Repost: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Full article here. (updated)

Thought this would be timely with Eliot Spitzer now back in the news running for NYC comptroller (after that, the world). I’m not much of a feminist nor a Main Line (Philadelphia) liberal:

Martha Nussbaum writes:

“Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.”

Well, Spitzer did use the laws to zealously prosecute sex rings as attorney general (an elected position) and was then caught using a sex ring and breaking those laws.  Spitzer could have chosen not to violate the laws, or sought to amend them, but he did not.  I agree that his family is suffering the most, but I’m not so sure that this didn’t constitute an offense to the public.

“What should really trouble us about sex work? That it is sex that these women do, with many customers, should not in and of itself trouble us, from the point of view of legality, even if we personally don’t share the woman’s values”

From the point of view of legality, I agree.  Morally, that’s a different matter.

Generally, I think a libertarian defense of prostitution is a good one, which tries to open up our moral thinking into a net that would include sex as “work.”  Nussbaum is urging a consideration of laws and ideas that focus valuable energy away from addressing other problems she defines quite well.

Personally, I’d like to think it’s possible to consider prostitution without the moral absolutism of Christian doctrine, but perhaps also without some of the limits of Nussbaum’s feminism and “value” speak she employs here.

Many prostitutes, for example, seem to have free will enough to choose to manipulate the lust and stupidity of their johns for their own gain.  The instinct of disgust may be deeper than Christian moral doctrine, but also deeper than some of Nussbaum’s thinking as well.

Addition:  One of the moral arguments for legalizing abortion was that it already was occurring anyways, in back alleys, and in some ways shares similarities with the idea of legalizing prostitution.  Once legalized, there is some moral concern attached to the act of prostitution itself.

See Also: For a paler copy of Nussbaum’s arguments, see Natalie Angier’s Spitzer piece, which somehow uses science to justify its claims.

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