their own flesh and blood, then it is futile to try to compel them to comply with discarded norms by threatening to send them to jail. Family life rests upon personal commitment and willing acceptance of responsibility, not upon state compulsion.
Law cannot compel virtue, but the state of the law can tell us something important about the kind of people we have become. The crack-mother prosecutions reveal a nation desperately trying one thing after another to slow (or at least protest) an alarming disappearance of personal and family norms of behavior that preceding generations were able to take for granted. Criminal prosecutions are no solution, of course, but neither are ACLU proposals to stop the breakdown by subsidizing it with ever higher levels of government spending at the expense of increasingly exasperated voting taxpayers who are to understand that the behavior of the people who receive the subsidy is none of their business. Rights are excellent concepts if placed within a larger framework of personal responsibility, but a philosophy that pays no attention to anything but rights is a license for self-indulgence.
The great-grandparents of today's crack mothers and absent fathers had a religious morality that enabled them in most cases to provide an admirable family life during the Great Depression, when poverty and discrimination were everywhere and no one imagined that child care was the federal government's business. The old theology taught previous generations that poverty is no excuse for irresponsibility and that it is possible to maintain dignity in the face of oppression. The ACLU philosophy teaches the current generation that people should do pretty much as they please and that some abstraction called "society" is to blame and must pay up if anything goes wrong. Anyone who has traded the old theology for the new philosophy had better submit the bill for damages soon, while there is still enough social capital in society's bank account to keep the checks from bouncing.
This chapter is revised from Phillip E. Johnson, "The ACLU Philosophy and the Right to Abuse the Unborn," Criminal Justice Ethics 9(1):48-51 (Winter/Spring 1990). Reprinted by permission of The Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics, 899 Tenth Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10019.