Sunday, January 4, 2009

Important Book for the New Year [SK]

Jon A. Shields (political science professor, Claremont Mckenna College)has just published his book, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.

(Disclosure: I know Jon and he interviewed me during his initial research into this topic.)

This title, along with Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, may be the two most important books for understanding the larger political and cultural trends confronting pro-lifers.

Shield's primary thesis (as summarized by the publisher, Princeton University Press) is that although The Christian Right is frequently accused of threatening democratic values, religious conservatives have in fact dramatically increased and improved democratic participation and they are far more civil and reasonable than is commonly believed.

You can read a longer review of Shield's book at First Things. In that review, Richard John Neuhaus points readers to an important distinction raised by Shields:

Shields says there are three categories of pro-life politics: deliberative, disjointed, and radical. Representative of the “deliberative” are Justice for All (JFA) and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), which have trained thousands of young people to engage in nonconfrontational pro-life persuasion on college campuses. The “disjointed” politics includes innumerable and loosely organized activities such as sidewalk counseling, prayer vigils, marches, demonstrations, and counter-demonstrations. The “radical” includes what he calls “the broken remnants of the rescue movement,” focusing on civil disobedience and the closing of abortion clinics. “In many respects [the radical] is the exact opposite of deliberative politics, except for the fact that it too is highly coordinated and organized.”
He cites striking instances of the campus efforts of groups such as JFA and CBR meeting with frequently vicious hostility, often led by faculty members. The truth is that such hostility reflects vehement opposition to civil deliberation and argument about abortion. Pro-life students eager to engage others in serious discussion find this very frustrating, but it is not entirely surprising. Shields writes: “Such frustration is fueled by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, whose leaders discourage their campus affiliates from debating or even talking to pro-life students. NARAL’s ‘Campus Kit for Pro-Choice Organizers,’ for example, gives this categorical instruction: ‘Don’t waste time talking to anti-choice people.’” The campus organizer for Planned Parenthood told Shields that she “discourages direct debate.” Feminists for Life has had more success on campuses, mainly because its members shake up conventional notions on the “woman question.” As leaders of the organization put it, the goal is not to “fit into a man’s world on men’s terms,” which means above all not “troubling employers with their fertility problems.” As they repeatedly assert, “Women deserve better than abortion.”
Neuhaus then cites Shields on the intolerance of many so-called "pro-choice" activists:

But pro-abortion intolerance of discussion or debate is sometimes given dramatic expression. In San Francisco, the city and county board of supervisors unanimously declared January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, “Stand Up for Choice Day” and officially declared San Francisco a pro-choice city. Supervisor Bevan Duffy declared that pro-lifers were “not welcome in San Francisco.” Supervisor Tom Ammiano complained about the audacity of pro-life activists who “think that they can come to our fair city and demonstrate.” The head of the Golden Gate chapter of Planned Parenthood was outraged that activists “have been so emboldened that they believe that their message will be tolerated here.” The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the mid-1960s has come to this.
Endorsements for Sheild's book:

"Jon Shields manages to take the moral claims of pro-life activists seriously while subjecting their movement and organizations to rigorous social scientific analysis. While hardly neglecting the media-based opportunists and zealous, sometimes violent extremists, Shields also shows how mainstream pro-life leaders have developed non-confrontational tactics and non-religious arguments to more effectively challenge pro-choice policies. He then demonstrates how such deliberative tendencies reflect the interplay of Christian values and the organizational incentives facing pro-life activists in a variety of settings. This book will certainly not please everyone, but it should remind all of us of the tensions between reason and passion that any responsible political actor must inevitably negotiate."--Peter Skerry, Boston College

"This is among the best books on the practice of deliberation in American politics, and for many readers it will also be one of the most surprising. Shields shows that antiabortion activists--far more than their pro-choice counterparts--bend over backwards to engage respectfully with opponents and promote high standards of democratic discourse. They do so both as an obligation of Christian love and as a matter of hardheaded political strategy. Liberal academics and commentators will resist his thesis but it will stand up to rigorous scrutiny."--Paul J. Quirk, University of British Columbia



  1. (tried to email this to but it got bounced; please feel free to delete this comment after reading)

    Dear Mr. Klusendorf,

    I wanted to write and thank you for your excellent comments on Justin Taylor's blog regarding the Making Men Moral conference taking place here next month. I started to formulate a response when I read the first two unfortunate comments but stopped after reading yours. There was no need to add anything to such a superb response.

    If you are able to make the conference, I look forward to meeting you. If not, perhaps at another venue. Regardless, I'm grateful for the work that you do as salt and light in our culture.

    Best wishes,


    Dr. Micah J. Watson
    Assistant Professor
    Union University
    Center for Politics and Religion


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