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Abortion, Defensive Violence, and Moral Consistency

The blogs are fairly abuzz with discussions about George Tiller, a late-term abortionist from Kansas who was murdered yesterday by one Phillip Roeder, a radical anti-abortionist. The aftermath of this incident is somewhat predictable. Pro-life groups are scrambling to disassociate themselves from any connection to or endorsement of such action while pro-abortion lobbys have a solid platform to decry their opponents as insane, violent extremists.

However, amidst all this there is some very interesting moral debate taking place. As William Saletan asks, if abortion really is the mass murder of innocent human beings, can we really say that Roeder was wrong for taking action? Damon Linker sounds a similar note:

If abortion truly is what the pro-life movement says it is — if it is the infliction of deadly violence against an innocent and defenseless human being — then doesn’t morality demand that pro-lifers act in any way they can to stop this violence? I mean, if I believed that a guy working in an office down the street was murdering innocent and defenseless human beings every day, and the governing authorities repeatedly refused to intervene on behalf of the victims, I might feel compelled to do something about it, perhaps even something unreasonable and irresponsible. Wouldn’t you?

Rod Dreher claims that the reason pro-lifers shouldn’t be out murdering abortionists is for prudential reasons. Citing the examples of MLK, the abolition of slavery, and things like that, Dreher claims that violence simply isn’t a good way for pro-lifers to achieve their ends. At the end its a question of pragmatism.

This, to my mind seems a pretty weak attempt to find a way out of the logical trap that Linker has sprung on pro-lifers. Sure, violence might not be the best way to effect long-term social change, but if this issue is really one of life and death, such claims can’t get us out of the seriousness of the situation presented. Even if Roeder’s actions might have been ineffectual by Dreher’s pragmatic standards, that can hardly mean they were wrong.

In short, there is no reason to morally condemn the actions taken by Roeder unless one adopts a pretty serious pacifist position regarding the issue of violence. If violence is morally justified in defense of the lives of innocent human beings, and if fetuses are innocent human lives, one cannot say that murdering abortionists in an attempt to keep them from performing an abortion — and the murder of Tiller definitely accomplished this — is immoral.

As such, I submit that there is no consistent way to be pro-life and at the same time condemn the murder of abortionists — unless one is a pacifist. Only if you truly believe that violent action cannot be morally used in the service of life and peace does it make sense for pro-lifers to condemn murdering abortionists. And to my knowledge and experience, the majority of pro-lifers, at least in America, are quite hawkish and would never be caught dabbling in pacifism. This majority brand of the pro-life position is rightly caught in a moral conundrum. They have no consistent moral ground to oppose violence against abortionists so long as they affirm the morality of any and all defensive violence. As such, you can’t be a consistent as a pro-life condemner of actions like Roeder’s unless you are a pacifist.

This is a great difficulty, not only for conservative pro-lifers by for advocates of Christian pacifism. For, as Dan has recently pointed out, the very possibility of nonviolence is quite hard to establish. And, if then the choice is not between violence and nonviolence, but between two violences, which are we to choose? And how, on these grounds could the actions of Roeder be condemned?


  1. adamsteward wrote:

    Yeah, I think you’re right on here, Halden. The only way you could support military intervention in Iraq and oppose the murder of abortion providers is by a moral casuistry that uses social acceptability as its ultimate arbiter. Reminds me of Niebuhr’s discussion of revolutionary violence in Moral Man and Immoral Society.

    Also, anyone who hasn’t seen it needs to watch “Lake of Fire”, the Tony Kaye documentary on the culture wars over Abortion. Pronto.

    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Bobby asked a similar question comparing Hitler and abortion doctors:

    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  3. Derek wrote:

    I think you are right here Halden. In my estimation the “pro-life” tribe, if they can be called that, are increasingly seeking to hold a rigorously consistent pro-life, pacifistic ethic. Greg Boyd comes to mind. He has essentially made the exact same point you have made here. It will be interesting to see if the “pro-life” label begins to morph into a synonym for pacifism in some Christian circles.

    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  4. Derek wrote:

    One other thought. I live in Wichita where Tiller worked, and the town is abuzz over the ordeal. My wife and i have found it interesting how many believers want to know “what you think about Tiller.” What are they expecting (or hoping?) to hear? A horrendous act was committed, likely in the name of Jesus; am i supposed to yell “hip-hip hooray!”?

    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  5. Brad E. wrote:

    Halden, thanks for this post. It names exactly what we need to hear today in the midst of so much moral confusion.

    And I second Adam’s commendation of Lake of Fire. Heartbreaking and honest and vital. My only request would have been an interview with or example of a sane Christian person who was “pro-life” but not irrational or cruel.

    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  6. Daniel wrote:

    Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis and author of Crazy for God, gave an interesting interview on the Rachel Maddow Show tonight. His comments on the dichotomy between the public face of Christian-right pro-life leaders on the abortion issue, a face which disavows violence, and the private face, which tends to be more radical and incendiary, were revealing, and pertinent to the issues raised in the above blog article. The Schaeffer interview is worth a look at (the third video from the top).

    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Adam said:

    . . . The only way you could support military intervention in Iraq and oppose the murder of abortion providers is by a moral casuistry that uses social acceptability as its ultimate arbiter. . .

    I disagree. It’s not an “social acceptability,” in your scenario, that’s at stake; but if in fact your two cases are actually parallel, and they simply are not. Intention has everything to do with trying to parse these “shady” moral equivalents, or non-equivalents as the case may be. Abortion Drs. intend to kill “innocent” babies/people; the US Military does not. I’m just getting at your parallel here, Adam; I don’t think it works.

    I think the reductio that Halden presents is indeed accurate; so I guess this makes me an inconsistent non-pacifist (or some might call my view selectivist, but not situationalist). I cannot condone the action that Roeder took; but the problem is, is that I could’ve condoned the assassination of someone like Hitler. My only argument I suppose is the typical one put forward by ‘Just War’ theory and appeal to Romans 13 . . . broadly conceived, per the Hitler scenario and contra the Roeder situation.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:28 am | Permalink
  8. kim fabricius wrote:

    Of course you are right, Halden. Consistent pacifism goes all the way down. If, however, Dan is right, then Gandhi and MLK – not to mention Jesus himself – were practioners of violence against the oppressed. That seems to me to be false. It is only residual disbelief in the apocalyptic significance of the resurrection of Christ that gives Dan’s case a superficial plausibility and turns nonviolence into a dubious, indeed ridiculous way of life.

    The real ethical question is: if abortion is murder – and therefore we are living in a culture of mass murder – and if pacifist resistance is the only morally defensible way to oppose it, where are the strategically organised massive acts of nonviolent civil disobedience? And the reason why they are nowhere is, I think, clear: whatever pro-lifers may say, they do not really believe that abortion is murder on a par with the taking of the lives of post-natal human beings.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:38 am | Permalink
  9. Hill wrote:

    The “those pro-lifers over there” rhetoric that periodically emerges in this thread is sort of annoying.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:40 am | Permalink
  10. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Or they’re just apathetic.

    Although I do think there, in fact, is some non-violent protest taking place against abortion (I’ve participated in some of that); but the scale is certainly disproportionate to the asserted belief, so I agree with you there. As far as ongoing continuous protest (of a different and more ‘positive’ kind), I think ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ are doing a great job; and there are all kinds of amazing testimonies to be heard from this ministry.

    But I agree with you, Kim . . . there is nothing massive about the ‘pro-life’ response to abortion (there is massive rhetoric, but no-action — which is certainly why the “Roeder’s” of this world exist [lack of healthy action has resulted, for some, in un-healthy action]).

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 1:05 am | Permalink
  11. david wrote:

    I agree that, in the light of viewing abortion-as-murder, there does seem to be a degree of moral uncertainty regarding the killing of what could be described as a mass-murderer. However, you do not have to be an anti-abortion pacifist to view the cold-blooded killing of George Tiller as murder. Philip Roeder took it upon himself to be the judge, jury and executioner of this man – a fact that somewhat negates his supposedly morally superior position over Tiller. Even supposing that the lawful execution of Tiller for mass-murder were the morally correct thing to do, he would at the very least be entitled to a full defence; something which Roeder was unwilling to give him. It is therefore in no way inconsistent to oppose abortion and the murder of abortionists at the same time.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  12. Pensans wrote:

    The difference is authority. Even if I believe that abortion is murder, that doesn’t mean I have the authority to punish murderers. Even if I believe that abortion is murder, that doesn’t mean I have the authority to prevent further murders by killing. Killing outside the judicial system is immoral even if such killing would be justified by the judicial system.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 4:47 am | Permalink
  13. Daniel wrote:

    For the believer, the choice is not between two violences, or even between violence and non-violence, imo, but between being Christ-like (based on what we know about the teachings and actions of Jesus from Scripture) or not. Christ is our perfect example. As for any condemnation of Roeder’s actions on a spiritual level, that is not for us to do, at least not as individuals except to him personally as a brother as set forth in Matthew 18. On a secular level as citizens, however, we can condemn him for breaking the law of the land and collectively hold him accountable to the government, which is God’s civil mechanism for dealing with lawbreakers.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 5:34 am | Permalink
  14. Brad E. wrote:

    You’re clearly right, Kim, but my only thought is that the complication of poverty makes abortion extraordinarily difficult to parse vis-a-vis mass demonstration. “Racism” and “discrimination” broadly conceived and as embodied in law and practice in the 60s could be opposed head-on, with utter moral clarity, all the while asking the “enemies” to join the “winning/right side” (recalling Tutu’s famous offer to soldiers entering his church).

    Abortion, however, isn’t only practiced by upper middle-class women who simply don’t want babies (at this time, or with this man, or whatever). It is also practiced by teenage girls, by those raped, by single, abused, and/or drug-addicted women who do not see any other option. My wife is a social worker and sees this stuff all the time. That doesn’t mean that as Christians we conform to the culture of death that makes abortion okay…but it does give me pause when imagining large-scale (even if nonviolent) demonstrations. Not that they would be wrong — I just have pause.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  15. Brad E. wrote:

    Guilty as charged. The scare/distancing quotes, at least for me, are an attempt to make it clear I don’t regularly identify myself as pro-life — not because the term wouldn’t rightly apply, but because where I’m from (Texas) and now live (Atlanta), the term carries with it such a host of negative connotations for those with different opinions (primarily non-Christians) that it’s simply unhelpful to use it.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 6:19 am | Permalink
  16. Jeremy wrote:

    What would you make of the argument that Roeder’s action is unjustified because God has given the role of punishing crime to the state? Since you’re a pacifist you probably don’t think too highly of the argument but it does seem to me to be logically consistent anyway.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 6:46 am | Permalink
  17. david wrote:

    I think that you’re right about it not being a question of having to choose between two violences, or between violence and non-violence. To lawfully kill an innocent, unborn baby is not the same as to unlawfully kill a guilty murderer, even though the result is the same – death at the hands of another. As for being Christ-like, I am fairly certain that Jesus would neither perform an abortion on a healthy baby nor shoot anyone who would.
    I’m not sure what exactly you mean though by the ‘condemnation of Roeder’s actions on a spiritual level’. Presumably, judging from the content of Matthew 18, you mean that, as one christian to another (if Roeder is in fact a christian) we should not be quick to stand in the place of God over his life – as he did with Tiller – and condemn his actions; but rather, be ready to forgive as we have been forgiven. My problem with that though is that forgiveness only makes sense in the context of offence, an offence which it would be inappropriate to do anything but condemn. In this regard, to condemn his actions spiritually is the same as to condemn them morally. Our job as Christians is to try the impossible task of attempting to not be too precious over the sins other people commit, as though lying, murder, lust and so on were somehow beneath us – when they aren’t. Roeder’s actions have to be condemned on every level, otherwise forgiveness and restoration is just a mime show.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    So, if someone was just shooting people in public and no one intervened, would it be wrong of you to use lethal violence to stop that person? Most would say that such action would be morally justified because it was done in defense of the innocent. By that logic, Roeder’s actions were no different.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 8:14 am | Permalink
  19. Halden wrote:

    Fair enough. I’m happy to identify as pro-life, just so we’re clear. I’m just hoping to extend that ethic in a way that I think needs to happen for those of us who oppose abortion.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  20. Devin Rose wrote:

    “where are the strategically organised massive acts of nonviolent civil disobedience? And the reason why they are nowhere is, I think, clear: whatever pro-lifers may say, they do not really believe that abortion is murder on a par with the taking of the lives of post-natal human beings.”

    I am pro-life and don’t mind being labeled as such. I consider the yearly March for Life, where hundreds of thousands of people from all over the nation converge on the Capitol, to be a “strategically organized massive act of nonviolent” action, though perhaps you would not consider it civil disobedience.

    State pro-life marches take place every year as well; I have participated in these; thousands of people go.

    As for civil disobedience, there have been countless sit-ins at abortion mills over the past decades, and even at Notre Dame during Pres. Obama’s address, pro-life people were arrested and carted off by police for their civil disobedience.

    I find this criticism of “pro-lifers” off-base; we do believe abortion is horribly wrong and make tremendous efforts to stop it and to offer true alternatives to abortion.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  21. Daniel wrote:

    A brother can sin without committing an offense against me personally. That does not mean that I cannot go to him in a spirit of restoration. In the case of Roeder, on the spiritual level he did not commit an offense against me personally. However, if I were part of his local church family and in a position of authority over him, I could consider his action of murdering the abortion doctor a breach of the spiritual harmony of the congregation, assuming the congregation was Scripturally based, and I could go to him privately in a spirit of restoration even though there had been no personal offense by him toward me to be forgiven by me. In that case, on a spiritual level, any condemnation he would feel would come from God, not from me. Matthew 18 allows that he might not feel any condemnation from God and sets up further procedures. On a secular level, however, I could be glad that a killer had been caught and would hopefully be brought to justice by the government.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink
  22. Nathan wrote:

    The problem in this case is that the state has shrugged its responsibility to punish evil (by means of Roe v. Wade). So what do we do when the state’s conception of punishing the wrongdoer is not the same as our own?

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  23. adamsteward wrote:

    Bobby, I don’t think intention is the right direction to take questions like these. Hitler didn’t intend to kill innocent humans, because he didn’t believe in the humanity of his victims (as with Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. – you can only undertake genocide like that once you have decided that the others are not actually human). Our intentions are generally grounded in illusions. The serviceman may say, my intentions are clean, I have no malice towards my enemies, etc., but that does nothing to change the fact that he is a participant in an event that will bring the death of “innocents” (a moral category that has been well problematized in many places, notably The Brothers Karamazov).

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  24. adamsteward wrote:

    I think you’re missing the point, David. Roeder clearly doesn’t believe that US courts were capable of serving justice, and so feels obligated by justice to forgo a corrupt justice system and pursue it on his own. C.f., i.e. Terminator: Salvation.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  25. adamsteward wrote:

    The belief here, of course, being that the authority of the state is forfeited when it abandons its mandate to uphold justice.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  26. Hill wrote:

    Right there with you.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  27. adamsteward wrote:

    You hit it on the head, Nathan. This is basically the Christian argument for revolution from a non-pacifist perspective, codified in the Huguenot tract, “Vindicæ Contra Tyrannos”. If it is the God-ordained responsibility of the state to secure justice, and if that state has failed in that task, then we could reasonably assume that God would replace that state, and we just may find ourselves the means being used.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    I mean, if its cool for us to rebel against Britain for excessive taxation, isn’t it ok to use force to stop mass murder?

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  29. adamsteward wrote:

    If I may inject some “real knowledge” here, Halden, the actual cause of the war was Britain’s insistence on being a bunch of sissies.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  30. Halden wrote:

    Stop injecting me! Nothing gives you that right!

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  31. adamsteward wrote:

    Dude you’re the one with a meat syringe.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  32. Halden wrote:

    Retroactive consent is not valid!

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  33. Daniel wrote:

    You seem to be suggesting that it is justifiable to use force (presumably including shooting them to death) against the majority of Americans who do not feel that abortion is mass murder? Or did I miss something in your Revolutionary example? Not trying to be cantankerous, but still trying to figure out where you feel the line that cannot be crossed as a believer is located on the life-death spectrum. My instincts tell me that how a person feels about when life begins will probably determine how a person feels about when it can end at the hand of another person.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  34. Halden wrote:

    Adam and I are just joking around, dude. I don’t think lethal violence of any sort is ok.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  35. Nathan wrote:

    That’s what the Patriot’s Bible told me, anyway. ;-)

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  36. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Hey Adam,

    If “intentions” are as illusory as you say, then our whole system of jurisprudence (in America) is an illusion (which is not to say that American juridical systems become the standard here). But I do see your point, our intentions might be “good” (according to our personal informing frame — which really may be perverse); but in fact the only “good” intentions are God’s. It just seems to me that what we know of God’s intention, relative to the sanctity of human life, may allow for the use of “force” to uphold that principle.

    As far as the “serviceman,” you’re right on that; but that seems to only take us full circle — your point. He/she may be involved in the taking of “innocent life,” of course if there isn’t this involvement; then the question is if they don’t “act” how much more innocent life will be lost in lieu of their in-action? And yes, this does engage in some moral calculus; which I don’t really like, Adam! But the fact that we live in a fallen world, makes such issues dilemma-like.

    I’ll have to read The Brothers Karamazov, and watch that movie you recommend.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  37. Daniel wrote:

    I can see that now, but it wasn’t apparent when I posted, or before adam posted the “sissies” comment. Chalk one up to being new to the blog, dude!

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  38. Nate W wrote:

    One thing that’s important to consider is that it’s not at all clear how killing someone like Tiller would actually save any lives. Abortion is legal, and there is demand for it to be performed, so even without any particular doctor being alive to do the deed, somebody’s else is going to come along to meet the demand. This is not like a case in which, say, an armed madman is about to open fire on a room full of innocent people whose lives I could save if I took a shot at the gunman. Pro-lifers simply aren’t going to save lives in that way, as long as there are still people willing to have and perform abortions. I don’t think you have to be a pacifist to say that it’s wrong to kill abortion doctors. You just have to realize that killing them isn’t going to accomplish anything good; it’ll just bring about more death rather than save lives, like fighting a war that you cannot possibly win. That’s reason enough to reject it as a legitimate moral option, in my opinion.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  39. Halden wrote:

    Nate, that might fly for your run of the mill abortionist. But Tiller was unique in that he would perform the most late-term abortions of anyone in the entire country. He performed abortions that no other abortionist in the country would. As such, there’s a strong argument to be made that his actions did really, and significantly prevent many pregnancies from being terminated.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  40. Dan wrote:

    Reminds me of Slavoj Zizek talking about the “obscene” other side of political or ideological movements. E.g.: Publicly one can be a nationalist to feel good about one’s country or people, but the obscene unspoken other side of this is that one can then resent/despise other countries or people. The obscene other side of the pro-life movements concern for the unborn appears to be that some want to play the role of the angel of death.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 6:34 am | Permalink
  41. Antonio Manetti wrote:

    To quote Dreher’s line of argument directly:

    “The answer, I think, has to do with prudence. We live in a society and a culture in which there is wide disagreement about the moral personhood of the unborn child (or, if you prefer, “fetus”). Taking another human life is the gravest crime imaginable. If one is prepared to do that, one had better believe that one has no other choice, and that the stakes are radically high. The consequences for introducing lawless violence into a society, even in a righteous cause, are unpredictable, and stands to bring about a worse evil than the evil the violence is designed to fight.”

    Since I read Dreher’s prudence argument a little differently, found it hard to dismiss out of hand. To me, it’s not simply a matter of expediency, such as avoiding bad publicity. If so, that would be a weak argument indeed. Rather, Dreher is saying that, as often happens in real life, the choice is between two evils. Of the two, he believes sanctioning the murder of the abortionist on moral grounds is risky because it leads to the possibilityt that others may find it easier to act as judge, jury and executioner. If that happens, where does it stop?

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  42. Halden wrote:

    I still don’t find an argument from pragmatism convincing, at least as it relates to the moral question.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink
  43. tom trevethan wrote:

    That is not an argument from pragmatism. It is an argument that arises from the virtue of humility, namely, that we are required to respect the unintended consequences of any action, especially one involving “taking another human life,” “the gravest crime imaginable. And this magnified since this taking of another human life contains no public due process of justice and adjudication.

    One might expect that any serious disciple of Jesus might find a way to value humility. And is it not the case that Biblically observent Christians folk ought to be concerned for procedural justice in a world in which God has given the state the right to bear the “sword.” I do understand that a commitment to unconditional pacifism makes this second consideration seem like a dodge, but for those of us who cannot share the pacifist vision as a matter of conscience, it advances neither understanding nor Christian faithfulness to make the false accusation that these matters all turn on mere pragmatism.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  44. Halden wrote:

    Unfortunately you haven’t shown how such an accusation is false. What you describe as humility is really just indecision. We don’t always know the consequences of our actions, so its best to refrain. That doesn’t have much purchase with me.

    All you’re doing is making a distinction that indicates no real difference.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  45. Halden wrote:

    Or, to put it more simply, are you saying that if someone was shooting up an office building, you wouldn’t use lethal force to stop it because of…humility?

    I think not.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  46. I think you misunderstand the equation. The support of the invasion of Iraq is (well, it’s changed a few times) to protect their citizens from harm from their evil dictator. This is a parallel when you consider Roeder was defending babies from the abortionist.

    The parallel is Roeder-Military and Tiller-Hussein

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  47. Richard DM wrote:

    I can understand that this man may “believe” that US courts were incapable of serving justice, and that Roeder “feels obligated by justice” but the logical conclusion of your comment is a green light for vigilante law mob rule – dispensing justice based on what will inevitably be unsubstantiated and subjective belief! Incredible! Even to cite Terminator: Salvation as what, your point of reference?

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink
  48. Antonio Manetti wrote:

    The use of violence in such cases is sanctioned by ethics and law.

    The point is that individuals don’t get to unilaterally make the rules about when the use of lethal force is permissable.

    Why is this even an issue?

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  49. Antonio Manetti wrote:

    For the sake of public order, we base our government on the principle that the state must have a monopoly on violence. As Thomas Hobbes said in “Leviathon”:

    For the laws of nature, as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we would be done to, of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like. And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore, notwithstanding the laws of nature (which every one hath then kept, when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely), if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security, every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art for caution against all other men.

    There are exceptions, such as killing in self-defense. Although, in my opinion, an individual who does so lawfully is effectively acting as an agent of the state.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  50. Adam Morton wrote:

    Sorry, Halden, that’s a tremendously bad argument. What you’ve said, in effect, is that if you’re not a pacifist you must condone outright vigilantism.

    Antonio has it right–and this isn’t just Hobbes. It’s basically every conception of government and civil society in the history of the world stacked against your reasoning.

    It’s fairly simple, really. I have no problem saying Tiller deserved to die–but the right to kill has been confined to a specially defined office. We do this with all sorts of things. Cops can pull people over and write traffic tickets. I can’t (even if I really, really think somebody’s driving badly). The President can order soldiers into combat. I can’t (even if I really, really think they might help). And so on. When we violate these rules, civilization collapses–we get pure chaos (and a LOT of violence). So this is the difference between actual law and mere personal judgments of right and wrong.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  51. Nick wrote:

    Ohh. So if the government sanctioned the killing of a particular race or religious group, for example, justified through the standard procedures of law, I would have no right to unlawfully attempt to stop it — because that’s the difference “between actual law and mere personal judgments of right and wrong.” Furthermore, if I were a legal agent of the government, I’d be morally obligated to follow out the order to perform the killing, as God authorized the government to wield the sword. Romans 13 and all that.

    Monday, June 8, 2009 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

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