Nat Hentoff: Resquiescat in Pace

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Nat Hentoff has died at the age of 91.  Hentoff was a life-long liberal who actually believed in things that liberals purport to believe in:  freedom of speech, civil liberties and tolerance.  He was a committed pro-lifer which in his social circles was akin to supporting cannibalism.  Hentoff didn’t care.  Throughout his life he did what he thought right, consequences to him be hanged.

Here is a column he wrote on my birthday in 1989:


Planned Parenthood recently assembled 13 distinguished civil rights leaders so that they might express their scorn for the notion that there is any moral connection between the Operation Rescue demonstrations “and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.”

The leaders — including Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, John Jacob, Mary King and Roger Wilkins — deplored the pro-lifers’ “protests to deny Americans their constitutional right to freedom of choice. They want the Constitution rewritten.” And in the unkindest cut of all, these leaders — once themselves demonstrators against laws they considered profoundly unjust — compared the nonviolent Operation Rescue workers to “the segregationists who fought desperately to block black Americans from access to their rights.”

Actually, however, a more accurate analogy would link these pro-lifers to the civil rights workers of the 19th century, the Abolitionists, who would not be deterred from their goal of ensuring equal rights for all human beings in this land. They believed, as these 13 civil rights leaders later did, that social change comes only after social upheaval.

What the Abolitionists were opposing was the rule of law — ultimately underlined by the Supreme Court in its Dred Scott decision — that people of African descent, whether free or slaves, had “never been regarded as a part of the people or citizens of the State.” They had no rights whatever. They were the property of their owners, no more. The Abolitionists did indeed want the Constitution rewritten.

Now, the pro-lifers, aware that the Supreme Court has declared itself in error before, are protesting the holding in Roe v. Wade that “the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.” Although that decision also spoke of a time when the fetus becomes viable and then may be protected by the state, in fact we have abortion on demand.

As Justice Harry Blackmun said in Doe v. Bolton — decided on the same day as Roe v. Wade — the mother’s health is paramount, and that includes, among other things, “physical, emotional, psychological, familial” factors. Abortions can be obtained for these reasons, and more.

So, like the slave, the fetus is property and its owner can dispose of it. Increasingly, for instance, women are undergoing prenatal testing to find out the gender of the developing human being inside them. If it’s the wrong sex, it is aborted.

Pro-lifers who maintain the fetus should have equal protection under the law are not limited to those driven by religious convictions. There is the biological fact that after conception, a being has been formed with unique human characteristics. He or she, if allowed to survive, will be unlike anyone born before. From their point of view, therefore, pro-lifers are engaged in a massive civil rights movement. In 16 years, after all, there have been some 20 million abortions.

Some pro-lifers, like some of the abolitionists, feel that nonviolence, however direct, is insufficient. They are of the order of John Brown. As noted by James McPherson in “Battle Cry of Freedom,” Brown stalked out of a meeting of the New England Antislavery Society, grumbling, “Talk! Talk! Talk! That will never free the slaves. What is needed is action — action!”

Those relatively few — and invariably isolated — pro-lifers who follow John Brown’s flag are surely not in the tradition of Martin Luther King, and the 13 civil rights leaders have reason to keep them at a far distance. But Operation Rescue, and similar demonstrations, are not violent. Entrances are blocked, and so they were in some nonviolent civil rights demonstrations. There is shouting, some of it not very civil, back and forth across the lines, but so there was in the 1960s.

The only actual violence connected with Operation Rescue has been inflicted by the police, most viciously, in Atlanta where one of the Planned Parenthood’s 13 civil rights leaders is mayor. A member of the Atlanta City Council, Josea Williams — himself a close associate of Martin Luther King — has said: “We who were the leaders of the movement in the ’50s and ’60s are now political leaders. And we are doing the same thing to demonstrators that George Wallace and Bull Connor did to us.”

Hentoff was an atheist.  However, I hope that when he came before God for his Particular Judgment hundreds of millions of little character witnesses successfully pleaded his cause.


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  1. A very early Catholic said this in his First Apology…St. Justin Martyr:
    ” We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them.”
    Justin saw Christ as Logos and all who acted reasonably til death as partaking of Christ. If the rest of Hentoff was rational to the end in the higher Aristotelian sense of unity to the natural law at least in obvious matters ( the saints fought each other in the non obvious like usury )….then I worry more about pro abortion Catholics then anti abortion atheists as to eternal damnation.

  2. Hentoff loved.
    Love does indeed cover a multitude of sins, and his realizations and reasonable convictions to love the property of the property of the owners. They are the slaves of the property owners, and his conviction and connection is honorable.
    As you said, Mr. M…. “Hundreds of millions of little character witnesses successfully pleading his cause.”

    Let us hope all, believers and non-believers, will have the same convictions to the life of the unborn as the late Mr. Hentoff.
    God help the property.

  3. I have a book by him about Cardinal O’Connor (NYC). I participated in Operation Rescue multiple times in Austin in the late 1980’s when I lived there — in fact I was at the first one. I don’t recall seeing any violence at them but there were arrests (for “trespassing”) and helicopters overhead. I don’t remember at this time if the helicopters were news or police. It did succeed in shutting down clinics for a day and saving at least some lives. I know Operation Rescue was and is controversial even among pro-lifers but I don’t know if you can argue with a non-violent tactic of civil disobedience which puts even a small dent in the baby-killing business.

  4. Michael Dowd.

    Great link.. Thanks.

    “Censorship in America” at Nazareth after He was dropped from their agenda a year earlier… Beautiful.

    Enslavement at the onset of the arrival of the fetus is truly an amazing description.
    Liberal feminist who claim to be in bondage due to the fetus are incredibly selfish and no less terrorist terrorizing themselves.
    They are enslaving themselves by their “choice” and committing themselves to hard labor, a life of self hate until they are willing to be forgiven through the generous offer by Christ himself found in reconciliation.

    So it goes.

    A mentality disturbed, corrupted and a selfishness that is fueled by fear.

    No room in the womb. Mom can’t be bothered now. You must die so Mom can be free. A sick culture, the left who, unlike Hentoff, can’t tell the difference between love and hate.

  5. Perhaps Hentoff died of a broken heart. I myself am outraged at the hypocritical conjugation of Planned Infanticide and any civil right movement.! Let’s call it Stalin’s Daycare.
    Timothy R.

  6. “Hentoff was a life-long liberal who actually believed in things that liberals purport to believe in: freedom of speech, civil liberties and tolerance. He was a committed pro-lifer which in his social circles was akin to supporting cannibalism. Hentoff didn’t care. Throughout his life he did what he thought right, consequences to him be hanged.”
    A real man. Atheist or not, may God have mercy on his soul, for if he cannot receive mercy then surely I am damned.

  7. Pro-Life in Texas: all public domain and public places belong to the citizens in joint and common tenancy You own it all and I own it all. For the police to arrest you on your sidewalk is totalitarian and a move against ownership and freedom. The laws they make up to cover their usurpation do not function as true law. If you are standing on common ground, they cannot arrest you.You are entitled to your opinion and your public places even for a Nativity scene Here in Maryland the state police arrested pro-lifers. The Pro-lifers sued and won $30,000.00. See INDWELLERS.

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