In Which I Disagree With Megan McArdle

In Which I Disagree With Megan McArdle

Earlier, I argued that we ought to take steps to assure that late-term abortions are available to people who need them, and that one reason to do so was to make it clear that terrorism does not pay. In response, Megan McArdle writes:

“Still, I am shocked to see so many liberals today saying that the correct response is, essentially, doubling down. Make the law more friendly to abortion! Show the fundies who’s boss! You know what fixes terrorism? Bitch slap those bastards until they understand that we’ll never compromise!

Well, it sure worked in Iraq. I think Afghanistan’s going pretty well, too, right?

Using the political system to stomp on radicalized fringes does not seem to be very effective in getting them to eschew violence. In fact, it seems to be a very good way of getting more violence. Possibly because those fringes have often turned to violence precisely because they feel that the political process has been closed off to them.”

I did not advocate “using the political system to stomp on radicalized fringes”. There are things I could have advocated that would have met that description: criminalizing certain forms of anti-abortion advocacy, for instance, or loosening the standards that RICO prosecutions of them must meet. Or I could have advocated stomping on them more directly: for instance, by deploying on them the tactics they use on abortion providers and their staff: large trucks parked in front of their houses with pictures of the bodies of murdered doctors; repeating tape loops of women describing what it’s like to try to find a doctor to remove their stillborn fetuses from their bodies; asking neighborhood children how they feel about the fact that their neighbors try to keep mommies from seeing a doctor when they’re sick…

Any of those things might be described as “stomping on radicalized fringes”. (I don’t want to get into “bitch-slapping”: as an ex-domestic violence worker, I loathe that term.) Trying to ensure that they do not succeed in achieving their goal of depriving women of a right to which they are entitled under our Constitution, as presently interpreted, is not. If, say, a group of anti-immunization fanatics had succeeded in terrorizing doctors to such a degree that almost no one offered children immunization, would trying to ensure that kids had access to their measles vaccines count as “stomping on” anti-immunization groups? Or precluding some “compromise” that one ought to pursue — like maybe allowing vaccination for measles, but not for mumps or rubella?

I don’t think so. I’m surprised that Megan does.

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I also deeply disagree with this:

“We accept that when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders–had Tiller whipped out a gun at an elementary school, we would now be applauding his murderer’s actions. In this case, the law was powerless because the law supported late-term abortions. Moreover, that law had been ruled outside the normal political process by the Supreme Court. If you think that someone is committing hundreds of gruesome murders a year, and that the law cannot touch him, what is the moral action? To shrug? Is that what you think of ordinary Germans who ignored Nazi crimes? Is it really much of an excuse to say that, well, most of your neighbors didn’t seem to mind, so you concluded it must be all right? We are not morally required to obey an unjust law. In fact, when the death of innocents is involved, we are required to defy it.”

The law is not “powerless” in this case. It is not trying and failing to prevent abortion. On the contrary: our Constitution, as presently interpreted, grants women the right to seek an abortion. In order to conclude that killing people is justified in these circumstances, you need to think not just that the lives of innocents are at stake, but that this is the kind of situation in which you should take the law into your own hands, and thereby undermine our system of law and government.

I do not think that it would be OK for people who oppose the death penalty to kill the people who carry it out. I opposed the war in Iraq, but I did not conclude that it would be OK for me to kill soldiers who were shipping out, policy makers with blood on their hands, and so forth. In that case, many more innocent lives were at stake than could possibly have been at stake in Tiller’s.

Deciding to start killing people who are doing things that are legal is deciding to go into full-scale revolt against one’s government. There are surely times when it is right to do that, the Nazis being one obvious example. But the question when one ought to do so is a lot more difficult than McArdle makes it out to be, since a basically workable system of laws is a very great good, and it’s a lot easier to destroy than it is to create.