Tricking ‘Middle Ireland’ into voting for radical proposals

Public debate on abortion mostly pits the “fully pro-life” view against the “partly pro-choice” view. So the campaign against the 8th Amendment is being spearheaded in part by those looking for so-called minor exceptions to the protection of unborn children, exceptions like abortion on the grounds of a child having a severe life-limiting condition. This makes the pro-life position seem ‘extreme’ and the alternative seem ‘moderate’.

This is an example of the artificiality of much public debate on social issues. Instead of pitting one internally consistent position against another internally consistent position, it allows the agenda to be set by internally inconsistent “pragmatic positions” that have the strategic purpose of persuading the public to move a little in the desired direction before going the whole way.

In Ireland today, the “pragmatic positions” that set the political agenda are invariably liberal-secular in character and are aimed towards garnering enough support from “middle Ireland” for liberal law reform to become a reality. If that reality materialises a new “pragmatic position” is taken until the end point is reached (in the case of abortion law, the logical end point is abortion-on-demand). However, the public justification for the new pragmatic position will be presented in a more sanitised light. The public will be told that the new position requires support because of the need to “close loopholes”, “address hypocrisies”, “face new realities”, and “regulate the unregulated (because it’s happening anyway)”. The public will be told that they will see the sense in this new strategic position because they are “maturing”, “evolving”, “more compassionate”, and can see that “the sky hasn’t fallen in”.

Those who point out that society is on a slippery slope towards an endgame being concealed from view are accused of scaremongering. The mainstream supporters of liberal secularism argue that the slippery slope argument is empty speculation. So, is it? Under the various social issues outlined below are two categories: the pragmatic positions currently being taken by mainstream liberal secularists on the particular issue, and the position taken by those liberal secularists at the vanguard of the campaign on the particular issue. Positions falling into the latter category are not gleaned from the ramblings of a madcap internet warrior, but from national or internationally based campaign groups or professional associations that have earned praise from mainstream liberal secularists familiar with their work. Furthermore, all of the positions that fall into the latter category either are law in at least some Western democracies or are considered a serious policy proposal in at least some Western democracies.


Current pragmatic position: abortion made legal in cases where the child is diagnosed with a severe life-limiting condition

Logical, internally consistent position: abortion-on-demand up to birth, funded by the taxpayer [Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland, Planned Parenthood]

Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia

Current pragmatic position: assisted suicide made legal in late stages of clinically diagnosed terminal illness

Logical, internally consistent position: assisted suicide and euthanasia made legal for (i) adults with capacity who have a “rational” (no stable definition offered) wish to be killed for whatever reason, (ii) adults without capacity who previously expressed a “rational” (no stable definition offered) wish to be killed for whatever reason, and (iii) young children who are seriously disabled or seriously ill and whose parents consent to their killing on their behalf [Exit International: (i) and (ii); Dutch Paediatric Association: (iii)]

Parental Rights, Religious Pluralism, and School Choice

Current pragmatic position: parents can be free to send their children to a taxpayer-funded school with an ethos that coheres with their religious convictions, but only if the school dedicates a class to teaching an agnostic account of all religions

Logical, internally consistent position: parents are not at all permitted to send their children to a taxpayer-funded school with an ethos that coheres with their religious convictions; they may only provide their children with an education that coheres with their religious convictions if they can afford the fees for a purely private education [Atheist Ireland, British Humanist Association]


Current pragmatic position: in the name of equality, the special status of marriage is to include marriage between two people of the same sex

Logical, internally consistent position: in the name of equality, there shall be no special status attached to marriage in law and the relationship between any two people shall not be preferred in law to any other type of relationship [American Law Institute, Law Commission of Canada]

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