Postmodern Conservative

Libertarianism and Securitarianism (and Richard Dawkins)

So I’ve written for The Federalist the long version of  the case for thinking of “the libertarian moment” as actually a kind of “selective statism” rooted in what Tocqueville describes as individualism. I’ve already gotten a couple of e-mails asking when I embraced the field of Mormon apologetics. I highlight the Mormons only because Tyler Cowen embraced their way of life as a form of discipline that might allow men to flourish in the rigorous 21st-century global competitive marketplace. My only point is that the Mormons have what it takes to be libertarian for all political purposes, while our only apparently more consistently libertarian hyper-technophiles who put their hope in the Singularity to come do not. Our Silicon Valley libertarianism is a mixture of extreme libertarianism and extreme securitarianism — a mixture, you might say, of Rand and Hobbes. So, increasingly, are our college campuses.

Speaking of the triumph of security over liberty: My apologies to the few who were anticipating my promised trashing of Richard Dawkins for giving women the moral imperative of aborting unborn Down-syndrome babies. The difference between a Down-syndrome kid and one with autism, in his view, is that those who find a place on the autism spectrum are often “enhanced” (Dawkins’s word) cognitively (think Sheldon Cooper), whereas the Down’s kid never is. The former can make a real contribution to society, the latter can’t. I couldn’t help but think, of course, that kids with autistic qualities can sometimes also be burdened with severe cognitive impairment and can’t function socially at all. If we ever develop a reliable prenatal test that diagnoses autism (and we might soon), then, I guess, the moral duty to choose abortion is just as urgent. You never know whether you’re going to get one of those enhanced ones, and so it’s safer and so more responsible to do as Dawkins says: abort and try again. Dawkins makes it altogether too easy to have the “teachable moment” of showing that allegedly civilized public indifference to the fate of this or that particular foetus / unborn baby leads to the eugenic imperative of enhancement. That imperative, of course, undermines our egalitarian conviction about the uniqueness and irreplaceability of every free and relational personal life.

Dawkins’s standard for a life worth protecting, apparently, is “human feelings.” Well, people with Down syndrome typically love and are lovable, joyfully discover the correspondence between words and real things,  are self-conscious, and are moved deeply by the suffering and deaths of other persons. What “human feeling” do they not have? Yet, in Dawkins’s view, a loving mother to be has the duty to pass up an opportunity she’s been given to love and be loved, to act according to the inclination that Darwinians see she’s been given by nature. In Dawkins’s view, Down’s men and women don’t deserve a chance or would not want to live. That conclusion, as every parent of a kid with Down syndrome knows, is contrary to the facts we can actually see on the ground.

Now you might say that I’m being unfair to Dawkins. But consider this: What would a world be like in which people in general thought that a woman who had her Down’s kid out of love had acted immorally? Surely “the state” can’t be allowed to facilitate or conceivably even tolerate that kind of irresponsibility!

There have been so many indignant postings about Dawkins as moral monster that I’m losing the urge to pile on. Maybe the best advice I have for you all is to pay no attention at all to his moral, political, and religious musings. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, at least when talking about those who are members of our species.

There’s nothing that I’ve said that necessarily leads to the allegedly extreme position that all abortion should be illegal. It does support the view that, in order even to preserve a loving mom’s freedom of choice, our default position has to be in favor of life. That way, no mom could ever be blamed for choosing for the life of one of her own — and, really, our own. Dawkins’s position is really, really extreme, although his extremism has the sense, especially when tweeting, of being merely a kind of ineffectual bragging or posing.

Peter Augustine Lawler — Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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