Co-Authored by Steve Horwitz

A first year student at Duke who is funding her undergraduate education with a career in pornography has identified herself as a libertarian, giving rise to a lot of discussion on Facebook and other blogs about “the libertarian position on pornography.”

Because libertarianism is neither a theology nor a system of personal ethics, it often does not have a single position on topics like pornography, the best way to raise your children, or drug use. And this is a strength. Libertarianism does not require rigid adherence to a single personal practice. What follows, then, is intended as a helpful—though surely incomplete—scale of possible libertarian points of view on pornography.

It is not an answer. It is a conversation starter.

It should probably go without saying, but nothing ever does on the internet, that what makes all of these points of view libertarian is that one could hold any of these views, and still believe that the state should not prohibit pornography.

  1.  Pornography is destructive of the virtues necessary to maintain a civil society. It is harmful to character and to our families. It destroys our ability to view others as individuals. Those who use it lack virtue and can (or should) be publicly criticized and shunned.
  2.  Pornography violates the idea that people are ends in themselves, not means to our own ends. When people view pornography, they are treating the individuals depicted there as means to their sexual gratification, not as human beings with ends of their own.
  3.  Some pornography is neutral, other pornography, such as that depicting non-consensual or violent sex, is destructive of the virtues necessary to maintain a civil society. It is harmful to character and to our families.  It destroys our ability to view others as individuals. Those who use it lack virtue and can (or should) be publicly criticized and shunned.
  4.  Pornography is neutral, but there are some serious concerns with the business end of it. Young performers may not understand what they are getting into, and may not be able to give fully coherent consent.
  5.  Pornography is an entirely neutral and private concern. It is a peaceful exchange between consumer and performer.
  6.  Pornography is generally good for civil society, but other pornography, such as that depicting non-consensual or violent sex, raises concerns about the consent of the performers and the models it suggests for the way people might interact.
  7.  Pornography is generally good for civil society, as long as we are certain of the consent of all participants.
  8.  Pornography is good for civil society. It provides pleasure and harms no one.
  9.  Pornography empowers the individuals who perform in it and the individuals who view it to express themselves sexually. This kind of autonomy is good for civil society, and those who enable it should be praised.

 

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  • Sean II

    Wait a minute! If someone can afford to go to Duke on the after-tax earnings of a part-time porn career, perhaps I’ve been overstating the extent of price inflation in higher ed.

    • j r

      Exactly, That chick is full of it and people are eating up her goofy gender studies double talk.

      Dollars to donuts her parents are paying for college and she’s using the few grand she makes shooting porn to buy handbags and expensive sunglasses.

      • judd

        What double talk?
        And if she was shooting porn to buy handbags and expensive sunglasses would that be bad? Not that there’s any evidence that her story about porn to pay for school is at all false.

    • martinbrock

      http://www.celebritynetworth.com/articles/entertainment-articles/20-richest-porn-stars/

      Note that Peter North and Ron Jeremy are the only men on the list.

      • purple_platypus

        And by “the only men on the list”, you mean “not even half the men on the list”, since I count five in total.

        FWIW, I’ve read that male porn stars normally make a lot less per shoot, but work more because there’s a lot fewer of them.

        • martinbrock

          I stand corrected.

        • martinbrock

          I stand corrected. The article states that five of the twenty are men.

  • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

    It’s not really that those are all libertarian beliefs but that they are all compatible with libertarianism. These specific positions are outside the scope libertarianism entirely. The libertarian position is only that the state should have nothing to do with it.

    • Sean II

      Well, thick libertarians should actually have quite a bit to say about porn, including some strongly for, some energetically against.

      Personally, I think the forecast predicts some light, fumbling inconsistency by mid-morning, with some parts of the viewing area getting doused with full blown hypocrisy by the late afternoon and early evening.

      • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

        Eh, if it can’t be examined in terms of potential violations of liberty, then it’s not really a part of libertarianism per se. And I mean liberty as in the absence of being physical coerced, not as in the reduction of a person’s power, i.e. the capacity to realize ends. The latter is far too broad a definition of liberty and leads to contradictions.

        • Sean II

          I suppose you can do what you’re doing here, which is to define thick libertarianism out of existence.

          But I don’t understand why you’d want to.

          What’s so great about having a movement with only one value?

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            It’s just that ‘thick libertarianism’ is ultimately incoherent. Besides, what’s wrong with having people identify as ‘individualist libertarians’, ‘feminist libertarians’, ‘sex-positive feminist libertarians’, ‘Christian libertarians’, etc.?

            All of those have the same frame of reference, and then they add in their extralibertarian views in their identity. But ‘thick libertarianism’ doesn’t share a frame of reference with any of these other types of libertarianism. Liberty is defined differently, aggression is defined differently, etc. There is nothing shared other than a label, and the label is ultimately just a string of letters that means something entirely different to the two groups.

            What’s so great about sharing a label when the label means something different to everyone that uses it?

          • Sean II

            “What’s so great about sharing a label when the label means something different to everyone that uses it?”

            That’s just what is in dispute, I think. My sympathy with thick libertarianism comes from the fact that I think most of us actually agree on certain things. Let me try an example…

            As a thick libertarian, I hate it when people complain of being “offended” as a means of driving certain words, thoughts, jokes out of existence. I hate it even when everyone involved promises not to use force. I notice most libertarians have a similar reaction. I notice most libertarians value free speech in a way that goes well beyond any literal, legal reading of the term.

            Perhaps you noticed the other night when Ellen Degeneres made that “thank you, sir” joke at the Oscars, and there was a wounded outcry from some transgender sub-faction of the LGBT movement (in which, why the hell would Ellen be anything other than a pure heroine?)

            Line up 100 libertarians, I’m betting 90 at least felt a strong sense of “fuck you, transgender joke police!”. And yet, Seth, none of this had anything to do with non-aggression.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            And yet, Seth, none of this had anything to do with nonaggression.

            So then it has nothing to do with liberty or libertarianism. Those feelings are outside the scope of libertarianism. Libertarianism is not a comprehensive worldview that encompasses all types of morality.

            That was entirely Skwire’s point in the blog post above. All of those moral claims she listed were consistent with libertarianism; they weren’t libertarian beliefs. In the comment section, Skwire clarifies:

            I think you’re right, Aeon. Since I’m not a philosopher, I don’t tend to trouble over that kind of wording issue, but “positions compatible with libertarianism” is certainly my intended meaning.

            I’m not saying that libertarians must remain agnostic in terms of any morality that doesn’t have to do with liberty. I’m essentially saying the same thing that Roderick Long says in his Whence I Advene post here on why he is a bleeding heart libertarian http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/03/whence-i-advene/

            Thick libertarian isn’t a very useful description. Virtually everyone, libertarian or not, has political views and moral views (which sometimes overlap). With the way you are using the term, there is in practice no such thing as a thin libertarian! Bleeding heart libertarian is far more descriptive; individualist libertarian is far more descriptive; feminist libertarian is far more descriptive; etc.

            I’ll just end with an excerpt from Long’s post I cited:

            On the one hand, I’m committed to libertarianism in a fairly standard sense: self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, Lockean homesteading, private property, and free markets. On the other hand, I’m committed to a fairly standard set of traditionally leftist concerns, including opposition to such social evils as worker exploitation, plutocratic privilege, racism, homophobia, gender inequality, militarism, environmental degradation, and the prison-industrial complex. (Call them all “oppression” for short.)

            I don’t think either the libertarian or the leftist commitments need to be watered down in order to accommodate the other; on the contrary, I think they strengthen each other. I see these two sets of commitments as related both causally and conceptually.

          • Sean II

            Please, stay with my example for just a minute and answer me this:

            If there was a society where no one ever used force to suppress free speech, but which had such powerful social taboos against offending people that most citizens never dared to tell a joke in a gathering larger than 3 or 4 close friends…you, Seth, would say “Bravo! That society is libertarian when it comes to free speech?”

            Really? That’s what you’d say?

            BTW – In the name of not playing dumb here, I totally get the appeal of having a once-principle philosophy. Makes the whole arguing with stranger thing so much simpler. Why, it’s like playing Grand Theft Auto with just that one, unanswerable super-weapon on limitless ammo.

            The trouble is…it’s wrong. Normatively, it takes more than freedom to make a free society anyone would want to live one. Descriptively, the libertarians who actually exist are just completely full of shit when they pretend not to have other values hiding in their pockets.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            If there was a society where no one ever used force to suppress free speech, but which had such powerful social taboos against offending people that most citizens never dared to tell a joke in a gathering larger than 3 or 4 close friends, with the end result in terms of conversational culture being similar to that of Soviety Russia…you, Seth, would say “Bravo! That society is libertarian when it comes to free speech?”

            Really? That’s what you’d say?

            If liberty is not violated, then it is libertarian. That is all. No, I would not say, “Bravo!”, because I would not necessarily consider it a good thing.

            But let’s turn it around on you. Are you against the social taboo prohibiting saying various slurs such as nigger and kike? These are social taboos, and instead of prohibiting these through law, people rely on social pressure to punish those who use these slurs (or use them inappropriately, as their use is allowed on South Park, certain music, certain comedy, etc.)

            Whether or not those words are social taboos is outside the scope of libertarianism. You can have racist and bigoted libertarians who use them, and you can have bleeding heart libertarians who oppose their use.

            Normatively, it takes more than freedom to make a free society anyone would want to live in. Descriptively, the libertarians who actually exist are just completely full of shit when they pretend not to have other values hiding in their pockets.

            I already said this, so I’m not sure why you are acting as if I disagree with this sort of thing. In case you missed it, I’ll just requote what I said:

            I’m not saying that libertarians must remain agnostic in terms of any morality that doesn’t have to do with liberty. I’m essentially saying the same thing that Roderick Long says in his Whence I Advene post here on why he is a bleeding heart libertarian.

            And I’ll requote the relevant Long excerpt:

            On the one hand, I’m committed to libertarianism in a fairly standard sense: self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, Lockean homesteading, private property, and free markets. On the other hand, I’m committed to a fairly standard set of traditionally leftist concerns, including opposition to such social evils as worker exploitation, plutocratic privilege, racism, homophobia, gender inequality, militarism, environmental degradation, and the prison-industrial complex. (Call them all “oppression” for short.)

            I don’t think either the libertarian or the leftist commitments need to be watered down in order to accommodate the other; on the contrary, I think they strengthen each other. I see these two sets of commitments as related both causally and conceptually.

            Roderick Long is both a ‘bleeding heart’ and a ‘libertarian’, hence the term ‘bleeding heart libertarian’. Long shares Hoppe’s and Thomas Woods’ views on libertarianism, but he does *not* share their views on social issues. Long is a bleeding heart libertarian; Woods is a Christian Libertarian; and Hoppe is a socially conservative libertarian.

          • Sean II

            “Are you against the social taboo prohibiting saying various slurs such as nigger and kike?”

            As it happens, yes…kind of. The consequences people suffer for saying those words are out of all proportion to the harm. It would have been much better if we had spent the last 40 years building a world where, instead of shielding people from nasty language, we focused on hardening the targets, teaching people to shrug that shit off, starve the trolls, etc.

            That method has worked splendidly in other cases. These days no one gets too upset over mick or dago or honkey. It would not have been difficult to neutralize nigger in the same fashion.

            What did we do instead? We played right into it. We made sure that no word in the English language has more power than nigger.

            Plus, it doesn’t stop there. Saying “you people” in a slow news cycle can be almost as bas as nigger if one happens to be a public figure. Indeed, it’s no longer necessary even to be racist, to run afoul of the taboo against racism. To use my favorite example, Geraldine Ferraro was called “racist” for pointing out that Barack Obama would never have gotten sufficient early press coverage in the ’08 primary if he were a woman or a white man.

            The way they treated her for that, she might as well have been caught whispering nigger into a live microphone.

            So you’ve got me: I don’t like laws against speech, but I also don’t like taboos against speech. I certainly do not regard such taboos as an example of free market discipline at work.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            So you’ve got me: I don’t like laws against speech, but I also don’t like taboos against speech. I certainly do not regard such taboos as an example of free market discipline at work.

            Norms and etiquette — those that are not enacted through legislation — emerge from the values and actions of individuals in a given community. The social taboo emerges because people generally don’t like the thing that is prohibited. Sure, it’s not necessarily part of the market, but so what? Are people to be forbidden from acting upon their values? That’s literally impossible.

            If a social taboo emerges because some people exercise their right of dissociation, then no one’s rights have been violated. No one’s liberty has been infringed upon.

            The principles guiding your beliefs, if taken to their logical conclusion, would mean that people cannot dissociate with others without violating their liberty. Property rights would be meaningless, because the mere act of exercising your right to associate and dissociate with people on your property would be a violation of someone else’s rights.

            Who you choose to be friends with, who you choose to ignore, how you choose to speak to someone, etc., are outside the scope of liberty except when in violation of property rights (see Rothbard for more http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/fifteen.asp ). But the actual content of what you say or who you choose to associate with is irrelevant to liberty and thus libertarianism.

          • Sean II

            You’re sticking to the script, sure enough.

            But let’s get some contact with reality: are you really cool with the idea that a man might, say, make several major scientific discoveries, serve his field with distinction for half a century, and then because a single forbidden thought escaped his lips, be pressured to resign from the world class laboratory he founded?

            That seemed right to you? That seemed fair? There wasn’t anything in the freedom-loving part of you which recoiled in horror at that?

            You saw what happened to James Watson and thought: “Yep, nothing like the sight of people freely exercising their right to establish taboos and dissociate from folks who violate them. This has nothing to do with liberty. Not the droids I’m looking for. Move along…”

            Really?

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            Really. None of that has to do with liberty. Is it fair? That depends upon each person’s values. Clearly you don’t think it’s fair. Do I? I am not familiar with that particular situation, so I have no idea what I would think. Do I think some people react excessively to this sort of thing sometimes? Yes, I do. But those are all personal values that are unrelated to liberty per se.

            But let’s get some contact with reality: are you really cool with the idea that a man might, say, be a fucking asshole to people, use disgusting and bigoted language because he despises an entire group of people for having the ‘wrong’ skin color, sexual orientation, etc., but then people who might not want to associate with such a man really should not exercise their right to dissociate because that would be “tyrannical…[and not] an example of free market discipline at work”?

            Really?

          • Sean II

            There is no value in libertarianism that says “you must put up with assholes endlessly”.

            But there is a value in libertarianism by way of classical liberalism by way of what Jonathan Rauch calls “liberal science” that says “arguments are good for discovering things about the world, and the good that comes from having open and honest arguments often – one might say, presumptively – outweighs a whole bunch of other goods, like the desire to protect people (or groups) from the pain of hurt feelings.”

            You are denying the second point, and while I don’t want to hurt your feelings, the fact is…you look ridiculous doing it, because you trying to dance in a puddle of quicksand.

            How the hell did you ever get to your non-aggression principle, without liberal science? And why do you imagine that it’s safe to discard the liberal science that got you there, now you’ve arrived?

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            No, I am not denying the “second point”. Nothing I’ve said here has even suggested that. Normally I would be willing to explain not only what I believe but why I believe it, but it’s clear you aren’t actually interested, even though you “ask” in your final paragraph.

            You repeatedly dodge discussing the principles involved here, and it’s clear you also are uninterested in holding a consistent principled position. I’ve tried to direct our conversation in that direction multiple times now, but you insist, for whatever reason, on keeping our discussion entirely away from principles.

            You can call me ridiculous all you want, but my position is very similar if not the same as Roderick Long’s, which I’ve even cited and quoted for your benefit. It may be far easier to call me ridiculous for “trying to dance in a puddle of quicksand”, but I sincerely doubt you would say the same thing to Roderick Long.

            Maybe you would, but I think most people would then think you are the ridiculous one. Don’t worry, you haven’t hurt my feelings, so you should be able to rest easy. But you’ve demonstrated that you aren’t really interested in what I have to say, so I don’t see a point in continuing our little “debate”. I’ll get my fill of intellectual stimulation from reading and discussing with people who prefer intellectually honest debates.

            Feel free to have the last word here.

            Good night.

          • Sean II

            I figured you’d be running away soon. Your position left you with only one other move, and since that was “conceding gracefully” or perhaps “humbly admitting you’ve overstated your case”, I figured no way. This is the internet, after all.

            You’re especially wrong to claim Roderick Long as your debating partner here, since he openly declares his whole set of values, and explains with magnificent clarity how they fit together, support each other, etc.

            You can’t even tell me if you’re for or against forcing James Watson into retirement for the thought crime of “racism” (perhaps you’d plead him instead to the lesser charge of being an asshole, with the same punishment?).

            Long defends his views by the novel method of actually testing them against real and even hypothetical cases. You use the old school technique of refusing to apply yours, even when presented with clear and relevant examples.

            All you can do is repeat that “it has nothing to do with libertarianism”, but please call you if I see anyone using force, because then, by god, you’re on the case. And so you end up saying inspiring things like “freedom of thought has nothing to do with freedom” or “openness to ideas has nothing to do with open societies”.

            It may sting a bit today, but in the long run I’ve done you a favor.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            Oh my, it appears I bruised your ego when I called you out on your dishonesty. It has not escaped my attention that you are ascribing to me beliefs that I don’t hold, nor that you are claiming that I haven’t actually answered your questions when I actually have.

            It doesn’t appear that anybody is reading our little “debate” here, so I don’t think you need to continue posturing, or does it make you feel better?

            Another point of dishonesty from you: I’ve not only cited Long and excerpted his exact words in order to explain what I think, but you are actually doing the opposite. You just claim that Long said something or other without citing or excerpting in order to demonstrate your case. Interesting. And it hasn’t escaped my attention.

            Another fascinating level of dishonesty from you is that you are using the word freedom in your phrase ‘freedom of thought’ as a synonym for ‘power’, which is actually something I pointed out way up in the beginning of our conversation. Here is why this is dishonest: you are trying to phrase the scenario as if I’m against the ‘freedom of thought’ when you full well know that my understanding of freedom is not merely the absence of a reduction in power but the absence of coercion by force.

            No, it hasn’t escaped my notice that you are still continuing to use dishonest debating tactics.

            So, how about this? You can either restate what you think my argument is in good faith, and we can try again at a meaningful and productive conversation, or you can continue to be dishonest — and let’s be clear, I’m calling you a liar, though it is possible you are merely ignorant — and I will continue to point out your dishonesty until either one of us loses interest in something so unproductive.

            Let me know what you intend to do.

          • Sean II

            My position is obvious and always has been: Libertarianism is much more than mere non-aggression. It’s not some big tent that anyone can join. It’s a very specific tradition tied to very specific values. Bullshit aside, there are no Wahhabist libertarians. There are no Communist libertarians. There are no Fascist libertarians. The same arguments which lead us to value something like freedom of speech as a political right, also lead us to value it as a custom. The same arguments which lead us to value voluntary exchange as a political right, also lead us to value commerce and material progress as a way of life. Getting back to the original theme…the same arguments which lead us to value consensual sex work as a political right, also lead us to value a society where people can enjoy sex without being terrorized by guilt, shame, taboo. Etc..

            So there, I’ve done as you asked. Now you can return the gesture simply by answering the James Watson (non)hypothetical, which you’ve so conspicuously avoided to this point. I’ll rephrase the question in three parts:

            a) Do you think it’s kosher for libertarians that a given taboo – though not enforced by violence – should reach the point where one of the world’s most accomplished scientists should have to resign from the laboratory he founded because on one occasion, he said something “racist”?

            b) If yes, then…wow.

            c) If no, then…can you really claim with a straight face that the values which make you recoil at violent suppression of speech, book burning, state censorship, jailing of dissidents, etc. HAVE NOTHING TO DO with the values which make you say “Hell no, Watson should not live out the end of his life in disgrace just because he spoke a few forbidden words. That’s awful. It’s awful even if no hint of coercion was involved.”

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            1) Technically there are socialist libertarians — they are in fact the original libertarians. This is one of the problems of sharing labels with people when people use the label differently.

            2) Well, I was really asking if you could restate what you think my position is, because I think part of the problem here is that how I am explaining it is not how you are understanding it. I could be wrong — you might be understanding my position perfectly — but I see my position as aligning with Long and Skwire (and I presume Horwitz as he is listed as a coauthor), so I think there is a high chance of some miscommunication going on.

            3) Regarding (a), as far as my conception of liberty is concerned, I don’t regard the issue as a libertarian issue. Either way is consistent with libertarianism. My personal belief really depends. I am not the one who would have to put up with his behavior on a daily basis. I am not someone who would have to interact with him regularly, semi-regularly, irregularly, etc. If the people who work with him don’t want to put up with that sort of thing, that’s their business. Would I in similar situations? In some situations I have put up with that sort of thing. In other situations I haven’t.

            To me it really depends on how I interpret the person’s motivations. If I think it was based on malice, I would probably limit my interactions with such a person as best I can. If I thought it was based on ignorance, then I would be more likely to continue interacting with the person, though it still depends. But I see this sort of thing as my personal values as opposed to implications of libertarian values.

            Here are two quotes that I think sum up my position, but regarding my personal beliefs:

            “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Robert Hanlon

            “To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again.” – Arturo Toscanini (unless he didn’t really say it; Stefan Zweig disputes it; either way it sums up my views on separating art and artist.)

            4) Further down-thread Kevin Currie-Knight, Steven Horwitz, Aeon Skoble, and Sarah Skwire all state in their own words a position that I think is either identical to mine or awfully damn close. It starts here: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/03/7452/#comment-1272998384

          • Sean II

            You “don’t regard it as a libertarian issue”? How tidy of you. Also how barren and uninspiring. Liberated thought has nothing to do with liberty, eh? Living in a world where people are both allowed and encouraged to follow their reason…that’s just not a libertarian issue.

            You’re wrong on this, Seth. Of course I’ve been very abrasive, so you’re not about to share any doubts with me. But for goodness sake, don’t let that stop you from entertaining them privately.

            The idea that the libertarian movement should have nothing to say once the guns are silenced is madness. It sucks the beauty out of what should be a beautiful thing.

            But hell with that, and back to the abrasion: there are no socialist libertarians. Just because some folks were badly confused once upon a time, doesn’t change the fact that collective ownership of the means of production and liberty are real-life opposites.

          • TracyW

            Surely this depends on the level of dissociation? One can refuse to see someone socially, while still engaging with them on a professional level. And even within the “engaging with professionally” there are levels, eg not giving honours to is different to openly calling on their employer to fire them.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            Sure, people don’t need to have an all-or-nothing attitude. I like Toscanini’s quote about Richard Strauss: To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again. Each person has to figure out how to react to people who behave in ways they don’t like. Some will go so far as shunning, others may limit their association just to professional interactions, others may limit even that by not giving awards (as you point out), etc. But there is no a priori one true standard for how every person, libertarian or otherwise, must react to behavior they find distasteful.

        • judd

          All comes down to the whole thick versus thin debate. This came about in a particularly clear way about two years ago when the boys at Reason said more interracial marriages was something libertarians should celebrate and David Gordon freaked out and said it had nothing to do with libertarianism, that it was as relevant as whether one preferred strawberry or chocolate ice cream.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            I actually don’t remember that event. Anyway, Gordon is right that it is irrelevant to libertarianism per se. That doesn’t mean that libertarians should or shouldn’t celebrate interracial marriage — it just means that, strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with identifying rights violations.

            If some libertarians want to call themselves ‘think libertarians’ because they are also concerned about particular social issues in a certain way, then sure. Why not? But if some want to redefine ‘liberty’ into something that is incoherent, then I really don’t see the point of using the label ‘libertarian’.

          • judd

            Even hard thin libertarians like Murray Rothbard made arguments about libertarianism being good on grounds other than individual rights though. I’ve convinced precisely zero people to be libertarians using strict rights based arguments but when I talk about how makes it all richer and happier people start to listen.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            Sure, after all increasing liberty is highly correlated with increasing standards of living, among many other good things. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here. Libertarianism per se is about liberty. What you do with that is up to each libertarian.

            Like I said above, what’s wrong with people identifying as an ‘individualist libertarian’, ‘feminist libertarian’, etc.? The libertarian part signals that the person is interested in liberty, and the other part signals what other beliefs they find important as well.

            If people want ‘thick libertarian’ to mean ‘socially liberal libertarian’ or ‘left libertarian’ or whatever, that is fine. I’m not criticizing that. My point is only that the ‘libertarian’ part really only has to do with liberty.

            Tl;dr: libertarianism is not a comprehensive worldview that encompasses all types of morality. It’s scope is limited to defining and identifying liberty.

          • judd

            Tell that to Friedman and Hayek and numerous other libertarians who thought libertarianism was about more than just strictly conceived negative liberty. I’m not saying you don’t hold a very well represented understanding of libertarianism but it is one of many understandings.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            First, Hayek’s thought was largely in terms of classical liberalism. That is what he is most known for, not libertarianism. Classical liberalism and libertarianism, while similar, are not identical.

            Second, you are mistaken about Milton Friedman. From the end of the episode “Created Equal” from the Free to Choose series:

            Peter Jay: You’re a closet egalitarian. You’re a closet egalitarian, really, then. You–

            Milton Friedman: I am not.

            PJ: –you support the objective the.

            MF: I would like — there’s an enormous difference between liking to see a result and being in favor of a particular method of achieving that result.

            PJ: You’re willing to–

            MF: Because if I were wrong, if freedom led to wider inequality, I would prefer that to a world in which I got artificial equality at the expense of freedom. My objective, my god, if you want, is freedom. The freedom of human beings and the individuals to pursue their own values.

          • judd

            Okay fair enough on the CL versus libertarian distinction but you know full well that both those men are viewed as libertarians by both libertarians and non-libertarians.
            But I have to challenge you on MF. He repeatedly makes the case for libertarianism on the grounds that it will make people richer and happier. If you think I’m wrong I’ll gladly produce some quotes.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            On a scale of political ideologies, classical liberalism is fairly close to libertarianism, so it can be expedient to refer to some classical liberals as libertarians. But they are distinct philosophies, so classifying them as the same for reasons other than expediency is somewhat deceptive.

            Regarding Friedman, I know full well that he makes his case based on the free market tending toward making people wealthier. But that doesn’t change the fact that Milton Friedman himself said that even if this weren’t the case, he would still support liberty over equality.

            To borrow from Groucho Marx: Who am I going to believe? You or Milton Friedman?

          • judd

            Yes yes yes over equality. But what if a fully free market system would make us all poorer. Friedman would then say “Well that’s a very strong presumption against markets” whereas Rothbard would say “That’s unfortunate but justice requires entirely unrestricted markets.” Is that your view too?

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            Um, what Friedman said when asked this question was this:

            I am not [a closet egalitarian]…Because if I were wrong, if freedom led to wider inequality, I would prefer that to a world in which I got artificial equality at the expense of freedom. My objective, my god, if you want, is freedom. The freedom of human beings and the individuals to pursue their own values.

            Though I greatly respect Rothbard, I am not a Rothbardian. There is no absolute justice; each person has his own view as to what justice is. Centralizing law means that people follow the central planner’s conception of justice, not their own.

            David Friedman has pointed out that anarcho-capitalism is not synonymous with libertarianism, but that an anarcho-capitalist society would probably resemble very closely a libertarian society.

            The method of forming law is more important to a libertarian society than any one specific concept of justice. You can take virtually any issue, ranging from ‘voluntary slavery’ to what level of light would be considered to violate your neighbor’s rights, and you will find (prominent) libertarians who will argue and disagree. Essentially, the idea of a priori law is absurd and unattainable. Consistent libertarians must support an unhampered market in law as the method of forming law, but that doesn’t mean they must necessarily support all of the results of this process. Much of the specific content of law is outside the scope of libertarianism.

            Tl;dr: My view is that I support an unhampered market in law as the method of forming law, but any particular result of this process (or even state rulings) may or may not align with my own sense of justice.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            The final sentence gives a hint of something more. He wants freedom so that people can pursue their own values. It is a means to that end.

            I think you are right that libertarianism is only about freedom. But it is also true, I think, that anyone who wants freedom wants it as a means to the realisation of some moral values. Of course, you are not denying that; but I think it explains some of the resistance you are getting.

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            There are some libertarians who value liberty as an end in itself, but I think you are right that liberty is primarily used as means to realize ends. I would say that any libertarian who feels repulsed by rights violations does value liberty as an end in itself, but that doesn’t means that libertarians don’t also value the free market for its tendency toward a high standard of living.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            I was reluctant to say that some libertarians value liberty as an end in itself; but you are right that some do. In fact, J. S. Mill says that, or something like it, in ‘On Liberty.’ I am not claiming here that Mill was a libertarian; but there is a lot in that litle book that libertarians should find of value.

            I disagree with this, though:

            “I would say that any libertarian who feels repulsed by rights violations does value liberty as an end in itself…”

            If you value freedom simply as a means, you still value it, so you would still normally be repulsed by rights-violations.

            Incidentally, I value freedom for its tendency to generate a high standard of living. But that is not the only thing I value it for, and not the most important. I think it would be rather philistine if that were the only reason a person had for valuing freedom. Of course, I accept that a high standard of living is of great value derivatively, because it enables us to pursue higher purposes (it gives us the resources, including leisure time and avoidance of diseases and other afflictions). But it is better to be Socrates poor than to be a pig rich (to paraphrase Mill in ‘Utilitarianism’). Obviously, I don’t mean to imply that you value freedom purely for the material wealth it facilitates (I don’t think you’ve expressed an opinion on the matter).

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            I disagree with this, though:

            “I would say that any libertarian who feels repulsed by rights violations does value liberty as an end in itself…”

            If you value freedom simply as a means, you still value it, so you would still normally be repulsed by rights-violations.

            I agree with this, as it is possible that people can be repulsed by rights violations because they are frustrated, angered, etc., at someone using what they consider to be bad or destructive means to achieving some desired end. Many people feel that way when they see someone trying to achieve something in the ‘wrong’ way.

            But, I think that many libertarians who see rights violations feel something along the lines of righteous indignation. That, I think, is when libertarians value liberty as an end in itself — though a libertarian can value liberty as both a means and an end in itself.

            Consider state regulation versus murder. A libertarian would of course view state regulation as a rights violation, and it’s quite possible for the libertarian to feel righteous indignation and some kind of frustration at the stupidity of state regulation. But with murder, it’s far more likely — though not impossible — that a libertarian would empathize with the victim’s situation and the victim’s friends and family as opposed to thinking: what a bad way to achieve prosperity.

    • Kevin Currie-Knight

      Right.

      “What is the libertarian position on pornography” can be summed up in a single statement: “No one should use force to stop another from doing or consuming it.” It seems to me that this is all libertarianism as libertarianism has to say about pornography

      To put it differently, because libertarianism is a family of political philosophies having to do with when when the use of force is permissible, libertarianism as libertarianism is silent on questions of what people can do sans coercive force.

      • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

        Well, there is the possibility that the state could force people to consume it. :p Okay, I know that isn’t going to happen.

        • AP²

          “Every one belongs to every one else

        • Damien S.

          “Porn in sex ed classes” :p

          • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

            Well played, good sir.

      • Steven Horwitz

        Well yeah, hence our point that they are all possible libertarian positions (or positions compatible with libertarianism). You’ve more or less restated our point.

        • Aeon Skoble

          “hence our point that they are all possible libertarian positions (or positions compatible with libertarianism)”

          These are not identical categories. I think “positions compatible with libertarianism” more accurately captures what you’re getting at.

          • Sarah Skwire

            I think you’re right, Aeon. Since I’m not a philosopher, I don’t tend to trouble over that kind of wording issue, but “positions compatible with libertarianism” is certainly my intended meaning.

          • Aeon Skoble

            I’m not just nitpicking – consider this analogy: veganism, paleo, and Aristotelianism are all philosophies-of-eating that are “compatible with libertarianism” – but it would be weird, and IMO wrong, to call any of them “a libertarian position on eating.” So I would say that _none_ of the positions in your list are “posible libertarian positions on porn,” but that they _are_ all “positions compatible with libertarianism.”

          • Sarah Skwire

            I agree, and I don’t think you’re nit-picking. You are doing a thing that philosophers are trained to do that I am not. So I’m glad you’re doing it.

  • http://www.kipesquire.net KipEsquire

    “Civil society,” whatever that means, has no rights. Only individuals have rights. The only reasonable “libertarian” response to Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 & 6 is: Tough Shit.

    • Steven Horwitz

      As we note, none of these positions necessarily imply that one think the state should do anything. One can hold 1-6 and fervently believe the state should do nothing about porn. IOW, those who hold the positions might say “this is what I believe, but tough shit.” They don’t need you to say it to them as they already believe it.

  • Sean II

    Whatever the merits of the rest, #2 is dead on arrival.

    If the problem with porn is that Belle Knox (probably her real name) is being used as a mere means, and is not an end in herself…the same clearly applies to Jackie Chan, Tom Hanks, Peyton Manning, etc. plus also that string trio I hired for my wedding (they were hardly even people to me!)…plus also anyone who performs for a living…or, come to think of it, anyone who works for wages, fees, tips, honoraria, etc.

    The only person who can really live up to the standard set in #2 is Ted Kaczynski.

    • http://www.unseenobserver.com/ Seth MacLeod

      Right, the real problem isn’t that people use others as means — as that is what we do in social action — the problem is dehumanizing others because of choices they make that harm no one.

      • Sean II

        The de-humanizing process is sure to run overtime on this one.

        Knox is a double traitor in the gender identity wars: a libertarian woman who does porn and does not claim victim status as a result.

        Salon.com is probably calling all of its writers off the Ukraine story as we speak. To them, this will be way more important.

        • Libertymike

          More important than exchanging Chicken Kiev recipes?

          • Sean II

            Because you said that, I actually went and got some Chicken Kiev last night.

            It was delicious.

  • SG

    One might believe in something similar to #2, but the formulation itself is a wrong conception of the Second Formulation of the Kantian Categorial Imperative as Kant though about “merely as a means” and not “means” in general – as this would rule out most of our daily life transactions. I also somehow doubt that voluntary pornography in the absence of exploitation can be regarded as treating somebody as “mere means”…

    • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

      You are right. Kant said that it is permissible to use a person as a means where she shares the end of the action.

      • Sean II

        I’m afraid that doesn’t solve the problem. Imagine a casual sex encounter between a boy and a girl.

        The boy’s motive is straightforward sexual gratification.

        The girl’s motive can by anything you like except that. Maybe a need for physical intimacy where sex is the only kind readily available. Maybe a complicated urge to do something risky and stop following the nice girl rules. Maybe a simple desire to trade sex for an evening of expensive dinner and drinks. Maybe the girl is engaged in romantic speculation: she knows the boy will probably hit-and-quit, but she wants a relationship so bad she’s willing to barter sex for even a tiny chance of starting one. Etc.

        So clearly, the boy and the girl in this case do not share the same end. And just as clearly, I’ve described a most of the sex that happens between between boys and girls, aged 14 to 25.

        I’m not prepared to say such a massive chunk of human sexual activity is immoral, although I’m sure Kant wouldn’t hesitate. What about you?

        • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

          Hi Sean,

          You are right that Kant’s formulation is vague. Usually, instead of saying that the person being used as a means should share the end, he says that the person using the other as a means should also be treating that other as an end. What the hell does it mean to treat another as an end? I think the best way to make sense of this talk of ends is to say that it is okay to use a person as a means if she consents to being so used with a view to some expected benefit for herself, provided it is possible that the expected benefit should result. That final clause rules out taking advantage of mad or seriously deluded people.

          I think that Kant would not object to that interpretation in almost all contexts. But not in the sort of context you describe. The explanation for that is in his religious, anti-sex upbringing. Kant was a gross prig about sex and he twisted his Categorical Imperative out of shape in order to arrive at the conclusion, which had been drummed into him, that sex outside of marriage is immoral. Kant’s views on sex are reproduced here:

          http://www.philosophyinaction.com/blog/?p=12054

          It is an indictment of Christianity that its influence reduced even so great philosopher as Kant to talking such drivel – and drivel that conflicts with the central principles of his own philosophy.

          • Sean II

            Right you are about that. The only sexual perversions that truly disgust me are: amputation, scat, child, snuff, and that truly sickening fetish which consists of obsessing about sex by despising it. I am of course familiar with Kant’s views on sex, and frankly it’s hard in those passages not to picture him as some twisted Nosferatu, rubbing his hands together in the dark.
            _____________________________________________________

            “What the hell does it mean to treat another as an end?”

            There are jokes to be had here, with that sentence, in this coed porn star debate thread.

            Perhaps its best of we just each think of our own.

  • timtimtimmeeee

    No one wants to talk about how unattractive the Duke pornstar really is, and how I took one for the team and clicked on one of her videos and now cannot unsee. Bad pornography is violence against the viewer. Restitution now.

  • j r

    A first year student at Duke who is funding her undergraduate education with a career in pornography has identified herself as a libertarian, giving rise to a lot of discussion on Facebook and other blogs about “the libertarian position on pornography.”

    Why? People should do a little more digging on this chick. She’s more likely a progressive feminist who drops the term libertarian to seem like some sort of iconoclast. Her talking points are straight out of Jezebel and the other psycho posts on XOJane.

    Anyway, there is a libertarian position on these issues. It is that prohibiting something doesn’t make it go away, it just forces it underground. The best way to deal with the assorted unseemly things that we associate with porn and sex work in general is to define a set of reasonable limits (eg no one under 18, informed consent before all activities, some light zoning requirements maybe) and let people make their own decisions within those limits.

    • Damien S.

      “Prohibiting murder doesn’t make it go away, it just forces it underground.” I think your argument needs development. Especially if one can retort “yeah it’s not gone to zero, but we’ve reduced its frequency and accessibility”.

      • Libertymike

        Have we reduced the frequency of state sponsored murder?
        Have we reduced the state’s accessibility to the means necessary to perpetrate murder?

        • Damien S.

          According to the research Pinker summarizes, hell yes we have reduced the frequency.

          • Libertymike

            Sorry, that will not carry the day.

      • j r

        You do realize how murder is not like sex work?

        There is a class of activities that causes direct harm; that is, the harm is the action itself. And there is class of activities where an argument can be made that these activities lead to harmful outcomes. Murder is in the former and consensual sex work is in the latter.

        It should be fairly obvious to which class my comment is directed.

        • Damien S.

          Thing is, people disagree with you about sex work.

          Not me, I’m all for fully legal porn and prostitution. But I found your argument flawed.

          And even ignoring the murder quip, there’s still that “just drives it underground” may be considered an acceptable outcome. You need to do more work. With drugs, it’s how the drug war fuels organized crime and ruins peoples lives for owning a joint. But even someone who agreed with that — and obviously lots of people don’t, else we wouldn’t have a drug war — might think that fining and shaming people for having porn was a good thing; sure you’d have a furtive black or grey market in porn, but it’d be reduced and out of the way (especially of “the children”).

  • Kevin Vallier

    A view you might add would be this:

    Pornography is destructive of the virtues necessary to maintain a civil society. It is harmful to character and to our families. It destroys our ability to view others as individuals. It is a violation of God’s plan for the human body. Those who produce or use it lack virtue and sin. However, they should not be publicly criticized or shunned. It’s not the public’s business to ostracize them, but the job of private individuals to persuade them to change their behavior. The public morality of a free society should include a great deal of strong privacy protections.

    The idea is to distinguish between one’s own ethical code and a society’s public moral constitution, the norms we hold each other accountable for. I make this distinction here: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/02/libertarian-social-morality-progressive-conservative-or-liberal/

    • Steven Horwitz

      Yup, that’s different from any on our list.

    • Sarah Skwire

      Yep. A good point, Kevin. Though I want to add that I was intentionally avoiding “God talk” because 1) it seems to raise endless theological wranglings that detract from what I want the focus of this post to be and 2) I didn’t want to imply that any of these points of view is, of necessity, dependent on belief, or non belief in God or a particularly theology.

      • Kevin Vallier

        OK, so try this:

        Pornography is destructive of the virtues necessary to maintain a civil society. It is harmful to character and to our families. It destroys our ability to view others as individuals. Those who produce or use it lack virtue. However, they should not be publicly criticized or shunned. It’s not the public’s business to ostracize them, but the job of private individuals to persuade them to change their behavior. The public morality of a free society should include a great deal of strong privacy protections.

    • judd

      The question is do you, Kevin Vallier, believe the above to be true?

    • martinbrock

      Selling sex seems to violate God’s plan for the human body far less than marching into hail of bullets defending Crimea from whatever state is not supposed to be ruling it today. I suppose biologists can cite countless of examples of creatures exchanging sexual access for other advantages, and pornography is hardly the only example of humanity doing so (marriage comes immediately to mind), but where is the natural monopoly of force or the natural hail of bullets?

  • judd

    Might we gather something from the fact that porn’s biggest enemies are also extremely unlibertarian (Rick Santorum on the far right right hand and Andrea Dworkin on the far left hand)?

    • SinkTheShip

      Yes, we can gather that most people are accustomed to wielding state power to push their ideas through (see: the gay rights movement).

      • judd

        Marriage equality is completely consistent with libertarianism so long as the state insists on being involved in marriage. Anti-discrimination laws are what you have in mind I suppose? Note that the gay rights movement started in response to state violence.

  • Glen Whitman

    I agree that all of these positions are consistent with libertarianism. That said, I think some fit more comfortably with it than others. If you define libertarianism strictly in terms of its conclusions (regarding the appropriate role of the state), then your opinion about #1-9 is strictly speaking irrelevant. But if you think of libertarianism not just in terms of its conclusions but also in terms of the arguments that get us there, and if you’re willing to admit consequentialist and other non-deontic forms of argument, then it’s clear that positions #4-9 would be more typical of libertarians. Positions #1-3 do not require prohibition, but they certainly put the speaker in the position of justifying why the state should nevertheless stay out. That case can be made, of course; many libertarians argue that drugs are harmful but prohibition is even more harmful.

    FYI, my own belief is some combination of #5 and #6.

  • CbyN

    If there is a libertarian position, it would be anal, because we’ve been taking it in the ass for a long time.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    This is really quite simple to me, Do you own your self, your own body? Should free people be allowed to engage in private contracts? Does government have any right to tell you who or why to make love to someone, or not, and does it have the right to tell people how they may earn money or how much?

    To anyone even somewhat libertarian I do not see any conflicts here.

  • martinbrock

    1 and 2 seem nonsensical to me. How does selling a picture of myself having sex destroy civil society or make me a means to anyone else’s ends any more than selling a picture of myself doing anything else?

    3 is a easier to swallow, but how is fictitious sexual violence any more destructive of civil society than far more common (outside of the internet) fictitious non-sexual violence?

    4. Penny knows what she’s doing when she takes the bus from Nebraska to L.A. to become a movie star? She only loses her way when she does a porno? What gives sex this transformative power over people’s lives, other than the attitudes you’re describing here?

    5. That’s me.

    6-9. See 1-4.

  • JdL

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with pornography (in case it’s necessary to add, portrayed by uncoerced adults). But there are a huge number of sick people who are frightened of their own sexuality, and therefore are frightened of pornography. I have no problem with the existence of sick, frightened people. But I DO have a problem with them trying to run my life, and the lives of others who enjoy the occasional (or for that matter, frequent) skin flick.

  • Jerome Bigge

    The issue here is the freedom of the individual to use their own talents for their own economic gain. As long as there is no use of force or fraud, every individual is free to seek their own welfare as best they can as long as they do not cause harm to others. Ordinary pornography meets this standard. Child pornography does not because children are not capable of understanding the consequences of their acts.

  • Jeremy

    Some libertarians get themselves into awkward positions when discussing child pornography when the child is consenting. Does a child have individual autonomy to make their own rational decisions? Does a parent have a right to prevent their child from participating in pornographic films? If a demented parent allowed their child to participate in pornographic films, then should the government interfere from the child’s participation and hold the parents accountable? If so, then is this intrusion from government just?

    Most people in America would say that a person becomes a rational being at age 18. Does the government have the right to decide that? If so, is that government regulation just? Should individuals decide themselves about whether or not they are a rational being? Do the parents decide?

  • Matthew Tanous

    I’m in shock. Literally in shock. I’m astounded that I found an article on BHL where the authors actually point out that both traditional or conservative views and progressive views on the subject are compatible with libertarianism.

    Of course, at some point, some “sex-positive feminist libertarian” will inform you that your libertarianism is incomplete and needs to be “thickened” some more. So there’s that.

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