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Marking Stalin’s victims in Russia

A valiant group of Russian activists, the Last Address project, have been commemorating some of Stalin’s many victims with plaques, the BBC tells us.

The rectangular plaques are small and simple. Etched into the metal there is a name, date of birth and occupation: radio technician, journalist, student.
Then come the dates of arrest and execution.

Fixed to buildings across Russia, the nameplates are gradually restoring the memory of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of Joseph Stalin’s political repressions.

The initiative of a group of activists, it is also a direct challenge to the growing number of Russians who see the Soviet leader in a positive light.

Here is one example of a victim:

Gennrich Rubenstein was a manager on Soviet Railways, arrested as a “counter-revolutionary” in 1937 and then executed. The grainy, sepia photograph Anna holds shows a smart young man, hair carefully parted to one side.
She has just had a memorial nameplate fixed to his home.
“There are still people who don’t want to know about this,” Anna reflects, bitterly.
“Especially young people who are taught history in such a way now that these victims are justified.
“They say ‘Well, we leapt forward. We created a country of tanks from a country of ploughs. So there were victims? So what?'”

So what if after NKVD chief Gennrich Yagoda was executed, his dacha was used to dispose of 10,000 corpses?

Just a few steps into the forest off one of the main roads out of Moscow, there is an even starker reminder of why.
Kommunarka was once the summer house of Gennrich Yagoda, Stalin’s secret police chief.
After his execution, at least 10,000 purge victims were brought here by the truck-load and buried.

And should you think that Bernie’s supporters are bad, consider the disdain or hostility that these people face.

“People tell us they don’t want their buildings turned into cemeteries, that the plaques are depressing,” project-initiator Sergei Parkhomenko explains.

“Or they don’t want their children to see them, because it’s too gloomy.”But those we’re remembering are not just VIP victims. They’re ordinary people.”

And yet recent polls show that Russians increasingly see Stalin as an “effective manager” or war hero, rather than a tyrant.

Opposition activists are regularly labelled “enemies of the people” on state TV programmes and Memorial, the organisation long devoted to restoring the memory of the repressions, has been branded a “foreign agent”.
It is accused of blackening Russia’s image for Western paymasters.

They do not appear to be daunted either by that, or by the scale of the task.

But back in the city centre, the Last Address project has already installed more than 170 of their metal plaques on prominent buildings where they can no longer be ignored.
“Our aim isn’t just to put nameplates on every building in the country, although you probably could,” Sergei Parkhomenko says. “What’s important is to gather people around them. So that they explain what happened to those who don’t know, and tell their children.”

There’s hope for Russia yet, whilst there are people willing to commemorate the dead and remind the ungrateful living of what their forebears’ government did.

115 comments to Marking Stalin’s victims in Russia

  • Paul Marks

    When people talk about “democratic socialism” do they mean a vote on the price of bread?

    No they do not – government “experts” would still decide all prices and wages and so on.

    But how are the decisions of these “experts” to be enforced?

    By a bullet in the back of the head if you disobey.

    And what about those who doubt that the view of the world taught be the schools and universities?

    The view that holds all bad things are caused by “big corporations” and “the rich” (“Mr Burns”) – and that everything would be better if nice “Lisa Simpson” types were in charge, “sharing” things.

    Well if we reactionaries can not be convinced by the schools and universities (and by Hollywood films and W”conservative” Fox television cartoons) we have to be killed – for our own good.

    After all we are “Homer Simpsons” – we need the state to control every aspect of out lives. And as we are part of the collective this is “true freedom”.

    Collectivists from Rousseau to Stalin would nod with agreement.

  • Mr Ed

    When people talk about “democratic socialism” do they mean a vote on the price of bread?

    “What’s bread?” asked Soviet Man.

  • Mal Reynolds

    Paul Marks: I have often tried to bring up this “vote on the price” style thinking with my “democratic” socialist friends. Pointing out that the price system covers this: everyone’s decisions whether to buy or not buy impact the price which therefore essentially becomes an aggregate (maybe not right word?) of votes backed by actual money-on-the-table (and therefore revealed preferences). Goes completely over their heads. No matter how many different ways I try to explain this point I get no comprehension. Running out of ideas to make them even grasp the point I am making, even if to just get a counter argument from them. Blank faces. Maybe a “but people need to vote” or “that’s not how it works” but with no more detail beyond that. Exasperating.

  • NickM

    Mal, I get you.

    Russia is tragic. It has the strange belief that what it really needs is an ace bastard in charge. So Stalin is popular. Stalin is dead. Putin isn’t.

  • Before the Soviet Union fell – just a bit before it even began to look like it might fall – I had the good fortune to be lectured by an UK officer whose task was to assess the USSR. He visited Russia from time to time. He had Russian acquaintance he could dine with. He explained to us the strange dichotomy in many Russian minds. I quote his description from memory:

    You sit down and the meal starts. The conversation starts. “It was awful in those days. People just disappeared. You never knew when the knock on the door would come. We don’t want those days back.” Three hours later, they’ve downed a lot of vodka. “The leaders today (hic) ‘r crap! Now Stalin (hic) – just ordered and it was done (hic) … he could _do_ things …”. And so on. The next day, they had a hangover and once more “it was awful in those days’.

    The burden of his lecture was that Russia contained _both_ the political possibilities implied by those two moods. Events would decide which actually happened, including the influence of what we did or did not do. Plus ca change, plus le meme chose.

  • Maximo Macaroni

    In the west, outside of the Arlington Cemeteries, we have no place to put plaques to specific dead political victims. The abortion mills could and should be covered with tiny nameless numbered cartouches. But the dead hopes and entrepreneurial ambitions that never saw the light of day because of mindless power-mad Keynesianism and “democratic” socialism never got a chance to breathe a single time under a human name and so can never be properly memorialized.

    Western collectivism’s mass graves, though, still exist in the huge government buildings and Stalinist housing projects. The stillborn dreams must be commemorated by our efforts to make new ones real despite the evil “compassion” of the Bernie Sanderses and Angela Merkels of the world.

  • CaptDMO

    Gosh, maybe a huge “quilt” or something?
    How much could parasites get for the “scrap” metal plaques?
    Less than bronze veterans flag holder medallions “found” in (U.S.)cemeteries?
    Less than “artifacts” from other ancient burial grounds?
    Tough call: “Lest we forget” vs. “Feel the Bern”.
    Bear in mind, any “final address” type project for the years of aborted fetus’ in the US would best be done at….”Solid” waste land fills.

  • As important as winning the war is the follow-up of winning the peace. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Clinton assumed the “peace dividend” entailed nothing more than gutting the military in favor of socialist vote buying, ignoring the opportunity to assist and advise rising Russian politicians who would be favorable toward democracy and capitalism.

    Of course one must remember it was Clinton’s party that actively worked with the Russians to undermine Reagan.

  • Fred the Fourth

    Mal, I’m confused. No, wait, maybe you are confused 🙂

  • John Galt III

    “hundreds of thousands of victims of Joseph Stalin’s political repressions”

    There were 20,000,000 – It’s all here in the Black Book of Communism:


  • John Galt III


    “No, no one would have to answer….. No one would be looked into”

    When you read the Black Book of Communism about its 100,000,000 victims all over the world there are no long chapters of the equivalent of the Nurnburg Trials – 13 of them (one international and 12 American), not to mention the death camp trials in individual camps.

    With few exceptions, all the Communist perpetrators, murderers, jailers, prison torturers, NKVD, GRU, KGB thugs and on and on just walked off the job and into a new life as if they had never done anything wrong. There was no accounting, no trials, no accusations, no legal actions just a big ZERO.

  • Mr Ed

    JG III

    Yes, but this is from the BBC, for whom Stalin is a slightly over-enthusiastic socialist version of Sheriff Arpaio (to whom I apologise for making the point). The tactic: Admit a bit, as a bait-and-switch.

  • Tim Newman

    With few exceptions, all the Communist perpetrators, murderers, jailers, prison torturers, NKVD, GRU, KGB thugs and on and on just walked off the job and into a new life as if they had never done anything wrong. There was no accounting, no trials, no accusations, no legal actions just a big ZERO.

    Not quite: a huge portion of those who perpetrated the first wave of terror were themselves the victims of the second; and the perpetrators of the second wave often found themselves victims of the third.

    But your point stands: too many of the modern era walked straight off the jobs into respectable society. How many ex-Stasi are in prominent positions in Germany today? What, exactly, did Merkel’s parents do that allowed their daughter to go to a prominent university?

  • Chris

    As long as Stalin is seen as the guy who won WWII and saved the people of the Soviet Union from Hitler, he’ll be liked by many. The best way to counter that is to expose all his huge mistakes and make sure others get the credit.

    Explain how Stalin helped Hitler come to power by telling the KPD to work with the NSDAP in preventing the Weimar parliament from functioning.

    Show why the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a dumb move by Stalin, and not a good one.

    Expose how his military purges destroyed the Red Army.

    Explain how Stalin’s repeated interventions in military decisions in 1941 and 1942 hurt the war effort.

    Publicize people who really won the war instead of Stalin like Zhukov.

  • Mr Ed

    What, exactly, did Merkel’s parents do that allowed their daughter to go to a prominent university?

    Well, to start with, Frau Kasner gave birth to the future Kanzlerin Angela Kasner (as she then was) in West Germany, and the family moved to the East when she was an infant, her father was a Lutheran Pastor.

    So she was one of the few Germans to move from ‘West’ Germany to ‘East’ Germany.

    And even then, she was only obeying orders.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Maximo Macaroni: I think you may have hit on some very powerful nerve-points there, with what you say above.(Maximo Macaroni – February 22, 2016 at 2:23 pm.)

    From what you say then, one could perhaps observe that there may be little differentiation in type, between (say) two classes of leaders:

    Class A: The destroyers: those apparently “evil” leaders, dictators or followers of religio-political ideologies whom history has shown killed their millions of victims/suspects because they were variously considered to believe in the “wrong” religio-political ideology, or to be a threat, deformed, mentally or physically disabled, had the “wrong” skin colour, wore spectacles, exhibited the “wrong” sexual orientation, had the “wrong” parents, had AIDS, etc., and

    Class B: The Progressive Socialists: the leaders of a progressive and compassionate collective Western religio-political ideology who try and minimise potential human suffering by stopping all that stuff (or as much as possible) from coming out of the womb in the first place, by means of killing as many of the potential victims/suspects (through modern science and genetics – e.g., as fathered by the great Josef Mengele) in vitrio, as it were – and those that they fail to stop and who develop towards maturity are to be taken care of through State-run/sponsored social service functions, clinics and rehabilitation/therapy centres or through enforcing their acceptability into a prejudiced society by means of laws compelling their acceptance under duress (by intimidation, threats or violence). This is “business as usual”.

    I read a very interesting and apparently little-reported news item the other day that the new Pope (Francis), whilst speaking to a group of journalists on a plane, said (apparently in reference to the killing/abortion of babies in utero thought to be affected by the Zeka virus):

    “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to alleviate human problems by eliminating a human life.”

    Refer: http://www.religionnews.com/2016/02/19/the-real-surprise-in-pope-francis-zika-virus-remarks-commentary/

    I thought that was a very hopeful sign, because here was a Pope, the latest of a long line of RC primates going back over a couple of thousand years, many of whom clearly fell into Class A, and he and recent Popes – at least, over the 60 years since the Second World War – had gradually and ostensibly seamlessly transitioned into a pseudo-Class B, but with the exception that he was steadfastly pointing out the difficult key “humane” problem that nobody likes to talk about – viz: the common and legal practice of taking a life in the womb for all sorts of so-called “humane” reasons (“humane” in this context being a somewhat ambiguous term).

    Yet no-one really seemed to have noticed, or at any rate felt fit to widely report on, this remarkable transition.
    Francis’ other remarks in this vein seem to contain very strong language about abortion, including, for example:

    Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to kill someone in order to save another. This is what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. … Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion.

    Several years ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke in a very similar way about the use of condoms in response to the spread of AIDS.

    The church states categorically in its religious ideology that use of contraception, which separates sex from its natural openness to procreation — either as the end goal of one’s action (“I don’t want a pregnancy”), or as the means by which one accomplishes something else (“I don’t want a pregnancy because it will lead to X”) — is never permitted. It isn’t even permitted if it is the lesser of two evils.

    Yet the doomsday clock of abortions ticks on remorselessly at numberofabortions.com, where we can learn the interesting fact, for example, that In January 2014, the Guttmacher Institute (formed as a division of Planned Parenthood of America) reported:
    *1.05 million abortions in the US in 2012;
    * 4.8% of abortions in the US occurred from week 16 of pregnancy to week 32.
    From: US 2014 STUDY on abortions

    Thanks to the enormous advantage of modern Information Technology, we seem to have vastly improved upon, and become so much better at this sort of accounting now, compared to the meticulous and laborious Nazi ledger-logging of possessions and gas chamber etc. deaths of victims/suspects in the various death camps and massacres. Such systematic methodology was surely reflective of the admirable characteristic of Teutonic thoroughness, the like of which we seem to have only been able to emulate and possibly(?) even transcend slowly in the years since the war we had to fight to defeat them because we didn’t like their methodologies, or something. Some people (not me, you understand), may say that one could put it down to a sort of politico-professional envy, but on a national scale. (We beat the Ruskies to it and pillaged the Nazi technology, and got most of the top Nazi rocket scientists and other scientists and engineers, etc. via Operation Paperclip.)

    Obviously, people have their own point of view about things. For example, the impressive acrobat and progressive socialist (as I gather) Hillary Clinton, is reported as stating, somewhat confusingly:

    “Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care,” Clinton said. “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will,” she added. “And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

    … and …

    “We need to start understanding how important it is to care for every single child as though that child were our own.”

    Several conclusions could probably be drawn from all this, but 3 that rather interest me are:
    (a)Metal memorial plates: The quaint practice of sticking little metal plates on buildings or whatever, to mark the passing of Stalin’s victims in Russia, though commendable and heart-touching, is arguably just that – i.e., quaint – and is probably tolerated by the dictator state because it is largely harmless, posing little or no threat to that state. The educational propaganda will likely have already remorselessly pulled the teeth of that potential threat, by inducing ideological and historical Alzheimer’s in the new generations.
    The plates are thus arguably at best a temporary distraction from reality, as they will have little permanence or authority – they can always be removed/defaced anyway. Still, someone will be employed or even maybe making some money over it, so I suppose it can’t all be a bad idea.

    (b) Hillary Clinton: Hillary apparently wants abortion opponents to delete their moral code the same way she scrubbed her email server, except not necessarily willingly, and you probably should think twice before considering asking her round to babysit your children.

    (c) The Stalinist regime: One at least seemed to know with considerable certainty where one stood under a Stalinist regime, so would such a model in the US be all that bad now – given the uncertainty in the US in recent times? The country needs strong leadership and a cessation to the recent succession of ineffectual, mealy-mouthed, half-baked, touchy-feely, mamby-pamby New Age, multi-gender-sensitive LBGT neo-socialists, including fascists in the shape of pseudo-feminists and greenie and other Chameleon fascists.

    One’s vote, therefore, must surely go to the latest of Stalin’s successors – i.e., Putin – as future POTUS, and yes, one could unashamedly call him, without equivocation, “A man’s man”.
    One would know where one stands with a man like that.

  • Eric

    Explain how Stalin helped Hitler come to power by telling the KPD to work with the NSDAP in preventing the Weimar parliament from functioning.

    Seems only fair. Ludendorff helped foment the Russian revolution by repatriating and supporting Lenin.

    The thrust of your comment is on target. The only reason twenty million Russians died in WW II is Stalin gutted the officer ranks and then put his own position ahead of the country’s when the Germans attacked. If the Germans had made a single thrust toward Moscow instead of the questionable North/South split we’d remember Stalin as the guy the Germans hung after they conquered Russia.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    Mal, why not use this argument- That the only fair way for any sort of dating is to have the government organise it! Why should good-looking people be allowed to choose their own dates, and partners? Ugly and plain people should be allowed a fair go with lookers! So the government should have a Ministry of Romance to organise everyone’s love-life!
    Tim, if everyone was complicit in the communist system, then trying to blame just some might bring everyone into the dock! Just like in Vichy France, nobody was blamed after the war. People preferred to forget about it.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    The ‘Sharing’ idea is a powerful one, probably based on tribalism, and the need to share food in bad times, or no-one would survive. Therefore, we libertarians need our own ‘sharing’ principle. Centralists go for ‘share the money’, by centralising power. We should recommend ‘share power’, an anti-centralist message.
    So if someone tries for a halo of virtue by talking about ‘sharing’, create your own halo by espousing power-sharing’!

  • One at least seemed to know with considerable certainty where one stood under a Stalinist regime

    That’s not actually true: one of the most common themes in the accounts of those who were arrested was complete bewilderment that they, as good loyal communists, had been arrested and it must all be some terrible mistake. Many, many naively believed that if Stalin was made aware of their arrest it could all be straightened out – even when it was Stalin who’d personally ordered the arrest. Most had no idea whatsoever what they’d been arrested for (indeed, nor did those who did the arresting).

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Tim Newman:
    You say that it’s “not actually true” that:

    One at least seemed to know with considerable certainty where one stood under a Stalinist regime.

    I think you may have missed the point. Under Stalin one would have known pretty darn quickly from one’s own experience, and from that of others, that every time one came into contact with a representative of the regime, one was on borrowed time. This would have been because each contact with the regime would have been similar to a pistol being held to one’s head, with a single bullet loaded into one of its six chambers, and unless one was deaf one would have already heard the audible click of the gun being cocked beside one’s ear.

    I gather that this complete lack of ability to ensure the safety of one’s own or anyone else’s fate is what gave rise to the officers’ risky game of Russian Roulette – which was incredibly helpful as it helped to numb the sense of utter hopelessness they all felt in those dark times, and it you were lucky you got a quick and painless exit.

    So, yet another useful thing that the Stalinist regime gave us – Russian roulette.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Tim, really excellent point. I suppose also that a few of them did know, and accepted it willingly, if regretfully and/or angrily, as the price of their Cause.

    Pertinent to your observation, see the part I put in boldface, from SF writer Lawrence Person, at his site


    How Many People Did Communism Kill?

    Friday, May 7th, 2010

    When I posted about making May 1st Victims of Communism Day, I was not at all surprised that some on the left would get their knickers into a knot over the very idea. However, I was surprised that one left winger took exception not only to the date, but the idea that communists had killed millions of people at all. It was rather like coming face-to-face with a flat-earther or a Holocaust denier; you know such people exist, but you never expect to run into them in polite society. I thought such thinking had disappeared even on the left except among such hardcore dead-ender communist apologists as CPUSA or the Spartacist League (and, of course, Internet trolls). The only question today is not “did the communists kill tens of millions of people,” but “precisely how many did they kill?”

    [SNIP] of interesting stats, some based on Rummel’s work, and higher in the end than Courtois et al.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Slarti, it seems to me there were probably both types, or even three if you include the odd fanatic-to-the-Cause as in my comment above. There is such a thing as “it can’t happen to me” even when death and destruction are everywhere.

    And note that Tim asserts the authority of “the accounts of those who were arrested.”

    It seems that of the serious Communists high up in the movement, some were bright enough to know they had best watch their backs very, very carefully (like Trotsky); but I should think a good many really were surprised; or perhaps sort of surprised, if they had more-or-less consciously talked themselves into believing they would be all right.

  • I think you may have missed the point.

    Let’s see.

    Under Stalin one would have known pretty darn quickly from one’s own experience, and from that of others, that every time one came into contact with a representative of the regime, one was on borrowed time.

    Not at all. You see, a lot of the victims were the regime. There were no private businesses, and the state was everywhere and everything. Every person “came into contact with a representative of the regime” simply by going to work and interacting with those around them. Thousands of those shot or sent to the camps were themselves NKVD, policemen, local politicians, local council members, soldiers, journalists, propagandists, film makers, engineers, architects, etc. many of whom had played active or prominent roles in the Soviet system before the knock on the door came.

    You hear stories about how people were terrified of the midnight knock on the door, and doubtless these stories are true. But I am not sure how widespread this was: most I have read came from fairly prominent people in Moscow or St. Petersburg, who had seen colleagues and friends in their own work and social circles disappear. Whether your average factory worker in Chita lay awake worried about the knock on the door, I don’t know.

  • In the interests of self-promotion, I have written about the phenomenon of child-like surprise when Soviets were arrested before, and Natalie Solent of these here parts wrote a post linking to it.

  • Paul Marks

    Mal Reynolds.

    One tends to get two different sorts of answer on the “vote on the price of bread” thing.

    One answer is – “no people would vote for leaders who would decide in line with expert advice”.

    As if politicians, civil servants and academics are any better than just mass voting.

    The other answer is more interesting……

    “No, no no – want we want it is people working together in cooperatives and trading freely without a state at all!”

    That is not actually socialism (although some people who support it call themselves socialists) it is syndicalism.

    Syndicalism is a different economic system to socialism.

    It is also wrong – but it is different.

    Yet I bet those of your friends who say “we want everyone working together in free cooperatives and trading together without a state at all” do not even know they have changed the subject.

    By the way – many “anarchists” are really syndicalists.

    The sort of people that Sean Gabb puts forward as “anarchists” (he is not one himself – he just likes to be “naughty”) do not tend to be “friends of the Koch Brothers” (or any big “capitalists”) – they want worker-coops and other such.

    They use many different names – syndicalism, mutualism, whatever…….

    The common thread is that they think that people who have actually built up large scale business enterprises (such as Josiah Wedgewood in the Industrial Revolution or Jon Huntsman senior in our time) are somehow bad and “dependent on state intervention”.

    It goes with the flow of modern culture.

    “Big business” – boo-hiss.

    “Capitalists” – boo-hiss.

    And I can even see the point – after all Rupert Murdoch (for example) does not care how much leftist propaganda is put out in “The Simpsons” and other cartoon shows – as long as they make him money.

    As Lenin said….

    “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”.

    The joke being that coops are often the first in line for state handouts and other such.

  • Paul Marks

    The last line of the above comment should actually be much higher up the comment (above “It goes with the flow of modern culture”) – somehow it moved. No doubt I was being heavy handed as usual.

  • Mal Reynolds

    Paul Marks.

    I had not actually heard of the term syndicalism before. I do recognize it though as something many socialists claim to support. The distinction you draw between that and socialism is insightful. The two are very often conflated; you see people who claim to support syndicalism (if you ask them about their ideal societal structure) voting and protesting for more and more concentrated power in the hands of the government, something which is indeed at odds with wanting mass-cooperation without a state. I personally understood syndicalism as the communists’ claimed ideal for end-state communism (after the dictatorship of the proletariat has completed its work and given up power*).

    As another thought I do often wonder how similar this end-state communism would be to a fully libertarian or anarcho-capitalist society. I suspect far more similar than most people and proponents of each system would believe; limited/no government, fewer big corporations (given no big government to help prop them up), cooperation to produce (for what else is trade?). For those who see all politics in terms of right versus left (and often place anarcho-capitalism at extreme right and communism at extreme left) this opens up the possibility that the whole “line of politics” is actually just one big loop.

    *Obviously it never would but we’re talking about what communists claim to believe

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Julie near Chicago:
    I thought I had included the “fanatic-to-the-Cause” in Class A – as “…dictators or followers of religio-political ideologies”.

    I did note that Tim referred to “the accounts of those who were arrested.” Well, of course he did, because those would arguably be the only authoritative accounts.
    However, what we probably also need are the equally authoritative accounts of those who were arrested and never released/disappeared (e.g., killed). I bet they knew it was all over Rover for them – they would have heard that audible pistol-cocking click just before the loud bang.
    It would be interesting if we knew the ratio of those arrested and released to those arrested/disappeared (killed).

    Please bear in mind that a lot of what I say may sometimes be rather tongue-in-cheek, but usually has some point somewhere.
    In this case, I consider that, by building (above) on @Maximo Macaroni’s rather perspicacious (as I thought it, at any rate) cross-reference comparison of Lenin’s victims to abortion victims, I consider that I made a reasonable argument for suggesting that the metal plates in the Opening Post are a potentially fatuous exercise and possibly dangerous to boot, in the context of the Putin regime, and at the same time a strong argument for highlighting the underlying utter cynicism of the formerly Class A-now-Class B holy pontiff actor ranting on about abortion whilst meanwhile he and the rest of his many followers (and there are over a billion of them) – seem to do two-fifths of one-third of SFA about even thinking of stopping it other than perhaps passively watching the counters at numberofabortions.com and “tut-tutting” from time to time.

    No, not to put too fine a point on it, the problem is that it’s apparently much safer for the great minds of the Samizdats – and others – to have a cosy discussion on the merits or otherwise of some fatuous and at best historically relevant plate-sticking activities – and how awful that was my dear, you cannot imagine – or whether you support abortion or not, rather than confront the truly awful reality of the present where the scale of destruction of infant human life is now in the trillions.

    To be precise, worldwide (WW) since 1980 (when they started gathering data, I presume) the abortions are currently standing at 1,405,858,160 – or rather they were, because that figure is already out-of-date, the counter having ticked up at the rate of +1 abortion more per second since I copied the number into this comment box.

    There’s another box that counts the number of abortions WW since you opened up that webpage. That ticks up at the same rate – 1 per second, of course.

    Coincidentally, my 14½ y/o daughter had sat down next to me earlier today as I was reading this post and the comments, and she commenced describing her day and how they had started to discuss animal welfare and “animal rights” in her philosophy class for different classes of animals (food, pets, wild), and how Socrates (I think it was) settled his ethical debt to his chicken before he died, or something.

    She explained that there was a legal definition of animals and a separate legal definition of humans, and that all non-human creatures were animals, and that all embryos – human and animal – were classed as animal life.

    So I mentioned this post and the comments, and asked her if she would be interested in looking at the abortion counters at numberofabortions.com. She said she would be, so I clicked the tab and there it was. I briefly explained the counters – the counters on the RHS are WW (worldwide), the counters on the LHS are US, and the counters in the middle are some US demographic splits – e.g., “Black babies since ’73 in the US”. She caught on rapidly and asked me why the US counters were “going up like that” – they incremented by one-tenths (+0.1) about every 3 seconds. I explained that, statistically, from the extensive data they had, they could calculate the frequency of abortions over time, on average.

    We watched it with horrified fascination.

    “See?” I said, “It’s probably not actually happening right this moment in the US in real-time, because many of these abortions will be occurring simultaneously in different parts of the country during the surgeon’s working hours, but statistically, on average, the surgeon has just removed a tenth of a fetus after chopping it up with a cutting tool and sucking it out with a little vacuum cleaner. They would tend to do it like that piece by piece, until it is all removed. Sometimes they are careful to ensure that some parts of the embryo are brought out intact to meet a special order for intact parts from some research laboratories that use embryonic parts for research, like testing for a flavour/taste response at the cellular level for improving the flavour of Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola drinks.”

    “I know.” she said. (She likes to keep abreast of things and is quite well-informed through the Internet, often pointing out interesting bits of new stuff to me before I have come across it – and I’m a pretty avid RSS feed-reader too.)

    I looked sideways at her face. She’s a mixture of Asian and white European. Her normally olive-brown skin has become very brown this summer under the strong sun of the southern hemisphere, yet she looked pale and her face was set as she sat motionless, unblinkingly watching the counters. I could see the tears in the corners of her eyes.

    “You don’t have to keep on watching it if you don’t want to.” I said, “I can’t watch it for long without starting to cry.”

    She remained silent for a few moments, then said. “Please put it away.”, so I did, gratefully relieved.

    I don’t think any normal, compassionate human being watching those counters with awareness could watch for more than about a minute without weeping.

  • MicroBalrog

    “And yet recent polls show that Russians increasingly see Stalin as an “effective manager” or war hero, rather than a tyrant.”


  • When the soviet union fell, many things became known. Mass graves turned up all over the soviet union and while the western press mostly ignored them, more notice was taken by those closer. There was a dip in Stalin respect over and above a dip in respect for all things associated with communism.

    Then, Putin began spinning the history to minimise numbers and discourage too much emphasis. Some years back, he was avoiding any suggestion of “the purge never happened, preferring clever history presentation to make the great purge seem to have killed one in seven or so rounded down of its true total – still giving a number approaching a million. (My impression is that the prior and even crueler collectivisation in the Ukraine and other areas was much more underplayed by him – but that’s based on even less actual knowledge.)

    I think remembering Stalin’s dead is a very good idea. The post describes one method. Exposing a westerner who thought Stalin’s graveyards would make a great backdrop for their honeymoon is another. Someone should be made to answer for it – even when merely in the literal sense of having to answer a question.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Slarti, indeed I too thought you did. Above, at 11:25 p.m. on 2/22. :>)

    As for abortion, I’m finding that while it’s pretty un-cool for libertarians to be anti-abortion, I’ve run across several un-cool libertarians or near-libertarians. Including me, and my only exception is when the mother is in real danger of death or severe damage to her capacity to function as a human adult.

  • Slartibartfarst,

    I hate to break it to you, but in the UK abortion is pretty much a non-issue. Britain is simply not like the US in this regard. Sure, you’ll get British people expressing heated views on abortion online, but I have yet to meet any Brit in the flesh who believes prevailing abortion laws are a pressing concern. You’d be better off pushing your views on an American audience, we’re all too busy complaining about the weather and saying “sorry” to one another.

  • Britain is simply not like the US in this regard.

    Indeed, the overwhelming social consensus is that this is a private matter between a woman and her own conscience. As Tim says, it is simply a non-issue, or at least not a political issue in any way, shape or form.

  • ragingnick

    Yes Putin has began an attempted rehabilitation of Stalin in Russia, framing him as a ‘tough’ leader who led the soviets to victory in ww2, and so on. But the SU defeated the Germans in spite of, not because of Stalin, who gutted the military leadership and refused to believe that the German invasion was happening until vast swathes of Russia had already been taken by the advancing German army.

    I think people on this thread have raised an important point, which is that while we may look in horror at the crimes of 20th century communism in countries such as Russia and China, lets not forget the genocidal crimes of the left in our own country, namely the industrialized murder of nearly 60 million unborn humans since 1972, the Democrat party could easily give the CPSU and the CPC a run for their money in terms of body count.

  • As Tim says, it is simply a non-issue, or at least not a political issue in any way, shape or form.

    Indeed, and it grates me a bit when people try to make it one.

  • Darin

    To the people who derailed discussion about Stalinist crimes to abortion: are you aware that abortion was banned in USSR under Stalin?

    See Article 140 of the criminal code.

    If abortion is murder, then the Great Leader was one of the greatest defenders of unborn life, and Kruschev was the villain.

  • PeterT

    Well, it grates me that people don’t seem to think its an issue worth debating. It absolutely says something about the extent to which we have become an amoral society.

    I am not religious but recognise that at some point whatever it is we value about human life will become present in a child. The fact is that we simply do not know when this occurs and it could be quite some time before birth. The prudent course of action is therefore to not take the risk of killing a human, particularly when any negative consequences of bearing the child to term are so trivial in comparison (there can of course be exceptions, where the mother’s life is at risk). You don’t drive down a 30mph road at 200mph just because it’s the middle of the night and it’s unlikely anybody will try to cross it.

  • Darin

    Well, it grates me that people don’t seem to think its an issue worth debating. It absolutely says something about the extent to which we have become an amoral society.


    What is your vision of moral society? Iran? Iraq? El Salvador? Venezuela? Pakistan? Congo?

  • Mr Ed

    State murder is, of course, statism at its zenith.

    Abortion is almost always a private decision, I do not see how the two are comparable. That the law may permit abortion (or rather, not forbid it) is not necessarily a State matter. There is a distinction between the State and the law. That the government may change the law (and not all governments may do so) does not make abortion state-sanctioned or facilitated killing.

  • Laird

    PeterT, I don’t know where you live, but where I do (the US, and specifically the religious-dominated South) we never stop debating it. And I think it has become pointless; all the arguments have been made, and everyone understands them. Ultimately, it’s a philosophical decision, which can only be purely personal. There is, and can be, no “right” answer to when life begins, or when a fetus becomes a “human”; everyone has to answer that for himself. And as with all such philosophical questions, from my perspective anyway the State has no business intruding in it. It must be a personal decision.

  • And I think it has become pointless; all the arguments have been made, and everyone understands them.

    Exactly. Yet people seem to think it is worthwhile to regularly wheel out the same argument, albeit with a different analogy, thinking they’re adding something new which will change somebody’s mind.

    Ultimately, it’s a philosophical decision, which can only be purely personal.


  • In the UK, abortion has not settled as a party issue and therefore is far from ever becoming a political issue. I don’t think this is anything we should particularly congratulate ourselves on in the UK, any more than we should be proud that there’s no second amendment debate whatever here (this bbc article


    is _astonishingly_ non-judgmental by the standards of the beeb, and of much else in the UK – so much so that I draw it to the attention of my fellow UK thread-readers who I’m sure will be as surprised by its tone as I was). Nor should we be proud that over a decade ago we were casually deprived of what had been a first-amendment custom till then.

    Hitler was very against _German_ abortions, not others. (“The slavs may use contraceptives or abort – the more the better”, Borman). After he noticed how many people his policies were consuming (in the 30s IIRC) Stalin passed anti-abortion laws for reasons utterly unconcerned with the well-being of individuals, born or unborn. “Hitler was a vegetarian” is a good line to use on fanatic vegetarians but I discuss my reasons for eating meat and (even more) fish more reasonably with more reasoning vegetarians. Likewise, I don’t approve ISIS assassinations because Hitler said that SOE’s assassination of Heydrich and attempted assassination of Rommel were dastardly ungentlemanly tactics of the vile British. “Hitler and Stalin banned (some kinds of) abortions” may be fair in the face of some extreme “not listening to you” viewpoint presentation but, given whom we all know controls most of the media, not often.

    As someone who unintentionally caused a previous thread to become all about gaelic-speaking Uber drivers, as Laird wittily characterised it, I’m not in a good position to fuss that abortion is OT for a post on Stalin’s crimes. Like Julie, I’m a sufficiently uncool libertarian to grant that its enough about life and its ending to be less off-topic here than gaelic uberists were there, but I also think Stalin’s crimes were huge enough to claim a thread’s attention – and much more, hence my support for the original post.

  • Mr Ed

    Interesting piece Niall, and remarkably non-judgmental as you say. It also contains the misconception:

    The debate in Britain, however, largely concerns US gun laws – where the Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms.

    No, it provides that the right (in respect of which it is declaratory of the Common Law) shall not be infringed, the right necessarily being existent before the Second Amendment.

  • PeterT

    Laird, I’m an atheist metropolitan elite type based in London.

    In a way you make my point for me. Even though the likelihood of abortion constituting the killing of a human being may be low, even extremely low, the fact that in the event that it is murder the harm is so great (multiply an extremely large number with a small number and you still get a large number) it does provide a strong reason for prohibiting or limiting the use of abortion. Now, if it were the case that the bearing of an unwanted child was significantly morally problematic, then I accept that the question is much less easy to answer. But I don’t think that is the case; I think that if you weight the possibility of your action being murder on one hand, against the inconvenience of bearing an unwanted child to term on the other, it is pretty obvious to me which is the choice that is more likely to be moral.

    What I quite like about this argument is precisely that it requires very little from you in the way of beliefs. I think about it like a version of Pascal’s wager.

    You can make a similar argument about eating meat by the way.

    Sorry for being OT, but in my defence I didn’t start it….

  • Laird

    An important distinction, Mr Ed, which unfortunately is lost on far too many people.

    From the article: “Every time there’s an incident the government go after legitimate licence [sic] holders, tighten the rules up and force a few more people out of the sport,” rifle instructor Alan Warren says.” Indeed. We see the same phenomenon over here, where after every incident the anti-gun politicians, including our sorry excuse for a president, pop up like whack-a-moles to call for stricter regulation. What part of “shall not be infringed” is so difficult to comprehend?

  • Laird

    PeterT, the problem with your calculus is that it can never be a truly objective exercise; you necessarily begin it with your finger on the scales because of your own (personal) opinion as to whether or not abortion is “murder”. There is, and can be, no objective “correct” answer. You implicitly assume the result before you begin the test.

    And of course I have the same problem with Pascal’s Wager. It’s a specious argument which can’t be considered dispositive by anyone who actually thinks deeply about the matter. So, with that said, I agree that your proffered calculus is “a version of Pascal’s Wager.” Both are equally useless.

  • Alisa

    To me it is purely a matter of enforcement. I tend to share Peter’s worries about the real chance that at least some abortions may constitute murder of real human beings, and therefore I think that women should err on the side of choosing not to abort – unless X, Y, Z. But the real question is, however strongly I may feel about the issue: how am I going to go about enforcing this position of mine? So even though I disagree with Tim’s implication that just because most people in the UK or whatever other place don’t think of it as much of an issue, I have to agree with him that this has to remain a personal matter for women and others directly involved (such as the fathers, if known). Otherwise, it seems to me, the moral price of enforcement is bound to be much higher than whatever moral gain can be derived from it.

  • Mr Ed

    Whilst we are on the subject, or within rifleshot of it, I have just found on YT on the excellent Periodic Table of videos from Nottingham University, a piece about using a musket to ‘fire a candle through a barn door‘, a Colonel Shaw, Chemistry lecturer, demonstrated his musket firing a candle (yes, wax) at wood to simulate a barn door, to chemistry students between 1928 and 1990 (he turned 100 in 1998). The wax is not unlike a shaped charge in behaviour. Remarkable to think that this was done as late as 1990.

  • Laird

    Agreed, Alisa.

  • NickM

    Mr Ed,

    I heard of it (Nottingham University 1992-1995).

    Sapientia urbs conditur.

  • Slartibartfarst

    I would like to apologise to those who seem to have considered that I was pushing the anti-abortion barrow. I certainly did not intend to. It is quite literally and figuratively a “dead subject”, and only the Americans could turn it into the political football that they would seem to have done, and only the RC church could turn it into such a hypocritical mission as they continue to do.
    As @ragingnick put it:

    February 24, 2016 at 10:12 am
    …I think people on this thread have raised an important point, which is that while we may look in horror at the crimes of 20th century communism in countries such as Russia and China, lets not forget the genocidal crimes of the left in our own country, namely the industrialized murder of nearly 60 million unborn humans since 1972, the Democrat party could easily give the CPSU and the CPC a run for their money in terms of body count.

    Which was pretty much my intention. I think it stands on its own as an example of why the metal plates thing, by comparison is arguably a fatuous exercise, and discussion about it is equally arguably a fatuous exercise to contribute to with one’s cognitive surplus, that’s all – so I don’t contribute to it except to draw that parallel.

    The issue of abortion will be settled anyway once the Islamic caliphate is established.

  • Darin

    I would like to apologise to those who seem to have considered that I was pushing the anti-abortion barrow. I certainly did not intend to.

    By pointing that Stalin’s USSR was far better and far more humane society than bourgeois USA, you intended to debunk the ridiculous bourgeois propaganda about so called “land of freedom”.

    Well done, comrade.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The philosophical positions that underlie the political philosophy called Libertarianism, which is an applied philosophy, are fundamental to a theory of libertarianism that is both moral and practicable. (The other fundamental discipline is psychology, in the sense that it is the study of the non-physical aspects of human nature.) Libertarianism, after all, must have some sort of moral theory, unless one is the sort of “libertarianism”-claiming, anything-goes sort of anarchist. I don’t suppose Samizdata has a large following among such persons. Indeed Samizdatistas seem to run to being rather serious about issues of fundamental morality, which is both gratifying and logically necessary (for, What is just? is an issue of morality, and of applied morality).

    Abortion may be a “private” matter, but so is killing someone who makes you mad or whose wallet you covet. It is a political matter because murder, that is, unjustified (or unjust) killing of a human being, is given legal definition by the various States around the globe. It is a political matter because it is, rightly, a legal matter; and statute law is determined, in some part at least, by some political process.

    It is rightly a legal matter because the protection of human lives is the first duty of the state; and there are two lives involved here, not just one. The pertinent difference between them is where they are in the life-cycle of the human being.

    Sometimes killing a human creature is unjust, in which case we call it “murder”; sometimes it is just (killing in self-defense, where anything less lethal would most likely result in the death of or serious damage to the capacity to function as a human creature; sometimes it is “accidentally on purpose”; sometimes it is in fact purely accidental. Indeed, sometimes it is mercy killing, and justified as such. And there are more possibilities still.

    So, each State defines murder and decides the appropriate range of punishments in its statutes. It thus becomes very much a political matter as to whether or when abortion IS murder, or is any sort of wrongful death, and if so whether a punishment of any kind should be attached thereto, and if so, what.

    Unless we are living in a state of no law, that is in lawless anarchy, together we constitute a society in which we do have laws, and especially laws regarding life and death, laws protecting persons and their property. In particular there are laws about the taking of the life of a human creature.

    If there is no such law, then anybody may kill anybody for any reason, and any negative consequences to the killer will come because some individual, or some bunch of individuals, decides to create them.

    We think this is not very satisfactory, for a couple of reasons, so we do go ahead and make laws about the killing of humans.

    Abortion is the killing of a human who is in the category of those humans not as yet not born. It is a human creature somewhere in the pre-birth stages of its life-cycle. The question then becomes whether whoever makes the laws in a particular jurisdiction has decided (for whatever reason) that such a human is not to be legally protected.

    All of this should be among the factors we consider when we think about thinking about whether abortion should legally prohibited (“banned,”) or should be “legalized,” or should be decriminalized (a different thing actually), or whether it should be “tolerated” but perhaps disapproved of, or whether it is of no consequence and should be ignored.

    So, the morality of the thing is a matter that each of us decides in his own head, and in that sense is private; just as the morality of assassinating a particularly evil dictator is an issue on which we have a privately-held position (there are those who argue that it’s immoral to do so, even as they agree the world is better off without Stalin); but whether something is to be done in response to the actual act committed, and if so what, are legal and enforcement issues not up to each individual.

    That is simply a fact. We consider the morality of X in our heads, privately, but out in the real world when someone does X there will be some sort of social response (unless the “response” is to ignore it as a non-event) and there will have been a prior legal rule as to what, if any, the legal response will be. There is what each of us believes privately, and there is the legal-political position.

    Two things. Not just one.

  • So even though I disagree with Tim’s implication that just because most people in the UK or whatever other place don’t think of it as much of an issue

    Alisa, I said the UK specifically because it’s where I’m from and this blog is, as much as anything, British. One of the most tiresome things to read or listen to is a foreigner, often British, try to use what they think is impeccable logic to tell Americans that their gun laws are wrong. It irks me most because it fails to take into account culture, and when it comes down to it, culture is pretty much everything (it’s far more important than race or ethnicity, as was pointed out on the Uber/Gaelic thread).

    And it’s similar when non-British start using logical arguments and various analogies (which we’ve all heard a million times before) to helpfully explain to us that abortion is actually terrible. We know what abortion is, we’ve considered it and been asked the question, and concluded that it’s a necessary evil, a matter for the individual, and not something we wish to discuss very often.

    BTW I’m not having a go at you here, I’m just providing some context to my earlier remarks which non-Brits might not know.

  • I guess I should confess I’m just not good at restraining myself from off-topic remarks when tempted, consoling myself with apologetic side-notes like this one. Here, however, I think I can drag the topic of abortion that has arisen back towards the topic of totalitarian murder that the original post addressed. See what you think.

    There are two viewpoints I can imagine respecting, and one that I utterly despise.

    I could respect and like someone kind and gentle enough to reject late term abortions of innocent babies or, gentler still, depriving an innocent unborn of all that baby’s years of life at any point from conception or, becoming much more gentle still, rejecting even depriving a proven murderer of his remaining years of life. I can also imagine respecting someone tough-minded enough that they’ll execute murderers and other criminals, shoot enemy soldiers, etc., and (though I could hardly like them if they _liked_ the idea of it), I could still respect their viewpoint if, becoming more tough-minded still, they let mothers kill their unborn children rather than interfere.

    I would not feel that way about someone who hated taking a proven murderer’s remaining years of life but was fine with slaughtering a baby coming down the birth canal. When the same person combines “How disgusting you want to kill that 94-year-old Nazi you’ve finally tacked down. You’re as bad as he is” with “Kill the kid before she pops out – go for it; play happy music; celebrate” then I see moral perversity on a truly filthy scale.

    So, lets drag things back to Stalin’s Russia, with its laws against abortion and its extensive killing of the unborn. (Conquest computes that 3 million of the 14 million missing from the mid-30s census after the collectivisation of agriculture were simply never born at all. In a rare case of the communists letting real data slip through their net, the Soviet state published early-1941 class size info on several districts. In land acquired that year from Romania, the 7-year-olds’ numbers were one and two thirds the size of than the eleven-year-olds numbers. In areas affected by collectivisation, they were two-fifths the size of the 11 year olds – who had of course, lost huge numbers of dead themselves.) If a girl in Russia today killed the denouncer or murderer of her grandmother, while a girl next door killed her baby at 35 weeks, I think we know what kind of western intellectual would defend Putin’s arresting the first while becoming furious if any restraint were offered to the second.

    More generally, the original post was about socialism being praised by some millennials, who might not like experiencing how actual socialism interferes with so much. It would be a very very very minimal state that did not seek to prevent or avenge murder. It would be a very bizarre philosophy that treating killing a child coming down the birth canal as not murder. As per what I said above, I can imagine respecting the viewpoint that makes the state interfere in so very little that much abortion is outside its remit: the viewpoint that says, mothers killing their children is bad, but state interference in bad situations usually makes them worse. But in today’s world, where the state interferes in so very very much more, I find myself unable to fuss much about any practical or probable abortion law that my lifetime could see voted in, quite apart from the fact that the loudest objections come from the usual suspects. If the modern state truly should not regulate abortion, there are a million things it infinitely more should not regulate.

    Like Alisa, there are various “except for X, Y and Z” cases that moderate both my moral distaste for the idea of parents killing their offspring at any point in their growth and my practical ideas about what laws there should and should not be in either the ideal state we are so far from or the real state we live under.

    Aside: “licence [sic]” In England, the noun licence is correctly spelt with two ‘c’s; ‘license’ always means the verb..

  • Paul Marks

    Perry – abortion a “non issue” in Britain?

    Well I was born her and have lived here all my life, but I am astonished by such a statement. Are my fellow citizens really that bad?

    If the British really do not care about babies being cut to bits, then I really do not what to say. If people regard with indifference (as a “non issue”) such a matter – nothing I can say will change their minds.

    One thing I do like about Marco Rubio (in many ways an insincere and unprincipled man) is that at least he is firmly opposed to the murder of babies. I repeat I have no idea what to say to people who hold that it is a “non issue”.

    Mal Reynolds.

    Syndicalism (under various names – meaning workers coops) was the great divide in 19th and early 20th century “anti capitalism”.

    When one talks of “workers control” does one mean by the collective on behalf of workers as a whole?

    Or does one mean each enterprise actually owned and run by the people who work in it?

    It would seem obvious that something like the John Lewis Partnership and the National Coal Board were utterly different sorts of things.

    However, the British Labour party managed to fudge the whole issue.

    Officially it was the Labour and Cooperative Party.

    But the cooperatives were confined mainly to the preexisting retail coops.

    Although “Tony” Benn did offer government subsidies for manufacturing coops.

    Rather missing the point from the communal anarchist point of view.

  • Paul Marks

    To those who think my words “insincere and unprincipled” were too harsh.

    Whatever one thinks of illegal immigration – to campaign against the illegals in an election and then make the “Gang of Eight” deal only a few months later was breathtaking.

    Ditto to campaign against Federal spending and debt – and then support allowing Mr Obama to borrow as much money as he likes (with no spending reform at all), for fear of being accused of “shutting down the government”.

    And then there was Nevada a few days ago.

    Last year the Republican Governor of Nevada and the Republican State Legislature betrayed the people who voted for them – by imposing a massive tax increase (in order to get yet more money for the government education brainwashing machine).

    If Marco Rubio was the principled conservative he declares himself to be – the Governor of Nevada and the leaders of the State Legislature would HATE him

    Instead they love him – and endorsed him for President.

    Another George Walker Bush “Compassionate Conservative” – “compassionate” with the money of other people.

  • Paul Marks

    The United States had a de facto open border with Latin America for a century before mass immigration from there started.

    By some strange coincidence mass immigration from Latin America really got going at the same time as the development of the Great Society “social justice” Welfare State in the United States.

  • Paul Marks

    Russia faces a choice – the same choice that China faces.

    Was the period of Marxist rule evil or not?

    The regime still in charge of the People’s Republic of China chooses to support the memory of Mao – the largest scale mass murderer of all time.

    That is why people who think we can make deals with the regime in China are (at best) stark, staring, bonkers. The regime bases itself on support for evil – it is evil (face it people).

    Putin in Russia likes to have things both ways.

    With one face he says he is a Russian Patriot and Orthodox Christian – who supports private property in the means of production and so on.

    With the other face Mr Putin tries to honour the Soviet past – including “Lenin” and “Stalin”.

    Mr Putin is caught in a contradiction – one of his own making.

  • Alisa

    I know Tim, and FWIW I wasn’t having a go at you – or the UK public in general – either. You have a point, but the way I see it, the discussion about abortion is a universally moral one. I also live in a place where there is a public consensus on the issue similar to the one you describe, and I’m also perfectly fine with that. But it still doesn’t mean that the moral issue is settled, and if it’s not, then I think it is worth discussing.

  • Alisa

    If the modern state truly should not regulate abortion, there are a million things it infinitely more should not regulate.

    Sorry, Niall, and with respect: this is not a good argument. Morality (and, by extension, law) is not some interesting theory we discuss unattached to reality – on the contrary, it is the theory that is supposed to guide us in how we try to shape our reality. So I ask again, how are you (or Julie, or Starti, or anyone else who cares) going to go about enforcing your position? Seriously, I’m talking practical specifics.

    BTW, with abortions being illegal under Stalin, they were widespread under the same, just the same.

  • Laird

    Julie, your long post suffers from the same defect as did PeterT’s earlier one: you assume the answer a priori when you describe abortion as “killing a human being”. There is a long spectrum between zygote and baby; somewhere along the way that collection of cells becomes a “human being”. Precisely where that point lies, though, is incapable of definition to everyone’s satisfaction; hence the dispute. You can make a principled argument that the moment of “human-ness” occurs at conception, or at some other point along the way, but until you make that determination you cannot describe that action of abortion as “murder”. Personally, I would place the point at the arrival at extra-uterine viability, and hence decry late-term abortions. But clearly not everyone agrees, and if I’m to be allowed an opinion on the matter I have to respect that same right in others. As I have (repeatedly) said, it must remain a purely personal decision; there is, and can be, no “right” answer.

    [A side note to you: “anarchy” is not synonymous with “lawless”; it is merely the absence of government. Law exists independently of government. I’m sure Paul Marks would be happy to expound on this.]

    Niall, re “licence” and “license”: another apparent quirk in English versus American spelling, although that one surprises me. (I note that you used “spelt”, whereas I would have written it “spelled”.) Thanks for the information, but I would really like to see it confirmed by someone else (Mr Ed?).

  • Alisa, here is a specific real-world, constrainted-choices example answer to your question.

    Many years ago, a bill to modify the UK’s abortion law was introduced in parliament as a non-party issue. If I recall the details correctly, the UK’s law allowed abortion at pleasure up to 28 weeks. The change proposed reducing this limit to 18 weeks.

    The proposer justified the change on arguments about viability, saying that a baby aborted in the ten week period was viable outside the mother’s body. Having been aborted, it would then have to be killed as an explicit act, even if only one of brief willed neglect. I have acquaintance who are skilled obstetrics specialists. My memory is that they told me the proposer’s arguments were medically correct (in a strongish statistical sense).

    Both the proposer and opposer of the change were members of the UK’s Liberal party. The Liberals are a small group who nevertheless usually have a few MPs in parliament. They present themselves as the middle of the road between Tory right and Labour left, not always the case but on this issue at that time you will see they were not all of them what ‘liberal’ means in the U.S. these days.

    That proposer and opposer were both of this third party was part of a strategy of making the issue a free, non-party vote. So, had I been an MP, I could have voted my opinion without reference to any other concerns.

    Obviously, I would still have been very constrained. Assuming I remained satisfied of the medical science after the more thorough check I would have given it in that case, I could then have said say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (or abstain) to the constrained question, “Shall many at-pleasure abortions that include a distinguishable step of killing the aborted baby be made illegal, plus a statistical few that do not obviously have this separable step, while a statistical number of earlier such abortions, along with many that do not have such a distinguishable step, remain legal, or shall all such abortions remain legal, still later abortions remaining illegal?”

    I would have supported the motion to drop the time to 18 weeks. IIRC, the majority of MPs made the opposite decision.

  • I should perhaps add that in the UK, legal abortions are often performed by the NHS. However I believe I would have imagined myself voting the same way if this were not so.

  • Mr Ed

    If I recall the details correctly, the UK’s law allowed abortion at pleasure up to 28 weeks.

    Not quite, there is, iirc, a ‘fig-leaf’ of a requirement for the abortion to be in the mother’s best interests, and for that to be certified by two doctors. The threshold of ‘mental anguish’ at being pregnant seems to be sufficient to allow for permission to be granted.

    I am not aware of any case where an abortion was refused inside the time limit, but there might have been one or two over 45 plus years.

    What I find most odd is the ‘abortion-enthusiast’ mentality, those who seem positively to live for abortions, as it were.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Julie near Chicago

    February 25, 2016 at 3:39 am
    “The philosophical positions that underlie the political philosophy called Libertarianism …etc.”

    Why the lecture? I don’t wish to be rude or offensive, and it’s no doubt interesting in and of itself – so, thankyou, from me at least – but really, who the heck cares? One can sit around pontificating or rationalising all day long, proving that white is black or vice versa, but at the end of it it seems to me that one has probably not achieved much more than a form of mental masturbation. At which point, feeling refreshed and all the better for that interlude, one seems to feel compelled to return to the more serious and necessary business of proving one’s point of view (whatever it may be) – which invariably seems to be the case for any polarising subject (e.g., such as abortion), where two or more religio-political ideologies are unable to meet without conflict/disagreement.

    “When given the choice between changing one’s mind or proving one’s point of view, most people get busy on the proof.” (JK Galbraith, American economist).

    This is illustrated jn the quote I made re @ragingnick, who, though he evidently gets the parallel that I was trying to draw, seems unable to avoid getting it stuck in the rut of his particular religio-political ideological perception that it’s political – it’s the left that are doing all this killing you see, innit?
    Well, no, actually, it’s not. It’s simply us humans. We’re like that as species, that’s all, and we have killed and will probably continue to attempt to kill millions of our fellows at the drop of a hat, if we can rationalise a seemingly good enough reason for it according to any existing or newly-invented-for-the-purpose religio-political ideology. So it’s not good enough to attempt displacement by transferring the responsibility for something like the destruction of life (whether historical or current communist purges, or Islamic State massacres, or the continuing steady massacre of fetuses, or the American wars against themselves, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) onto members of a political group.

    This great evil, where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?
    – narrative per Private Edward P. Train in the film “The Thin Red Line” (1998).

    So, look in the mirror. What a surprise.

    And give Stalin a rest, and let it go regarding chasing down all those remaining “evil” 90-something year old Nazi “criminals”. Why selectively pick on them when one has all of humanity – including oneself – to accuse? Give it a rest already, and if you want to try to ensure that you do something with your life then consider trying to make things better for future generations. But NEVER FORGET.
    That’s actually what those otherwise arguably potentially fatuous little metal plates might help to do – i.e., keep the memory alive of those who suffered or died due to humankind’s apparently infinite potential for self-destruction, for whatever objective motivation it can dream up at the time.
    It seems to be our paradigms that enable our inherent propensity for both destruction and self-destruction.

  • Alisa, a second constrained-choice example (on the tough-minded as against gentle-minded side of my original post) has also occurred to me, perhaps of interest to you.

    I can imagine signing an omnibus do-it-all-or-lose-it-all bill that destroys a million hated laws and incidentally all imaginable protection/restriction against abortion in exactly the same way I can imagine flying over Hamburg in July 1943 creating firestorm that will turn 50,000 men, women, children and babies (born and unborn) into puddles of fat. I would prefer a more nuanced approach, but in a brutal real-world situation I am capable of making a brutal real world choice.

  • But it still doesn’t mean that the moral issue is settled, and if it’s not, then I think it is worth discussing.

    I think that’s where we might be disagreeing: for most Brits, the moral issue is settled, i.e. It’s been agreed by the vast majority that the moral issue lies between those involved and their conscience. Girls who have abortions as (say) students do not carry a stigma and it is a subject which almost never, ever comes up for discussion offline. For sure, it might be worth discussing as an intellectual exercise, but then so is the issue of having an unelected head of state (for example): most of us don’t care about that, either.

  • Alisa

    Tim, that’s the problem: agreeing on what the moral issue actually is. You and I may think that the moral issue is who gets to decide if and when abortion is murder, while other say that we don’t put it quite like that when talking about killing humans outside the womb – rather, the state gets to decide if and when it is involuntary manslaughter, or killing in self defense, or plain murder. Like I said, I am on your side of the issue on this, but I more than understand where those who disagree with me come from.

    Niall, I’m sorry, but I don’t see how your last two comments address the enforcement issue? What am I missing?

  • Alisa, I’m probably not understanding your question. In the first example, the same punishments that applied to abortion at 29 weeks would have applied to abortion at 19 weeks; the proposal offered no change to them. These were significantly less than those for murder but in theory still noticeable – possibility of jail time in years IIRC. (In practice, actual punishment in the UK these days has aspects of “naughty boy, slap on the wrist” black farce about it, but that is quite another issue.) In the second case, I’d be removing laws, so no enforcement issue arises.

    My abstract principles are to have as few laws as possible and to enforce those few very effectively, which means enforcing them very sternly in normal cases. “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent” (Adam Smith).

  • Alisa, thinking harder, I realise you may be asking about the many possible variants of the “Heart of Midlothian” situation (the novel by Sir Walter Scott, based on a real case) and its converse.

    First, we can look at the Heart of Midlothian side of the story. The Scottish state tried to prevent the killing of newborns by their mothers by enacting a law under which failure to have told anyone of your pregnancy and then not producing the child was treated as proof of your having murdered the child, with no other evidence required.

    The novel is set towards the end of a period when the Scottish state and society, thanks to John Knox and similar, had produced this law but had also created very powerful incentives – much more powerful than in England – for an illegitimate birth to alarm mother and father too; the female was found first, of course, and then the kirk session was often both savage and effective in hunting down the father. (Some modern historical research has argued that male homosexuality, despite the punishments which also attached to it, saw some actual rise in Scotland in the period; the greater danger of detection through the appearance of a baby made sex that could not have that effect attractive to some.) Union with England, removing the ability of a Scots parliament to add laws or resist Westminster abolitions, brought about a change.

    Thus a pregnant girl in Edinburgh might not wish to tell anyone at all that they were pregnant despite the legal dangers of not doing so. In Scott’s novel, the heroine will not lie under oath and claim her sister told her, though (correctly) certain that said sister would never kill her own baby. She then walks from Edinburgh to London to get a pardon for her sister from the Queen. With much romantic embroidery, Scott is telling a story of what actually happened.

    Second, I note the converse. Murder is hard to conceal in settled society. People have footprints and their sudden absence is noticed. A child that is not yet born, that has not yet been given a name, is much easier to make disappear.

    These reflections do suggest practical limitations to any extreme from-day-one anti-abortion law, regardless of moral views. In an analogous case, I’d have no _moral_ objections if rape were punishable by death (real rapes of course, not US university campus frauds). However I fully see the force of the question, “So what do we do with those who rape and then kill their victims?”

  • Slartibartfarst


    I can imagine signing an omnibus do-it-all-or-lose-it-all bill that destroys a million hated laws and incidentally all imaginable protection/restriction against abortion in exactly the same way I can imagine flying over Hamburg in July 1943 creating firestorm that will turn 50,000 men, women, children and babies (born and unborn) into puddles of fat. I would prefer a more nuanced approach, but in a brutal real-world situation I am capable of making a brutal real world choice.

    Sure, you can imagine it. Imagine away then, but don’t kid yourself too much that you are, or even could have been up to the task. Keep that idea safely tucked up in your imagination, oh brave armchair warrior.

    History would seem to indicate that Hamburg, Dresden and other carpet-bombing was arguably a recipe cooked up and delivered to the German people essentially precisely according to what their German leaders had specifically requested they be given by their own indiscriminate and deliberate acts of bombing and sending of missiles to fall on civilian populations across Britain.
    History apparently shows it as an act of self-defence and survival, do-or-die, kill-or-be-killed by the Allies, and it was to help to start the turn of the tide against a nation that had decided to reinvent itself as a fascist Class A Destroyer against its neighbours and ultimately against most of the the world.

    Under existential threat, Britain apparently had to become a Class A Destroyer to respond in kind whilst it still possessed the energy and the resources to do so. It was a democracy then, of course, though I am unsure whether it still is now or could even rise to the challenge if it had to face such a foe now.

    I suspect the victors felt not a little remorse for the puddles of fat that had a short while before been their enemy’s men, women and children, but it was either that or die. The puddles of fat have of course probably largely been forgotten by now, their deaths uncelebrated, but the descendants of the Allied victors annually remember and celebrate those victorious aircrew and others who gave their lives to stop that evil, remorseless religio-political ideology and who didn’t return from the bombing runs, sea battles and battlefields, so that their descendants may continue to live in democratic freedom – the religio-political ideology that survived.

    Similarly for the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the civilians were turned into windblown radioactive dust, or horribly disfigured/crippled and condemned to die slowly of radiation poisoning and have horribly disfigured/crippled children if they survived long enough.
    I suppose you might be able to sit in your armchair imagining taking the decision to do that or maybe flying the bombing runs.
    Yeah right. I like to play Fallout 3 too.

    Once again, it was a Class A Destroyer that had to be defeated by the Allies, with a half-crazed warrior caste driven by the stinking religio-political ideology that was the State-run religion that had deliberately perverted the Shinto religion out of all recognition so as to keep the soldiers and the population in a hyped-up state of supremacy, fear and “honour” over the infidels, or something. No surprise then that the Potsdam Declaration stipulated that Japan’s unconditional surrender must include the restoration of democracy, of freedom of speech, religion and thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights – the religio-political ideology that survived.

  • Alisa

    These reflections do suggest practical limitations to any extreme from-day-one anti-abortion law, regardless of moral views.

    Thanks Niall, that was the proverbial nail on the head*. I will read the book.

    Like I said before, practicality and morality are never disconnected, and so when you say ‘practical limitations’, you are essentially saying that the limitations are moral. This is why I keep insisting that we focus on the practical-enforcement aspect of any new law under proposition, so as to ensure that the necessary means of practical enforcement do in fact morally justify the desired moral end. And in the case of abortion, I fear they do not.

    *You must admire my resistance to mess with the letters there – so very mature of me! 😛

  • PeterT


    I disagree I am afraid. The reason Pascal’s wager is useless is that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that there is a God. The decision to start believing in God is totally arbitrary. He may as well have decided that he wasn’t going to step on cracks in the road from now on, as if he did there was a chance he would get eaten by a Lion at some point in the future.

    This is not the case for the question of abortion, as we all agree that we value human life – this is not up for discussion. My point is not that abortion is murder – my point is that it MAY be.

    You said:

    you assume the answer a priori when you describe abortion as “killing a human being”. There is a long spectrum between zygote and baby; somewhere along the way that collection of cells becomes a “human being”. Precisely where that point lies, though, is incapable of definition to everyone’s satisfaction; hence the dispute. You can make a principled argument that the moment of “human-ness” occurs at conception, or at some other point along the way, but until you make that determination you cannot describe that action of abortion as “murder”.

    No, I do not make this a priori assumption. My point is exactly that we do not know. But why take the risk? The “moral cost benefit calculation” is extremely skewed against abortion.

    If somebody just said that they did not value human life, then I accept that my argument is nothing. There could be some variation of this, where they said they valued life only to the extent that it was intellectually developed. For example they may value the life of an adult 10 times as much as that of a newborn. I do not share this view but I would accept that it as a different point of view rather than being plain wrong.

    To Tim and others, I’m sorry but you can’t just shrug your shoulders and throw this into the ‘too difficult’ box.


  • My point is exactly that we do not know. But why take the risk?

    The very much settled point of view in Britain is that if you do not what to take that risk, then don’t. But it is not the state’s role to make that decision for you.

    It is not a matter of putting it on the “too difficult” box so much as putting it in the “this is necessarily a personal decision” box because there will always be a high degree of uncertainty. Indeed I wish vastly more things followed this logic. That is why many folks overseas find the nature of the discussion within the USA has no relevance to anyone outside the USA, as the axioms are not the same. Different meta-context.

  • Rosenquist

    I would not feel that way about someone who hated taking a proven murderer’s remaining years of life but was fine with slaughtering a baby coming down the birth canal. When the same person combines “How disgusting you want to kill that 94-year-old Nazi you’ve finally tacked down. You’re as bad as he is” with “Kill the kid before she pops out – go for it; play happy music; celebrate” then I see moral perversity on a truly filthy scale.

    you might see ‘moral perversity on a truly filthy scale’ but only if you fail to understand the difference between killing sanctioned and enacted by the state and the actions of private individuals.

    If the modern state truly should not regulate abortion, there are a million things it infinitely more should not regulate.

    Quite the opposite: the right to control ones own body is the foundation of self ownership and liberty, it is the one thing a state most definitely should not regulate.

  • Alisa, I think I see your point. When I say that I have no moral but some practical concerns about executing rapists I mean that I can’t hang a man twice, so I may in effect be encouraging murder. My objection to this is moral. Likewise if I imagine the kind of intrusive monitoring state that alone could actually enforce banning an on-the-off-chance abortion in the first week, it looks like a science fiction book (the “don’t live in the future” kind), compared to which, both Scotland’s named-person initiative of today and Scotland’s kirk session of olden time could seem like mild paternalism. My objection to such a society is moral.

    Any specific enforcement regime has specific consequences. If I reject a specific scheme to enforce anything I think right in itself because I think its consequences are more wrong, that is a moral choice.

  • Alisa

    Indeed, Niall.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Knel Killmated:

    February 25, 2016 at 11:21 pm
    My abstract principles are to have as few laws as possible and to enforce those few very effectively, which means enforcing them very sternly in normal cases. “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent” (Adam Smith).

    Without wishing to risk further inflating a possibly already over-inflated ego, I have to say that many people might find those to be admirable principles – and the quote to be pretty apt as well – though some might differ.

  • Alisa

    What I find most odd is the ‘abortion-enthusiast’ mentality, those who seem positively to live for abortions, as it were.


  • Mr Ed


    I wonder if the enthusiasm is a form of displacement activity amongst socialists frustrated at the lack of opportunities to slaughter adults and children.

    Socialists detest placing a value on life, just as they do on property. That is why they oppose capital punishment or indeed sometimes any punishment at all for murderers.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird: News flash, I’m more of an expert on where I’m making implicit assumptions than you are. Sorry, but it’s true. :>((

    In particular, you wrote

    ‘There is a long spectrum between zygote and baby; somewhere along the way that collection of cells becomes a “human being”. Precisely where that point lies, though, is incapable of definition to everyone’s satisfaction; hence the dispute. You can make a principled argument that the moment of “human-ness” occurs at conception, or at some other point along the way, but until you make that determination you cannot describe that action of abortion as “murder.”’

    You’re collapsing a some things, and imputing to me a meaning that I neither said nor implied.

    Specifically, any result of the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm is, by definition, human. The entity so created is an entity, an organism, a being, and a human one. Thus, it’s a being which is human: a human _ being.

    An as-yet-unborn baby is in common parlance, an unborn human organism. It begins as a zygote and undergoes development through various stages until it becomes a newborn baby or a premature baby or even a stillborn baby. That’s what most people mean by the term, I think, and it’s what I meant. I didn’t use the clinical term “fœtus” precisely because in my opinion that term has become freighted with pro-abortion propaganda: a code-word for “just a clump of cells,” used in propaganda to create emotional distance from recognition of the fact that that “clump of cells” is, indeed, a human organism.

    Going by the dictionary you are right, and anyone who uses the word “baby” to refer to an unborn creature is either ignorant, careless, or up to no good. Or else, like me, is using it according to its common meaning as opposed to the dictionary definition. It bothers me when I see this done by others, and once in awhile I do protest, so you aren’t out of bounds there. I concede the truth that underlies your point. :>)

    The issue of murder has to do with more than one factor, but one of the factors is precisely the moral status of the human organism at each stage, indeed each moment, of its life-cycle, from conception to death. The killer or the person authorizing it has an opinion about that moral status, which enables him to do or authorize the killing or to refrain from the same, and this is his privately. The society, via a more or less common consensus of its members’ individual opinions, also takes a position on the killing, and this position is specifically not private, nor is the position of the jurisdiction’s laws; and neither is the society’s nor the law’s decision about what if anything is to be done about a given killing, in view of a number of factors.

    My comments are sometimes long (yours too, occasionally), and often it’s because I’m trying very hard to be thorough. There are two reasons for that. One is pure intellectual discipline, in my own thinking and in the expression of it. The other is so as to inhibit misunderstandings by the reader, including leaving holes that invite misunderstanding.

    I have just deleted another rather lengthy explanation of my subject comment, noting that the killing in question — abortion — cannot help but be both a private and a social, hence political, hence legal, matter, in response to somebody’s rather usual remark that “abortion should be a private matter between a woman and her doctor.”

    My point is that this cannot be so, if we look just a little deeper. Unless, of course, the person doing the killing or deciding that it be done is a hermit.

    My own views about abortion were not and are not germaine to any part of my comment. (Prior to the comment, I admitted to “uncoolness” on the matter. Purely in the spirit of Full Disclosure. But that has no bearing whatsoever on the comment in question.)

    Still less is whether or how I would “enforce” my views. (I wouldn’t.)

    Somebody warned that the medicine (laws against abortion) might be worse than the disease (having or doing abortions). That is absolutely true. Laws must always be examined for that defect, and a lot of evil side-effects are overlooked or ignored. (See the U.S. RICO statutes.)

    One final comment. Please disabuse yourself of the idea that I don’t know that “anarchy” is not always meant to imply a society that ignores the NIOF or NAP principle. That is why I specified “lawless anarchy:”

    ‘Unless we are living in a state of no law, that is in lawless anarchy….’

    But again, given that many people still seem to understand “anarchy” to mean widespread mayhem enabled and encouraged and indeed inevitable where there is a lack of formally constituted and approved law, I can understand why you read it as you did, taking “lawless” as redundant.

    . . .

    I hope this doesn’t come across as abrasive. The truth is I was somewhat piqued by a couple of comments, and Laird’s in particular, and probably way beyond what anyone other than a tender fragile flower such as I would have been. 🙁 🙂

    But I did feel it necessary to point out what I didn’t say, as well as what I did.

  • Laird

    Julie, I accept your criticism of my misunderstanding of your term “lawless anarchy.” I should have known that you understand the distinction I noted in my aside. Although I would have preferred that you simply use “lawlessness” and eliminate the “anarchy”, to avoid the confusion.

    But I don’t accept your other criticism. You write that “any result of the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm is, by definition, human.” Not everyone agrees with this, and therein lies your assumption (now made explicit). If such a collection of cells is indistinguishable from a similar collection of cells from a dozen or more other species (which is the case), it is not beyond legitimate argument that it is not yet human, but merely has the potential to become such at some point in the future. You are forcing your “definition” into the discussion, but as I said previously that assumes the answer, and thus reduces your argument to a tautology. I’m not saying that your position is wrong, just that it is not demonstrably and inarguably correct, either.

    As the famous aphorism attributed to Lincoln goes, how many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg? The answer, of course, is four, because simply calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one. And simply calling a fertilized egg human doesn’t necessarily make it one, either.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, I believe you are incorrect. Surely a clumps of cells are sortable into different categories according to their DNA characteristics, which are the result, in sexual reproduction, of the implantation of the male reproductive cell into the female one.

    Surely one can tell whether a “clump of cells” as small as two cells — the zygote and the result of its first cell-division — is sortable into a category named “plant” or not, or a category named “mammal” or not, or a category named “carrot” or named “whale” or named “dog” or named “human.”

    I grant there may be clumps of cells which don’t fall into the biological taxonomy of named species, but the results of human reproduction do.

    Your assumption is that it doesn’t get to be called “human” until you (I mean both You, Laird, and also “you,” any given individual) has decided it merits being kept alive. It seems to me that you are only willing to assign the moral status of “humanness” to a creature conceived of human reproduction that has attained some age or point in its life-cycle beyond which you’re no longer entirely willing to authorize its being killed as legitimate and of no moral concern.

    It seems to me that your view is a good example of question-begging.

    My view is that the only logically consistent definition of “human” is the one I gave (though not 100% formally). In a strictly “value-neutral” scientific sense, then, I would define the adjective “human” as a modifier referring to a biological entity which is the result of the fertilization of a human egg cell by a human sperm cell.

    This is NOT begging the question: It’s specifying exactly a definition, one which it seems to me avoids all sorts of murky waters about what is or isn’t “human” when we discuss issues pertaining to the life and death of any entities which fall under that definition. From what you yourself wrote, for you it’s not possible to say what is or isn’t human (in the sense of the present discussion). It’s no wonder people have trouble thinking clearly about the issue of abortion — the deliberate cessation of the life processes of an organism of the human variety — when they can’t even find an firm starting ground of the definition of the term.

    I freely grant, by the way, that there may be areas of dispute among biologists about such things as whether it’s possible for a human egg to become a zygote without the invasion of a human male’s sperm. However, if there is such a thing as a human hermaphrodite, and the person does eventually produce a zygote entirely internally, the zygote would still be a human zygote,

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oops….well, no point flogging it to death I suppose. You get the idea.

    There was a PS I wanted to add to my comment just prior to the one directly above, which is that in fact most of the discussion has not been about the morality of abortion, but about what society, and what we as members of society, think about abortion as a social issue, and about how we make those decisions.

    The difference between these two subjects was all I was trying to get at in the first place. That they both exist, and that they have to exist given the nature of human beings and the reality in which we find ourselves.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Besides, whether or not “everyone agrees with” X doesn’t determine whether X, if an assertion of fact, is true or false; or whether, if X is an argument, it is valid or invalid (and that’s true regardless whether X is a purely abstract argument, as in math, or an argument about things in the real world); or whether, if X is a definition, it has or hasn’t merit as a definition.

    Ideally, a definition would be either Aristotelian (genus/differentia) or else, if that’s impossible (as far as is known), ostensive. In any case, the purpose of a definition is to state as exactly as possible what is meant by the word, so that there will be the bare minimum of ambiguity or vagueness or confusion possible when the word is used in discourse or in a given person’s own private thinking.

    It happens often enough that the definitions of words are altered or refined as we come to know more about the concept we’re discussing, or about which we are thinking. There is nothing wrong or invalid about trying to come up with a definition that’s more rigorous then the one presently in use.

    And as for statements like “I don’t agree with [or, accept] your definition,” that doesn’t make my definition invalid or bad or wrong. (Yes, of course this works both ways!) It means that either the words in the definition do not convey to you the meaning they have for me; or that the concept in your mind which is symbolized in the word is different from the concept it symbolizes in mind.

    At that point one stops and ponders whether the proposed alternative is really more congruent with reality, or with the other concepts in an abstract system of thought, than the old one. In part the resulting decision depends on whether, in one’s dispassionate judgment, the new definition adds clarity or ease of use in either thinking about or communicating thoughts about the concept which the word symbolizes.

    At any rate, that’s my view. But then, as a mathematicus interrupticus, I prefer to get things nailed down as well as possible, which mostly is not very. :>(

  • It is a staple of pro-life rhetoric, but none the less true for that, that women have, for millennia, in every language, been saying, “I felt the baby move”, not, “I felt the foetus move”. If a dictionary chose to define that as ‘wrong’ usage, I’d see such a claim as the kind of newspeak we should ignore.

  • Alisa

    Not exactly, Ed – to me it smacks more of progressivism/malthusianism than of socialism specifically. Meaning, the enthusiasts do place value on human life, only a negative one.

    That likely also includes the enthusiasm for euthanasia, as well as the other, less overt tendencies towards getting rid of the old and the terminally sick – and this enthusiasm does more logically apply to socialists than that for abortions: after all, babies are future worker bees, while the old and the terminally sick no longer are.

  • Alisa

    Julie, I would then like to discuss definitions: a number of cells, each originating from a human, is by your definition human, due to the human DNA material these cells contain? Is that the only requirement, or is some sort of a process (as opposed to material) – such as fertilization or further growth and development – also a necessary part of this definition? If so, where and why do you draw the cutoff line between the various consecutive processes these cells normally undergo in the uterus? If not, does the number of those cells have to be larger than 1? And if yes, why?

  • Alisa (butting in slightly to your discussion with Julie), in a comment above, I note that mothers say “I felt the baby move” to “the foetus move”. Although I’d guess that mothers might more typically say “the baby is almost big enough to see without a microscope” rather than “the foetus is almost big enough to see without a microscope” after an ultrasound or whatever, I feel a good deal less sure about that. And if I’m right, mothers’ saying that is strongly related to their future expectations (your point about ‘process’).

    I recall Natalie posting on another matter that being a libertarian is very – liberating. In an earlier post I noted that very-early-stages abortion regulation would be either impossible or impossibly intrusive. Although we’re discussing an abstract philosophical point here, I suspect my earlier post is not wholly unrelated to my “not sure about that” response. Another example of how libertarian thoughts can liberate?

  • Alisa

    It is, Niall, and this indeed is just another manifestation of that realization that other people’s lives are in fact theirs, at least as far as each one of us is concerned as individuals. With a nod to Ed, this in no way means that we have to like some of the things other people are doing (or failing to do), let alone be enthusiastic about them. It also doesn’t mean that we just shrug and go about our lives unaffected. But it still means that we have no business getting involved, unless specifically asked for help.

  • Martin

    It’s been noted above that abortion isn’t anywhere as near a red hot issue in Britain than in the USA. I think that’s obviously true. While it’s still something that clearly is very divisive in America though, I think it maybe getting less so. Donald Trump says he is against abortion but one gets the feeling he is saying this just because he’s in the Republican Party now and probably intends to do little about it if elected. Indeed, he praises the other functions of planned parenthood, which his cardboard cutout conservative rivals denounce as blasphemy. Yet Trump is utterly kicking his opponents butts, despite offending numerous Republican orthodoxies, so it does make me wonder how salient it is.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, to answer your question: According to the definition I would prefer, any cells that are the result of a fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm are human cells.

    Please note, first, that I am specifically defining the adjective “human.” I am not defining the noun “human.” And in fact, when we use the word “human” as a noun, we’re almost always using the adjective as shorthand for the phrase “human being”: that is, a being which is human, i.e., a being which is the result of human sexual reproduction. [Note that that last phrase says nothing about the circumstances of the fertilization: the Most Common Method, artificial insemination, test-tube fertilization (which may very well not be intended to produce a human animal or “human being” in the sense of common parlance).]

    It just occurred to me, though, that this raises an issue about cloning. WikiFootia informs me that in 1998 “a nucleus was taken from a man’s leg cell and inserted into a cow’s egg from which the nucleus had been removed, and the hybrid cell was cultured, and developed into an embryo.” The article is at

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_cloning .

    (Pursuant from that, I follow the link to the article on Embryo, q.v. From this article:

    In general, in organisms that reproduce sexually, an embryo develops from a zygote, the single cell resulting from the fertilization of the female egg cell by the male sperm cell.

    … In … animals … the zygote will begin to divide by mitosis to produce a multicellular organism. The result of this process is an embryo.

    In humans, a pregnancy is generally considered to be in the embryonic stage of development between the fifth and the eleventh weeks after fertilization,[1] and is considered a fetus from the twelfth week on.


    (If the Foot is correct in saying that this is standard, accepted technical usage among biological scientists whose field is human reproductive and early developmental biology, the life-cycle of a normal human being begins at conception, the result of which is the fertilized egg or (human!) zygote; this undergoes cell division and becomes an embryo.

    (I hate to move away from the abstract, but I have to say that if the 9-week-old embryo in the photo isn’t a baby, I don’t know what the H it is. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a photo of an embryo of a non-human primate, so I don’t know how much a chimp baby, for instance, would look like a human baby when both are in their respective embryonic stages.)

    As to the distinction if any between embryo and fœtus:

    In human development, a fetus (/ˈfiːtəs/; plural “fetuses”), also spelled foetus, is a prenatal human between its embryonic state and its birth. The fetal stage of development tends to be taken as beginning at the gestational age of eleven weeks, i.e. nine weeks after fertilization.[1][2] In biological terms, however, prenatal development is a continuum, with no clear defining feature distinguishing an embryo from a fetus. The use of the term “fetus” generally implies that an embryo has developed to the point of being recognizable as a human; this is the point usually taken to be the ninth week after fertilization.

    Never forgetting that I am only going by Wikipedia, not always considered the most perfectly reliable of sources, and that these articles deal with matters of great interest to those with some socio-political agenda, I nevertheless note the part I put into boldface.

    Back to the question of cloning. I gather that at present at least, fully-human cloning is done based on human cells. And there we are again: cells taken FROM a human source are themselves HUMAN cells, or to say the same thing slightly differently, the cells are human. “Human” is an adjective meaning having a human source, and the ultimate human source is still the product of fertilization of the human egg by human sperm. (The cow-man hybrid would by this definition not be fully-human but at best partially so; under the/my definition of “human,” it isn’t. Not because of its DNA (though I assume its DNA isn’t the same as human DNA either), but because it doesn’t meet the definition.

    Eventually there might be a good reason to alter the definition of “human” to include such cases, but the time is not yet.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Drat, I messed up the boldface. The part I most particularly wanted to stress is this:

    “…’foetus’ generally implies that an embryo has developed to the point of being recognizable as a human….”

    “A human.” A human what? Presumably, a human being.

    By the way, it’s not just I who say the word “human” is an adjective. The decent OED, namely the 1971 printing (with addenda as updates) of the 1933 edition agrees.

    Interestingly, the same OED gives the main definition of infant as, quoting literally:

    “A child in the earliest period of life (or still unborn).”

    Aside: the OED has a long section on the word “child,” including this, under its definition “with reference to age”:

    “Child: The unborn or newly born human being, fœtus, infant.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, I did step on my tie. On February 28, 2016 at 2:06 am, I wrote

    I would define the adjective “human” as a modifier referring to a biological entity which is the result of the fertilization of a human egg cell by a human sperm cell.

    Unfortunately, it’s circular. Let me correct this.

    In point of fact the cells of organisms do differ from species to species, and the cells of different individuals of the same species are sufficiently similar in sufficiently many salient particulars that in principle one can determine the species from an examination of whatever cells one is given. It’s the similarities and differences in their chemical makeup that cause the differences among species by which we are able to distinguish one kind of creature from another.

    Since I have no idea how to specify the chemical makeup of the human egg or the human sperm, let me write ß to stand for the set of chemical formulas or terms used to specify the human egg, and to represent the set of chemical formulas or terms used to specify the human sperm cell.

    The corrected definition, with a bit of editing, then would be:

    The word “human” is an adjective referring to any biological entity or structure, i.e. any group of cells, which results from the fertilization of a cell specified by ß by a cell specified by .

    . . .

    Alisa, I’m not sure if I answered your question or not. But if I understand you correctly, my answer is that “human” actually refers to the origin of the biological material, be it cells or tissue or whatever. The cells don’t have to be undergoing any process: They may be altogether dead. In fact we talk about “dead human beings” all the time. Actually we talk about “dead bodies” more often, but mostly we’re talking about dead human bodies, and the context makes that clear. If you’re talking about the dead body of your favorite heifer, that’s general clear from the context also.

  • Alisa

    I think it does, Julie – thank you. Also, I realize that the way I put my question does not convey the fact that my purpose is to understand the general position as ostensibly represented by you, in order to better modify and shape my own. As long as you have the time and the inclination to answer, of course 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, that’s very kind. Thank you. :>)

    As for the “general position,” I certainly don’t claim to represent it! My position (on abortion proper) probably gives 90% of the populace the hives. And as been rightly noted by commenters above, in the U.S. most people fall into three camps: Those who are strictly against abortion with possibly, but only possibly, at least one of the three common exceptions of rape, incest, especially “health of the mother” — I think most people probably accept the health-of-the-mother exception; those who are all in favor of abortion and no holds barred, although some moderate this to exclude “late-term” abortions; and those who aren’t happy with the idea but who do feel for women who don’t want a baby and try to take precautions, or for teenagers whose hormones run away with them. I think these people probably will go along with abortion in the first trimester without making a fuss about it.

    There are also those who think “it’s strictly between a woman and her doctor,” which actually states nothing about whether or when they think abortion is dandy or heinous or something in between, so isn’t really a position on abortion at all but on whether “society” or “the State” should have anything to say about.

    (My point all along has been that effectively society and the state do have something to say about it; there’s no way it could be otherwise, except, as I said, for hermits.)

    I just think part of a worthwhile discussion is to find solid ground, which is why definitions are so important. At least if I define grextl as a dish made of cold oatmeal mixed with ground flaxseed and served with hoisin sauce, and you define it as an automobile with a manual transmission, and we can both clearly state our definitions, we’ll know whether we’re talking about the same thing when we’re talking about whether it should be mandatory or prohibited.

    A slight and probably unnecessary qualification to my last para above: At that level of thought, I regard a (biological) body to be a system of cells, so I was just trying to point out that even so large and complex and fully “human”-in-the-more-general-sense system of cells can be without “process,” or at least “life-process,” i.e. dead. So considering that this “ultimate” aggregation of cells consists solely of dead, but still human, cells, might make it seem less strange that a small group of cells is properly “human” even though dead.

    . . .

    By the way, it was re-reading your question that prompted me to reconsider the whole comment stream and in particular my original formal definition. Doing so, with your comment or question in mind, was what made me realize I’d made a mistake in it. Drat, don’t I just hate when that happens! LOL

    It made me realize also that if “life-processes” are the processes you were talking about, I don’t consider them necessary in the definition of “human.”

    Anyway, this is just the sort of discussion that interests me, so I’m happy to continue at your pleasure.

    Besides, your views on the “meta-issues” are also of interest to me. 🙂

  • Alisa

    (My point all along has been that effectively society and the state do have something to say about it; there’s no way it could be otherwise, except, as I said, for hermits.)

    What does the state have to say about it?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, I’m not sure if you mean “the state” as in the individual states of the U.S., or the State as the Nation as a whole.

    Also, I’m not sure if you’re asking my why “the state” gets to have a say, or whether you mean what some real state, or State, actually does say. If the second, I honestly can’t tell you, except that we have here Roe v. Wade, which apparently people argue means that abortion is to be tolerated in all the states, at least until the developing baby is so many weeks old. I don’t know what the Roe v. Wade Opinion actually said, and I don’t know what a given state has to consider a crime before somebody thinks it’s contrary to “Law,” meaning the Roe v. Wade decision and any pertinent subsequent decision by SCOTUS or lower courts.

    So I will say what I think about the first, but none of it will be news to you. :>))

    In the U.S., each state has its own murder laws, and I understand that the “Police powers” are properly the various states’, under our system.

    So the question becomes, “When is abortion murder, or some lesser form of the deliberate killing of a live human?” As such, laws about it are within the police powers of the states.

    And, of course, there’s the issue of deciding when the organism growing within the mother becomes “human.” I think that’s a no-brainer. I think what we really struggle with is the question of whether and when it’s justifiable to kill another human being in general; abortion is just one of the cases in which this question is asked. It’s asked (by some) about even killing in self-defense. It’s asked in the issue of capital punishment. It’s asked about mercy killing.

    And it’s asked about killing human organisms developing in the human womb.

    Who asks these questions? Each person who ever thinks about such things, which I think and hope is most people. And groups of people talk about these issues among themselves. And the “conversation” that “society” has and “society’s” “position” on these things arises out of all these separate discussions and debates. I think that generally most people have some disagreement with at least some of what they perceive to be “society’s” position on at least some issues, and in particular on what killing is the kind that is properly addressed by law.

    Lawmakers make law in the name of the State (or the several American states). But lawmakers are people, and they have personal beliefs and agendas, some in common with a bloc of fellow lawmakers and some not. They are a part of society, but also they form a social subgroup with a political agenda, a law-making one. Presumably most of them are hoping to enact laws that will please their constituents, partly because that’s their job and partly because they want “job reviews” good enough to get them re-elected; so they are influenced by what they think the larger society has “decided.” Also they have their own beliefs, which also inform their deliberations. And they have their own agendas, which are conceivably at odds with both what society “thinks” is right and with what they themselves believe is morally right. (A sociopath might know murder is “wrong,” and if he’s sufficiently rational, or rationalistic anyway, he might reason that it’s also immoral–but still simply not care. He’s more interested in fulling his need or urge to kill.)

    So in most political regimes at least, society and the State both have opinions on all kinds of matters, and the State is empowered to make such laws as its (actual, not merely putative) lawmakers think necessary, or righteous, or both.

    So what “the state” “says” about abortion is expressed as the laws it makes. And what it says is some sort of stance or consensus of most of the lawmakers (perhaps with a hierarchical weighting) in which all those factors inform each lawmaker’s decision and thus the controlling consensus.

    What might the state say about it? Assuming it doesn’t go the prior-restraint route, it can say, you can do it, but if we find out about you’ll be punished, absent legally mitigating factors. And any number of punishments and of any degree of severity might be on the menu.

    Of course, it may be that most people in the society (or most of the people with any influence on the bulk of opinion) either don’t care enough to form an opinion, or have an opinion but are even more of the opinion that their opinion shouldn’t influence any individual’s decision on whether to have an abortion, or that it’s not up to them to decide what is or isn’t a crime — “none of my business” grounds. Anyway, what it boils down to is that the social consensus, or even custom or tradition, is toleration of abortion, which might allow for trying to argue women out of having them but with no threat attached, or might be so constrained in its thinking or so uncaring about this type of killing, at least, as to ignore the whole thing.

    If the lawmakers accept this opinion, which is that nobody wants to bother with it, or that nobody ought to bother with it, whichever, then there won’t be any laws about it one way or the other. In this way, the state will have made the decision that it will have nothing to say about it.

    But this decision to refrain from saying is the result of a decision not to take a position, and that’s an expression also of what “society” and/or the lawmakers “think.”

    Which is not to say the decision is necessarily consciously thought out.

    I hope I haven’t gone on at too much length. And to reiterate, this is only how I see it.

    But I hope all that has something to do with your question. :>)

  • Alisa

    Julie, by ‘state’ I mean government – any government in general, but specifically one most relevant to you in practice. Unless you meant something different?

  • Alisa

    Even more specifically, what I meant to ask was: would you have a law passed that treats abortion as murder, with the government that has the most influence in your neck of the woods* having the power to enforce such a law? If yes, what type of abortions would it cover, and (here I come full circle), how would that government go about enforcing such a law in practice?

    *State, or Federal, or both – I imagine that you would choose the former, as would I, but to me this is beside the point within this narrow context. After all, we are talking about murder.

  • Julie near Chicago


    I’m working on a reply, but it’s taking awhile. It’s shaping up to be longer than War and Peace, but it will be forthcoming.

    I wanted to let you know I’m not ignoring you, nor dead. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago


    Boy. War and Peace.

    I will have to work this out in some detail.

    First, the obvious answer is that I would not pass a law. (I wouldn’t in any case — rather, I’d vote yay or nay on a referendum.) So in actual practical reality, given something close to the world we’re in, the question is, if I had a voice on the issue how would I vote?

    To figure this out, I have to consider various categories of death-dealing acts and whether they should, might, or shouldn’t be considered “crimes” to be “prohibited” under the law. And I note that practically speaking, an act is legally “prohibited” in and only in the sense that if the act is discovered and the perpetrator is found, he will be punished for it. It’s only in this sense that the law “enforces” anything.

    In the unlikely event that I’m wrong about that [/self-mockery], I’m sure one of our legal-eagles will correct me…assuming any of them are still reading.

    Please understand that this is me “thinking aloud on a keyboard,” to paraphrase Natalie’s wonderful title of sometime back.

    Also please remember that although I have studied law all my life, from the age of 5 when I started my schooling with Perry Mason’s radio broadcasts, right up through the present, under various pre-eminent practicing LL.D.’s such as Butch Karp, NY Asst. DA and eventual Homicide Bureau Chief.

    So you understand that any errors in my remarks are the result of inexcusable lapses from the writers of my textbooks. (In other words, I’m strictly a layman and may have terminology all wrong. *g*.)

    I don’t know for sure if this is the most clear or concise way to go at it, but:

    First, there are killings and killings. States’ laws define various classes of these, from purely accidental killings with absolutely no ill intent of any kind behind them…your Crown Vic swerved on a patch of ice and mashed headlong into a Yugo, killing six plus the family’s budgie…to the worst kind of evil and depravity (Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, a brother-in-spirit whose career was cut short when he was caught after his first victim — so of necessity not a serial murderer).

    I have the impression that although we use slightly different terminology today, the main categories of killings are pretty much as set forth in Webster’s 1828 online, under “homicide” (boldface mine):

    HOM’ICIDE, n. [L. homicidium; homo, man, and caedo, to strike, to kill.]

    1. The killing of one man or human being by another. Homicide is of three kinds, justifiable, excusable, and felonious; justifiable, when it proceeds from unavoidable necessity, without an intention to kill, and without negligence; excusable, when it happens from misadventure, or in self-defense; felonious, when it proceeds from malice, or is done in the prosecution of some unlawful act, or in a sudden passion. Homicide committed with premeditated malice, is murder. Suicide also, or self-murder, is felonious homicide. Homicide comprehends murder and manslaughter.

    –1. So under Webster’s classification, an infant (note ref above from the OED) might be aborted purely by accident — the mom fell and the developing human was killed as a direct result of the fall. Or even during normal delivery, e.g. the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck and for whatever reason (perhaps the mother is all alone at the time, or whatever) the baby dies during the birth itself.

    Accidental death absent ill intent, negligence, “reckless endangerment,” “depraved indifference,” or death caused during commission of some other “unlawful act” as above, is not a crime in other cases of homicide. There’s no reason why it should be in this one. I doubt anyone disagrees with that.

    Also there is abortion as a side-effect of necessary medical treatment of the mother such as chemotherapy, or surgery after an accident. That would be “justifiable homicide” as self-defense, per def.

    In fact if the life of the mother, or her capacity to function as a reasonably capable and competent adult human, is at serious risk (how serious is “serious”?) then to take the life of the baby is justified even under most variants of libertarian theory, I think. I went into some detail about my take on this back in 2014, at

    samizdata-dot-net/2013/04/thinking-aloud-on-a-mountainside/#comment-332997 ,

    and given the length I won’t repeat it here.

    You of course were also part of that long (and fascinating) discussion, and in fact you raised the same questions then as now. :>)


    –2. I’m not very clear on the distinction between Webster’s “unavoidable necessity” and accident (an instance of “misadventure”) or “self-defense.”

    Note: Webster’s 1828:

    MISADVEN’TURE, n. Mischance; misfortune; ill luck; an unlucky accident.

    1. In law, homicide by misadventure,is when a man, doing a lawful act, without any intention of injury, unfortunately kills another. This is called excusable homicide.


    –3. Per def, murder is one particular class of felonious [criminal?*] homicide. Webster:

    MUR’DER, n. [L. mors.]

    1. The act of unlawfully killing a human being with premeditated malice, by a person of sound mind. To constitute murder in law, the person killing another must be of sound mind or in possession of his reason, and the act must be done with malice prepense, aforethought or premeditated; but malice may be implied, as well as express.

    2. An outcry, when life is in danger.

    MUR’DER, v.t.

    1. To kill a human being with premeditated malice. [See the Noun.]

    2. To destroy; to put an end to.

    MUR’DER, n. [L. mors.]

    1. The act of unlawfully killing a human being with premeditated malice, by a person of sound mind. To constitute murder in law, the person killing another must be of sound mind or in possession of his reason, and the act must be done with malice prepense, aforethought or premeditated; but malice may be implied, as well as express.

    2. An outcry, when life is in danger.

    MUR’DER, v.t.

    1. To kill a human being with premeditated malice. [See the Noun.]

    2. To destroy; to put an end to.

    Also, for clarity’s sake, per Webster again: In this context, to comprehend is to “contain, include, or comprise.”


    MAL’ICE, n. [L.malitia, from malus, evil.] Extreme enmity of heart, or malevolence; a disposition to injure others without cause, from mere personal gratification or from a spirit of revenge; unprovoked malignity or spite.

    I would especially note from this definition, “a disposition to injure others from mere personal gratification.” In other words, abortion-on-demand, “having this baby would be inconvenient.”

    I would also note that by all accounts there are more people who want to adopt a newborn than there are newborns available for adoption; so “I literally cannot afford financially to rear a child” isn’t even financially inconvenient.

    *[NOTE: I don’t know whether, as a legal term, “felonious” is today synonymous with “criminal” or not. Webster’s definition of “felony” seems to me to be somewhat at odds with its usage in the definition of “homicide” above. The definitions of “criminal” and “crime” are interesting also, but this is not the place for a textbook on legal usages and the philosophy thereof. Consult ref. at your own risk. :>) ]

    Now, to round things out, we must consider manslaughter.

    MAN’SLAUGHTER, n. [man and slaughter. See Slay.]

    1. In a general sense,the killing of a man or of men; destruction of the human species; murder.

    2. In law, the unlawful killing of a man without malice, express or implied. This may be voluntary, upon a sudden heat or excitement of anger; or involuntary, but in the commission of some unlawful act. Manslaughter differs from murder in not proceeding from malice prepense or deliberate, which is essential to constitute murder. It differs from homicide excusable, being done in consequence of some unlawful act, whereas excusable homicide happens in consequence of misadventure.

    According to my researches as outlined above, many if not all states recognize different degrees of manslaughter and different degrees of what I will call “criminal homicide” (as opposed to Webster’s broader “felonious homicide”). As to whether there’s overlap between “degrees of manslaughter” and “degrees of murder,” I don’t know.
    . . .

    So. In light of all that, and using Webster’s 1828 definitions, the question is whether there is such a thing as an abortion which counts as a felonious homicide. The answer to that is clearly Yes.

    The question then becomes one of finding a reasonable balance between the legal charge against the mother and the aborter (if they are two persons) and:

    — the degree of development of the human organism in the womb (roughly, its chronological age since conception)

    — whether the organism appears to be developing without drastic malformation (such as anencephaly–but, for instance, I wouldn’t consider Downs Syndrome babies to be “drastically malformed.” Nor Siamese twins, nor those born without some limb or digit or functioning sense such as eyesight, and so forth). I think the “drastic malformation” would apply only if it were absolutely unassailably clearly impossible that the baby could develop to the point of being more like a greatly retarded dog having still some capacity to behave like a dog rather than a cabbage. (In this matter I know whereof I speak. My little sister was probably born normal but owing, probably, to PKU — which was not normally tested for — she never developed mentally past the age of perhaps six months. She could never walk nor talk nor feed herself. She did learn to scoot around on her rear like greased lightning. She couldn’t be toilet-trained. There was never any question for my parents but that she be accepted and loved as a member of the family. But there was no question but that she was human — she was clearly human and not a cabbage in a human suit. She died in her early 20’s.)

    — whether there are mitigating circumstances of some sort.

    Assuming the guidelines for making the proper charge have been established, it would also have to be decided what range of punishments each charge would bear.

    And in any given case, what about mitigating circumstances in deciding the sentence?

    Those are the issues that occur to me. As to the question about enforcement, I guess that’s answered in here somewhere. (Enforcement is after-the-fact, not directly preventative, and it’s partly punitive and partly preventative of other such putative crimes via deterrence.)

    Of course, some of the standard defenses to charges of homicide would be available here. They say “not guilty by reason of insanity” is a hoary old chestnut of legal thrillers, but not a proper plea in real courtrooms. I think. But I also think there’s some sort of “diminished capacity” defense.

    Aside: Can a psychopath claim his psychological malfunction or “mental disease” as a defense? I have no idea. I gather not, but….

    . . .

    If I were voting Yay or Nay on some proposed law, I personally would err on the side of leniency, because I have a great fear of unjustly punishing (or even badmouthing!) people.

    But as for saying what the law “should” be, that means either how would I write the law (I wouldn’t — not without a lifetime’s background in law, medicine, psychology, and history) or trying to decide roughly what factors a well-written law would take into account. This last is really what all that above is about.

    . . .

    One other point. Some, but not all, Christians believe that a Soul attaches to the fertilized egg at once, i.e. at conception. (I don’t know about other religions’ opinions on that.) For them, it’s completely obvious that the Soul is sacrosanct and therefore even a newly-conceived human organism ought not to be deliberately killed. [Pages of theology follow.] They are understandably tougher on abortion than some others.

    Another thought. Many of us non-believers still speak and perhaps think in terms of the soul. Miss Rand did, for example. Atheists and agnostics often like to say that by “the psyche” they mean what theists mean by “the soul.” Maybe so, but it seems to me there’s a connotation, and not merely a religious one, to “soul” that is different from the connotations of “psyche.”

    It occurs to me that we atheists might consider the idea that the Soul develops along with the physical development of the organism. It seems to me that something similar to this idea of a “developing soul” is in the minds of some anti-anti-abortionist atheists. Thus for them, it might seem sensible to say that the developing organism is not “really human” until its soul has reached some stage of development.

    . . .

    As for partial-birth abortion, at least as it’s done today, I would absolutely outlaw it. At that point we’re clearly talking about plain infanticide, and a cruel one at that. Absolutely disgusting. In fact, under nearly all circumstances deliberate abortion that causes pain to the abortee is beyond the pale.

    I hope at least some of that is interesting, if any readers are still standing. :>)

  • Alisa

    Yes, Julie, this is all very interesting, but it doesn’t answer my question 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    Then, Alisa, I’m sorry to have taken your time, and I thank you for reading. But if this doesn’t at least address your question, then I have no idea what you’re getting getting at.


  • Alisa

    It’s a simple question, really: would you vote for a law criminalizing intentional abortion? Leaving aside for the moment exactly what type of abortion and at what stage of the pregnancy, and leaving aside the type of punishment. Or maybe let me put it differently: is there at least one type of abortion you would support criminalizing, with the proposed law mandating at least some kind of punishment? You seem to have mentioned the partial-birth type, or did I misunderstand?

    And again, it is not about you personally, I am just trying to understand the line of thinking that seems to be shared by a lot of people.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, if I assume a legal system that works within a framework as above, to which I think our laws about homicide more or less conform, then in principle abortion would be a criminal act if it met the same criteria as those used in determining the criminality of any other killing.

    From my comment above:

    In light of all that, and using Webster’s 1828 definitions, the question is whether there is such a thing as an abortion which counts as a felonious homicide. The answer to that is clearly Yes.

    In particular, to me it’s clear that in some cases it can rightly be recognized as murder.

    From above:

    Per def, murder is one particular class of felonious [criminal?*] homicide. Webster:

    MUR’DER, n. [L. mors.]

    1. The act of unlawfully killing a human being with premeditated malice, by a person of sound mind. To constitute murder in law, the person killing another must be of sound mind or in possession of his reason, and the act must be done with malice prepense, aforethought or premeditated; but malice may be implied, as well as express.

    Murder is by definition a criminal act, punishable at law. It is the worst type of killing, and its defining charactistic is that it is done “with malice aforethought.”

    I listed above three broad issues to be considered in deciding the degree of offense of abortions:

    1. Age of the organism, i.e. time since conception; and

    2. Whether the organism appears to be developing in such a way that it will possess some noticeable degree of human behavior — I can’t quite nail this, but again, it might appear to be developing Down Syndrome, which is not an exonerating reason for murdering it, or it might be clearly never going to develop a brain at all, in which case abortion might be considered third-degree manslaughter or some such thing: killing that is perhaps technically unjust but that is a most minor injustice, in that the “victim” can never have even a vestige of human mentality, and should certainly not be considered a crime. Personally, if I were the D.A. in a case like that I wouldn’t even think of putting it up for trial. I’d ask the woman’s doc to send me an image and an affidavit testifying to the anencephaly, and tell her that she was free to go); and,

    3. Whether there are other mitigating circumstances which make the killing less heinous than it would be in other circumstances. Perhaps one such case would be where the mother is not really mentally competent, or where she actually is so uneducated as not to recognize that abortion done out of fear (or for any reason except to protect the life of the mother) is wrong.

    Another mitigating factor might be the case of a newly-arrived woman from some country in the Exotic East who does not know our laws nor our viewpoint, and who learns she is carrying a girl, and decides to abort the infant because in her country and culture aborting girls is a common practice, especially if the girl is the first child — it will shame her husband if she doesn’t produce a male child initially, don’tcha see.

    I can also imagine abortions otherwise criminal, but with the mitigating circumstance that the mother (or her guardian) makes the decision that in this particular extreme circumstance the killing is actually a mercy killing in objective fact. For instance the pregnant mother is marooned on a desert island with nothing to eat but plankton, and the child in the womb is not getting and cannot get enough nourishment to sustain it. In such a case a pregnant mother might abort her baby rather than leaving it to wither and die in her womb. That to me would be a mitigating circumstance.

    So those are the factors to consider in deciding whether abortions other than those conducted to save the life or functionality of the mother rise to the level of murder.

    And if they do, one then considers another set of guidelines to see what sort of punishment might be appropriate.

    This whole way of looking at the issue does rest on the definition I stated above of the word “human.”

    . . .

    There are certainly cases that I would consider murder.

    Partial-birth abortion, meaning the deliberate killing of the baby as a part of the actual delivery procedure, unless some sort of rare emergency developed where the baby had to be killed before it was fully expelled from the mother’s body in order to save the mother’s life. Otherwise this is an abomination and rightly requires a severe sentence. I would support the death penalty only for someone like Mao or Stalin, Pol Pot or Hitler, Ho or even Fidel (I don’t think he racked up a death count as high as those other nasties, but the man should have been shoved off the planet lo! these many decades ago already).

    But in general, no, because humans are fallible and a life once taken, even in error, can never be returned. At least the man serving a life term has a chance of being set free if he’s innocent. Once he’s dead, that’s off the menu.

    If the “mother” was making her living by serving as an incubator of human organisms which were to be killed and sold to the fœtal-body-parts market, any such such killing would be murder — except possibly for one circumstance that would be highly extraordinary, at least in Western civilization, that I can think of but won’t even get into. It would take a book.

    Contrary to Webster’s 1828 or any other dictionary, I would NEVER consider suicide as a matter subject to law. It most certainly should NOT be a “crime.” It doesn’t even technically merit the description ‘self-murder,’ because murder is unjustified killing, and to the person who commits suicide his self-killing is justified by whatever motive prompts it.

    . . .

    Enough. If this still doesn’t get at what you’re trying to find out, Alisa, I’m willing to give it another go. Your call. Although I’d like to know whether or not it helped, regardless of whether you wish to pursue it further. :>)

  • Mr Ed

    Could we add another sub-topic or two, e.g. migration, and technology/space colonisation, just to make sure that we go completely OT? 🙂

    Anyway, I hope you’ve found it helpful to thrash out the issue, at some point I may find a chance to read it all through. It has certainly highlighted that what in the USA is a major issue is, in the UK, simply a non-issue.

    Suicide used to be a common law crime in England, right up to 1961, i.e. judges found it to be unlawful going back to the mists of time, without Parliament making it an offence (just as murder is a common-law offence in England, the punishment of which is regulated by Acts of Parliament).

    Regarding murder, I would bring back to the UK constructive malice, e.g. a getaway driver from a bank robbery running over a pedestrian due to driving too fast and looking at the pursuing police car. The intent to do wrong (in the robbery) being ‘transferred’ to an intent to kill the pedestrian. Easy way out, don’t do wrong.

  • Alisa

    Thanks Julie – it does help, some. At the very least it helps me advance somewhat in the discussion (with you, or whatever generally position you may or may not represent, or just with myself). So what I am getting so far is this: it has often occurred to me in the past, and is now becoming even more clear, that abortion can be discussed as a separate moral/legal issue, or as a special case of the larger moral/legal issue of taking the life of another human. The problem I see with your (and many others’) arguments is that you discuss it as the latter in the moral realm, but once you step into the legal realm, you concede the existing metacontext of the former (namely, abortion being a separate issue, although certainly granting its clear and undeniable overlap with the larger and more “simple” issue of the taking of human life). I’d like to resist that tendency, and take the view of abortion being a special case of taking a human life (let’s call it ‘murder’ as a shorthand*). What it would mean in practice, at least on the face of it, is that we throw Roe vs. Wade and all the rest of it into the toilet (no gruesome pun intended :-/ ), and instead treat each case of apparent pregnancy not resulting in a live and very apparent human baby as a case of a missing person – which, like any such case, may or may not result in a *murder investigation and possible indictment, and all the rest of it. What do you think?

  • Alisa

    My apologies, Ed – but (FWIW), he started it 🙁

  • Julie near Chicago


    “I’d like to … take the view of abortion being a special case of taking a human life (let’s call it ‘murder’ as a shorthand*). What it would mean in practice, at least on the face of it, is that we throw Roe vs. Wade and all the rest of it into the toilet (no gruesome pun intended :-/ ), and instead treat each case of apparent pregnancy not resulting in a live and very apparent human baby as a case of a missing person – which, like any such case, may or may not result in a *murder investigation and possible indictment, and all the rest of it. What do you think?”

    I think that’s exactly what I think! 🙂 🙂

    In fact, I thought that’s what I said. Except for working from the specific starting position of “we have a missing person here, now what about it?” That particular take-off point never occurred to me. (Just for the record, the take-off point that I thought of was somebody’s direct accusation, with some sort of sensible grounds for suspicion, reported somehow to The Authorities.)

    I honestly thought I was answering your questions directly, with a relatively small but necessary amount of explanatory commentary, and a few illustrative examples.

    Could you explain to me how I was unclear about it, as you read it? I’d really like to know. :>)

    . . .

    Minor quibble: I wouldn’t say abortion is a “special” case of taking a human life, because in the American idiom at least, a “special case” is often taken to be one to which the normal rules don’t quite apply. I’d rather call it a “particular” case of taking a human life.

    Somewhat less minor quibble: I’m not happy with using “Murder” as shorthand for “the taking of a human life,” because a lot of killing is accidental or justified or done under sufficiently mitigating circumstances that it really isn’t murder. Indeed, it can be purely accidental (example of nonmurderous accidental killing which happens to be an abortion: mother, while being extra-careful during her pregnancy, nevertheless ingests something that unexpectedly kills the developing baby; in other words, unknowingly ingests an abortifacient). And killing in self-defense is often, in (statute) law, definitely not murder.

    So, too easy to falsely label various types human-killing as murder. “She murdered her husband, you know. Yeah, he slipped on a banana peel, but he was a drunk and she hated him. She put that banana peel there on purpose, knowing perfectly well he’d lurch into that doorway and slip on the thing and break his fool neck.”

    . . .

    On “immediate post-birth infanticide,” i.e. murder committed right after it would count as “partial-birth abortion”:

    Do you know the Beeb’s TV show Garrow’s Law? “Based on the real-life career of William Garrow, a British lawyer in the 1700’s. The series, co-created by Tony Marchant, is based on real legal cases from the late 18th century, as recorded in the Old Bailey Proceedings.” Per WikiFootia, /Garrow’s_Law/ .

    In particular, Series 1, Episode 1, is at

    U-Toob-dot-com /watch?v=-u9yoWpvrnE&list=PL4E5FCD32820D2630&index=1

    “After losing his first case of defending a man accused of highway robbery, idealistic barrister William Garrow is instructed to defend a serving girl accused of infanticide of her own baby at childbirth.”

    Per the Foot as above, my boldface.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr Ed, isn’t the driver of the getaway car an “accomplice to murder” in the U.S.? Based on my own extensive legal courses (Perry Mason, Butch Karp, &c., professors or tutors), I thought he is. As such, is he subject to the same penalties (up to and including execution or life imprisonment)?

    Because you know, I have a perfectly valid driver’s licence (Yes, Laird, the backward English always use “c” in such words, where better-educated people would know to use “s”), and I’m always looking for a quick buck, income tax and inflation and all being what they are, so it occurred to me —

  • Mr Ed


    The driver was, under ‘constructive malice’ the principal in murder as his crime of aiding the robbery gives him a constructed malice aforethought to the killing, even though he did not intend it. The others in the car are in a dofferent situation and I can’t remember if they are accomplices to the driver’s deed or not.

    There is also transferred malice, where someone shooting at Mr X with murderous intent misses and shoots Mr Y instead, even if he never intended to kill Mr Y, he has the malice needed for conviction. I am not sure if in England pre-1961, suppose Dr Evil throws a hand grenade at Mr Nice, intending to kill him, but the grenade hits a lamp post, bounces back and kills Dr Evil, has he murdered himself, committed suicide and thereby a crime, or neither? I suspect neither.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, Mr Ed. Oddly neither of those terms has turned up even in my most deeply enquiring legal texts — one of which was by Alan Dershowitz, and a very good one, too, by the way.

    Maybe I should keep looking for some other opportunity. One that does not appear wearing a shoulder holster and looking like Frank Nitti.