Roe v. Wade: The Banality of Evil in Mr. Justice Blackmun
In 1973 or thereabouts, the devil also paid a visit to another banal man, this time in Minnesota
When the case of Roe v. Wade, which started at the U.S. District Court in Texas, reached the "end of the line," Justice Blackmun wrote the majority (7-2) opinion. The decision he made was wrong, not wrong in any banal sense, but deadly and horrendously wrong. And from the terrible "end of the line," we have endured the terrible beginning of, and so-far have seen nothing but, unending lines of death. Endless women have lined up before abortionists to end the lives of their children in a Holocaust bequeathed to the Nation courtesy of Blackmun's banal moral vision.
In her famous words, evil reared its worst face in the morally banal human being, in the human who is, from outward appearances, commonplace. He runs his life by platitudes, by trite statements that mean really nothing. The banal man is not overtly evil, but he is wholly morally obtuse. He can be, nevertheless, the architect of great moral evil It was a phenomenon she called the "banality of evil." The worst part of it is that he never realizes it, and in his banality he may even defend his actions as good without even knowing what good is.
The devil went down to Georgia sings Charlie Daniels, but he was only wielding a fiddle, and a fiddle cannot do great wrong. Sometime in the late 1930s, I suppose, the devil visited a rather banal character named Adolf Eichmann in Berlin, and, eventually, with the power of the Nazi state behind him, this diminutive man became a chief instrument in the horrendous evil we call the Shoa, the Holocaust.
In 1973 or thereabouts, the devil also paid a visit to another banal man, this time in Minnesota. Unfortunately, the devil's choice of instrument was again not a fiddle, but an assortment of curettes and sundry other medical devices, and some strange ideas about viability and penumbras and emanations.
What the devil found in Minnesota was another "little Eichmann," a mild-mannered Methodist by the name of Harry Blackmun. Born in St. Paul, Harry Blackmun was a man who--even as an adult--would sing Methodist hymns at the piano with his mother. I suppose, like Eichmann, he was a Gottgläubiger, a "god believer" a banal believer of an equally banal god.
This banal god, the god of Eichmann and the god of Blackmun--I do not recognize their god as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--is one who, like Blackmun's Methodist pastor William Holmes stated in a sermon in support of Mr. Justice Blackmun in 1995, allows us to disregard "unwanted children," and apparently finds Roe v. Wade a "conscientious and civilized opinion." These are banal sentiments, pavestones to Hell.
I don't know who the banal god of Mr. Justice and Reverend Holmes might be--whether this god ought to be called Baal, Moloch, Tlaloc, Beelzebub, or modern Progress I cannot tell--but whatever or whoever it was I know it or he or she certainly was not the God of the Ten Commandments, who with His finger wrote on stone tablets the command in Hebrew: lo' tirsah, "Thou shalt not murder," and really meant it.
Blackmun was not an entirely untypical Midwesterner. In short, he was what in days of yore we would have called a WASP. A bright boy, however, he eventually went to Harvard College, was graduated in Mathematics summa cum laude, and then attended Harvard Law School. He practiced law in private practice, handling trusts, estates, taxation issues, and litigation. Eventually he became resident counsel to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He was a bourgeois lawyer, if perhaps a little on the clever end of things.
He never outgrew his conventional ways. A "conservative old fuddy-duddy," he once described himself. Probably similar to how Eichmann would have described himself, though I don't know the precise German equivalent, perhaps altmodisch or old-fashioned.
His tastes were simple. Blackmun liked baseball. He was a penny-pincher, not pretentious or ostentatious, hardly a spendthrift, and drove a blue VW Beetle even as a justice of the Supreme Court.
A self-deprecating, hard-working sort of guy once he was selected on the Supreme Court by President Nixon (as Nixon's third choice), Justice Blackmun described himself as "Ol' Number Three," and often joked that he had to work long hours because he was "dumber than the rest of the guys" he worked with.
Unfortunately, Justice Blackmun was not only visited by the devil, but at the time of that visit he also sat on the Supreme Court of the United States and was the one to whom had fallen the duty of writing the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade, a decision which with its companion case Doe v. Bolton served to find unconstitutional--on highly specious and questionable constitutional grounds--the laws of the various states that prohibited the killing of our youngest and most defenseless in the wombs of their mothers.
And so this banal "little Eichmann," under the name "BLACKMUN, J.," legalized a procedure called abortion, and raised it to the level of a constitutionally-protected civil right, and so ushered into America a horrendous evil, the Holocaust of the unborn. It is a decision from which it has been difficult to escape.
At his confirmation hearings in 1970, three short years before he authored Roe v. Wade, Blackmun described the Supreme Court as the "end of the line." "The decision," he said, "had better be right."
"Right," Blackmun stated. What, for Blackmun, is right? How does a morally banal man know what's right?
When the case of Roe v. Wade, which started at the U.S. District Court in Texas, reached the "end of the line," Justice Blackmun wrote the majority (7-2) opinion. The decision he made was wrong, not wrong in any banal sense, but deadly and horrendously wrong. So wrong that one would hardly be guilty of exaggeration in calling it the greatest moral evil in which our country and its institutions of government have participated. So wrong, indeed, that it puts the legitimacy of our government in question.
And from the terrible "end of the line," we have endured the terrible beginning of, and so-far have seen nothing but, unending lines of death. Endless women have lined up before abortionists to end the lives of their children in a Holocaust bequeathed to the nation courtesy of Blackmun's banal moral vision. In his view, these women are "emancipated," and this banal word covers the multitude of sins.
While the banal Blackmun had his supporters, he had his detractors. But he was a proud, stubborn, and entirely impenitent little man. "I think it was right in 1973," he stated, "and I think it was right today," he said in 1994 when he left the Supreme Court.
Right? Again, Justice Blackmun uttered that word, "right." How could this banal little man say anything meaningful about right in light of the mounting numbers of dead unborn that he had a hand in allowing against the will of the majority of Americans? What sort of banal meaning did the word "right" have in the mind of Mr. Justice Blackmun?
No, he was neither hot nor cold; he was lukewarm, which is another word, the Biblical word, for banal. (cf. Rev. 3:16) "The sad truth," Hannah Arendt observes, "is that most evil is done by people who," like the conventional Adolf Eichmann and the conventional Harry Blackmun, "never make up their minds to be good or evil." One might note that they both had the same thin smile, a smile as narrow as their banal minds. I imagine Satan sports one of those.
"We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins," Justice Blackmun wrote in Roe v. Wade? What? Shakespeare's Hamlet who never set eyes on the United States Constitution had a better grasp of the issue than "Ol' Number Three." "To be or not to be," Mr. Justice Blackmun, "that is the question."
"The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together," wrote Arendt.
It is terrifying. Blackmun found six "little Eichmanns" just like him in the Supreme Court in 1973. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that Eichmann looked smarter in his Obersturmbannführer uniform than the seven little Eichmanns looked in their plain black robes. But without their clothes, the eight men within were, in terms of banality, the same.
In addition to his banality, there was a sort of cowardice behind Mr. Justice Blackmun, perhaps the glitch or glimmer of a suppressed conscience trying to justify the crime against humanity in which it conspired to bring about. In justifying his vicious opinion, he hid behind the skirts of women or, rather, the skirts of some women. These women were as banal as he (for women can be as morally banal as men). These were women whose banality was found, like their violated and artificially infertile wombs, underneath skirts decorated with the plaid of meaningless words like progress and emancipation.
In the news conference that followed his resignation from the Supreme Court in 1994, Justice Blackmun stated that Roe v. Wade was "a step that had to be taken," a step "as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women." A banal thought, as devoid of meaningful content as Blackmun's banal word "right." How is it "right" that women should become"emancipated" by murdering children is a question that apparently never traveled through the banal mind of Mr. Justice Blackmun.
It's hard to remember any of the hundreds of opinions authored by Justice Blackmun and upon which he devoted his life's labor. Certainly, the opinion that won him most acclaim and earned him most excoriation (and will surely play the most importance for him in the Final Judgment) was Roe v. Wade. One may perhaps say that Roe v. Wade is a lasting testament of Justice Blackmun, a summing up of who he was and what he stood for. The opinion has his last words to man and to the one true God because they are his loudest, his bloodiest, and his most banally evil.
Roe v. Wade is in fact a death sentence, though it doesn't sound like it. A man who was overtly evil would have written, "Kill the children, the 14th Amendment demands it." A good man who was guided by the natural moral law would have written something along the lines of "the fetus is a person under the 14th Amendment." A cowardly jurist or principled federalist would have avoided the question and said the Constitution does not address, and it is a matter reserved to the States. But not the banal little Mr. Justice Blackmun.
When one reads the "fearsome, word-and-thought" of Roe v. Wade forty years from the date it was written one learns nothing of Constitutional jurisprudence. Nothing. The opinion is a Constitutional farce.
One does, however, learn volumes about what Arendt called "the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil" when one looks at the opinion with the knowledge of the 50 million of Americans sentenced to death by Justice Blackmun's loose pen, banal mind, and febrile liberal lunacy that swore he saw shadows and eerie lights in the Constitution that no normal man could could see.
In moral terms, Justice Blackmun was close to lunacy. He was a moral schizophrenic. The man wholly insensitive to the death of millions of which he was a cause was unbelievably offended by the death of one or the death of hundreds caused by others for the very simple reason (since the offense was based not on reason but on feeling) that he felt offended.
For example, towards the end of his tenure, Justice Blackmun grew intransigent, self-righteous in his opposition to the death penalty. "From this day forward," he wrote in his dissent in Callins v. Collins, "I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." The moral dyslexia in the man is apparent.
How can the man who not only tinkered, but invented the "machinery of death" we call the abortion industry, that juggernaut of death that has killed fifty of millions of Americans, have felt moral offense at capital punishment which, in the same period, has resulted in the death of a few thousands? There is not even any moral equivalency in the matter. Did you ever consider that you were choking on the gnat while swallowing the camel, Mr. Justice Blackmun? (Cf. Matt. 23:24)
Oh, like Eichmann, Blackmun could feel emotion, even tenderness, but even his emotion was banal because it was so arbitrary. "Poor Joshua," Blackmun famously wrote in his dissent in the 1989 case of DeShaney v. Winnebago County, the tragic case involving the four-year old Joshua DeShaney beaten by his father into a coma and not saved by the State. "It's a sad commentary upon American life."
"In the absence of faith," and Mr. Justice Blackmun really had nothing other than conventional faith which is no faith at all, "we govern by tenderness" wrote Flannery O'Connor. "And tenderness," she continued, "leads to the gas chamber," and if not to the gas chamber, its moral equivalent : the abortion clinic.
Why should Justice Blackmun believe it right to say, "Poor Joshua," in DeShaney v. Winnebago County, but forget about the 50 million Joshuas, Jacobs, Josephs, Janets, Julies, and Jennifers whom his pen in Roe v. Wade nonchalantly allowed to die and be put in trashbins or incinerators or used by science or in cosmetics?
Oh tenderhearted Mr. Justice Blackmun, is not your Roe v. Wade a "sad commentary upon American life," indeed upon your own moral banality?
Unlike Eichmann, who was hung to death and whose body was cremated so as not to detract devotees, Justice Blackmun was called "your Honor" all his life, was called "honorable" beyond his death, was laid in state in the Great Hall of the United States Supreme Court, and was buried with honors at Arlington Cemetery. Be not fooled: from a moral standpoint, they are the same.
But these honors mean nothing before terrible Judgment Seat of God. That is the real terrible and awful "end of the line" in the "case" of one's life. Then there is really no further place to go. Then the decisions we made in life had better have been "right," and not in any banal sense, but in God's sense.
At the Last Judgment, the 50 million murdered with Justice Blackmun's complicity since Roe v. Wade will receive justice, and, we must believe in some manner that Mr. Justice Blackmun will be on the opposite side of that terrible and awful sentence of the Lord. God's doom will be his doom. Blackmun's plea of innocence will be drowned out by the cries of 50 million witnesses against him, just like the voices of the millions upon millions of Jews will cry out against the pleas of Eichmann.
But Blackmun has already suffered his particular judgment, and wherever God's judgment has sent him, an answer I do not claim to know, I feel certain that Blackmun has a companion, even a friend if banal humans can have friends. His companion's name is Eichmann. They will be in the banal man's heaven, full of banal souls, which to me sounds a lot like one of the circles of Hell. There, they will eternally wonder, for banality is not lost unless lost on earth through repentance and penance, what wrong they have done to have deserved so dismal a fate.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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