16 June 2011
This is a fascinating point. Mostly because it has large implications on public policy decisions both for liberal and conservative policy decisions, not just for abortions. What we're actually seeing here is that legal shifts did not cause ethical or moral shifts. Law does not make people into moral beings, and that there are (or must be) other underlying factors that determine their moral views and behavior related to such. For liberals one of the salient debating points has been things like the passage of CRA in 1964. For me, having visited the South and with relatives that live there, there are parts of it that, lacking legal standing for segregation, do seem a lot more integrated, and much else that defies the legal backing by continuing blissfully along in attempting to create stratified segregation. Blacks and whites largely still go to different schools, live in different neighbourhoods, mostly don't intermarry, and so on. Some of this is to be expected. There are cultural differences and natural experiential differences from years of life that make it difficult for two people to get married who come from very different places and live in very different ways, as an example. But otherwise there must be some underlying social and customary means that persisted even in the absence of legal standing. Liberals have argued that somehow the law shifted these views. What the law did was prevent the law from being used to impose these views on all people. It did not destroy the underlying racism and embittered prejudices used to establish such views. A great moral shift was not created by the Civil Rights Act, and in fact I would argue that the great expression of any moral shift at all that occurred was the passage of the law in the first place. That is that many blacks, and some Southern whites, had had enough of the repression, oppression, and even violence, necessary to sustain a enforced segregationist society and rose up and declared that there should be no more through whatever means that they could employ to their political and legal advantage. You can sit at a lunch counter or drink from a water fountain now without being beaten up and arrested, and certainly few should argue that these things were necessary elements of a society to use its power to enforce and impose upon all people and all establishments. But your kids probably won't go to the same schools, by extension won't have the same opportunities, and so your generational poverty will generally continue forward. The moral force required to abolish these views demanding separate schools was not deployed everywhere equally and powerfully enough to work even with the backing of legal shifts and changes. We may be getting somewhere with school reforms and the expansion of charters or tax credits, but this is at the moment the cheapest means to continue a separate society and the one most likely to be observed as a result. Trying to continue to enforce total bans on interracial marriage at least has legal consequences (as in the Louisiana JoP who was forced to resign).
To other views, we see that abortion might be still seen as immoral, but most people still think it should be legal and/or available. One might also see similar views on narcotic drugs, where the attitudes between morality and legality are split somewhat. These have remained roughly true divisions even as laws have shifted to make abortions both more or less available (and legal) and as laws have shifted to make marijuana more or less available (and de facto legal in some parts of the country). The underlying views of the acceptability of a thing do not shift very much because a law was passed or revoked. We are told this is a pressing reason to preserve anti-drug laws or to impose anti-abortion laws, or that it was/is a pressing reason to pass anti-discrimination laws. But so far as I can see from this sort of data, the views of the acceptability of gay marriage, as an example, are actually well in advance of the actual legal status of gay marriage. As indeed is the moral tolerance of marijuana relative to its legal status with criminal penalties in particular. This should hardly be surprising, and indeed is not at all surprising to someone familiar with the works of Hayek or Adam Smith.
Apparently this is not very many Americans because this sort of reported gap perplexes and amazes most people.