So, Bill Bennett’s taken a bunch of heat for a recent radio appearance in which he objected to instrumentalist defenses of abortion by arguing that one could lower the crime rate by aborting every black child, and we’d all regard that as morally monstrous—and has also picked up some unlikely defenders. The defenders are mostly pointing out that Bennett was making a reductio argument, that he wasn’t actually suggesting we abort black babies wholesale. Well, yeah, obviously. That’s not really the problem with what he said.
Now, it’s certainly uncontested that, currently, a disproportionate number of crimes really are committed by African Americans. But to assume that crime would drop dramatically as a result of the kind of mass-abortions he was imagining, it seems to me that you have to posit that this isn’t a highly contingent fact having to do with a whole range of potentially alterable sociological and economic circumstances, but a kind of timeless truth. That is, you have to suppose not just that 2005 America is such that blacks commit more crimes (which is true), but that they’re intrinsically more likely to commit crimes—that this will hold true 20 years from now or 30 or whenever. Now, you might think that’s likely to be true just because you’re pessimistic about the prospects for the relevant social and economic conditions changing. But there’s at least a whiff in Bennett’s comments of the idea that there’s some kind of genetic predisposition to criminality. Maybe Bennett doesn’t think that, but if not, he displayed severe tone-deafness in picking an example that seems to imply it.