thegeneraltheoryJohn Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money drew little public attention when first published in 1936, but soon developed into the most influential economics treatise of the 20th century.

Keynes was not surprised. As he pointed out: “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist … I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”

Quite so. And that’s why informed Canadians should pay close attention to the ideas of relatively obscure academics like Udo Schuklenk. He is the Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics and Public Policy at Queen’s University and co-editor of Bioethics, an influential journal co-founded by his mentor Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University.

Singer gained notoriety as a result of the publication in 1975 of his book Animal Liberation in which he argued that human beings have no more intrinsic moral worth than other animals. The idea quickly caught on, igniting the worldwide animal rights movement.

Schuklenk holds similar views. Writing in the Kingston Whig-Standard last November, he maintained that in an ideal world, we would all be vegetarians. As for himself, he wrote that he will order a vegetarian meal in a restaurant if the chef can serve something “half way digestible,” but otherwise, he confessed: “I tend to go for the animal that’s lowest in terms of its development (say, chicken instead of pork, prawn instead of chicken).”

Among academic philosophers, a disposition to rank human beings with other animals in moral worth is not uncommon. Schuklenk reports: “Many if not most of my colleagues in ethics are vegetarians or even vegans (i.e. they also refuse to consume milk or eggs). They are more consistent in their conduct than I am.”

Just as Schuklenk holds that pigs have greater moral worth than chickens or prawns, so he maintains that some human beings are more equal than others. In “Abortion Wars in Canada,” a column published in the Whig-Standard on Jan. 13, he defended the absence of any law in Canada to safeguard the life of a baby in the womb on the grounds that a woman is entitled to abortion on demand because she has “an absolute right to control what is happening to her body.”

Schuklenk insisted there are “good moral reasons” for taking this stance, but “I am not going to bore you with a rehash of these arguments.” Why not? Schuklenk explained: “Those who disagree will continue to disagree. If you believe that an embryo is a person from the moment of conception, nothing that I can say with regard to the science and morals of what dispositional capacities should be required to call something a person will likely sway you toward my take on the issue.”

In the twisted thinking of “pro-choice” philosophers like Schuklenk, the life of a human being begins at conception, but has no inherent right to life until several weeks after birth when the baby develops into a human person with such capacities as rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness.

Singer is notorious for having taken this argument to its logical conclusion. In the second, 1993 edition of his widely used textbook Practical Ethics, he contends that a mother should have no compunction about resorting to either abortion or infanticide to kill an unwanted baby.

Pro-lifers, of course, abhor such barbarity. They subscribe to the eminently reasonable and compelling argument that from the moment of conception, every human being is a distinct and complete organism that has an inalienable right to life unto natural death, regardless of any immediate capacities for reasoning, autonomy or self-consciousness.

Nonetheless, the likes of Schuklenk and Singer now hold sway within our universities. They are leading the intellectual campaigns to legalize not only abortion-on-demand but also infanticide, physician-assisted suicide and involuntary euthanasia. Sooner or later, though, these evil ideas are bound to go the way of the once popular, but disastrous notions of Keynsian economics that are now widely and completely discredited.

In philosophy, as in economics, the truth is bound to prevail.