- Paperback: 319 pages
- Publisher: IVP Books (April 27, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0830829229
- ISBN-13: 978-0830829224
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,099,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Politics for the Greatest Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square
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"Clarke Forsythe has written an incisive, admirably balanced analysis of the situation in which Christians now find themselves in the public square. It should serve as an authoritative guide for a long time." (James Hitchcock, professor of history, St. Louis University)
"Clarke Forsythe's Politics for the Greatest Good is an invaluable contribution to reflection within the pro-life movement on the best strategy to adopt in vindicating the right to life. He grounds his analysis on important historical materials, both from early American political thought and from the career of William Wilberforce, in making his case for an incremental strategy to reverse Roe v. Wade. He also provides effective critical analysis of the misguided argument that political morality requires never voting for laws that expand protection of the unborn but do not prohibit all abortions (for the time being), due to the lack of the necessary political support for broader protection. As a longtime leader in the pro-life movement who has done so much to craft and defend legal and legislative strategies to protect the right to life, he is intimately familiar with the often difficult circumstances facing those who would reestablish an American commitment to protecting all innocent human life from conception to natural death. Christians involved in pro-life work should be thankful for, and attentive to, his astute analysis and advice." (Christopher Wolfe, codirector, Ralph McInerny Center, and Emeritus Professor, Marquette University)
"While we eagerly await the promised kingdom of God, here on earth we strive for the better that is far short of the best. This book is both a guide and an encouragement for faithful strivers." (The late Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief, First Things)
"Prudence, especially in the context of politics and the struggle for social reform, is a poorly understood, largely neglected and desperately needed virtue. We have long needed an intellectually coherent and compelling treatment of the subject. Happily, Clarke Forsythe has met the need. Drawing on the wisdom of Aristotle, Wilberforce, Lincoln, and other theorists and practitioners of political prudence, Forsythe has written a book that will both instruct and inspire all who work to protect the weak and vulnerable and to advance the cause of justice." (Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, and director of theJames Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University)
About the Author
Clarke D. Forsythe (J. D. Valparaiso University; M.A., bioethics, Trinity International University) is a leading policy strategist in bioethical issues and senior counsel for Americans United for Life, a national pro-life public policy organization. He has argued cases before federal and state courts and has testified before Congress. He has published more than fifteen law review articles and book chapters on bioethics and the law. He has taught classes at Wheaton College, Trinity International University, and other colleges and universities, as well as spoken to audiences at Marquette University, Notre Dame Law School, Valparaiso University School of Law and Ave Maria School of Law.
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Clarke D. Forsythe wrote Politics for the Greatest Good in part to address that frustration. He is senior counsel to Americans United for Life and a leading policy strategist in the pro-life movement. But in larger part, he wrote the book to answer a nagging question: ¡§whether it¡¦s moral or effective to achieve a partial good in politics and public policy when the ideal is not possible.¡¨ He answers affirmatively, and along the way helps readers understand the nature and value of prudence in the public square, especially when it comes to enacting a pro-life legislative agenda.
Prudence does not rank high on a modern person¡¦s list of politically sexy terms. Why trade in the quotidian retail of prudence, after all, when you could traffic wholesale in hope, change, and fierce moral urgency? Why settle for anything but the very best? The answer is simple. The best¡Xmoral perfection¡Xis unattainable. All anyone can hope to achieve is the greatest good under the circumstances. The ability to identify and realize that greatest good is the virtue of prudent statesmen and citizens.
Prudence was not always held in contempt. It is highly esteemed in the Bible, especially in the Wisdom Literature. It was one of the four cardinal virtues, recognized by Greeks, Romans, and medieval Christians. It was also considered a virtue by the American Founders, who regarded it as a key component of republican self-government.
According to Harry V. Jaffa, whom Forsythe cites repeatedly and appreciatively, the classical understanding of prudent statesmanship revolved around four questions:
X Is the goal worthy?
X Does the political leader exercise wise judgment as to what¡¦s possible?
X Does he or she successfully apply means to ends?
X Does he or she preserve the possibility of future improvement when all the good cannot be immediately achieved?
Forsythe argues that both William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln were model statesmen in their fights against the slave trade and for the union, respectively. Wilberforce modeled perseverance, as his opposition to the slave trade took forty-five years to come to ultimate fruition. Lincoln modeled judgment, as he repeatedly made hard choices to maintain the union without allowing the spread of slavery. Of the two, Lincoln is more controversial among modern historians, who point to his suspension of habeas corpus and other civil rights violations as examples of bad statesmanship. But Forsythe argues, convincingly to my mind, that Lincoln did the best he could under the circumstances.
Of course, each man faced challenges not only from slavers and secessionists, but from fellow partisans advocating and working toward immediate and full abolition, despite the absence of widespread support for such a policy. In the American context, this radical abolitionism occasionally resulted in John Brown-style violence. This ¡§challenge of moral perfectionism,¡¨ as Forsythe calls it, condemns prudence as complicity in injustice. The recent assassination of late-term abortionist George Tiller by Scott Roeder reminds us that such moral perfectionism is present even in today¡¦s controversies. (Although it should be pointed out that every pro-life organization, including the radical Operation Rescue, condemned the assassination.)
If the proof is in the pudding, then the proof of prudence is the success of both Wilberforce and Lincoln in their respective endeavors, which not only ended great evils, but also preserved great goods (the union, in Lincoln¡¦s case). That Lincoln¡¦s successors frittered away Lincoln¡¦s successes by allowing the rise of Jim Crow segregation is a black mark on them, not on him.
Forsythe takes these lessons, both philosophical and historical, and applies them to the abortion controversy and related bioethical issues in the final chapters of the book. He argues on principled grounds that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, but he recognizes that the Supreme Court is unlikely to do so on its own and that a constitutional Human Rights Amendment is unlikely to pass. Therefore he advocates an incremental strategy to draw fences around America¡¦s abortion regime, primarily at the state level. The Supreme Court¡¦s abortion jurisprudence now allows for some restrictions on abortion. States may require waiting periods, parental consent, and informed consent, among other things, and they may also prohibit outright certain types of late-term abortion. Forsythe urges pro-lifers to advocate such measures.
He also urges them to begin thinking through model legislation for other controversial issues, such as cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and in vitro fertilization. In many states, the law lags behind scientific development, operating in a sort of legislative vacuum. Forsythe urges pro-lifers to extend their thinking so that nascent human life is protected in these cases as well.
At the outset of this review, I noted that Forsythe wrote Politics for the Greatest Good to address pro-lifers¡¦ frustration with the election of President Obama and the setback for achieving pro-life goals that it entails. But such frustration should call forth more, not less, pro-life activism:
"It may seem counterintuitive, but one solution to the frustration that results from high expectations in politics is to get more involved and better informed¡K. By spending more time understanding politics and public policy, we can have more confidence that we know how to contend with the obstacles to political reform and have a better understanding of which candidates or party have a better grasp on just and effective solutions."
I cannot imagine a better insight with which to close my review of this informative book.
Before the emancipation proclamation and the passage of the 14th amendment, abolitionists had demanded the emancipation of African Americans for over 100 years. Before the passage of the 19th amendment and women's right to vote, the American women's suffrage movement had bravely weathered one defeat after another. Before the integration of minorities as equal members of American society, the civil rights movement fought the concept of racial segregation, a concept as old as man himself. All of these movements had four things in common: they all met with repeated defeats before achieving success, they all had uncompromising comprehensive goals, they all sought to boldly enshrine those fundamental goals in the civil law, and they fought openly and directly against public opinion and the legal and political establishment with faith in the rightness of their belief.
The abolitionist movement in the British Empire preceded the abolitionist movement in the United States and inspired many of our most beloved leaders such as Abraham Lincoln. It is well known that it took the heroic William Wilberforce nearly 50 years of relentless social and political activism to accomplish his goal in Britain. But most don't know that the fight could have been won considerably sooner. The slave trade and slavery in the British Empire would have ended decades earlier but for one poisoning concept: moral cowardice disguised as political prudence.
The year was 1792, and William Wilberforce rose to speak to his fellow members of parliament to urge them to support his motion to abolish the slave trade. It was the fifth consecutive year that Wilberforce made his motion. Sensing a favorable atmosphere in favor of abolition, Henry Dundas (a self-styled prudent incrementalist) rose and spoke. He offered an alternative to the abolition of the slave trade. Dundas suggested regulating the slave trade; making regulations that would force the plantation owners to treat the slaves better and giving them incentives to do so. Eric Metaxas, in his brilliant biography of William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, describes the effect of gradualism, regulation, and prudence in the face of absolute evil. Describing the effect of an abolitionist's speech, Metaxas writes:
"His words shone a great deal of light onto the moral cowardice of `regulation' and the lazy wickedness of `moderation.'
But Henry Dundas, the "enlightened moderate", was not about to allow the the light of truth to shine. Metaxas describes Dundas' response to the motion for abolition:
"So now Dundas rose and deftly splashed the single word gradually into Fox's (the fiery abolitionist) fire. It was very coolly done. Yes to abolition - Yes! But not too hastily - No! True leadership demanded prudence. So yes - but gradually. Wilberforce would have thought of the slaves writhing in the middle passage, defeated, humiliated, pining for death. Gradually. It was as though these three syllables, soporific and falsely irenic, had bubbled up through Dundas's mouth from the dead belly of hell itself. Everyone seized on it. And why wouldn't they? Gradual abolition was abolition and it was not abolition - what more could a politician dream of?"
Prudence has always been and will probably always be the chosen weapon of the status quo, and fear is it's ammunition. That is not to say that prudence is evil. Prudence is a virtue and properly understood, it is necessary to direct our actions and help us achieve the moral good. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, prudence is "right reason in action." Unfortunately, prudence is most often used by those who are looking for a reason for inaction.
In Wilberforce's case, it was clear that Dundas's prudent call to gradualism was duplicitous, and was aimed only at maintaining the most politically advantageous position for himself.
Today, some political operators and legal activists are engaged in the same dissimulation regarding the virtue of prudence in the fight to legally recognize preborn personhood.
Some, like Clark Forsythe, president of Americans United for Life even try to use the example of William Wilberforce to further their cause of twisted prudence. They point to the fact that Wilberforce opted to pursue the abolition of the slave trade before the abolition of the institution of slavery. The analogy, however, is not appropriate. The slave trade was to slavery, as the accepted medical practice of abortion is to the rights of the preborn. For Mr. Forsythe's analogy to be correct, Americans United for Life would have to be lobbying, educating, and working towards the complete outlawing of the medical practice of abortion in the hopes that eventually they could establish the positive personhood rights of the preborn. Instead Mr. Forsythe and Americans United for Life advocate legal stratagems that by their own admission, "do not directly impact or implicate the woman's right to chose abortion," and "in no way implicate, alter, or infringe upon the right to abortion, and in no way affect the holdings of Roe v. Wade."(Unborn Victims of Violence and Lacy and Conner's Law talking points, AUL website) Mr. Forsythe, whether intentionally or not, is much closer to Dundas than to Wilberforce.
Those most allied with the political status quo say that prudence demands regulation and gradualism. But they go even further than that. Prudence not only demands regulation and gradualism, they say, but it also precludes any legal attempts to directly address the evil of abortion at this time.
In his essay on prudence and policymaking, Clark Forsythe, issues a philosophical defense of incrementalism through prudence. Forsythe writes:
"Prudent political leaders must pursue a vision of complete justice - of complete legal protection for human life. But, in the democratic process, they must pursue the ideal in such a way that progress is made and with the willingness to accept something when all is not achievable due to social, legal, or political obstacles beyond their control."
The "willingness to accept something when all is not achievable" can, in principle, be a legitimately prudent option to move forward. Indeed, Pope John Paul II was correct in explaining that:
"When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official ... could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences."
But Americans United For Life, and Mr. Forsythe in particular, have, time and time again, come out at the eleventh hour, in closely contested legislative battles, against legislative efforts that were actually achievable.
Only in the past three years, Americans United for Life spoke up against a complete ban on abortion in the state of South Dakota in 2006, counseled religious and pro-life groups to partner with pro-abortion forces to defeat a comprehensive legal affirmation of preborn personhood in Georgia in 2007, published statements urging religious and political leaders to withhold their support of constitutional protection of the preborn in Colorado and Montana in 2008, and just this year, actively lobbied local religious leaders and politicians in North Dakota to kill a bill seeking to protect all preborn persons after their house of representatives had passed it and the senate was poised to vote on the bill.
Americans United for Life, and Mr. Forsythe can not credibly argue for prudential acceptance of insignificant gains -because greater gains are unattainable- while at the same time actively working to socially, legally, and politically undermine the possibility of greater gains!
Mr. Forsythe writes, "it is not immoral to be prudent." Indeed, but it is immoral to be disingenuous and duplicitous.
Whether prudence is rightly invoked or is instead a cover for personal and political ambition, and moral cowardice, turns in large part upon the real legitimacy the political and educational strategy that is prudently being avoided. For a defense of Personhood legislation, called by some Human Life Amendments, please contact Personhood USA. However, it is also important to note that proper prudence would never direct action that directly undermines and discourages the efforts of those who seek to create a principled social movement in exchange for nebulous political gains.
Those, who like Dundas, seek to undermine principled actors have other motives outside of their love of the virtue of prudence.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, prudence may compel us to act "even in a situation where the results are less than certain," so long as "the consequences of not acting are serious." Unfortunately the U.S. Conference is not referring to abolishing abortion, but to global warming.
Churches with large numbers of members who support abortion rights are afraid to become too "extreme" and therefore favor gradual, incremental legislation when it comes to abortion. Christianity has always thrived under persecution, but church coffers, hierarchies, and bureaucracies don't. It is much more politically expedient to urge action to address global warming than to urge action to completely abolish abortion. Churches that accept the theory that prudence means the "willingness to accept something when all is not achievable" while simultaneously not having the moral courage to support legislation that honestly attempts to abolish real evil at hand, are relegating themselves to moral insignificance while believing that they are buying in to the club of influence and power.
When prudence is not used merely to direct, but to stifle, prudence itself requires us to distinguish it from timidity, fear, and dissimulation. As individuals we must look at the personal and institutional motives that might cause an individual or an organization to stifle the principled efforts of another.
When pro-life leaders insist on incremental measures that, by their own admission, do not affect the right to an abortion, while actively opposing more sweeping efforts, they are abandoning Truth for political expediency. Truth is the only thing that will win this battle, for if Americans are only exposed to middling incremental pro-life arguments, how will their hearts and minds ever be truly changed to accept, even demand, the protection of each human life?
In his famous letter from a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King sums up the belief that we must attempt to end abortion right now:
"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
As a movement, we know what our goal is: to have all children in the womb protected by love and by law. It is important that we learn the lessons of history and rely on the moral clarity of our God-given moral law to guide our efforts not on demoralizing legal and moral subterfuge.