May 13, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Who Are the Real Defenders of Life?

Blue-state civilization vs. red-state barbarism.

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As I said Monday, the new coronavirus pandemic is unlikely to change the minds of dedicated abortion partisans. Those for it are still going to be for it. Those against it are still going to be against it. That “the most pro-life president ever” is wishing away a disease that has killed more than 83,5000 Americans isn’t going to change things.

It should, obviously. Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, is being called “this generation’s polio.” Covid-19 is deadly, but some survivors are debilitated for years. The biggest question is what it does to children. Meanwhile, the disease is spreading into the red-state heartland, where Republican governments are ill-prepared or refusing to prepare out of deference to Donald Trump. The University of Washington’s model, used by the White House, revised its estimate to 147,000 deaths by August.

“Pro-life” means what they say it means same as life begins when they say it begins. Can’t figure it out? Your problem.

Reality won’t change things, of course, because “pro-life” never really meant “pro-life.” It was and will be a magical incantation declaimed by celebrants of the politics of the occult. They do not intend to make sense, refuse to make sense when asked to, and are hostile toward anyone trying to make sense of something that makes no sense. The politics of the occult only makes sense to celebrants understanding perfectly well its true political objectives. “Pro-life” means what they say it means same as life begins when they say it begins. If you can’t figure all that out, that’s your problem.

Because the politics of the occult is occult (veiled, hidden, secret, impervious to any and all critical inquiry), it is not practiced in good faith. It can’t be. If it were, it wouldn’t be occult. It would, therefore, be useless. Writer Julia Ioffe said recently in seriousness: “I still can’t get my head around the pivot from ‘every life matters, even that of the unborn’ or ‘some people are going to die.’” She can’t get her head around the pivot, because there is none. A pivot would make sense. The occult never does.

The most we can hope for (the most I can hope for, I guess) is that the pandemic gets Americans on the sidelines of the abortion debate to recognize the occult nature of “pro-life” and therefore doubt its meaning. More specifically, getting them to see that “right to life” applies to the unborn, but not the already born, and that Republican champions of “the sanctity of life” are actually profaning said sanctity by insisting people get back to work, and thus endanger their own lives, for the economy’s sake.

Don’t forget the tip jar!

The very best we can hope for (the very best I can hope for, I guess) is that fence-sitters see who the actual champions of life are. They are not who they claim to be. The real champions of life are states and cities (mostly blue, though not all) that invest in maintaining and expanding a civilized way to live. Life’s enemies are states (though not cities) that are as apathetic to human flourishing as they are to human suffering. It’s no surprise that most standing against life are the same most standing for barbarism.

I used “barbarism” pointedly.

It’s usually the preserve of people like Pat Buchanan, the former Nixon advisor who wrote The Death of the West (2001), which was a veritable blueprint for the resurgence of American fascism. Buchanan and his confederates believe Western civilization faces annihilation due to white people having fewer babies and brown people having more. He thinks the US will no longer be a western nation once white Americans are a minority some time this century. (I am not exaggerating.) He and others extolling the virtues of “western civilization” believe they are keeping watch against barbarians.

The Nazis believed they stood for Western civilization.

As it often the case in Republican politics, the accusers are, in fact, the guilty party. As The Prospect’s Harold Meyerson wrote on Tuesday: “The real difference between blue states and red, if I may borrow a term from the anti-choice movement, is that the blue states are pro-life while the red states are largely indifferent to same.” Florida’s government, for instance, starved itself of funding so much that less than a quarter of nearly 2 million out-of-work Floridians are receiving unemployment benefits. Texas, Meyerson wrote, claims to be well-managed and low cost, but “the state’s supposed fiscal rectitude has created the highest rate of medical uninsurance in the nation.”

To Buchanan, the barbarians are the nation within a nation—immigrants numbering in the millions—who are reproducing their way toward “white genocide.” That, of course, is upside down. The real nation within a nation is one entirely imagined by white Americans fearing “white genocide” so much they abandoned previous commitments to democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law; instituted policies enfeebling workaday (brown) people; advanced laws invoking eminent domain over a woman’s property (her own body); and stood idly by while a plague ravaged the landscape.

The Nazis believed they stood for the best of Western civilization. In seeking purity, they found barbarism, the politics of the occult, and mass death. We are not there yet, but that’s where we are going. All we need is more people expressing more doubt.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Wil_E_Quixote on July 30, 2021 at 8:12 am

    “The very best we can hope for (the very best I can hope for, I guess) is that fence-sitters see who the actual champions of life are.”

    There is that. I expressed my opinion of those who use “pro-life” as an occult phrase, as you put it. However, there are many who genuinely believe that opposing abortion is preserving human life. Perhaps they haven’t fully thought through the ramifications, or have been unable to make their voices heard on what they feel should happen AFTER birth, or maybe just been too focused on one of their moral issues regarding life to pay adequate attention to the others.

    Well, pandemics change everything. C19 IS A PRO-LIFE ISSUE. One thing that’s been forgotten in all the arguments about death tolls and reopening is that C19 isn’t just potentially deadly, but it also debilitates and cripples many of its survivors. How many and how badly we don’t even know yet. It also warps the lives of those who love and take care of those who survive.

    “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

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