"Party of Death"

On NPR (right now for me, I presume it is live) the ‘On Point’ program is talking to Ramesh Ponnuru who has written a book entitled ‘The Party of Death’ in which he attacks both the death penalty and abortion (and Hiroshima). He is using a very convincing argument. (Or perhaps he is simply being clever.)

Link (such as it is) is here.

He says those who support abortion and stem-cell research are claiming there is a category of ‘unpersons’ who are beyond the protection of law.

Gee, that is a chilling word!

The real shame of it is that the ‘On Point’ program does not take e-mailed comments for the guest.

Anyone read his book yet? Thoughts?

I read his book, and it was the best defense of the pro-life position that I have ever read. I strongly encourage everyone to read it. You may not agree with him, but if you read it you should come away with a pretty good understanding of where the pro-lifers are coming from.

Silly for me to quote the OP, when mine was the second post! Sorry!

Oh, that’s okay, we’ll just declare you an unperson.

That’ll teach you!

I think I see a counter-argument.

When you make a will, and then die, we try to follow your will. But if there is a good reason to do something else with your stuff, then we will (despite your will). You are not an ‘unperson.’ You are ‘not here anymore.’

If we support abortion or fetal stem-cell research, it is not because those people are ‘unpersons.’ It is because they ‘are not here yet.’

Without regard, it looks like it is worth a read.

So he’s working the death penalty into the argument? How does he square that with the title of his book: The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life. Are the Democrats now the party of the death penalty too? Perhaps he’s finding that the Coulter style of polemics is not well suited to his purposes. I say that the horse left that barn when he came up with his subtitle.

I haven’t read the book, but I did watch his interview on the Daily Show. It was less than convincing, to put it mildly. In fact, it was a bit embarrassing to see someone get cornholed so completely with so little effort.

Perhaps if you could succinctly describe the argument that you felt so compelling, we could discuss it. Otherwise, “unpersons” is simply a rhetorical issue that changes nothing about the debate. Yes, abortion is acceptable and embroynic stem cell research is acceptable because it involves “unpersons” in the same way that my sperm are “unpersons.”

Chilling? Perhaps, if you already believe that abortion is murder. Otherwise, not so much.

That made me laugh. Thanks. But now it is time for bed here.

‘Unpersons?’ They category they’re in is “not born yet.” He’s trying to make a rhetorical flourish out of something that ought to be painfully obvious. Why the hell do stem cells need the protection of the law? That sounds like a stupid argument. You won’t find that many pro-choice people saying that a fetus is beyond the protection of the law either.

On the Daily Show, Ponnuru didn’t seem to believe his arguments. They were that lame. Jon Stewart took him to school.

A somewhat negative review from conservative pundit John Derbyshire can be found here, Ponnuru responds (a little testily, I think) here.

I haven’t read it myself…unlike Mr. Derbyshire, I don’t see much appeal in “polemical” writing. But count me among those unimpressed by the use of the word “unpersons” in this context.

Yeah, the counterargument is absurdly simple. Fetuses aren’t people. They might someday become people, but they’re not “unpersons” or “parapersons” or anything else you want to call them. They’re not persons of any stripe. “Unpersons” is a word he uses to echo the way tyrannical regimes have declared that people they disagree with politically are not human, when everybody knows they really are human. But not everybody knows that fetuses are human; rather, most of us know just the opposite.



It’s implicit in the term. A fetus is a stage in human development that comes prior to birth. The fetus has not yet been born, does not exist on its own, and hasn’t achieved any meaningful kind of “personhood.”

And while you are looking for the cite that Ludovic asked for, why don’t you find one for this statement as well…

(MOST of us?)


Here’s a cite for the “implicit in the definition” part:

The dictionary definition of “person” is also pretty clearly talking about a human being not existing inside another human being. We wouldn’t have terms like fetus if a fetus was commonly understood to be a person.

As far as personhood goes, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a fetus is not a person, otherwise they would be protected under the Fourtheenth Amendment, which says in part

My bolding.

If you have different feelings about what it means to be a person, sock it to me. Somehow I doubt that a fetus is able to exercise any rights that we’d like to be able to use.

Sorry for being so snippy, but as a fence-sitting, I find proclamations of “obvious truth” grating coming from both sides.

It’s no problem, although please see my post above. I’m not saying it’s obvious that abortion is morally okay or that fetuses don’t have any rights; I’m talking about what the words are commonly understood to mean.

I think that consciousness is more of an issue than viability, but there is no good way to measure consciousness. Heck, I’m not even sure that birth is a good yardstick to either prevent or allow termination of life.

Would you like it if you, as a conscious adult, were wholly dependent on someone else’s nutrition minute-by-minute for your survival? You may or may not agree the other person has legal obligations to provide it to you but you’d sure as heck agree you were still no less of a person for it.

On the other hand, I would assert that acephalic babies are not really “persons” in that they do not and cannot ever have a consciousness.

I noticed in the OP’s link that he’s a convert to Catholicism. It’s not at all uncommon for a Catholic to oppose both abortion and the death penalty. In their version of “pro-life,” it’s wrong to kill anyone, including convicted criminals and the unborn.

Yes, the whole abortion debate revolves around when someone becomes a person (i.e. at conception? birth? somewhere in between) from the standpoint of deserving human rights and protection under the law. There’s nothing new in this.

The case for a fetus being considered a person, whether you agree with it or not, is at least significantly stronger than the case for your sperm being persons.

I understand that. My point is that his book, at least in title, specifically calls out the Democrats as the party of death, or at least part of the party. If one political party were to be linked to the death penalty, it would seem to me that it would be the Republicans and not the Democrats.