say I don’t necessarily judge people of the standard left or right for holding what are pretty evidently deeply contradictory views; I do fault them for holding those views unreflectively and without an attempt to work through the issues and resolve them. Of course, as a libertarian, I also fault them for trying to impose their contradictory and highly constructed views on the rest of the planet, but that’s another issue…

    • szatyor2693 says:

      Does one get to just pick and choose one’s political views, never mind logic or reason or anything else that’s usually required of theories, systems of ideas? What if the different strands conflict? Who gets to pick priorities or how does one do that? The various isms we work with are aimed at finding a consistent, coherent, complete, sensible view of matters that enable us to work with them in peace.

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