Saturday, March 26, 2005
In today's NYT, David Brooks argues that both the social conservative and the social liberal argument as to the Schiavo case are flawed and that is why it is such an agonizing debate. Specifically with respect to the social liberal argument, Brooks concludes:
The core belief that social liberals bring to cases like Ms. Schiavo's is that the quality of life is a fundamental human value. They don't emphasize the bright line between life and death; they describe a continuum between a fully lived life and a life that, by the sort of incapacity Terri Schiavo has suffered, is mere existence.
. . . .

The central weakness of the liberal case is that it is morally thin. Once you say that it is up to individuals or families to draw their own lines separating life from existence, and reasonable people will differ, then you are taking a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste.

You are saying, as liberals do say, that society should be neutral and allow people to make their own choices. You are saying, as liberals do say, that we should be tolerant and nonjudgmental toward people who make different choices.

What begins as an appealing notion - that life and death are joined by a continuum - becomes vapid mush, because we are all invited to punt when it comes time to do the hard job of standing up for common principles, arguing right and wrong, and judging those who make bad decisions.

You end up exactly where many liberals ended up this week, trying to shift arguments away from morality and on to process.
. . . .

Once moral argument is abandoned, there are no ethical checks, no universal standards, and everything is left to the convenience and sentiments of the individual survivors.
What I'm describing here is the clash of two serious but flawed arguments. The socially conservative argument has tremendous moral force, but doesn't accord with the reality we see when we walk through a hospice. The socially liberal argument is pragmatic, but lacks moral force.
I think that is just wrong. Brooks assumes what "morality" is, he makes a value judgment and from that value judgment concludes that the "socially liberal argument is pragmatic, but lacks moral force." But if you make another value choice, such as that free will is one of the highest moral values, then obviously Brooks's statement is wrong. So really what Brooks is saying is that the social liberal argument lacks his moral force.

Brooks's argument that the social liberal argument "becomes vapid mush, because we are all invited to punt when it comes time to do the hard job of standing up for common principles, arguing right and wrong, and judging those who make bad decisions," is also wrong. You can still judge under the social liberal system. You just have to realize that your judgment is based on your personal value system rather than some outside "truth." But that distinction doesn't preclude judgment. It just promotes wise and intelligent judgment really. It is when people are unwilling to test and challenge their own value system and at least consider that other's values are the better ones that the world runs into problems. I won't list here the obvious examples, but everyone knows what they are.

And the reason that the social liberals have shifted to process in this case has nothing to do with lack of moral force. It has to do with only one thing - there was a question as to what the individual's wishes were in this case. Thus, the determination had to be made by the process. If Terri Schiavo had a written living will that specifically set out this particular situation and stated unequivocally that she wanted to be starved to death in such a situation - would there be this debate? Not likely. Sure there would be the social conservatives who would refuse, even in that bright line situation, to allow Ms. Schiavo to exercise her free will by trying to impose their personal value system upon her. If the situation were reversed, however, and Terri Schiavo clearly stated she wanted to be kept alive in this situation the social liberals would yield - even if they personally would never choose that option and thought (note the judgment here) that it was a bad or wrong choice.

In short, the Schiavo situation simply highlights why social liberalism is superior to social conservatism.
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I am an attorney in Chicago. Politically speaking, I am an indepedent that tends to lean conservative on fiscal issues and progressive on social issues. I try to remain as unbiased and open-minded as possible. Please email or post any comments, and especially criticisms. If something I say is wrong, or you disagree - let me know about it!



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