Abortion, Murder, Justice, Law

This is an important article. Read it.

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.


7 Responses to Abortion, Murder, Justice, Law

  1. e7th04sh says:

    You know, what the murderer did resembles the acts of Polish Underground Country during German-Soviet occupation of Poland throughout ww2.* There were judges, juries and officers sent to “dispose of” a person. Fe. Pilecki who went to Auschwitz to witness what’s taking place, organised the inside resistance movement, that was in connection with the outside – and they too were judging and executing particular kapo, officers or traitors.

    So generally the question is: how opressive is the state we live in / how serious is the matter. Altough USA is democracy, the cruelty of “late abortion” is obvious to any sane person with some reason. So in the outcome i’d say i envy his bravery & sacrefice. Because he will probably be found and sentenced.. I hope that if our life is in any way evaluated when we die, he will be judged as a good person.

    * – (I know i’m fixed bout my country, lol.. but my country has some interesting history. You could read history novels about Poland instead of fantasy and you woukd never get bored, at least I wouldn’t.)

  2. e7th04sh says:

    Also, i understand that if he did not belong to any organisation that would perform a judicial process, he is quite “chaotic”. He might be wrong or good, however the more people take actions without considering opinion of others, the more chaos (bad type of it) is introduced into society.

    But on some occasions a determined individual can acquire enough evidence to sentence a man for several death penalties. Tiller was obvious murderer and his death was both a fair judgement, and also an act of protection of the weaker. The Murderer, if acting alone, might have wanted secrecy to ensure succesful kill.

    It’s also not very true that he is a terrorist. Altough he’s act is surely going to scare many abortion businessmen, he did not hit random person. He was an assasin, not terrorist, because he’s act was meant to stop Tiller from acting, not to spread fear amon pro-life activists. If it was the latter case, he would have planted a bomb in the clinic i guess.

    It’s not that you can always change law of the society from the inside,,,

  3. It’s my understanding that the killer (assassin is a good word for it) was a member of a anti-government organizations, and that calling him an anarchist wouldn’t be inaccurate. I’m not sure how that ought to affect our opinion of him.

    Anyway, I agree his actions probably shouldn’t be seen in a completely negative light. The article I linked to compares him to John Brown, the American anti-slavery advocate who tried to lead a slave rebellion in 1856 and was hanged. It’s an apt analogy. And most people love John Brown today. But I have two main problems with what the assassin did:

    One, that while it may prevent some abortions in the near future, they will have little overall impact, and the bad publicity the murder gives the pro-life movement in America more than counteracts that.

    Two, that the anarchist, vigilante justice he committed can’t be considered in isolation – you can’t say “killing abortion doctors is necessary and the US doesn’t do that, so we will, but we like everything else the US does and support it”. Vigilante justice implies a desire for anarchy over the current state of affairs. (The assassin clearly understood this.) And while the current situation with abortion law is bad, I don’t think it’s so bad that anarchy would be preferable. (Almost nothing would be.)

  4. e7th04sh says:

    Utilitarian perspective – i can’t disagree with the obvious fact, that the vacuum on the abortion market will probably be 99% filled with new, sucked-in businessmen. Or rather simply some other person will own the clinic now.

    But i think i forgot about one important aspect: the act, while having little impact on the future, is an act of justice. For sceptical yet ethical people the idea of hell is not enough to let evil people die in wealth and respect, preferably of natural reasons.

    The assasination happened probalby not to scare anyone, we agree on that i think. But altough i wroto so, now i doubt he even wanted to temporarily save some unborn babies. It turns out he did not want to see the crime unpunished. And that is enough to condone the chaotic nature of his act, in my consience.

  5. Urs says:

    so, uh, to open another question – why exactly is Chaos bad? Because it subverts law? And how is that bad? Law isn’t legitimate, and law doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on good and evil. Law is put in place by anyone powerful enough to do so, and currently powers are nicer than they were a while ago. But obviously, they aren’t nice enough, and so vigilante justice, or chaos, are perfectly good and legitimate means of existence.

    Basically, the problem is equating society and law with good. You’d have to be – otherwise the implication would be that man should follow some principle other than good, and that is a prospect more frightening than any other. However, once it is assumed that the following the legitimacy of law is good, the obvious realization is that one is merely following a power powerful enough to create good and evil. And in that, new scenario, vigilante justice is just as correct, because it is powerful enough to operate, and therefore good.

    Why is a government or a society capable of deciding good and evil? Why is their power and the adherence to such good?

    Why is chaos not a better alternative?

  6. Not that this is a philosophical argument, but the Bible seems to say that government is legitimate; “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, etc. It’s not equating the law with the good, if by that you mean defining good as what the law says, and it’s not saying that bad laws are impossible (I can’t see how Jesus would have thought all Roman laws were good, certainly); it’s just saying that one has an obligation to obey the government, or at least not actively fight against it and cause chaos.

    But to the point – Why is order good and chaos bad? Primarily because chaos is destructive. Chaos is entropy, the breakdown of complex systems into simpler ones; in its essence, chaos is war, chaos is death, chaos is evil.

    It seems popular nowadays to be an anarchist, to think that chaos would be better than government because government, while it does many things well, does some things poorly. I think this is primarily because we haven’t ever experienced real chaos. Back when there actually was a danger of government breaking down, losing its ability to bring order to society (I’m thinking primarily here of Italy in the middle ages, with its warring city-states), no one really thought this chaos was a good thing. Dante, in my opinion the greatest poet-philosopher ever to live, supported the unification of all Christendom into one Empire because that was the only way to achieve order.

    In thus supporting order over chaos I’m not saying that everything the government does is ideal, I’m just saying that unless the government is actually evil, that it would be better for it not to exist at all, you’re not justified in revolution.

    Hopefully that answers your objections as to why order is better than chaos; if not, I’ll try to come up with something else. Good question, by the way. Certainly an interesting topic.

    [Incidentally, there’s a difference between revolution and rebellion; rebellion is, I think, much more often justified. Revolution involves destroying the old order and attempting to construct a new one – from what I’ve seen, it almost never goes well. Rebellion (which includes both the misnamed American Revolution and what the South did in the American Civil War) involves a province of a government attempting to separate itself from the government but retain its basic political structure.]

  7. Also, on the subject of legitimate political authority – it’s a complicated topic with no clear answer, as you can see here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authority/

    My response to such dilemmas tends to be that political philosophy is kind of fruitless anyway. As I ended my original post, “Philosophy helps – the philosopher-king is not a bad idea – but it’s not enough”. There’s some things about how governments work that its impossible to prove are morally justifiable or ideal, but which are necessary to functioning government; my response tends to be, leave them be.

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