Culture > Q&A

A life for life

"A life for life" Continued...

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

In this ideological climate, how should pro-life people proceed? In your book Politics for the Greatest Good you emphasize the importance of prudence. The idea of prudence-practical wisdom-goes all the way back to the Greeks. Prudence was revered as one the cardinal virtues across five civilizations: Greek, Stoic, Jewish, Christian, Roman. We have reduced it to certain clichés-­getting what you can, pragmatism-but prudence has four elements: discernment about what is the good, deliberation about what kind of decision we should make, the decision itself, and executing the decision we make.

You write about the prudence of William Wilberforce and how long the British anti-slavery process took. The movie Amazing Grace looks at the first 20 years of Wilbeforce's anti-slavery campaign that ended with Parliament's bill to end the slave trade. The movie doesn't look at the next 25 years after 1807, in which Wilberforce focused on prohibiting slavery throughout the entire British empire. Parliament finally acted on that and Wilberforce died three days later-and the next 25 years were spent enforcing the law passed in 1833. He combined a moral vision with practical steps to enforce that vision.

A purist in 1807 might have said that we must eliminate slavery totally and completely. Prudence points us to the position that when we cannot achieve the highest good, it is both moral and acceptable to seek the greatest good possible. Prudence says we should be accepting an all-or-something approach rather than an all-or-nothing approach. When you strike for the moral perfect, you often come up with nothing, because like it or not, we live in a democracy and public opinion matters.

Is prudence related to our living in a fallen world? Yes, so we need an acute understanding of what is possible, how we should harness means to achieve ends, and when the ideal cannot be achieved, how we preserve the possibility of future progress (instead of striking some kind of compromise that prevents future progress). We have to go through that disciplined thinking when we pursue political goals.

Is the prudential approach saving any lives? The abortion high point in 1992 was 1.6 million, and we've reduced it 25 percent to 1.2 million. Parental notice and consent laws, reducing federal funding, etc., have helped.
Listen to Warren Cole Smith's complete interview with Clarke Forsythe.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren is vice president of mission advancement for The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.


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