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Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning Paperback – August 15, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"A brief review cannot do justice to a work as original, nuanced, and provocative as Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning. I hope it enjoys the wide, contentious, and fair-minded hearing that it deserves" - Jon Shields, Perspectives on Politics

"Dyer engages with a longstanding philosophical and moral debate about membership in the moral community and the parameters for inclusion in that community . . . Dyer's intervention into this debate challenges those who view membership in the moral community as attribute based." - Helena Silverstein, Law and Politics Book Review

"While scholars and specialists have already encountered much of this ground, they will benefit from a detailed and explicit analysis of the parallels between the logic of legal abortion and the logic of legal slavery -- and the ways in which they both brought contradictions into laws and public debate." - Nathaniel Peters, Public Discourse

"What is curiously new and striking is that a young scholar, accomplished in political theory and constitutional law, should take it upon himself to draw out the comparison [between slavery and abortion] explicitly with a careful, close tracking of cases, to show how the argument has been unfolded in both spheres: to deny the human standing of the slave and of the child in the womb." - Hadley Arkes, Claremont Review of Books

"This is a valuable book that is well written and provocative in the best academic sense." - John Brigham, Choice Reviews

"I cannot think of another scholarly book that addresses the abortion/slavery analogy in such a comprehensive manner. Professor Dyer skillfully ties the rhetorical use of the slavery analogy in the abortion debate to the substantive philosophical and legal questions on which the debates over slavery and abortion hinge. This analysis of the conceptual parallels between the pro-life and anti-slavery movements is fascinating. Sometimes, the best way to understand one's present situation is to look for analogous cases elsewhere - either in the past or in the present - about which there seems to be clarity." - Francis Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University

"Many writers have noticed similarities between the arguments for slavery and for abortion, but Dyer, an authority on antebellum slavery jurisprudence, breaks entirely new ground. The parallels he demonstrates between the respective judicial approaches of the advocates of these two evils are deep, detailed, and breathtaking. An especially interesting feature of the book is his analysis of the devastation wrought by the rejection of natural law. His work will be indispensable not only for scholars of history, law, and politics, but for anyone who seeks to understand how the basic institutions of civilization are subverted by the effort to rationalize atrocity." - J. Budziszewski, University of Texas, Austin, author of The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction

"As Justin Buckley Dyer shows in Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning, disturbing parallels exist between the debate over slavery before the Civil War and the debate over abortion now ... Dyer's assertion of the moral foundation of America may be difficult to enact, but that does not make it false." - Andrew Evans, The Washington Free Beacon

Book Description

One particularly contentious dispute in American constitutional politics concerns the relevance of American slavery to the ongoing abortion debates. In Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning, Justin Buckley Dyer unpacks this controversy, dispelling many long held myths along the way. Dyer takes the reader on a trip through two centuries of American history, law, and political philosophy to show how slavery and abortion are historically, philosophically, and legally intertwined in the United States. No serious participant in the abortion debates can afford to ignore this fascinating, provocative, and wide-ranging study.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 202 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107680743
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107680746
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,173,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Pro-life advocates often claim that there is an analogy between slavery and abortion, in that both involve viewing certain human beings as inferior in value and as controllable property. Pro-choice advocates usually wave off this sort of comparison as absurd. This book makes the waving off more difficult, as it builds a careful case for the reasonableness of the analogy, drawing on the author's extensive knowledge of American history and in particular the history of the Supreme Court's reflections on basic constitutional questions. Dyer suggests that the cultural struggle over abortion, which he calls 'constitutional disharmony after Roe,' results from our uneasiness over the meaning of the 14th amendment. How could an amendment that was used to expand the realm of rights in the 19th century be used to contract the realm of rights in the 20th? My only complaint about the book is that it could have provided a fuller narrative of the slow transformation in legal philosophy that made Roe possible, but perhaps the author did not think that was necessary because it had already been done by Hadley Arkes in Natural Rights and the Right to Choose. Overall, I recommend this book highly, not just to pro-lifers but also to pro-choicers because the latter need to know what they are up against in the realm of ideas.
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