Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.- In his new book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose ($28, 316 pp., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2002), Hadley Arkes, the Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions (Political Science) at Amherst College, argues that that the "right to choose an abortion has been the device that has shifted the political class from the doctrines of natural right."
Over the last thirty years American politics has left the doctrines of "natural rights" that formed the main teaching of the American founders and Abraham Lincoln. "With that move, [the American political class] has removed the ground for its own rights," Arkes says. "Ironically, this transition has been made without awareness, with a serene conviction that constitutional rights are being expanded. In the name of "privacy" and "autonomy", new claims of liberty have been unfolded, all of them bound up in some way with the notion of sexual freedom."
By the "political class" Arkes has in mind the most politically active people, the people who not only fill the offices of state and the courts, but also take a leading role in the schools of law, the professions and the media. They are the people whose opinions shape the orthodoxies that seem to govern us. This new right overturned the liberal jurisprudence of the New Deal, placing jurisprudence on a different foundation. Of Natural Rights and the Right to Choose James Bowman, of the Times Literary Supplement (London), offered the opinion that "with wit and energy and coruscating intelligence, Hadley Arkes has written the most persuasive argument I have yet read for return to natural law and the first principles of the American founding."
At the conclusion of Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, Arkes narrates his role as advocate and architect of the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act, signed into law by George W. Bush in an August ceremony, which Arkes attended. Arkes first suggested this legislation as part of the debating kit assembled for George H. W. Bush when he was running for president in 1988. Arkes proposed a "most modest first step" in legislating on abortion, opening a conversation even with people who called themselves "pro-choice." Arkes proposed to begin simply by preserving the life of a child who survived an abortion-contrary to the holding of one federal judge, that such a child was not protected by the laws.
Arkes, a member of the Amherst faculty since 1966, was educated at the University of Illinois and University of Chicago. A past fellow of the Brookings Institution, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Woodrow Wilson Center, he has written many books, among them The Philosopher in the City (1981), First Things (1986), Beyond the Constitution (1990) and The Return of George Sutherland (1994). He contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, National Review, Crisis and First Things, the journal that took its name from his book of that title.