Monday, April 18, 2011

The (il)Logic of the Sexual Revolution

Anthony Esolen issues a challenge - defend the Sexual Revolution, if you can. I don't think it is possible...
Why should two men who are sexually attracted to one another not be allowed to pretend that they are married? That we are even asking such a question is the result of our having accepted the premise of the sexual revolution, which is, essentially, that what people do with their bodies is their own business, so long as no one is harmed. By “no one” we mean the people involved in the sexual act, and sometimes, though much less reliably and without a great deal of concern, an unwitting spouse who happens, at the moment, not to be in the bed but, perhaps, shopping for dinner, or laying pipes at a construction site. By “harm” we mean obvious physical or psychological violence. So we frown upon rape and, after two generations of knowing smiles and winks, pedophilia. Everything else goes.

Now the odd thing about this premise is that, despite its being so widely taken for granted, it is astonishingly weak. The person who proclaims it severs himself, in effect, from all considerations of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. For he says, “With regard to sexual behavior, so long as no one is being coerced into the act, and, perhaps, so long as no spouse is being betrayed, the claims of virtue do not apply.” The justification of the sexual act is located in the desire itself, and the desire is taken as a brute fact, a given. But this is a premise we would reject out of hand in any other sphere of human action. We know, indeed, that the very reason why we inculcate the virtues in ourselves and in our children is so that we will do the right thing despite what we happen to desire, and, more, that we will learn to desire what is right, because it is right, just as we should wish to know the truth because it is true. We would not say, even to a man of independent wealth, “Your desire to spend twelve hours a day playing video games should be respected, because it is your desire.” We would instead say, “You should not be doing that; it is a truncation of your humanity; it is the wrong thing to do, and you should learn to desire something else.” We would not say to a person who spent a thousand dollars a month on shoes, “If this is what you want, I must respect it.” We would instead say, “You are squandering your money, which could be put to far better use. This also is a truncation of your humanity. Of course I know that you want to do this; that’s the very problem. You should learn to want something better.”

Now the playing of pointless games and the buying of rooms full of shoes are trivial matters in comparison with our sexual behavior. About trivialities, the law should have little to say. But our sexual behavior is far from trivial. In fact, the same people who, in one way, claim for it such triviality that it must fall beneath the notice of the law, in another way, exalt it as the lodestone of human life, such that any curtailment of sexual autonomy must strike to the very heart of our beings. We cannot have it both ways at once.
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