Monday, June 1, 2009

Abortion and the Irrelevance of Government

The murder of abortion doctor George Tiller while he was ushering in his church in Wichita, Kansas (once again living up to its historical "bloody" epithet) has left the BBC wondering why anti-abortion forces in the United States are so violent. Unfortunately, they gave this speculative assignment to Nick Triggle, who is their health reporter; and it is most unclear that this should be addressed as a problem of either public or private health. Ultimately, the problem exposes fundamental difficulties in efforts to separate church and state and the possible futility of those efforts due to an underlying conflict of motives.

One way to begin to understand this conflict is through a 1915 essay by Max Weber with the rather provocative title "Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions." (This can be found in the From Max Weber anthology, collected and translated by Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills.) In a section entitled "The Political Sphere," Weber makes the following observation:

The bureaucratic state apparatus, and the rational homo politicus integrated into the state, manage affairs, including the punishment of evil, when they discharge business in the most ideal sense, according to the rational rules of the state order. In this, the political man acts just like the economic man, in a matter-of-fact manner 'without regard to the person,' sine ira et studio, without hate and therefore without love. By virtue of its depersonalization, the bureaucratic state, in important points, is less accessible to substantive moralization than were the patriarchal orders of the past, however many appearances may point to the contrary. The patriarchal orders of the past were based upon personal obligations of piety, and the patriarchal rulers considered the merit of the concrete, single case precisely with 'regard to the person.' In the final analysis, in spite of all 'social welfare policies,' the whole course of the state's inner political functions, of justice and administration, is repeatedly and unavoidably regulated by the objective pragmatist of 'reasons of state.' The state's absolute end is to safeguard (or to change) the external and internal distribution of power; ultimately, this end must seem meaningless to any universalist religion of salvation.

In other words, where personal morality is concerned, all institutions of government (which means all of the legislative, executive, and judicial institutions laid out in the Constitution of the United States of America) are fundamentally meaningless. Questions about the distribution of power are meaningless in the face of the "ultimate power" of the deity one worships. Thus, when the power of a governmental institution is exercised (as it was by the Supreme Court in its Roe v. Wade decision), the "individual of faith" may disregard that exercise in deference to a "higher power." If that "higher power" sanctions taking the life of another whose behavior has been deemed morally offensive, then that is just a case of that power working in mysterious ways.

From the state's point of view, the murderer has committed a criminal act. If apprehended (as appears to be the case in Tiller's shooting), that individual should then be subjected to the processes and decisions of the judicial system and punished accordingly. However, if one of the concerns of government is the "social integrity" of communities, how can such integrity be maintained if the accused regards those processes, decisions, and punishments as meaningless?

An old friend of mine had a joke about C. P. Snow's Two Cultures thesis. He said:

There is only one culture; the problem is that the other one does not realize it!

In a similar vein any talk about the separation of church and state holds little value of those of faith view the state as fundamentally meaningless. Furthermore, this sword also cuts with the other side of the blade if those of the state place a depersonalized pragmatism above all other priorities. The conflict of these "two cultures" is far greater than those examined by Snow. (Has a university professor ever been assassinated for being a scientist or a humanist?) However, that conflict cannot be resolved if neither culture will grant legitimacy to the other.

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