When I saw that John Derbyshire had written a review of his National Review colleague Ramesh Ponnuru's book The Party of Death entitled "A Frigid and Pitiless Dogma," I assumed he was referring to the abortion-rights side — even though I know Derbyshire is not what orthodox right-to-life people would consider pure. As it turns out, Derbyshire is quite a lot farther out than that. He writes:
…RTL is, really, just another species of Political Correctness, just another manifestation of the intellectual pathology, the hypertrophied and academical egalitarianism, the victimological scab-picking, the gaseous sentimentality. that has afflicted our civilization this past forty years. We have lost our innocence, traded it in for a passel of theorems. The RTL-ers are just another bunch of schoolmarms trying to boss us around and to diminish our liberties. Is it wrong to have concern for fetuses and for the vegetative, incapable, or incurable? Not at all. Do we need to do some hard thinking about the notion of personhood in a society with fast-advancing biological capabilities? We surely do. (And I think Party of Death contributes useful things to that discussion.) Should we let a cult of theologians, monks, scolds, grad-school debaters, logic-choppers, and schoolmarms tell us what to do with our wombs, or when we may give up the ghost, or when we should part with our loved ones? Absolutely not! Give me liberty, and give me death!
Don't let that last line tempt you into mistaking Derbyshire for any kind of libertarian — this was, after all, the fellow whose response when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke was to write, "Good. Kick one for me."
I can't attempt any kind of full response to Derbyshire right now, but the Cliff's Notes would look something like this: abortion is wrong and Derbyshire is partly right. There are some elements of the right-to-life movement that make a mockery out of the very thing they claim to be protecting. (Thomas Fleming has written about some of their excesses, here and in print within Chronicles.) "Pro-lifers" who support unjust wars are the worst offenders, though Derbyshire I'm sure would disagree. (That so many politicized pro-lifers cheer for wars while opposing abortion and euthanasia lends some credence to Derbyshire's claim that RTL is a cult, however — like a cult, those who fall into this category are incapable of seriously considering the contradictions or tensions within their tenets.)