Ars longa, caenum facile: Part II

The frisson between porn and lit continues…

On the face of it, this case pivots on a trivial legal distinction – to wit: “that simply viewing child porn on the Internet is not enough to prove its procurement or possession.”

But it has it’s roots in the deeply inhaled myth that pornography is just another art form – and as long as the perveyor is not directly harming another, well, we all know art has no affect on it’s audience, right?

Sed contra est, what one bloke from Rockford, Ill. has to say about it all:

Libertarians insist that these innocent fantasies do not lead to harm. After all, we know from a series of enlightened court rulings that the state has no interest in banning erotic novels if there are the slightest pretensions to literary merit – yes, an obvious reference to Lady Chatterley’s Lover. After all, moral questions can all be reduced to subjective value, can’t they?  

Libertarians put the case directly. We should enjoy the freedom to read or watch anything we like so long as no one has been demonstrably harmed. So, if a father of two little girls becomes aware that his next-door neighbor is addicted to virtual pornography depicting the rape, torture, and murder of little girls, it is none of his business. If people feed their imagination on images of sexual violence – as, by the way, so many sex offenders predictably do – this has absolutely no bearing on what kind of people they are or on the crimes they might some day be willing to commit.

What say you all?


  1. I’ll bite. (I feel compelled, since I once upon a time called myself a libertarian).

    “Libertarians insist that these innocent fantasies do not lead to harm” is a strawman. If you don’t believe that something should be criminalized, that doesn’t mean you believe that it is “innocent” or “harmless.” By the same token, you can believe that something is harmful, and at the same time believe it should not be a crime. I believe it’s harmful to call your daughter a “thoughtless little pig,” as one Alec Baldwin did, but I do not think he should be arrested for it. I believe it’s harmful to consume pornography of any kind, harmful to oneself and harmful to ones relationships, which makes it harmful to others, but I do not think that alone should make it a crime.

    The key words here seems to be “lead to.” It is probably more accurate to say that the libertarian does not believe that anything should be criminalized simply because it could potentially lead to a crime.

    But I’m not even sure if that has anything to do with your reasons for posting this.

    What say you, JOB?

    • It’s true, I did have a larger point to make. Still, I’ll resist calling the argument against the libertarian view a straw man. (The Baldwin example is not as clear cut as the one Fleming raises because it blends the lines between political society and familial society, etc. To wit: I’d rather have Baldwin as my neighbor than Kent.) That said, I think the American view of virtue is built specifically and essentially on the sort of moral outlook that’s best described by the dictum ” “If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, where’s the harm?”

      But the larger point stands: what I’m wondering is how we got from that view of virtue (whether one thinks it ought to be in the interest of the state to preserve the common good or not) to a similar view in art, and specifically, literature.

      Deep stuff, I know, for a Wednesday afternoon…


      • Matthew Lickona says

        JOB old man, you know as well as I do that the Federalist’s notion of the common good is the system that best serves everyone’s private goods.

      • But it is a strawman. It is a misrepresentation of the libertarian position. Here’s another: “The libertarian opposition to censorship is based on the conviction that artistic representations do not actually affect people.”

        What? No. The libertarian opposition to censorship is based on a lot of things, but in addition, libertarians would say that “being affected by” an artistic representation of something cannot possibly be considered a crime.

        I’m not sure I totally get your question, but I do think we have to speak distinctly about distinct things: what society criminalizes, what society tolerates, what we consider virtue and vice, and what we consider harmful and harmless, what we promote, what we condone and condemn, etc.

        The purpose of the law is (or should be, in a libertarian’s opinion) restricted to protecting people from force or fraud (and children from the heinous crime of child pornography), but is considered an ineffective tool for promoting virtue or curing social ills and maybe even an ineffective tool for acting as a collective “expression of” “our” general attitude with regard to what we consider virtue, vice, harmful, harmless, etc. The attitude of “live and let live” or “if there’s no harm, where’s the harm?” or “don’t do anything bad to anybody” is one of toleration, I would say, not virtue (if that is the American idea of virtue, then virtue is merely the absence of malice? The law is mainly prohibitive while virtue is active.)

        But where am I going with all of this? I’m not sure it’s relevant. I think this writer is trying to make the point that this man’s actions ARE harmful to children by virtue of the fact that viewing child pornography makes a person more likely to harm a child, and so therefore it should be within the realm of the law to punish him for it, even though said harm is only a possibility, even if that possibility is a likelihood. And there is certainly an argument there to be made: one shouldn’t have to create a strawman to make it. I guess what I’m getting hung up on is the misrepresentation of the views of libertarians and what those views are founded on.

        Do you think it is the role of literature to promote virtue?
        (Big question, I know, for a Wednesday evening…)

  2. I think The Catechism teaches us to suppport laws prohibiting pornography. As for the larger point, it is definately strange that the libertarian view has gained so much ground recently in terms of public assumptions. I was part of the problem for a long time because I was trying to be more palpable to my progressive friends. Realizing that they are insane helped me with the recovery process. My gut tells me that if it involves kids, the perps should be flogged. I’m serious about that. Flogged or put in blocks in a public place. This would actually be more dignified than prison and a more effective deterrent.

    Otherwise, I think that adults should be left alone.

    I’ll think about the larger question and maybe post a Bill Whittle YouTube if it would make Lickona happy.

  3. Definitely, that is.

    “I’m definitely an excellent driver.”

  4. It seems to me that the conceit of libertarianism (or any ism) is that there is a model way for people to co-exist in a fallen state. The inspired genius of our founders is that they established a system of civil government which accounted for the fallen state through checks on civil power. There was also the conception of the pursuit of happiness which is different from the modern idea of happiness as maximizing the consumption of porn and stuff and convenience of pulling the plunger on dad. I guess people really did associate happiness with virtue and serving God. Determining when that ideal was lost might be a clue to the riddle. I’m placing my bets on Woodstock, but you folks might have other guesses.

  5. Or, it may have happened when that strange little god told me to consume 5 different kinds of rum in one sitting.

    In either event it’s bad.

  6. Also, the idea that we can all find a common ground in society and play be the same rules seems flawed to me. Some folks are moving toward God and some are clearly moving away. Libertarians think that if only we got our minds straight we can all play by the common rules that you should be left alone if you’re not hurting anybody else. I don’t want to depend on that. It seems a safer way to depend on our common goodness. Also, sin is a tyrant which ultimately demands conformity. We just saw it with that boxer who got banned from the mall yesterday. Of course, it’s all moot if Weimar comes to a country near you. So much for the peaceful and tranquil life St. Paul mentioned.

    Okay, I’m done. Thanks for the post.

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