Define liberty

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Ugh. This is the kind of logic a philosophy professor professes?

My goal isn’t to get into the debate on abortion. I have my own opinion, and it would probably displease hardliners in both camps. What I will express a view on, though, is what I view as shoddy thinking, and by a philosophy professor no less.

This quote: “In 1988, the Supreme Court declared Canada’s longstanding abortion law unconstitutional. Since then, there has been no law. Dr. Morgentaler desired such an outcome, and marked it with annual celebration. But its result has been a diminished liberty in Canada. The voices of Canadian citizens – and MPs like Mr. Warawa – who view abortion as a violation of human rights have been politically and culturally sidelined.”

No, no, no. If Morrissey wanted to argue abortion diminishes liberty in a most basic sense – arguing that he thinks a zygote is a person and denying life is the most catastrophic infringement of liberty one can impose – he would be on firmer footing. Not because I agree or not with that view of zygotes, but because there’s a logic-based argument to be made.

But defining liberty as the right of religious people to not be “sidelined” doesn’t work.

To be clear, I understand he isn’t saying liberty is being impeded because religious people don’t have the right to stop abortion. My reading is that he’s saying it’s being impeded because anti-abortionists are being excluded from the conversation about abortion. And he’s right: that’s a kind of infringement of liberty – but an extremely narrow one.

Why would they want to be heard? Well, presumably because they would like to persuade a majority of people to ban abortion. If it worked and abortion were banned, this freedom to express oneself would, in practice, lead to the stifling by law of the freedom to have an abortion. So while he’s technically right, in outcome he’s suggesting a bizarre form of liberty: in essence, the liberty to talk in a national forum about stifling other people’s liberty.

The mention of MP Warawa muddies the water a little. I happen to think backbench MPs should have a voice in Parliament, including Warawa. But there’s a difference between a democratic political mechanism that doesn’t give him a platform and him not having the freedom to voice his views. He is free to speak in the same way we’re all free to speak. Stifling Warawa is a serious problem, but it’s a problem related to the way Parliament and parties run, not a fundamental attack on the right to hold opinions and express them. And there is no law against abortion being mentioned in Parliament, it’s just that no party has found it politically expedient to raise the topic.

Your liberty is about you. Your liberty isn’t about other people. Your freedom doesn’t include the freedom to force others to do what you want. You have the freedom to speak but your freedom doesn’t include forcing others to listen. It’s disappointing that a philosophy professor apparently can’t, in my view, see the forest for the trees.

Morrissey isn’t saying what follows, but it seems of a kind to me to the opinion too often espoused by puritans and moral conservatives: My right to freedom extends to not letting you live your life in a way that offends me.

I freakin’ hate that kind of moral overreach. It’s there in the marijuana prohibition, it’s there in liquor laws, it’s there in the laws that apply to the sex trade, it’s (been) there in the treatment of same sex couples, it’s even there in tax codes and the social engineering projects that drive big government. And at its most basic, it’s an anti-liberty urge. It’s about stifling freedom, not extending it.

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