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Liberals & Libertarians

- Abstract

TODAY WE know we must not interfere with consenting adults. We have pretty well established the principle G. B. Shaw’s actress friend: do whatever you want, as long as you don’t scare the horses. In essence, that was inscribed over the portals of Rabelais’s abbey of Thelema (“Will, Desire”): Fay ce que vouldras, do as you please, do whatever you want. There is one difference, however. For Rabelais, the men and women admitted through the portals would have been trained to an aversion from everything base and would want to do only what was noble and elevated. His inscription was, as we say, elitist. It enforced high entrance requirements. Our “consenting adults” is more democratic. It is an open-admissions policy.

Some feminists are less sure about noninterference. They say, for example, that since a pornographic book or movie-the heterosexual kind, at any rate-degrades women, it should not be allowed. If they were Catholic priests or Fundamentalist preachers or Orthodox rabbis, we would laugh at them, but they are feminists, so we do not laugh. Normally, upholders of civil liberties speak out against attempts to strengthen the prosecution and weaken the defense. In New York State no one spoke out while feminists were putting through a law that makes it easier to convict for rape. When the leader of a civil-liberties union wrote a book poking fun at licensing, as of taxi drivers, and at the denial of licenses to applicants with criminal records, the feminist who reviewed the book failed to see the humor of it. Riding in a taxi, she said, she would like to think that her driver had not been convicted of rape, or even arrested on accusations of rape.

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