December 11, 2018, 3:47

Fighting Porn: The Reviving Cause Social Conservatism Needs

Fighting Porn: The Reviving Cause Social Conservatism Needs

After the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage across America, most of us were ready to consign social conservatism to the proverbial morgue. And what an inglorious death it would have been! The entire same-sex marriage debate was absurd from beginning to end. Both sides vaguely understood that marriage is important, yet neither could explain exactly why. It was like watching schoolchildren fight over a Fabergé egg: they wouldn’t know what to do if they got it, except break it.

At least the pro-SSM camp could selectively minimize its importance when it suited them. When talking amongst themselves, same-sex marriage was “the greatest civil rights issue of our generation.” But when a conservative walked into the room, they played it cool. Commitment isn’t really their thing, but if some gay fogies want to tie the knot, why should anyone stop them?

Meanwhile, the anti-SSM camp had to explain why this institution was singlehandedly upholding the civil order—even though it had already been wrecked by free love, the welfare state, and no-fault divorce. Social conservatism not only suffered a humiliating defeat, it came away looking sweaty and over-excited. Whatever credibility we had left was gone. It was around this time that conservatives started looking for non-political solutions, such as the Benedict Option.

But social conservatives may now have found a new cause célèbre: banning pornography. Two of the most respected traditionalist thinkers in the country—Matthew Schmitz and Ross Douthat—have now taken up the prohibitionist mantle.

The rush of pro-smut polemics that followed their publication was astounding. Pornography, we are led to believe, is the very essence of free speech. After all, if you let those rotten bureaucrats in Washington censor pornography, they will inevitably censor art as well. Censoring things is their raison d’être, and here we are enabling them. We can make no distinction between Hustler magazine and Titian’s Venus of Urbino unless we’re prepared to lose both to the arthritic fist of the nanny state.

But is that true? Yes, we all know about the infamous “fig leaf campaign,” when Pope Paul IV ordered the Roman Inquisition to cover the genitalia on statues with plaster leaves. But this is an historical anomaly. The most fervent Catholic kings and Protestant princes seldom thought to class nudity in art as “obscene.” Justice Potter Stewart was right: we know porn when we see it.

For all their high-minded, alarmist rhetoric, ordinary people know that slippery slope is a figment of the libertines’ fetid imaginations. This isn’t about Italian sculpture and French painting—it’s about girlie mags and stag films. And if some poor souls can’t tell the difference between Hustler and Venus, that’s a shame, but it’s not the legal system’s job to coddle the aesthetically illiterate.

So Schmitz’s and Douthat’s arguments really aren’t so radical, if we can peer above the agitprop. We know that porn causes sexual disorders. We know it normalizes violence towards women. We know it’s a leading contributor to divorce. Thirty percent of men between the ages of 18 and 30 use it daily, while 10 percent of the population believe they are porn addicts. The average age of exposure is 11. Were it not for our oversaturation in sex, we wouldn’t think twice about banning it.

There is a greater principle at work here, too, and it’s equally promising: young men and women on both sides of the political spectrum are questioning the Sexual Revolution. Last November, The Spectator’s Lara Prendergast called out those prudish elements of the sisterhood whipping up a “Sexual Reformation”:

The old feminist trope says that it is not a woman’s responsibility to worry about her own safety; it is a man’s job not to harass her. Yet women are clearly taking increasingly extreme measures to protect themselves because a small number of vocal campaigners are telling us that all our worst fears about men are true—and we must take action.

Prendergast reminds one of Wendy Kaminer, who in 1992 wrote in The Atlantic warning that anti-porn feminism “promotes a view of men as lubricious brutes, and that has united authoritarians on the left and the right in an assault on free speech.” In fact, we are brutes—at least when we’re told to indulge our most lubricious appetites and play out our most bestial fantasies.

What’s happening is that these “sex-negative” feminists are coming back around to the idea of the Fall of Man. Russell Kirk, in his “Ten Conservative Principles,” explained that “human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults”:

 …if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.

Until the advent of fusionism, no conservative would have doubted that the government is (to a strictly limited extent) one of those safeguards. The idea that mankind’s Fallenness is a grave threat to social stability, and that we must in extreme cases use the force of law to restrain our destructive appetites, is not a progressive one. It’s deeply conservative.

We on the right shouldn’t pooh-pooh them for it. We should welcome them with open arms. We should explain that their horror at man’s potential for depravity is not only valid: it’s central to both orthodox Christianity and Anglo-American conservatism.

In fact, Kirk wouldn’t be surprised to hear of the traditionalist remnant finding common cause with leftists. As he wrote in “Libertarians: Chirping Sectaries”:

Conservatives have no intention of compromising with socialists; but even such an alliance, ridiculous though it would be, is more nearly conceivable than the coalition of conservatives and libertarians. The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless.

After three centuries of “Enlightened” faith in mankind’s invincible goodness and wisdom, liberals are finally coming back around to the ancient notion of Fallenness. The traditionalist and the anti-porn feminist would both no doubt agree with Honoré de Balzac: “Man is neither good nor bad. He is born with certain instincts and appetites. Society, far from corrupting him, as Rousseau says, perfects him.” Or, rather: it should help his moral and social progress, not hinder it.

So, we should not mistake the anti-porn movement for the dying gasp of the religious right, as Damon Linker has. Schmitz and Douthat are not the Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson of their generation. They’re the first of a new breed of traditionalists.

These young trads are cropping up on college campuses across the country. They have as little use for the crude dominionism of the religious right as they do for the urbane permissiveness of the Clintonites and “conservatarians.” They’re teaching themselves Burke, Aquinas, and Chesterton. And they’re preparing to make a stand on the ruins of Western civilization.

This is not the end of social conservatism. It’s the promise of a fresh start, a new beginning.

Michael Warren Davis is U.S. editor of the Catholic Herald. He tweets @MichaelDavisCH.

Sourse: theamericanconservative.com

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