Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Arkes on the "Rule of the Strong" Hiding Behind Empathy

Hadley Arkes, writing in First Things:
We do not ordinarily think that people lose their standing as human beings, and as bearers of rights, when they suddenly become weak and vulnerable and dependent on the care of others. But for many who have absorbed the idea of a right to abortion, the dependence of the fetus in the mother’s womb has been taken as a sign quite sufficient that the child has no standing as a separate being, with a claim to the protection of the law. The laws on abortion mark the child now as a living thing under the unchecked power of the pregnant woman. Whether it lives or dies must depend entirely on her will, not to be reviewed or judged by any other standard.

It is this hopeless subordination of the child in the womb that works, in this inverted outlook, to extinguish its rights. When we strip away the fuzzy language of empathy, what stands revealed is a prettified version of the Rule of the Strong: The strong will rule the weak, and their power to rule confirms the rightness of that rule.
Read the whole thing for the application of the "empathy test" to the smallest and weakest members of the human race.

On President Obama's empathy test more widely considered, see this essay by Peter Berkowitz, who argues that the President has "abused empathy by politicizing it," making it practically "indistinguishable from the endorsement of progressive policy outcomes." The result, Berkowitz argues, is the promotion of arrogance and activism, and ironical constriction of empathy.