Surprise! Sex Sells, But Do We Need Legalized Prostitution?

Reihan Salam at Slate: ‘It’s Time For Legalized Prostitution:

Apparently, it’s not time:

‘So will Americans soon start clamoring for legalized prostitution? I doubt it, because it’s going to be very hard for people to stop looking down on those who buy and sell sex.’

Along the knife’s edge of sexual revolution can be found many an ideologue to whom the idea of liberation (sexual and otherwise) goes hand-in-hand with ideology. To them, your freedom to buy and sell sex would be part of a much larger project of ideological liberation from opposing historical forces and foes such as the Catholic church, the Puritan roots of America, the ‘Patriarchy,’ the squares, the bourgeoisie etc.

Apart from actual radicals, activists and ideologues, however, everyone’s got thoughts on prostitution. I’m guessing the idea of legalized prostitution is more popular amongst liberals and some libertarians, artists and the avant-garde, the younger generation and a steady band of older goats and ‘sex-positive’ types (my sympathies on your diagnosis).  Perhaps feelings run highest amongst those with a personal stake in the matter, after all, dear reader, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

It’s a complicated issue.

This blog remains open to empirical arguments from the data, and well-reasoned debate, with a lot of skepticism.

Some years ago, Martha Nussbaum tried to bail-out Eliot Spitzer after he was caught visiting a prostitute while also being in charge of prosecuting prostitution laws:

She 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.”

Maybe the U.N. could have drafted a hooker human-rights charter to trump local laws?

As usual, this blog is concerned with the potential for Statism, the deployment of not just science but scientism, not just reasonable arguments but a lot of rationalism as well, with a slavish devotion to experts, a trendy desire to be like Europe, brochures and bureaucrats to fill the hole (ahem).  Many secular humanist ideals are claimed to be universal ideals, which is enough to back our way into a lot of illiberal institutions.

There’s none quite so moralistic as those who’ve fought to overthrow some other forms of moral judgment.

On that note, here are some related videos for your viewing pleasure:

Did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?

Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:

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Here’s a good cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer,’ which includes the lines:

‘Asking only workman’s wages I come looking for a job…but I get no offers…just a come-on from the whores on 7th avenue…’

Turns out Paul Simon was reading the Bible a lot while writing the lyrics.

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.