• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Why Some Things Are Better: The Awful Possibility Ignored by Wehner and Levin

An article in this month’s Commentary, by Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, speaks of “Crimes, Drugs, and Welfare–and Other Good News.” Apparently not everything in our culture is going to hell (as I suggested in my blog entry of September 24, 2007). Indeed, Wehner and Levin point to decreasing numbers of teenage pregnances, increasing test scores in schools, lower numbers of abortions and divorces, and a drop in violent crime.

The authors suggest that a combination of opinion-shaping and policy-making are responsible for the changes. Well, maybe. But not perhaps the opinions and policies they have in mind.

I don’t mean to be ungrateful for their tidings. It certainly is good news that there is some good news.

Some of us historical types have been warning for quite a while, to be sure, that history does not proceed in single, straight lines–or circles. Just as some “leading cultural indicators” have shown that some aspects of contemporary North American culture are worse–from unthinking boorishness in parks and cinemas to a widespread acceptance of fornication–other indicators have shown for a generation that some aspects of culture are better, such as how our society treats handicapped people, or people of other races, or people without property, or people who aren’t men.

Still, the question is why–why some things are improving. And I’d like to know why Wehner and Levin do not even mention the provocative thesis of economist Steven Levitt et al., popularized in his book Freakonomics (2005).

Levitt suggests that the downturn of violent crime in particular, and certain other social evils as well, can be traced to one fundamental social change deriving from one sweeping official decision, namely, Roe vs. Wade (1973). Add eighteen or so years to this decision and the subsequent years of legal abortion in the United States, says Levitt, and by the time you get to the 1990s and things are turning around, the United States simply has a lot fewer nasty young men born to desperate or deficient mothers.

Less crime? That’s because there are fewer criminals. Less social pathology? That’s because there are fewer sociopaths.

To me, this awful explanation makes a lot of sense. It offers to explain the wide range social changes as those listed by Wehner and Levin: such apparently unconnected phenomena as a drop in teen pregnancies and a rise in test scores. Eugenics–which is, in a horrible way, one of the main results of Roe vs. Wade–isn’t wrong about everything. It’s just wrong. And the implicit eugenics of abortion–which is becoming more and more explicit in our culture every year, as it is totally transparent in, say, Russia and China–is yet another reason to oppose abortion on demand, despite the possible positive social consequences.

(For more commentary on these articles, see Comment on-line journal here.)