By Dr. David Franks, Chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Life
We pro-lifers must resist the temptation to drop out of the political process.
We who advocate for the weakest human life bear the responsibility of being in the vanguard of the personal conversion and re-appropriation of democratic principles required if America is to break out of this cycle of decline.
Movement pro-lifers have always been great champions of democratic participation, even when many with a more abstract style of pro-life commitment harbor a nostalgia for pre-modern forms of political organization and/or insist on disengagement from the nitty-gritty politics of our nation.
We must not waver in our commitment to full-throttle political engagement, including the rough-and-tumble of electoral and party involvement.
But precisely to sustain that commitment, now is the time to go back to first principles, and think through again why it is democracy that harmonizes so fundamentally with pro-life activism. Only such thoughtfulness can orient us when political options narrow. Only such thoughtfulness can energize prudence.
And driving this thoughtfulness must be something deeper than everything else: a reverence, a piety, a fairytale wonder before our fellow human being.
G. K. Chesterton, in chapter 4 of Orthodoxy, “The Ethics of Elfland,” provides exactly the vision we need:
“I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. …The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature.”
Later in this chapter, Chesterton will discuss his “fairy philosophy,” in which he communicates most incisively the sheer wonder of the everyday things around us. Well, democracy is the application of this fairy philosophy to the wonder of human being.
This is the most beautiful way to approach the consubstantial solidarity of our shared human nature, the most fundamental possible defense of democracy. It is akin to the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s insistence that we feel the ethical imperative of “the face of the Other”: wherever there is the bare life of a human, we must stand in awe, and we must safeguard that mystery. That is democracy. And that is the pro-life exigence.
The second principle of democracy according to Chesterton is this: “that the political instinct or desire is one of [the] things which [men] hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. …In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves—the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.”
Self-government is a human function. It is ordinary, to be exercised by all, and therefore it is awesome—even if it means the inconvenience of sub-optimal outcomes.
We must forswear the pursuit of optimality in politics. The pursuit of utopia is a truly insidious habit. It leads to all the evils of elitism, of technocratic managerialism. It usually leads to a lot of dead humans.
There is nothing democratic about the private execution of inconvenient human lives. We believe in radical democracy, and we always shall.