In an update to his original post, and evidently seeing the need to offer at least some feeble justification for his libelous charge against me, Brian Liar quotes Jeremy Shipley’s comments on my original piece on Tiller as if they were especially insightful. They are not at all insightful. Some brief replies to Shipley’s remarks (which are in italics):
Do the poster and commenters think that a relevant disanalogy arises from the fact that Tiller performed late-term abortions only when either the fetus was discovered to have a severe defect or when the woman's health was threatened? If not, why not?
No, there is no relevant disanalogy. Murdering a one-year-old down syndrome child – or a 5-year old or 15-year old down syndrome child – would be gravely immoral. It is no less gravely immoral to murder such a child when he is still in the womb. Nor can the (notoriously vague) “health of the mother” dodge ever justify the direct killing of an unborn child. The standard pro-life arguments for these claims are well-known and I’m not going to rehearse them here. Anyone familiar with those arguments should, even if he does not buy those arguments himself, understand why pro-lifers would regard Tiller’s actions as monstrous.
It certainly seems to me that even if I thought Tiller and others had reached the wrong conclusion that I could recognize the moral question as sufficiently difficult that a comparison with Jeffrey Dahmer was beyond the pale. Indeed, what is the purpose of making such a comparison? Surely it is not meant to rationally persuade others to your conclusion.
My original post was – quite obviously – not intended to convince “pro-choice” advocates that abortion is immoral. It was intended instead to persuade people who are already sympathetic to the pro-life cause, or at least to the Christian morality that often underlies it, not to let the fact that murdering Tiller was immoral lead them into the error of whitewashing, minimizing, or keeping silent about Tiller’s own crimes. In fact what immediately motivated me to write the post were the breathtakingly over-the-top things my colleague Hugo Schwyzer had been saying in praise of Tiller from an ostensibly Christian point of view. Less immediate, but still a motivation, was a desire to counter the tendency of some conservatives to couple their condemnation of Tiller’s murder (a condemnation I have endorsed) with a reluctance to acknowledge or at least publicly discuss the magnitude of Tiller’s evil.
You can't possibly have sat down to write this post thinking that you would change anyone's mind by this argument.
If by "change anyone's mind" Shipley means “convince a firmly pro-choice person that Tiller was a monster,” no, of course not. Obviously I was not trying to do that. If he means “convince someone who is already pro-life or at least sympathetic to Christian morality not to think of Tiller as anything less than a monster,” then yes, I did hope to change some people’s minds about that. Regular readers of this blog already know what point of view I am coming from. It would be silly to expect me to rehearse the complete pro-life case every time I comment on the subject of abortion, just as it would be silly to expect Schwyzer or Leiter to rehearse the pro-choice case every time they comment on it.
Furthermore, your injunction against vigilantism rings a bit hollow. Do you really mean for this to be an absolutely inviolable principle?
Of course not. What does Shipley expect, a full-length treatise on political morality? Again, the point of the post was to argue that despite the fact that killing Tiller was wrong, he was still a moral monster and that the circumstances of his death provide no justification whatsoever either for turning him into a martyr or even softening our condemnation of his actions. My rejection of vigilantism was not intended to be a complete treatment of the subject, but rather a brief indication of the reason I think killing Tiller was wrong.
This is a large topic, but in brief I would say that while a person might lose the right to his life by virtue of his murderous actions, it doesn’t follow that just anyone, in ordinary circumstances, might punish him or even deter him from future evil – any more than the fact that a certain child merits punishment or deterrence for some offense (picking on his siblings, failing to do his homework, etc.) entails that people other than his parents have the authority, in ordinary circumstances, to punish or deter the child. In normal circumstances it is the parents alone who have that right, and they can lose it only under extreme conditions (e.g. when they are sexually molesting their children, or whatever). Similarly, in ordinary circumstances it is government alone which has the right to punish and deter evildoers. If the government is basically just, then while we can work within the system to change it where it is flawed, can assist it in its functions (via “citizen’s arrests” and the like), we nevertheless cannot usurp its authority. Now, that authority can be lost when a government has degenerated to the point that it is essentially no less criminal than the people it is supposed to be protecting society against – as in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. But I do not think the American political system has degenerated to such a point, and thus I do not see a case for anyone taking the law into his own hands.
Obviously this is an issue that could be pursued in greater detail, but going into it in such detail was not essential to making the specific point I was trying to make. Nor are there any grounds for Shipley to go on to say, as he does:
I suspect insincerity.
Yeah, well I suspect a desire on Shipley's part to score cheap points rather than to read what I wrote charitably, or even with minimal fairness.
Shipley concludes by expressing a further suspicion that I “know” that my views actually entail a defense of Tiller’s murder, and Leiter opines that “of course” I know this. (Leiter also adds to this scumbaggery by not-so-subtly trying to link me to domestic terrorism.) Note how it is not enough for such people to claim even that “Feser doesn’t see, or isn’t willing to see, where his arguments lead.” No, they have to go beyond this and assert, on the basis of no evidence or argumentation whatsoever, that I intended subtly to encourage acts like the murder of Tiller.
This is the sort of madness one is led to when one begins with the premises that inform the thinking of the Leiters of the world. The murder of 9 month old fetuses comes to seem a matter of indifference, or even praiseworthy. Those who oppose such murder come to seem “apologists for murder.” And libel comes to seem a legitimate way for a law professor to indulge a personal animus or advance a political agenda.
UPDATE 6/6: Leiter has updated his post yet again, objecting, as is his custom, to the temerity of anyone who defends himself against one of Leiter’s smears. He also throws in what looks like yet another lie, claiming that I have offered no reply to his libelous charge – a charge which is too ludicrous to merit a reply, but to which I have replied anyway in this very post. Common decency would have led Leiter to call his readers’ attention to it, but since uncommon indecency is Leiter’s bag, that was never likely.
UPDATE 6/8: Though he frantically assures us he doesn’t spend his whole day reading blogs, Leiter has now updated his post one more time in response to my criticizing him for not informing his readers of this reply. He says he simply hadn’t seen it. I will extend to Leiter the basic courtesy he refuses to extend to me and take him at his word. After hysterically and libelously calling me an “apologist for murder,” Leiter now has the brass to suggest that I “calm down.” I will when you do, pal.