The Corner

There Oughtn’t Be a Law, Take 2

I much enjoyed Brother Andy’s take on the French burqa ban and related issues: in short, these are questions for the culture, not questions for the courts. Not everything bad or undesirable needs to have a law passed against it.

I mention this because of the recent outbreak of gap-toothedness regarding the supposed inconsistency between the social conservatism of Christian tea-party candidates and the movement’s broader small-government agenda. Jacob Weisberg, as is his habit, provides an example of the sort of simpleton thinking that defines today’s self-satisfied Left:

Delaware Senate nominee’s Christine O’Donnell objection to masturbation, which she helpfully points out is a selfish activity, is at odds with the movement’s fixation on individual choice in matters social as well as economic. Self-pleasuring must remain a form of protected expression for those who reject any infringement on personal autonomy as a step on the road to serfdom.

In case it is not blisteringly obvious enough, it should be pointed out that Miss O’Donnell is not proposing a federal law banning masturbation. One can think all sorts of things are bad, or selfish, or undesirable, or otherwise to be discouraged — without also believing that there should be laws against them. (I never thought National Review would spend so much time writing about masturbation without a Clinton in the White House.) For instance, one may believe that marital infidelity is wrong, immoral, and to be discouraged, and believe that this is an important public issue, to be addressed by both public and private means, without believing that we should revive the adultery laws. (I do, in fact, believe there should be sanctions against adultery, but I prefer a breach-of-contract model to the criminal code, taking, as I do, a contractual view of marriage as a public institution.) One can believe that pornography is a destructive force in modern life, campaign against it, argue for social sanctions against its producers and consumers, but still reject the idea that government should censor it. You can point out that cheeseburgers are not good for you without wanting to ban cheeseburgers (I’m lookin’ at you, Nurse Bloomberg).

Get it, kids?

A second example, also from Slate, ran under the perplexing headline: Christine O’Donnell, masturbation socialist. In that piece, William Saletan opened with this dunderheaded paragraph:

Christine O’Donnell, the newly anointed Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, wants to save our country from socialism. She opposes socialism because she believes in the individual. In her view, you should be free to live your own life, unencumbered by others. Except when it comes to touching your genitals.

He’s apparently serious about the “socialism” bit, too, adding:

In other words, masturbation is wrong because you do it alone, outside the “moral order” of social relations in which you’re supposed to perform your proper function. It’s something you do for yourself instead of “giving” yourself to the larger purpose of human procreation. You’re just a cog in the wheel. You exist to serve the community.

No. Not at all. Socialism is when The Man comes to your house with a gun and tells you that you are going to serve the community. (The difference between communism and socialism: Under communism, politics begins with a gun in your face; under socialism, politics ends with a gun in your face. Hey, somebody ought to write that down.) Most people “give themselves” to “serve the community” in all sorts of ways that are voluntary: for instance, by having a family, which is precisely the moral context in which O’Donnell is placing her argument. Working to feed your own kids is not socialism; it’s family. Working to feed somebody else’s kids, by choice, is not socialism; it’s charity. Directing one’s sexual energies into marriage and procreation is not socialism, nor is it reducing one’s self to the status of a “cog in the wheel.” It’s how most human beings have lived, and continue to live, and probably will continue to live — all without needing an act of Congress to direct them. Amazing thing, life.

I am sincerely surprised by the low level of intellectual work that the Left has put into understanding this phenomenon. Instead we give silliness from the likes of Weisberg, who of course resorts to calling tea partiers racists and is spectacularly wrong when he writes:

What’s new and most distinctive about the Tea Party is its streak of anarchism — its antagonism toward any authority, its belligerent style of self-expression, and its lack of any coherent program or alternative to the policies it condemns.

But O’Donnell’s objections to masturbation are very much grounded in authority — a very old authority, one that guides the thinking of many in the tea-party movement, just as it guided the Founders. In fact, one of the reasons that those of us who believe in limited government do so is because we believe that there are other authorities that are important, too, and that a society is deformed when the state becomes an overly masterful force. (Leviathan and all that; as I noted here, I am surprised that the Left has gone all Hobbesian on us. But that is where they are.)

Likewise, the tea-party movement is broadly organized around an appeal to a very specific authority, which also is its coherent program: the Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8. If that’s radicalism, blame Madison. And if there’s a streak of anarchism in it, blame Jefferson.

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