Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Alas, First Things seems intent on remaining merely a scholarly magazine hovering
above the fray on the topic of abortion. A more apt name would be Safe Things.
You have tried twice now in less than a year to steer clear of being a magazine
that moves the pro-life agenda forward.

As I began reading Carson Holloway’s much-needed rebuttal
(“ Serpents,
Doves, and Abortion
,” June/ July) of James K. Fitzpatrick’s
act of cowardice regarding abortion that appeared in an
earlier issue (“ A
Pro-Life Loss of Nerve?
” December 2000), I was heartened
to see the author’s diplomatic skewering of Fitzpatrick’s
argument. It appeared at first that your publication was
attempting to recover its integrity with a second look at
the topic. Unfortunately, after aborting Fitzpatrick’s poor
reasoning, Holloway himself produced such eager justification
of the status quo that it too ought to be critiqued in some
future issue.

Instead of searching for an effective approach to stopping abortion, Holloway
sets out to find “other reasons why pro-lifers do not and should not turn to
violence.” As if the problem were not abortion, but the possible violence of
the anti-abortionists!

Holloway madly scrambles away from having his arguments construed as a “preemptive
surrender to all manner of future evil.” Is it not enough that his arguments
are a complete surrender to all manner of current evil?

Jim Gooding
Dearborn, Michigan

The analogies used by Carson Holloway and James K. Fitzpatrick concerning the
use of violence against abortionists don’t quite hit the nail on the head. The
analogies”a madman running through a maternity ward killing babies, genocidal
actions that could possibly be thwarted by military intervention, etc.”have
to do with situations in which there clearly would be a threat to the public.

But abortion as homicide does not fit into this category. I can defend myself
against someone threatening my life, and the law will generally
allow this. But usually neither I nor the public in general
is threatened in any immediately obvious way by a woman
who aborts her fetus. Possibly if the father were to use
force to prevent the abortion of his own child the situation
would be sufficiently public for the law to come down on
his side. Possibly if I knew that my physician was performing
abortions, I would have grounds for considering this a sign
that he or she could not be entrusted with saving my own
life in a critical situation; but the appropriate response
would be to change physicians, not to use violence on my
physician. And even if the majority were convinced that
abortion is immoral, there are limitations as to what can
be accomplished by legislative prohibition, as Richard John
Neuhaus indicates (“ The
End of Abortion and the Meanings of ‘Christian America
Public Square, June/July).

One might consider contraception immoral, but the law can’t effectively prohibit
the use of contraceptives in the bedroom, as was indicated in the Griswold
v. Connecticut
decision (1965) that paved the way for Roe v. Wade
(1973); and it would be impossible to enforce laws against private drunkenness,
or even against the private use of alcohol, as was discovered in the Prohibition
era. It would be useless to make a law that would be ignored by a significant
segment of the population, unless we were willing to recruit and pay for a massive
increase in police personnel, and edge precariously in the direction of a police

I think the only chance for effective and enforceable legislation against abortion
would have two requirements: a constitutional amendment declaring the fetus
a person, while allowing exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, and
threats to the mother’s life, which are stumbling blocks for many who are otherwise
pro-life. In such a legal milieu, actions might be taken against physicians
for performing abortions where there were clearly no such extenuating circumstances.
But the law would have to stop short of prosecuting a woman using an abortifacient
pill to expel her fetus. This would seem to be a unique and anomalous case of
purely private homicide.

Professor Howard Kainz
Department of Philosophy
Marquette University
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Carson Holloway replies:

It requires not careful scrutiny but only a minimally attentive reading of
my article to see that I offer no “eager justification of the status quo,” that
I do regard abortion as a serious problem, and that I am concerned with how
to combat it effectively. It seems completely to have escaped Mr. Gooding that
the formulation of some credible ground on which to reject the use of unlawful
violence might itself be a necessary element of “an effective approach to stopping

Indeed, his letter is based on the assumptions, never defended by any argument,
that violence is the only effective way to stop abortion (hence his belief that
my repudiation of violence amounts to a “complete surrender”) and that those
who fail to see this are not only in error but also morally corrupt (hence his
doubts about FT’s “integrity” and his supposition of James K. Fitzpatrick’s
“cowardice”). Yet the truth of such assumptions is far from evident and is in
fact denied by most pro-lifers. Mr. Gooding is disappointed at FT’s aspiration
to be “merely a scholarly magazine.” He needs to learn that it is incumbent
not only on scholars but on all human beings to defend their positions by reasonable

If I understand Professor Kainz’s letter correctly, he thinks that a private
citizen’s use of force to stop an abortion would be impermissible even in a
society in which the law does in fact forbid abortion, because abortion is not
“a threat to the public.” This simply assumes, without argument, that the unborn
are not, like the hypothetical babies in the maternity ward, part of the public
that one may act to protect when the agents of the law are not present and cannot
be summoned in time. But why would we deny them such a status if we are positing
a society in which the law does in fact protect them? Perhaps Prof. Kainz’s
misgivings arise from a misapprehension of what form such “force” would take
in such circumstances. It would almost certainly not have to be lethal, but
would probably only involve restraining an abortionist intent on breaking the
law until the authorities could arrive.

Prof. Kainz’s comments on the limits to the effectiveness of law, and particularly
law that does not enjoy overwhelming public support, are well taken. He goes
too far, however, in suggesting that laws that forbid what a sizable minority
are determined to do in private must either be useless or a threat to all liberty.
A reasonable purpose of law is not to eradicate evils, but sufficiently to discourage
them. (The former would require a police state; the latter does not.) Thus a
law against the sale and use of abortifacient drugs could simply be applied
when violations come to light, and it would not be necessary to destroy privacy
by actively ferreting them out.

Finally, Prof. Kainz’s proposed pro-life constitutional amendment is incoherent
in theory and untenable in practice. It would be difficult, to say the least,
to square a constitutional assertion of the personhood of fetuses and maintenance
of the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision for equal protection of the laws with
a constitutional authorization of the use of deadly force against some such
persons simply because of the conditions under which they were conceived.

Judaism and Modernity

It was a pleasant surprise to read the article “ Rabbi
Weinberg’s Agony
” (June/July), written by a friend whose
work I have admired, David Singer, on an important subject,
the unique life and philosophy of a great twentieth-century
rabbi, Yehiel Jacob Weinberg. Singer correctly posits that
the vast Torah scholarship and piety of Rabbi Weinberg,
combined with his receptivity to some aspects of this-worldly
culture, may serve as an inspiring model for contemporary
Jewry. Lacking, though, in Singer’s analysis and in much
of “modern Orthodox” theorizing is the recognition that
“modernity,” although not without some positive aspects,
refers in large part to an era in which a combination of
religious, cultural, and political forces have moved Western
society from a God-centered to a man-centered worldview.

If “modern Orthodox” Jewish leaders are to “work through the modern experience”
(an inevitable and, in my view, commendable endeavor), they must be prepared
to condemn its evil doctrines and practices with courage, consistency, lucidity,
and, of course, theoretical sophistication.

By analogy to Catholicism: the Church was urged by John XXIII towards “aggiornamento.”
This “modernization” was to “open windows to the world.” Yet what has been forgotten
in far too many Catholic circles, with disastrous results, is that these “open
windows” must still retain the screens provided by the antimodernist writings
of Pius IX ( Quanta Cura , 1864) and Piux X ( Lamentabili and Pascendi ,
1907) in order to keep pollutants out.

Orthodox dialogue with the modern world must always remember the grave philosophical
errors and immoral practices that undergird it and have produced the desacralized
West we know today.

Rabbi Weinberg was, and I’m sure Mr. Singer is, mindful of this fact. Nonetheless,
as we proclaim that bits and pieces of modernity should figure in our Orthodoxy,
we must always remember and state that its essential beliefs must not.

Rabbi Meyer Schiller
Spring Valley, New York

The NEA’s Culture

After reading Michael Linton’s article on the National Endowment for the Arts
and cultural rights (“ The
Blight of Cultural Rights
,” June/July), I at first found
myself in agreement that the NEA should, at long last, be
abolished. On reflection, however, I changed my mind.

There seems to be something missing in Professor Linton’s argument. He asks
if it is legitimate that tax dollars be spent on the work of gay artist David
Wojnarowicz. The dilemma, he suggests, is that Wojnarowicz’s notion of culture
is clearly different from, say, that of an evangelical Christian. The solution
to the whole problem is to abolish the NEA, since it can never be the harbor
of a particular culture”it would always be offending someone.

On the surface this seems a reasonable solution. Who is to say what culture
or set of values is truly American? No matter what work was produced by a government
agency, it would be a given that someone would find it against his deepest convictions.
What Prof. Linton misses is that the government cannot not take a position.
He is falling victim to the myth of the center. The myth is that there is some
way that a government (or corporation or church or individual) can avoid having
a position. They cannot. They all have positions. Granted, it might not be as
blatant as when manifested in a work of art, but nonetheless it is there. Whenever
a government agency builds a building, or funds a study, or passes legislation,
a cultural and moral position is taken. This is unavoidable. The NEA becomes
the whipping boy as it is the most public and literally visible example”art
is values objectified, morals made into objects. But the government as a whole,
too, manifests values in every action it takes (including the action of deciding
not to fund the arts). Those values are always at odds with some measure of
the populace. A genuine solution then to the tripe that is funded by NEA grants
is not to abolish the program but for sensible citizens to do what they do in
all other areas of government”fight to make sure that the true and good are
pursued and cultivated.

Rod Miller
Hendrix College
Conway, Arkansas

Michael Linton replies:

Professor Miller is quite right. (With three daughters at our dinner table
I am regularly reminded of holes in my arguments.) Yes, when the government
does something, a position is taken (although I get a bit nervous when we talk
about art having a moral dimension). And “we” of orthodox religious views can
opt for fighting “to make sure that the true and good are pursued and cultivated.”
Certainly that is necessary with regard to abortion, religious liberty, and

But I’m not sure that it’s edifying with regard to things like the NEA. I have
many friends and colleagues in the “queer left” whose friendship I value and
whose work I esteem. But when we fight over spots at the government trough we
all turn piggish. And anyway, for some reason talking about the love of Jesus
just doesn’t get through when you’re snarling about somebody else getting “your”
grant. The dilemma is that as citizens we are responsible for how our taxes
are spent, but as children of God we’re to fundamentally work for His kingdom.
With respect to the culture wars, if there were no NEA that area of political
contention would be removed and both sides could back off a bit.

Secular Ethos v. Secular State

In his remarks on my recent Nation article “Freedom from Religion,”
Richard John Neuhaus asserts ( While
We’re At It
, June/July) that while I favor “a thoroughly
secular state in a thoroughly secular society,” I acknowledge
that “parental choice in education, faith-based social initiatives,
and ‘the right’s sexual-political agenda’ do not violate
the no-establishment provision of the First Amendment.”

He got it half right. I do believe that assaults on secular culture”like the
right’s sexual conservatism and conspicuous public displays of piety by politicians”are
destructive and dangerous but not unconstitutional. In my article, however,
I distinguish between a secular ethos and a secular state ”“one
that does not fund or otherwise sponsor religious institutions and activities.”
In my view the latter restriction is indeed required by the First Amendment;
and I specifically cite “parochial-school vouchers, charitable choice, and George
W.’s new federal office” as violations.

Professor Ellen Willis
Department of Journalism
New York University
New York, New York