Some political commentators argue that "any proposal permitting or tolerating abortion" -- what some have called imperfect or incremental legislation -- is "intrinsically unjust."1 This claim disregards the long tradition of classical prudence developed by Aristotle and continued in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Edmund Burke, among others. Classical prudence takes account of limitations in a world of constraints and strives to achieve that greatest measure of justice possible under the particular circumstances. It is not possible to say that "any proposal permitting or tolerating abortion is intrinsically unjust" without considering specific intent of the legislators, the particular language of the law and -- perhaps most importantly -- the existing institutional, legal, social, and political constraints. While it is not possible to say, in the abstract, that any law permitting abortion is intrinsically unjust, such a law may be prudent or imprudent in the particular circumstances.Forsythe concludes his piece with this challenge, which seems right to me:
It is not immoral to be prudent. A political leader or activist must have a healthy respect for constraints in the fallen world and an acute insight into their nature and effect. Even if a prudential framework is accepted for political decision-making -- and assuming no cooperation in an evil act is involved -- difficult strategic and tactical questions remain as a challenge to the conscientious statesman. He/she must evaluate the four questions posed by Jaffa: worthy goals, wise judgment as to what is possible, choosing effective means, and avoiding future preclusion of improvements. Political leaders must guard against being lured into cooperation and must keep the goal in mind and not get lost in the details of the means. Prudent political leaders must pursue a vision of complete justice -- of complete legal protection for all human life. But, in the democratic process, they must pursue the ideal in such a way that progress is made and with the willingness to accept something when all is not achievable due to social, legal, or political obstacles beyond their control.For more on material vs. formal cooperation with evil, see here.
For discussions of incrementalism on this blog, go here and here and here. Earlier posts are here, here, here, and here.