What follows is a slightly edited version of an essay originally posted to the old EM during the summer of 2006, an essay I've found to be relevant to the subjects broached in Lydia's most recent post. The burden of the argument is that liberalism lacks a principled, as opposed to circumstantial, basis for opposing the sexualization of children. If memory serves me, I was mocked on a number of left-leaning blogs at the original time of posting, this claim having been deemed absurd and offensive, or something. As always, however, one should observe what liberals actually do, and assign less credence to their incoherent protestations.
Liberalism, the prevailing cultural ethos and thought-world of the modern age, whatever men might be disposed to say to the contrary, has a problem. Actually, its problems are legion, ranging from philosophical incoherence, nonconformity with intransigent facts of human nature and history, pragmatic inconsistency - which is to say, utter arbitrariness in operation, and its corrosive effects upon civilized and humane values, to the intellectual and spiritual exhaustion of the complex of ideas even in the ostensibly capable hands of its priestly caste of ideologues. However, I propose to direct attention to but one of the multifarious problems of liberalism in the contemporary political and social milieu. I propose that we prescind from the weightier questions of liberal theory, for while I consider it well-nigh self-evident that J.S. Mill’s “Harm Principle” is inconceivable absent the foundation of Locke’s political individualism; that Locke’s political individualism is likewise inconceivable absent the foundation of Hobbes’ philosophical anthropology of affects and drives; and that Hobbes’ anthropology is also inconceivable absent the preparatory conditions of the earlier nominalist problematization of a rationally-knowable human essence and telos, there remains a certain utility in confronting the phenomenon of liberalism as the thing presents itself to us in everyday life - more as an animating spirit of a (declining) civilization than as any of the arcane and etiolated articulations wrought from the materials of this principle and crowned with the unmerited title of “philosophy”.
Liberalism, as it presents itself to us in the minutia of daily life, is an inarticulate sense of straining at limits, at surpassing and transgressing them as restraints of the self, constraints - fetters - upon the exercise of the will. It is a spirit of defiance and assertion, a refusal of authority and all inherited norms, save as the bearer of “reason” has been able to justify these things to himself. Which, perhaps, is merely a evasive way of saying that liberalism, as popularly practised and promoted, is simply the repudiation of authority, an “I Will!” uttered in opposition to anyone or anything, or indeed any event, that suggests that the individual might not in all circumstances be the best judge of his own most profound interests and goods. Liberalism is the shattering of the good, and the absorbtion of its shards and fragments by the fetid slough of the passions: good(s) is (are) the fulfillment(s) of desire(s) because, in the ultimately tautologous formulations of all liberalisms, such goods are the only ones that may be known to exist. Good can only be realized in the fulfillment of desire because the fulfillment of desire is the only good there is.
Liberalism, then, as an animating spirit, is nothing more, nothing less, than the idea of doing what one wills, for ends one has chosen, for one’s pleasure. It is the notion of doing one’s own thing, of being bossed by no one, of having it one’s own way. To be sure, liberalism-as-animating-spirit now requires the mediation of philosophy - of a sort - to preserve itself from itself, from its own and only tendency to promote dissolution and decadence, for if all were to do as they desired, why, there would be anarchy. And so, the deliverance of philosophy, now the eunuch of the passions, is that one may do as one wishes insofar as one does not interfere with others’ doing as they wish, whether by harm or interference. One might denominate this the “Harm Principle” or any number of other things, but the idea is basic and inescapable: this is the Golden Rule of liberalism - although to refer to it as such is to sully the name of a holy and venerable principle. Suffice it to say that it is the principle of reciprocity which serves as the linchpin of liberal ethics and the first, glaring inconsistency of liberalism. This principle of reciprocity presupposes, obviously, an equality among desiring subjects, for reason of the fact that all, or virtually all, men may be said to experience various desires; but this cannot but be the first of liberalism’s unprincipled exceptions, for nothing is more evident as regards the matter at hand as that desires vary in intensity and duration as between subjects, or even within a given subject, depending upon various contingencies - and surely, if man is a desiring being, then differing quanta of desire will distinguish men as certainly as will the objects of desire. Desires are unequal, even in the absence of a scheme by which they might be rank-ordered. Liberalism wishes to define man by the phenomenon of desire, but only admits certain aspects of the phenomenon as definitive, thus implicitly affirming what it denies - that man possesses an essence of some sort that transcends the evanescence of the passions. Only thus can the equality of men as desiring subjects be preserved. It is the philosophy of “have it your way” even as an intellectual tradition unfolding its arguments. But I digress.
Liberalism has a consent problem. It proclaims a societal ethos of “doing your own thing”, and seems particularly enamored of sexual liberties - some desires, and some ways of doing your own thing, are apparently more equal than others, as witnessed by families intent upon the inculcation in their children of traditional moral norms who, like the Massachusetts parents who sought to have their 6-year-old son exempted from indoctrination into the wonders of “alternative” sexualities, will be informed that their rights do not extend to opting out of instruction The Enlightened deem essential. Their children must be forced to be free - free as defined by the Liberated - their own desire to see their own traditions imparted to their children being of no consequence beside the desires of the Knowing and the attitudinal complexes that the Knowing regard as essential to the maturation of the young. But I digress yet again.
The salient point is that our atmospheric liberalism places as peculiar emphasis upon sexual liberation, historically an indicator of personal and societal transcendence of inherited moral norms. So obsessed with sexual liberation is the devotee of liberalism that he will, more likely than not, applaud the provision of even graphic sexual information to children, early and often. When children, then, engage in what he would term “experimentation” at younger and younger ages, this scarcely fazes him, although, if he is of the sort inclined to obsess over the rigours of the meritocratic world of the globalized economy, he may fret that such children imperil their prospects of worldly success. Fortunately for his sense of altruism, there is always the availability of the central sacrament of the liberal, abortion - the sign, seal, confirmation, and presence-to-us of liberalism’s state of grace, autonomy.
It is here - with the provision to children of information regarding sexual practices and the nonchalance with which the increasing sexual precocity of children is typically regarded - that liberalism encounters its problem with the notion of consent. For liberals, most of them, at least, still recoil - and this no small thing in itself, although it is quite a small thing within the context of the many things the liberal indulges - in horror at the prospect of sexual dalliances between the children they seek to liberate from their innocence and adults, however defined. Sexual activity, the liberal insists, must be consensual - must be, that is, the result of informed and rational judgment passed by persons who freely will to engage in an antecedently specified range of activities. Surely adults are capable of fulfilling the criteria of ‘consent’; the frequent recourse of the liberal to the mantra of “consenting adults” will be vacant of meaning otherwise. And surely the liberals’ precocious children are capable of consent; the relative indifference of liberals to the increasing prevalence of sexual activity among children will likewise remain unintelligible except upon this presupposition. Yet, we are informed, children and adults cannot mutually consent to sexual congress.
We are confronted here by a profound mystery. Children, we are informed - not necessarily by an articulated doctrine, although one might, perchance, find such a thing in obscure journals of childhood education or sexuality - are capable of grasping the nature and import of sexual acts, and, indeed, of consenting to engage in them with other children. Again, liberal practice is utterly unintelligible save upon precisely this assumption. If, moreover, one of the constitutive traits of adulthood is precisely the ability to grant and withhold consent, wherein lies the difficulty? Could the sticking point have something to do with differentials of age? Age - the greater knowledge, self-awareness, and facility in interpersonal relationships might well be thought to provide the predatory adult with an insuperable advantage relative to even the precocious youth, and it might well be of this that the obstacle to consent consists.
The easy recourse to differentials of age, however, is unpersuasive. In the first place, it strains credulity to imagine that children, familiar from the earliest moments of consciousness with differentials of age, and dwelling in social environments the complexity of which often bewilders adults - social environments replete with a diversity of groups, cliques, social types, and patterns of interaction between groups and cliques, as well as between age groups - would somehow, on the assumptions provided by liberalism, cease to comprehend together two things they readily comprehend separately. The relationships of children, inclusive of those involving adults, are quite complex and rich in nuance; and, we are given to understand, children have no difficulty in assimilating knowledge of human sexuality. How knowledge, when added to knowledge, results in exploitable ignorance, is a alchemical trick best left to its practitioners to attempt to explain.
In the second place, there is the problematic nature of the assumption that in any hypothetical instance of sexual interaction between a child and an adult, only exploitation will suffice to explain the occurrence. This is merely to beg the question, to presuppose an inability on the part of the child that does not necessarily obtain in all cases. Children can be conditioned to want and expect certain things, while the more precocious among those liberated by the educators of the liberal regime may actually conceive the desire of themselves, absent any prodding. Curiousity is a powerful behavioural motivator, is it not? I suspect that any prolonged exposure to the literature of pathology and abuse will confirm that, whatever the origins of the behavioural patterns themselves, there are cases of children who, in certain circumstances, seek certain types of interaction with adults.
Finally, consider the nature of the things themselves - sexuality and the dealings of children with adults. Children deal with adults, as I have stated, from the earliest moments of consciousness. There are few things more familiar to a child than the proprieties and requirements of interaction with adults. Adults provide, teach, reprove, console, and structure the lives of children in ways to numerous to determine; there should be nothing, really, more comprehensible for the child than how to behave around adults. Sexuality, on the other hand, is something so frought with mystery and potency that adults scarcely grasp it; its numinous character defies attempts to plumb its depths and render it comprehensible. Liberalism denies this - hence, its obsession with the widest possible dissemination of information regarding sexual practices and its uniform tendency to precipitate a reduction, in the minds of the populace, of sexuality to its brute, biological aspects alone - and strives to impart its dessicated understanding of sexuality even to children. But let us look at the things themselves, laying aside the illusions of liberalism: sexuality is mysterious, even terrifying; differences of age and - for this is what we are talking about, and what liberalism ceaselessly evades in this matter - authority are not, being among the most obvious, natural features of all social environments. Liberalism, therefore, expects us to swallow the risible fiction that what is dark and mysterious may be understood by children, but what is limpid and manifest confounds them. This, I submit, is more than the minds of reasoning beings can be expected to accept; it does not merely strain credulity, but tortures it until, weary, it submits merely to gain surcease of its sufferings.
Liberalism, then, has, upon its own presuppositions, no rational, consistent basis for opposing that which even the darkest minds realize is despicable and base. That most liberals do oppose it is a credit them as persons, and a shame to their professed dogmas. Liberalism’s consent problem, then, is this: an absence of a rational basis for a moral prejudice all sane persons recognize as being of the essence of civilized norms of behaviour, combined with a tacit invocation of the very values with which its entire theory is at war: authority and the necessary expression of authority, responsibility. One of the many necessary expressions of the authority and responsibility of adults towards children just is to refrain from sexualizing them, either as objects of desire or as objects of “enlightened” educational policies intended to mold them into specimens of liberated humanity. Liberalism wishes to retain the form of the obligation while evacuating its substance; in order to preserve itself from the obvious consequences of its dubious theories, it must make an unprincipled exception: traditional authority and decorum are pernicious, except when we say they are not.
This, in case any should wonder why I have troubled to express thoughts upon so loathsome a subject, will be the ultimate reason for the inability of liberalism to resist the furthest, most debauched consequences of the sexual revolution. Liberalism lacks a principled basis for stopping at the final frontier of depravity, and eventually, determined passion will overcome the absence of reason. It always does.