No matter how pissed off I get at liberals and leftists (a very frequent occurrence, I assure you), I have never been able to bring myself to start calling myself a “conservative.” Some of this is no doubt a reflexive reaction to being raised among right-wing Know-Nothings. But just when I am sometimes starting to think that philosophical conservatives are the ones who really have their act together, I come across something like this post from conservative Catholic philosopher Edward Feser.
Feser was once associated with libertarianism, at least on the periphery, and is now some kind of ultra-reactionary Catholic traditionalist. Predictably, he takes a position on abortion that equates abortion doctors with serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer. I’ve known a number of other people who took such positions (mostly Christian fundamentalists of one type or another), and I really don’t find such views to be interesting enough to bother discussing them. Suffice to say that in an anarchic social order different kinds of communities would likely have different rules and standards concerning enormously controversial issues like abortion. As for my own preference, I’m for legal abortion, at least in the early stages of pregnancy. I’m probably for the legality of late-term abortion also, though I am less sure of this position and would be more accepting of compromise on the question. I don’t know that I really approve of peripheral regulations on abortion either, like parental consent and waiting periods. So, obviously, I’m in the “liberal” camp on this question. But what I find interesting about Feser’s post are comments like this:
On November 28, 1994, notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison by a fellow inmate. Unspeakably heinous though Dahmer’s crimes were, his murder can only be condemned. To be sure, by committing his crimes, Dahmer had forfeited his right to life. By no means can it be said that the injustice he suffered was as grave as what he inflicted upon his victims. But the state alone had the moral authority to execute him, and no private individual can usurp that authority. Vigilantism is itself a grave offense against the moral and social order, and Dahmer’s murderer merited severe punishment.The recent murder of another notorious serial killer – the late-term abortionist George Tiller – is in most morally relevant respects parallel to the Dahmer case. It is true that Tiller, unlike Dahmer, was not punished by our legal system for his crimes; indeed, most of those crimes, though clearly against the natural moral law, are not against the positive law of either the state or the country in which Tiller resided. That is testimony only to the extreme depravity of contemporary American society, and does not excuse Tiller one iota. Still, as in the Dahmer case, no private citizen has the right to take justice into his own hands, and Tiller’s murderer ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
So what’s Feser’s problem? If he really thinks abortion is the mass murder of innocent children that a corrupt state allows to legally take place, then why does he not praise the heroism of someone who places himself in grave danger in order to eliminate the killer and prevent him from killing more children in the future? Would Feser object to the killing of a wild animal that repeatedly attacked and killed human beings but could not be killed legally because of “animal rights” laws? Maybe, but I’d be surprised if he did.
Frequently, I have heard hard-core pro-lifers refer to abortionists as serial killers but then object to those who assassinate an abortion doctor. I suspect there are two reasons for this. One, whatever they think they believe outwardly, they really do not believe inwardly that abortion is the equivalent of mass murder. This is reflected in the fact that many pro-lifers do not believe there should be criminal penalties for women who obtain illegal abortions, only for the doctor. But whoever heard of the idea that being an accomplice to the murder of a child is not a crime? This perspective makes no sense at all. Many cult members and adherents of fanatical religions will betray their supposed beliefs in private moments and unguarded moments, often without the realization that they are doing so. In their heart of hearts, they really don’t believe in all the bullshit they claim to believe in.
But there’s another issue involved here as well, and that’s the state worship found among many conservatives. While many other conservatives are anti-statists with varying degrees of consistency or sincerity, “moralist” conservatives often express views not unlike Feser’s. Let’s look at Feser’s words once again. This is the key passage:
“But the state alone had the moral authority to execute him, and no private individual can usurp that authority. Vigilantism is itself a grave offense against the moral and social order, and Dahmer’s murderer merited severe punishment.”
“Still, as in the Dahmer case, no private citizen has the right to take justice into his own hands, and Tiller’s murderer ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
What the hell is this crap about “the moral authority” of the state? What’s so special about the state? Would this be the same institution that killed two hundred million subjects during the 20th century alone? And how exactly is “vigilantism” such a “grave offense against the moral and social order”? The arguments against vigilantism are these:
1) Protection of the innocent. The accused should not be subject to the arbitrary accusations and retaliation of others. Instead, there needs to be a process of determining innocence or guilt according to objectives rules of evidence judged by neutral third parties.
2) Proportionality. One should not be able to arbitrarily execute someone they feel has wronged them. Instead, the punishment should “fit the crime” and be imposed by a neutral third party.
3) Civil order. If everyone “took the law into his own hands,” would this not lead to a breakdown of civil society and the emergence of a free-for-all?
These arguments might make sense in a functional society with a functional legal system, even one that performs erratically much of the time. But that would not seem to apply in a society that has formally legalized mass murder, which is what Feser thinks America has done with legalized abortion. Would a sensible person condemn Cambodian persons who armed themselves circa 1976 and starting taking out Khmer Rouge operatives? A Russian circa 1935 who did the same to Stalinist agents? A German who engaged in such actions against Gestapo agents in 1943? Of course not.
Aside from the fact that Feser does not really believe in his Catholic fundamentalist anti-abortion ideology beyond the surface, conscious level, he also exhibits the emotional and intellectual cowardice that comes with an inability to reject the state. If Feser had been born in North Korea, he would have been one of the North Korean soldiers I saw in television footage after Kim Il-Sung’s death hugging a statue of the Great Leader and weeping: “He took care of me since I was a baby!”
I’ve undergone de-conversion from three cults in my own lifetime: Christianity, statism, and egalitarianism. So maybe there’s still hope for Edward Feser. This brings me to another issue. The owner of the “Debunking Christianity” blog, John W. Loftus, has called for Feser to be fired from his teaching post at a community college because of his statements comparing the assassinated abortion doctor to Jeffrey Dahmer. Says Loftus:
“We’ve heard about the murder of George Tiller, an abortionist doctor. But did you know that in this blog post Edward Feser compares Tiller to Jeffrey Dahmer who killed, dismembered and ate 17 men and boys. Feser claims that “Tiller was almost certainly a more evil man than Dahmer was.” No wonder I won’t bother reading his book length diatribe against the new atheists, “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.””Feser teaches for Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California which is a community college. I call upon that college to fire him for this highly inflamed rhetoric which will probably bring on more murders of abortion doctors. And I ask others to do likewise. No professor should use such inflammatory rhetoric or be so ignorant about some crucial distinctions.“
Umm, excuse me, but didn’t Feser condemn the shooting of the abortion doctor and say the perpetrator should be “punished to the full extent of the law”? So it’s not like Feser is advocating the actual killing of abortion doctors. In fact, he’s criticizing such actions. What does Loftus expect? That no professor should ever express moral revulsion concerning abortion or those who practice it, even if they don’t engage in or advocate violence in retaliation against abortionists? That no one should ever insult abortion doctors? Sounds a little wacky to me.
This is the deal. Loftus is a former fundamentalist Christian apologist and pastor who converted to atheism. His writings on atheism and debunking Christianity are some of the best on these topics around. But Loftus seems to have fallen into the trap of many former religious people who replace one form of moralistic zealotry with another. Loftus say he used to lead boycotts against video stores that sold adult videos during his time as a Christian. Now he wants to lead crusades against un-PC college professors. I for one would like to see more un-PC college professors, given left-liberal dominance in much of academia.
I’ve been there. Over twenty years ago, I used to do presentations for high school and college students on the dangers of “racism and fascism” using materials from groups like the $PLC and the Berletoids (I know, I know, but forgive me for I knew not what I was doing). I used to belong to all of the official anti-Christian sects like People for the American Way until I realized that liberals are just as authoritarian and moralistic as any of their religious counterparts. I learned better as I went along. Eventually, I realized that values are simply the subjective emotions and opinions of individuals, and that life is simply a brute struggle of each against all for survival of the fittest. The only thing that matters is how one chooses to wage the war of life. What a liberating realization! May others come to such enlightenment as well.