Natural Rights and the Right to Choose / Edition 1

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Overview

Over the last thirty years the American political class has come to talk itself out of the doctrines of "natural rights" that formed the main teaching of the American Founders and Abraham Lincoln. With that move, they have talked themselves out of the ground of their own rights. But the irony is that they have made this transition without the least awareness, and indeed with a kind of serene conviction that they have been expanding constitutional rights. Since 1965, in the name of "privacy" and "autonomy," they have unfolded, vast new claims of liberty, all of them bound up in some way with the notion of sexual freedom, and yet this new scheme of rights depends on a denial, at the root, of the premises and logic of natural rights. Hadley Arkes argues that the "right to choose an abortion" has functioned as the "right" that has shifted the political class from doctrines of natural right. The new "right to choose" overturned the liberal jurisprudence of the New Deal, and placed jurisprudence on a notably different foundation. And so even if there is a "right" to abortion, that right has been detached from the logic of natural rights and stripped of moral substance. As a consequence, the people who have absorbed these new notions of rights have put themselves in a position in which they can no longer offer a moral defense of any of their rights. Hadley Arkes is the Edward Ney Professor of American Institutions at Amherst College. He is the author of First Things (Princeton, 1986), Beyond the Constitution (Princeton, 1990), and The Reform Constitution (Princeton, 1994). He has been a contributor to First Things, the journal that took its name from his book of that title.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...Arkes's personal experiences add relevance and vitality..."
-Amy L. Peikoff, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ethics

"Part legal and intellectual history, part political philosophy, part polemic, part memoir—[Mr. Arkes's book] succeeds brilliantly in tracing the effects of the decision to reject natural rights."
-The Wall Street Journal

"With wit and energy and coruscating intelligence, Hadley Arkes has written the most persuasive argument I have yet read for a return to natural law and the first principles of the American founding."
-James Bowman, Resident Scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center

"This book is shattering, for Arkes shows how our generation, while talking itself into a 'right to choose' has talked itself out of the logic of 'natural rights.' If he is correct, our so-called 'rights' now have no meaning. Even the 'right to choose' has no moral defense. Warning: This book may change your life."
-Michael Novak, George Frederick Jewett Chair, The American Enterprise Institute

"Natural Rights and the Right to Choose is the story of how relentless elaboration of a spurious right has jeopardized the foundations of all rights. Hadley Arkes makes the case, as only he can, with rigor, grace, and passion. This is a philosophical page-turner where the shocker is not who-done-it but what was done in the name of law."
-Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

"Arkes admirably merges his experiences in public policy with his philosophical defense of natural rights. For that reason, I especially recommend Arke's book for courses in philosophy of law and social/political philosophy, but it would also be a unique addition to a biomedical ethics course or to any ethics course specifically dealing with the issue of abortion."
-Emily Crookston

"In a most charming and beguiling way, Hadley Arkes brings us face-to-face with our culture's mindless celebration of moral suicide. Arkes is a modern Socrates, drawing half-buried truths and recognitions from his interlocutors, his readers. He shows how our obsession with rights to the exclusion of their corresponding duties has extended the frontiers of degradation, not freedom. Natural Rights and the Right to Choose is not simply another meditation on abortion: It is a profound and lucid inquiry into the moral tenor of our culture. No thinking person will encounter this spiritual tocsin unchanged."
-Roger Kimball, The New Criterion

"Hadley Arkes is one of the keenest observers of law and culture in America. I read—no, devour—his writings. Thank God for him."
-Charles W. Colson, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Washington D.C.

"While the highly charged issue of abortion helps focus Arkes's position, his ideas have far-ranging consequences for human rights. To read Arkes is to experience a rebirth of hope for humankind. Essential."
-Choice

"Arkes's book contains a fascinating examination of the legislative effort, over the past dozen years, to respond to the appalling decision in Roe and Doe."
-The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521604789
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 315
  • Sales rank: 1,202,980
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Professor Hadley Arkes is Edward Ney Professor of American Institutions at Amherst, and has published many books on moral philosophy and constitutional law, including Beyond the Constitution (Princeton, 1990). A writer for journals such as The Wall Street Journal and Commentary, he has influenced public policy as an architect of the Defense of Marriage Act and the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: backing into treason; 2. The drift from natural rights; 3. On the things the founders knew - and how our judges came to forget them; 4. Abortion and the 'modest first step'; 5. Anti-jural jurisprudence; 6. Prudent warning and imprudent reactions: 'judicial usurpation' and the unravelling of rights; 7. Finding home ground: the axioms of the constitution; 8. Epilogue: spring becomes fall becomes spring: a memoir.

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