Saturday, February 26, 2005

Libertarians and Conservatives Need A Divorce.

Objections to Hadley Arkes's discussion of freedom and virtue:

-The importance to libertarianism of adult consent to interactions was ignored. While Arkes began by acknowledging the common ground of Lochnerian economic liberty on which conservative and libertarians agree, he veered off during his discussion of individual liberty and morality. While the worker wanting to labor for extra hours is presumed to be a informed consenting adult, he seamlessly shifted from gay rights to NAMBLA, from recognizing a right to suicide to the claim that such a right would involve the right of any person to kill you. I'm not sure how these latter two gel; clearly the right to enter into an employment contract does not imply that anyone can now enslave you. Similiarly, his assertion that gay rights advocates are not really against making moral judgments because most people agree that NAMBLA is bad elides the distinction, crucial to libertarianism, between the refusal to prohibit voluntary interactions and the necessity of protecting persons from force and fraud. A seven year old boy cannot consent to sex; all sexual encounters with him can only be the result of force or coercion. However, a grown man can consent to sex with another man, and this is a different type of interaction altogether which involves no infringement of another's rights.

-The ownership of children by their parents: Arkes made several allusions to the supposed limitations on consent; apparently because we do not allow parents to consent for their children to have sex or to sell their children into peonage as pickpockets, consent is not a coherent limitation on action and thus morality trumps. The situation of minors is exceedingly complex, but most people would think that the problem with this is the capacity of parents to consent for their children in certain circumstances, since children are autonomous invididuals who will soon attain adult capacity. We stop parents to preserve children's effective capacity to consent later in life, not because we have moral problems with the actions per se.

-A series of extremely troubling and ill informed assertions were made about the relative moral capacities and worth of persons who engage in non-standard sexual practices such as S&M and homosexuality. Arkes is obviously unfamiliar with the actual practices at issue and the spontaneously ordered standards within S&M communities to ensure consent at all times. He appears to feel free to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia as well. While I'm sure there are many excellent parents from average families, to hear someone claim that certain sexual behaviors taking place in private between consenting adults make one an unfit parent was doubly disturbing given this obvious lack of any familiarity with the communities and behaviors in question. Stereotype away, professor!

The debate and the commentary afterward also reflected the pervasive sexism inherent in discussions of morality and sexual regulation. Arkes harped numerous times on the NAMBLA issue, and one commenter here noted the tendency of some to see the absence of a North American Woman-Boy Love Association as evidence that this is a particular problem of gay relationships. Obviously no one gives a damn about the far more common phenomenon of adult males preying on teenage or prepubescent females. Where's the outrage about that? (Compliments to PG for spotting this issue.)
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