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It pays to argue against what your opponents actually believe

They say that the Earth’s magnetic poles swap places every few hundred thousand years.

“Roe v Wade: US Supreme Court ends constitutional right to abortion”, reports the BBC.

A miracle or a catastrophe, take your pick, but how did this happen after half a century in which Roe and Wade were the fixed poles by which the compass of the American abortion debate could be set? It is bad form for me to quote myself, but in this post, “How not to change minds on abortion”, I made the point about as well as I am ever likely to:

…in the US and the UK, the pro-choice side almost never engaged with what their opponents actually believed. Over the years I must have read hundreds of Guardian articles on abortion, mostly in its US section because abortion is such a live issue there. I do not recall a single one that argued against the main sticking point of the pro-life side, namely that abortion takes a human life – let alone argued for it. On other issues the Guardian would occasionally let the odd Conservative or other non-progressive have their say about fossil fuels or the nuclear deterrent or whatever, and would often feature writers who, while left wing themselves, at least knew enough of the right wing view to argue against it. However when it came to abortion the line always was, and judging from Twitter in the last few days, still is, that opposition to abortion arises (a) only from men and (b) only from men who wish to control women’s bodies.

It works, a bit. Some men who read that will decide that they do not want to be that sort of man, others will decide that they do not want to be thought to be that sort of man. But an argument that does not even acknowledge the existence of female opponents of abortion will obviously not change their minds. Nor will silence reassure women who are not firmly pro or anti. If the Left will not talk to them about their doubts, then by definition the only arguments they hear will come from the other side.

Related post: It pays to brief your own side properly. I might make a series of “It pays to…” posts.

27 comments to It pays to argue against what your opponents actually believe

  • Mr Ed

    I have started reading the majority judgment of Justice Alito, it is a merciless, relentless demolition of the past 49 years of jurisprudence, even citing Sir Edward Coke and reaching back to 13th Century England for context. I heartily recommend it.

    There is life in the Republic yet.

  • While I think Natalie’s point is (as usual) insightful and would be delighted if she wrote more “It pays to” posts as good as the two she links to, the immediate delight I feel at today’s news has very little to with my views on abortion – nor (I feel) should have that much with anyone’s.

    As even the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg once hinted (very sotto voce), THE ROE VERSUS WADE RULING WAS A LIE. The pretence that the US constitution contains such a right is simply, obviously, insolently false.

    In a world of perfect honesty, this blatant fact would enrage people of any opinion on what the unconstrained state laws should be, or even if there should be any laws at all. In the real world, those who hate its consequences make up no small part of those who fight any lie, but the lie justly increases the anger of many even of them, and if honesty is to have victories, it needs the help of people who won’t echo a lie even if they like its result. I have a low opinion of the late RGB. It would be lower still if she had literally never broken radio silence to hint that maybe, just maybe, the original ruling had been a tiny bit excessive.

    I love killing a lie. I have my views on abortion (discussed in prior threads). They include the sane distress of any non-woke person at the thought of killing a baby. They also include a caveat or two, and a warning to any state legislatures planning an extreme revenge to remember what Edmund Burke once said to a legislature that was planning to tax its American colonies:

    All that we have a right to do is not always wise to be done.

    But if I am honest with myself, I do have to wonder whether even my disgust at the ex-governer-of-Virginia’s eagerness to ‘abort’ babies after they were born could equal my disgust at his or anyone’s pretence it was a constitutional right.

  • It’s seldom the act that kills you, it’s the lie.

    So it would seem in this case. It doesn’t matter that after the end of Roe v Wade, access to abortion across the US varies from very broad to essentially none, that just illustrates that there was (and remains) a wide diversity of opinion.

    Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg knew they’d created the fiction of constitutional support for abortion out of whole cloth, in the hope that in the intervening years and decades the country would grow to accept it, but that was never the case and the issue remains as divisive today as when it was magicked out of nothing.

    As the years trampled on, the reality of the political promises about “Safe, Legal and Rare” (a Clinton lie), were far from the case and abortion was more often seen as just a form of post-conception contraception.

    By simply acknowledging that “There is no constitutional basis for Roe v Wade or Planned Parenthood v Casey” is not so much about undermining rights to privacy, bodily integrity or abortion, but about restoring legitimacy to the US constitution wholesale.

    “We should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote. Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous.'”

    Good. Far better to strengthen the constitution by removing the weak and largely unarguable matters and in so doing return these decisions back to the states and their electorates.

  • bobby b

    Justice Blackmun wrote the opinion for RvW, and what he produced was a good blend of compromises, guaranteed to leave no one completely happy but to stave off what he saw as a coming war.

    Had he been King, it would have been a work of art.

    But he wasn’t King. And the USSC finally acknowledged this. Along with this, it finally also acknowledged that “substantive due process” – which is essentially courts writing legislation that comports with their ideas of propriety – has no place in the law.

    He went where the USSC should never go, should it wish to retain legitimacy. In going there, he convinced several generations of people that the proper role of the USSC is to “do good.”

    That is not its role. The institution now faces dangers that would never exist had Blackmun merely dealt with the issue before the Court.

    Justice Ginsburg acknowledged this error quite a few times during her life. That she is now cited as the head god for the pro-choice side’s fight for RvW is comedic – a victory for ignorance.

  • Paul Marks

    President Macron of France has condemned the judgement of the United States Supreme Court – President Macron does cite any part of the Constitution of the United States to prove his case, he just states his view as if it was obviously correct. A mixture of arrogance and ignorance. Much like someone condemning a judgement of the Constitutional Council of France without bothering to read the Constitution of the Fifth Republic.

    Prime Minister Johnson has also condemned the judgment, as a “massive step backwards” – again Prime Minister Johnson does not cite any part of the Constitution of the United States to prove his case, he has made a “Progressive” statement, therefore, he must be correct – to be fair to Mr Johnson that is what Eton and Oxford (and the rest of the education system) now seem to teach – if a statement is “Progressive” it must be correct, without need for argument or evidence. Indeed Eton recently sacked a biology teacher for not being “Progressive” (one must not have a biology teacher who believes that biology is a science based on evidence).

    Various American Democrats are both condemning the Supreme Court for overturning an old New York State “Gun Control” Statute, even though it violates the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and are condemning the United States for overturning the 1973 “Roe V Wade” judgement – even though there is no part of the Constitution of the United States that states a right-to-abortion.

    The position of the “Progressive”, both outside and inside the United States, appears to be that the United States Supreme Court should ignore what is actually written in the Constitution of the United States, and (instead) enforce things that are NOT written in the Constitution of the United States.

    Perhaps next the Progressives will declare that any State can declare paper money as “legal tender” – even though Article One, Section Ten of the Constitution of the United States says that only gold or silver coin may be “legal tender” in any State, and will declare that there is a “right” to kill any person with brown eyes, even though the Constitution of the United States does NOT mention any right to kill people with brown eyes.

  • Paul Marks

    For those who do not know….

    The Constitution of the United States may be changed by an Amendment passed by two thirds of both Houses of Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives) and ratified by three quarters of the States, OR a Constitutional Convention may be called by two thirds of the States (without the consent of the Congress – no need for that) to change anything.

    There is no need for an “evolving Constitution” via arbitrary Supreme Court judgements such as Roe V Wade (1973) as, if people wish to do so, the Constitution can be changed – see above.

    If people want other things apart from gold or silver coin as legal tender, or the right to kill anyone with brown eyes, or a Constitutional Right to abortion, or an end to the Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms, or whatever, they can have it – IF they pass a Constitutional Amendment, or call a Constitution Convention and have its changes ratified.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    But an argument that does not even acknowledge the existence of female opponents of abortion will obviously not change their minds.

    Experts on the various kinds of logical fallacies may have a good & proper term for it. But my analogy for not acknowledging the existence of opponents is keeping a curtain across the stage in front of the audience (us the public). Friends in BBC News talk about “framing the debate” as a euphamism for the way most reporting is staged as an act of theatre (in line with corporate policy). With the reporter as an “interpreter” to explain everything to the general public, to shape their opinion. We (the public) might be dimly aware there must be something behind the curtain, but it is out of sight and mostly out of mind.

    It gets more interesting when you look at the BBC’s own pictures.

    With a caption of “Anti-abortion activists celebrated the announcement outside the Supreme Court” we can see what is clearly a group of female opponents of abortion. Was that, just for a moment, letting us see behind the curtain?

    Or should the picture have had Leslie Nielsen saying Nothing to see here, move along please ?

  • Patrick Crozier

    The author is completely and utterly wrong. It is always good form for Natalie Solent to quote herself. To do otherwise would be like repainting the Mona Lisa. The original is there, it is done, it is perfect. All that is required is to give others the opportunity to revel in its magnificence.

  • It pays to argue against what your opponents actually believe

    Don’t be daft. Mischaracterise your enemies, set up strawmen (er, strawpersons), and then attack those. Didn’t they teach you anything in Critical Theory Class?

  • Jacob

    It pays to argue against what your opponents actually believe

    First you need to know and maybe understand what your opponents actually believe.

  • Paul Marks

    Jacob – the left do not care what their opponents actually believe. As we are not going to be alive in their new society – why should they care what we believe.

    Perry – yes, standard Saul Alinsky “Rules for Radicals” stuff, which goes back long before him to the Fabians (those wolves in sheep’s clothing – as the “Fabian Window” shows), people such as H.G. Wells and G.B. Shaw lied without shame – and the world holds them to be cultural heroes.

    As for Saul Alinsky – perhaps the most shocking thing is that he was admired by Jacques Maritain and the future Paul VI (who accepted the false guidance of Jacques Maritain). What should have been the very Citadel of moral tradition was corrupted from within.

    To be fair to those fooled by the Fabians (“oh Mr Shaw is just joking when he says that everyone can not justify their existence to the satisfaction of a government board should be killed” NO he was NOT joking), and to people such as Jacques Maritain who were so deceived and misguided by Saul Alinsky – many kindly and good people find evil hard to understand, they think that the charming person they meet, with the nice smile, can not possibly be a totalitarian who wants to murder millions of human beings.

    As there is a strong (very strong) streak of evil in me – I do not find it hard to see the evil in other people. Someone like Jacques Maritain most likely could only recognise evil if it openly presented itself to him – if it was not in the open Nazi form (jack boots, shouting, and all the rest of it) he could not really see it.

    Nice gentle souls are natural victims for men like G.B. Shaw and Saul Alinsky.

    “See he is smiling – it was just a joke” – no, he is smiling because he is imagining torturing you to death.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    @Paul Marks (and all)

    Can we all get past calling then “The Left”? That just perpetuates an mistakenly-applied political dimension (left -v- right) with an enormous amount of historical & implicit deadweight baggage. Folks on this website (of all places) should call it what it is : Authoritarian -v- Libertarian.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Mr Ed

    As an aside, all those British Lefty lawyers so happy to see the constitutional change of the UK’s House of Lords Appellate Committee becoming the Supreme Court are probably now a little less smug.

    Rudolph H: agreed but perhaps ‘Collectivists’ v ‘Individualisits’?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Rudolph and Mr Ed: I submit that political philosophies cannot be constrained to a single Procustean “spectrum”.

    I have previously proposed that the main “spectrum” has the Machiavellian and the insane at opposite poles.
    I still like the idea, but now add that another “spectrum” could be constructed with philosophies that justify the authority of a ruling class at one extreme, and philosophies that deny the authority of any ruling class at the other extreme.
    But i think it best to avoid labels for either end of the latter “spectrum”: let people use their brains instead.

    PS: and of course there are families of philosophies at either extreme.
    The most important family of philosophies justifying a ruling class, nowadays, is the Marxist family. Which is ironic, when you think about it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT Paul Marks’ justified outrage at Boris’ and Macron’s bullshitting [technical term]:
    There are other Euro. PMs, as well as the EU Parliament, who have also been bullshitting, as detailed by Kurt Zindulka at Breitbart Europe.

    In all fairness, however, i must also criticize Paul Marks and Kurt Zindulka, for failing to notice that all EU countries, as well as the UK, have abortion laws that would be unconstitutional under Roe vs Wade.
    (Glenn Reynolds did not fail to notice.)

    Boris, Macron, et al are even more delusional than they appear to be at 1st sight.

  • bobby b

    Paul Marks
    June 25, 2022 at 9:45 am

    “Prime Minister Johnson has also condemned the judgment, as a “massive step backwards” . . .”

    Sort of funny, as I applaud the judgment specifically because it was a massive step backward. If you’re about to walk off a cliff, “backward” is no bad thing. If you’re about to abandon a perfectly good constitution, reversing course is far better than the weak “let’s just stall the progressive ratchet” which we’ve come to expect.

  • Ferox

    Just to make it clear, this reversal does absolutely nothing at all to ban abortion. At most, it could inconvenience someone who lives in a state which does not allow it; but if you look at the maps of states that have laws in place (or laws planned) to limit abortion, nobody in the US will be more than a half-days drive from available abortion.

    Which doesn’t seem like too much of a burden for something so momentous. My libertarian leanings actually cause me to generally support the right of anyone to have absolute sovereignty over their bodies, but this seems like people screaming their heads off that they will have to drive the same distance for an abortion that their neighbors might have to drive to purchase a firearm.

    Oh noes!

  • bobby b (June 26, 2022 at 5:17 am), thanks for the link. The opening is, perhaps intentionally, slightly mischievous. A PC reader will see the piece is headed by a picture of Justice Taney and assume the writer is about to compare overturning Roe to the notorious 1857 Dred Scott decision. After being a little unsettled by the reference to the “eugenic benefits” of abortion, they’ll discover it’s the imposing of Roe in the first place that is being compared to Dred Scott. I don’t doubt the writer is honestly presenting his genuinely-held views, but I think he may have smiled quietly to himself as he constructed the piece. 🙂

    Not that he’ll get many PC readers, of course.

  • […] of life is the centre of the debate for those opposed to abortion. Of course, as Natalie Solent points out, those frothing at the mouth about this could just take the time to find out what their opponents […]

  • Paul Marks

    Good point Snorri – but I do not know of many large European nations where the fertility rate of the traditional population is not below replacement level.

    From the 1960s onwards the New Left were fairly clear that they had given up trying to convince the traditional working people about the glories of totalitarian socialism – they had came to the conclusion that as they could not convince the people, a new people was needed. Now it is considered a “paranoid conspiracy theory” to just repeat back what the left say – when the left say these things, it is fine (indeed morally praiseworthy), but should anyone repeat back the sentiments with the implication that this is, perhaps, not a good thing – then that person will be condemned for their “paranoid conspiracy theory”, denounced as a “racist”, and so on.

    Long before the “New Left” (the Frankfurt School left – whose own origins go back to the 1920s), the Fabians and the Bloomsbury Set had the idea that destroying the culture (destroying society) was the way forward to achieve total Collectivism – a new society to be built by destroying the old.

    The New Left just took this one step further. And now the big Corporations back the agenda – it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry (perhaps both).

    There are Western governments who do not want their nations to “go gently into that good night” – but the governments of such nations (Poland, Hungary and so on) are treated as pariahs.

  • Kirk

    What happened with Roe v. Wade being overturned is the final result of trying to decide in the courts a question that properly (by the American Constitution) is meant to be answered by legislation and the public consensus flowing from that. They tried to impose a solution instead of doing the hard work of building a consensus out in the body politic, and here we are.

    Judicial fiat is no way to run a country, because that just tears down respect for the law and the courts. Especially when the courts act ways that are clearly in opposition to the expressed will of the electorate.

  • bobby b

    Kirk – +1. I’d only quibble on one small point:

    The “expressed will of the electorate” seems to have been slightly tilted towards preserving the relative peace and quiet that Roe imposed on what was becoming a nasty national political fight. Polls right before Dobbs showed that Roe was supported by about 65%.

    Many people liked the three-phase idea. I doubt that many people even understand how wrong Roe was, in the technical-legal sense – but they liked not having to think about the issue anymore.

    Now they’ll need to think about it again, on a state-by-state basis, which is a lot of uncomfortable work. But that is the proper way in a republic. So I think your point is correct.

  • Kirk

    @bobby b,

    Lazy shortcuts always wind up biting you in the ass, regardless of where you apply them. The Democrats thought they’d force through the courts what they didn’t want to bother with doing through the state legislatures, and here we are. Sixty-odd years of divisiveness later, we’re back to where we started and they need to do the hard work they put off.

    The moral rights and wrongs of abortion are not actually what is at question with Dobbs; what’s actually at question is process and procedure for how the questions of what is moral and right get decided. Something like abortion is clearly not within the powers of the Federal level of governance within the strictures of the Constitution, which is a thing that most outside the US fail to grasp. It’s the same with gun control; you want to change the clear meaning of the Second Amendment, then the way you have to go about doing it is by amending the Constitution–Which would likely never, ever pass. Nibbling around the edges the way that they have for the last century or so won’t cut it, because the language is pretty damn clear, as is the Common Law that preceded it.

    The Constitution provides a means to do all of this. All you have to do is get the actual verifiable consent of the states and the electorates of those states, and you’re done. Instead of working for that, they went through the courts and the courts are simply not the proper venue for these things.

    It’s amazing to observe, however, that countries like France, whose abortion restrictions are actually far more stringent than the US ones that Dobbs now enables, are critical of the “restrictions” that Dobbs supposedly creates. Either Macron is a total ignoramus about American Constitutional law, or he’s being entirely mendacious and disingenuous. Could be all three, I suppose…

  • Ferox

    I know plenty of Americans (ostensibly well-educated ones, no less) who believe the overturning of the Roe decision amounts to some sort of ban on abortion.

    And there is no arguing with them about it. Roe has been used as a proxy for legal abortion for so long that it is inextricably linked in their brains. No Roe, no abortion.

  • Paul Marks

    The “emergency” argument is used to undermine the Constitution of the United States.

    For example, as recently as 1935 all Nine Supreme Court Justices agreed that Civil Servants could NOT issue regulations with the force of law – that Congress had to specifically pass the laws itself, hence that the actions of the National Recovery Administration, the “Blue Eagle” thugs, of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 were unconstitutional – a vague “Enabling Act” was not good enough. But then World War II came along and the 1935 judgement was de facto overridden because of “the emergency”, and the emergency has never ended, American Civil Servants (and officials of agencies) make up regulations with the force of law – just as they do in Britain. With “interstate commerce” now meaning just about anything.

    With paper money it was the Civil War – it is an “emergency” so all States must accept paper money even though the Constitution says (Article One, Section Ten) that only gold or silver coin may be “legal tender” in any State. California and Oregon carried on with Constitutional money (gold and silver) during the Civil War – they did not implode, yet they did not force anyone to accept paper money or collected their taxes in Constitutional money (physical commodity – gold, silver).

    “But we could not have won the war without paper money” – the Confederacy produced more paper money than the Union did (vastly more), it did not do them much good. Indeed it helped created economic breakdown in the Confederacy.

    If you want to spend money (on war or anything else) then have the honestly to tax people openly – do not pick their pockets with inflation.

  • Paul Marks (June 27, 2022 at 9:43 pm), the good news is the USSC seems once more to be denying some civil servants at least the power to make law.

    As regards inflation and war, I think the situation a bit more involved. Inflation is a tax. It is normal for a tax to destroy more wealth than it transfers, but inflation, like crime, tends to destroy a lot more than it transfers. But it is also a seizure of present wealth at the cost of future loss. So in the specific case of war for survival, it is difficult absolutely to rule out the possibility that inflation-generated army-creating wealth may be the best choice for survival. In practice, I suspect its political easiness, not its absolutely unavoidable necessity, accounts for the Union greenbacks. The increasingly-endangered Confederacy, by contrast, could have handled the issue much better than it did but was understandable in mortgaging the future it knew it would not have if it didn’t.