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Neuhaus, the Reverse Edwards

BY Tom Hoopes

| Posted 10/18/08 at 4:31 PM

 

Father Richard John Neuhaus, with characteristic aplomb, weighs in on the presidential race at the First Things blog in a post titled At Long Last: Obama, Abortion, and the Courts.

In doing so, like a reverse John Edwards from Planet Opposite, he explains how America today is really two nations.

“Political punditry is not my main shtick,” he writes, “and I have no idea whether the debate will contribute significantly to, as the pundits say, ‘turning this around.’ But it seemed to me that McCain was sharp, on point, and playing offense, while Obama was for the first time on the edge of losing his famed cool and, at points, was floundering.”

On the right to life, he writes, “McCain’s effort was to depict Obama as an abortion extremist, and he succeeded. On partial-birth abortion and providing medical care for infants who survive abortion, Obama was reduced to muttering about a ‘health exception.’”

Neuhaus describes an America divided, but not by economic class.

“We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist.”

He allows of some caveats: “These strokes are admittedly broad, but the reality is all too evident in the increasingly ugly rancor that dominates and debases our public life. And, of course, for many Americans the conflicts in the culture wars run through their own hearts.”

Then takes his argument deeper still: “The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of ‘Nature and Nature’s God.’ It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side.”

In the rest of the brief essay, he explains how the “the Court reinforce[s] the Hobbesian idea that we are a society of strangers, perhaps of enemies, and [that] it is the chief business of the state to prevent others from interfering with or obliging the Sovereign Self.”

The consequences of that are far-reaching and destructive. Read the whole thing.

— Tom Hoopes