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The Story of a Well-Lived Life: Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, R.I.P.

Robert P. George

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Elizabeth Fox-Genovese was a scholar as notable for her bravery as for her brilliance. After what she described as her "long apprenticeship" in the world of secular liberal intellectuals, it was careful reflection on the central moral questions of our time that led her first to doubt and then to abandon both liberalism and secularism. Needless to say, this did not endear her to her former allies.

At the heart of her doubts about secular liberalism (and what she described as "radical, upscale feminism") was its embrace of abortion and its (continuing) dalliance with euthanasia. At first, she went along with abortion, albeit reluctantly, believing that women's rights to develop their talents and control their destinies required its legal permission availability. But Betsey (as she was known by her friends) was not one who could avert her eyes from inconvenient facts. The central fact about abortion is that it is the deliberate killing of a developing child in the womb. For Betsey, euphemisms such as "products of conception," "termination of pregnancy," "privacy," and "choice" ultimately could not hide that fact. She came to see that to countenance abortion is not to respect women's "privacy" or liberty; it is to suppose that some people have the right to decide whether others will live or die. In a statement that she knew would enflame many on the Left and even cost her valued friendships, she declared that "no amount of past oppression can justify women's oppression of the most vulnerable among us."

Betsey knew that public pro-life advocacy would be regarded by many in the intellectual establishment as intolerable apostasy -- especially from one of the founding mothers of "women's studies." She could have been forgiven for keeping mum on the issue and carrying on with her professional work on the history of the American south. But keeping mum about fundamental matters of right and wrong was not in her character. And though she valued her standing in the intellectual world, she cared for truth and justice more. And so she spoke out ever more passionately in defense of the unborn.

And the more she thought and wrote about abortion and other life issues, the more persuaded she became that the entire secular liberal project was misguided. Secular liberals were not deviating from their principles in endorsing killing whether by abortion or euthanasia in the name of individual "choice"; they were following them to their logical conclusions. But this revealed a profound contradiction at the heart of secular liberal ideology, for the right of some individuals to kill others undermines any ground of principle on which an idea of individual rights or dignity could be founded.

Articles by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese:
How Abortion Has Failed Women
Hopeful Pessimism: The Lessons of the Civil Rights Movement Turn Out to be Quite Alien to Liberal Pieties
Faith, Fashion, and the Vocation of the Laity in a Secular, Postmodern World

Read the entire article on the National Review Online website (new window will open).

Posted: 20-Mar-07



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