Miriam Weeks, better known as Belle Knox, even better known as “the Duke porn star,” is sophomoric — but then, she is still a sophomore – and, having stockpiled a supply of that most important American commodity – fame – she has announced her intentions to inflict her sophomoric analysis on the world at large as a political activist, being, as she is, a College Republican of a purportedly libertarian bent. Apparently, the sins of the Right have not been sufficiently punished by Meghan McCain (remember Meghan McCain?), and so the Fates have sent us a half-educated prep-school pornographer in pursuit of a women’s-studies degree, one who describes her political preferences with superfluous deployments of the word “like,” e.g., “My dream list would be like Ron Paul, or Rand Paul would be really cool. That’d be pretty awesome.”
That the work of Miss Weeks and her colleagues in carnality is perfectly within the usual libertarian/conservative/constitutionalist circle of individual liberty – we prefer a large circle – is not entirely beside the point, but it is at this point a minor question. Miss Weeks says, “I think that my work and being in the porn industry definitely hits on so many libertarian themes like free speech, and censorship, and, you know, choice and autonomy over our bodies,” but, having been born in 1995, Miss Weeks was in diapers (not the sort worn by those of her colleagues serving some of the more exotic tastes) the last time there was a half-serious attempt at regulating pornography in the United States, in the form of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a dopey and ham-fisted gesture in the direction of restricting online pornography that was gutted by Reno v. ACLU.
The irony, which Miss Weeks is a few years’ serious reading shy of being able to understand, is that the actual threats to free speech in the United States are not directed at pornography – the protection of which, though in the end desirable, would never have occurred to Madison et al. – but rather are directed at the very thing that our constitutional safeguards were intended to defend: political speech. There is practically nobody of any consequence seriously looking to criminalize what Miss Weeks does, but Harry Reid and every Democrat in the Senate voted to repeal our free-speech protections in order to criminalize what Charles and David Koch do, what Citizens United does, etc.
Apparently, nobody ever told Senator Reid that the First Amendment is, like, awesome. But now we have a vapid young pornographic performer on our side.
Miss Weeks’s shallowness is unsurprising in that she became a public figure through participation in what may very well be the shallowest form of self-expression short of Rachel Maddow’s Twitter feed: pornography, a sad and hollow species of entertainment the point of which is to provide stimulus during masturbation. Trivial intellectual pursuits are sometimes written off as “mental masturbation,” but Miss Weeks’s oeuvre does not quite rise even to that level, subtracting, as it does, the “mental” bit.
Of course, of course, of course Miss Weeks has the right to perform in pornographic skits, and the millions who consume them have the right to do so, too. They also have the right to stand on their heads all day, to smash their pinkie toes with ball-peen hammers, keep up with the Kardashians, etc. In his famous debate about marijuana legalization with Jesse Jackson, William F. Buckley Jr. asked that “we emancipate ourselves from the superstition that that which is legal is necessarily honorable. It’s perfectly legal to contract syphilis; that doesn’t mean that society is in favor of syphilis. As a matter of fact, it’s perfectly legal to vote for Jesse Jackson — that doesn’t make it reputable, does it?”
Similarly, we should emancipate ourselves from the superstition that people who do things that others look down on are necessarily martyrs to liberty. There has been much discussion of Miss Weeks’s having been “outed” as a pornographic performer by another student at Duke, and one wonders what the word “outed” could possibly mean in this context. Miss Weeks performs sex acts that are published on websites visited by millions and millions of people, and she was “outed” as . . . someone who performs sex acts that are published on websites visited by millions and millions of people. Like many similarly unreflective people, Miss Knox is not very deft at distinguishing between criticism, social pressure, and political repression. “I grew up Catholic, so I grew up in a very, very, conservative background and that, I think, really was kind of the impetus for why I wanted to become a libertarian.”
Lord Acton weeps.
She goes on to add that she became a libertarian in part because people advised her to wait until marriage to have sex. If you’ve attended very many libertarian conferences, you know that virginity and libertarianism very often go hand-in-hand, though not always willingly. No doubt Miss Weeks will find an enthusiastic reception among the heroic Randian poindexters.
There is more than one question that presents itself in the matter of liberty. The first, which commanded the attention of the fathers of this republic and continues to dominate the concerns of those contemporary partisans of individual rights who for whatever reason stand apart from the Right at large, is: How to get it? A second question involved in the matter of liberty is: What to do with it? Very often it is the case that as a person proceeds from the first question to the second, he also proceeds from the first camp to the second. He starts to realize that there is a critical difference between the people who tell you what you can’t do and the ones who tell you what you shouldn’t do. That generally happens around the time that he — or she — starts to understand that pornography is neither the result of a heroic commitment to individual liberty and expression nor an existential threat to civilization. Pornography is only business, and a distasteful business at that.
Unfortunately, the same is often true of political activism. Miss Weeks may make new use of her existing skill set after all.
– Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.