Damon Linker has written a piece on moral libertarianism–the idea that people should be allowed to do whatever they want, so long as it doesn’t hurt others.
Linker thinks this principle is due for a backlash, especially as it pertains to sex. People are fed up with libertinism, he suggests. They’re ready to give up sexual freedom in exchange for psychological security.
So where does Linker see this resurgence of old-school moralism? Here are some of his examples:
- Protests against campus rape
- Concern about prostitution
- Anger over public harassment and molestation
- Distaste for pornography
Two of those are pretty obviously non-libertarian acts. Rape and molestation are explicit attempts to inflict harm. As for resistance to decriminalizing prostitution, it’s driven mostly by alarm over sex trafficking, also an infringement on individual liberty. Only objections to pornography fit Linker’s moralistic argument.
I think I see what Linker is going for. Taken to extremes, feminist ideas about structural oppression have a way of blurring into reactionary alarm over declining manners. Reading complaints about the hypersexualization of culture, it’s sometimes hard to tell if the writer is speaking from the left or the right.
But come on. The young woman writing angry screeds about street harassment will be dishing details in her very next Tumblr post about the dirty stuff she and her girlfriend say in bed. The protests over campus rape can be seen as an effort to defend moral libertarianism–making sure college girls get to drink and screw as much as they please without worrying about some gross guy crossing the line.
Without digging into these distinctions, Linker’s argument becomes indistinguishable from namby-pamby handwringing about “permissiveness.”
It may be that the only way to rein in sexual assault is to bring back chivalry, as Linker suggests. But this argument needs to be much better developed.