PARTY OF DEATH REVIEWS. About a week and a half ago, I noted conservative whining that liberals weren't reviewing Ramesh Ponnuru's The Party of Death and promised that if the publisher or author of the book would take the simple challenge of sending me a review copy I'd gladly step up to the plate. So far, it hasn't happened, and the conspiracy of silence on the left continues. Peter Berkowitz, a conservative in good standing, did get a copy to write a review for The Wall Street Journal and seems unimpressed: "It doesn't matter to Mr. Ponnuru that this argument flies in the face of a complex intuition that seems to underlie the American ambivalence: Invisible to the naked eye, lacking body or brain, feeling neither pleasure nor pain, radically dependent for life support, the early embryo, though surely part of the human family, is distant and different enough from a flesh-and-blood newborn that when the early embryo's life comes into conflict with other precious human goods or claims, the embryo's life may need to give way."

Ponnuru responds with what amounts to an effort at burden shifting, pointing out that this kind of vague appeal to intuition isn't an argument per se. This is a point I'm sympathetic to as a general matter. But to the best of my knowledge, though abortion rules have varied widely no society has actually considered the deliberate destruction of an early-stage embryo as on a par with deliberate murder of a human being, nor the accidental death of such an embryo (which is very common) as on a par with the accidental death of a human being. Thus, it seems reasonable to me to say that the burden here lies with Ponnuru, and that Berkowitz is merely observing that Ponnuru's argument seemed unpersuasive in light of its wildly counterintuitive consequences. This, then, is the part where the nod toward Oakeshott, Kirk, and Hayek comes in -- you should, according to those conservative thinkers, be extremely cautious about departing from a workable understanding on the basis of an intuition-defying abstract argument and not be unduly troubled by the idea of muddling through. Maybe Ponnuru's argument is more persuasive than Berkowitz gives it credit for, but I'd still need a copy of the book to say so for sure.

--Matthew Yglesias

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