Someone’s Freedom Is Often Someone Else’s Tyranny

During the Feast of Tabernacles this past year in Suriname, I overheard but did not participate in an argument that dealt with the legal philosophy concerning abortion law in the United States.  According to the woman who was vociferously not agreeing with the standard position, which I hold, that abortion is cruel and unjust and any laws supporting it are similarly unjust, abortion law signified in the eyes of the single woman who at least was not opposing it with vigor that an unborn child was not considered a human being until it was accepted by its mother in some fashion.  I did not know if the disputant was aware that this was not a new legal philosophy at all but a very old and very wicked one that came from heathen Greco-Roman times where children were presented by their mothers after birth to the father where he chose whether to accept them or not.  If they were accepted, they were given a name and entered into the family, and if not, they were exposed and subjected either to an agonizing death or kidnapping by those who would likely raise the abandoned child as some sort of slave.

In our contemporary arguments over abortion, which at various times I have participated in with varying degrees of interest [1] but with no particular self-interest, having never impregnated anyone and hence having nothing personal at stake (yet) in the debate concerning my own family legacy, it is common to see those who are in favor of abortion consider the cruel and barbaric practice of infanticide viewed as reproductive rights, and any threat to these rights being viewed as intolerable tyranny from an oppressive male patriarchy.  Obviously enough, those who support the inalienable rights of all living beings, born and unborn, accurately point out that abortion on demand is tyranny to the unborn by denying them of life, the most fundamental of all rights.  We are thus faced with an impasse.  Abortion presents one of the most pointed ways in which rights are diametrically opposed, and where what is viewed as obvious and fundamental rights on one part are viewed as intolerable rights to others.  Perhaps this accounts at least somewhat for the vehemence that exists about such matters, and the importance of the matter relates to the fact that the low birthrate of the United States (and other nations) is often used as justification for the demand for open borders.  Thus getting rid of one evil in abortion would also get rid of other evils related to the problems of illegal immigration and the need for increased population to pay for pensions and social security systems for old age.

Yet it should be remembered that abortion is not the only such area where rights are in fundamental contradiction between two parties, where what is viewed as the power one should have over one’s own body and its temporary (and often unwanted) guests who draw sustenance from that body and the inalienable and God-given right to life of the other party are at cross-purposes, even if it is a particularly dramatic example of such a case.  Such problems are actually very common, and unsurprisingly they form the core of a great many of the problems we face in the world of politics.  The situation of slavery is another such problem that occurred in our nation’s history, where the inalienable right to liberty on behalf of enslaved Americans was in conflict with the total property rights demanded by slaveowners.  Again, there was no possible compromise between these two conceptions of rights.  Any inalienable right recognized to those who had been unjustly held as property was a reduction of the rights of those who believed such people to be mere chattel property.  Likewise, any concession to property rights in this case was a denial of human rights to the other party involved.

The unbridgeable divide between these two sides eventually led to a Civil War that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and remains a source of considerable trouble in our republic.  It is worth noting, though, that the arguments for abortion and for slaveowners’ rights are strikingly similar in that they viewed other human beings as property with whom they could do whatever they willed.  To be sure, paternalistic language was used in proslavery appeals and maternalistic appeals are used in abortion rhetoric, but at its core, both of these perspectives viewed other people as something less than human, as beneath dignity and not in possession of rights that even they had to recognize.  In contrast, opponents of both slavery and abortion were able to argue for the consistent application of the rights and freedoms of our nation’s founding, and for the enforcement of responsibilities that these rights provided.  If a child has a right to life, after all, its parents have an obligation to support it and care for it, regardless of whether they wanted the child to come into the world or not.  Our rights come with a price, and that is the obligation those rights present on those around us.

This is something we would do well to remember.  The Four Freedoms that FDR proposed in World War II and the supposed rights to health care in our own time are all the sorts of freedoms that place obvious and heavy obligations on other people with troubling repercussions.  If people are obligated to pay for the living of others, what sort of restrictions on the conduct of those on the dole exist.  If people have a right to health care, do they have any obligations to live in such a way that this healthcare cost might be as low as possible through prohibition of smoking and excess drinking as well as proper diet and exercise?  Do companies have the freedom to disrespect the property rights of employers by considering the thoughts and ideas and creations of employees as the property of the company they work for?  Freedom and tyranny are often intricately related, and we seldom stop to examine the repercussions and implications of our view of freedoms and what we want to be free to do and what we want to be free from.  In our desire to be free of the tyranny of others, it is easy to forget that the freedoms we demand may make us tyrants in the eyes of others as well.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Someone’s Freedom Is Often Someone Else’s Tyranny

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Gosnell | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Defenders Of The Unborn | Edge Induced Cohesion

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