So, Dr. George Tiller was a murderer – or, late-term abortionist, as you probably prefer to call him. He was shot down while in church by a someone who believed he was committing justifiable homicide – stopping a killer before he killed again. But that man was wrong, right? He shouldn’t have killed Tiller, right? It was murder, right?
Legally, of course, it was. But if you’re someone who believes that abortion is truly murder, that it is the taking of innocent human life, you don’t get off as easy as saying “Tiller was murdered, murder is always wrong, so Tiller’s murder was wrong”. Rather – and the article I linked to makes the argument better than I can – it was wrong, but because it was vigilante justice, not because it was murder.
And that brings us (though the linked-to article doesn’t go this far) to an interesting and somewhat disturbing point. Now, vigilante justice is wrong because it subverts the rule of law. It leads to chaos. You can’t kill someone to exact your own justice, making yourself judge, jury, and executioner, and then expect to re-enter society and have everything be fine. Vigilante justice is a rejection of the legitimate authority and an attempt to establish a new one; it is, in its essence, no different than revolution. A revolution of one man.
A revolution of one man to stop abortion is wrong for a number of reasons. But what about a revolution of millions? If everyone who believed that abortion was murder was actually willing to fight for that belief, to prevent the over one million such murders happening every year, they might actually have a chance of winning. Would it be wrong for them to do so? It would cause chaos, for a time. Wars always do. It would also have a real chance of preventing over a million murders each year. How would this be any different from sending an army in to stop a genocide?
What it comes down to, as far as I can tell, is simply a matter of prudence. We don’t fight because the revolt wouldn’t succeed. It would end up causing so much chaos that it wasn’t “worth it”. And as soon as we start talking about “worth it” – about weighing the good and bad results like that – it means there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with such a revolution. It’s just wrong in the details, so to speak.
Which doesn’t mean it’s not gravely wrong. The man who killed George Tiller did something horrible. But that’s not because he believed evil was good, black was white. It was because he had no sense of prudence. He had a sense of justice, but no sense of law. Law, government, always asks questions of prudence. I think that’s another way of saying philosophy can’t govern, because it’s too impractical. Philosophy helps – the philosopher-king is not a bad idea – but it’s not enough.