Sunday, January 29, 2012

Politics of the '60s Lives On--As the Pro-Life Movement

With its vibrancy, its youth, and its moral seriousness, the March for Life 2012 reminds us once again of the point made by that prominent participant in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, who marched arm in arm with that other abortion opponent, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
Whatever else it is, the pro-life movement of the last thirty-plus years is one of the most massive and sustained expressions of citizen participation in the history of the United States.  
So wrote the late Richard John Neuhaus in an article, "The Pro-Life Movement as the Politics of the 1960s," published in First Things in 2009, discussing a book by political scientist Jon Shields, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.
In his 1969 work The End of Liberalism, Theodore Lowi wrote of a politics deprived of conflict over great moral principles. As Lowi saw it, American politics was dominated by opaque interest-group bargaining, which left the public paralyzed by a “nightmare of administrative boredom.” We have already mentioned the Port Huron Statement [of the Students for a Democratic Society, 1962], which began with the declaration: “Making values explicit—an initial task in establishing alternatives—is an activity that has been devalued and corrupted.” Shields puts the matter nicely: “One might suppose that present-day conservatives would have declared war on a political system that was largely engineered by 1960s liberals. Yet it is liberals who are mounting a counterattack against this liberal revolution. What is more, their arguments often have a surprisingly conservative ring to them. For example, those who hope to enlist centrist voters against divisive moralists sound much more like Richard Nixon than Tom Hayden. In a strange political turn, they have embraced what Nixon called ‘the silent majority’ as the source of their salvation from 1960s liberalism.”  
 Or this:
The pro-life movement is a movement for change, indeed for what some view as the radical change of eliminating the unlimited abortion license. “Meanwhile,” writes Shields, “the pro-choice movement is a conservative movement defending the status quo.
The way in which the pro-life movement of today embodies the best of the politics of the 1960s is evident in this clip of the March for Life 2012:

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