Liberalism and Prostitution

Liberalism and Prostitution

Liberalism and Prostitution

Liberalism and Prostitution

Synopsis

Civil libertarians characterize prostitution as a "victimless crime," and argue that it ought to be legalized. Feminist critics counter that prostitution is not victimless, since it harms the people who do it. Civil libertarians respond that most women freely choose to do this work, and that it is paternalistic for the government to limit a person's liberty for her own good. In this book Peter de Marneffe argues that although most prostitution is voluntary, paternalistic prostitution laws in some form are nonetheless morally justifiable. If prostitution is commonly harmful in the way that feminist critics maintain, then this argument for prostitution laws is not objectionably moralistic and some prostitution laws violate no one's rights. Paternalistic prostitution laws in some form are therefore consistent with the fundamental principles of contemporary liberalism.

Excerpt

Prostitution is commonly characterized as a “victimless crime,” especially by those who believe it ought to be legalized. Opponents of legalization counter that prostitution is not victimless: it is harmful to those who do it, and it is often forced on a person by economic need if not by an abusive pimp. To many, however, the characterization of prostitution as victimless remains convincing. Why is this? One reason is that most prostitution appears to be voluntary. Another reason is that not everyone who does this work is obviously harmed by it. In this book I consider whether prostitution laws might be justified nonetheless, and I conclude that they might be. Given a set of defensible empirical assumptions, prostitution laws in some form are morally justifiable even if most prostitution is voluntary and not all prostitutes are harmed by it.

There are different arguments for prostitution laws. They have been defended as necessary to protect or affirm traditional sexual morality, to protect wives and children from adultery and its consequences, to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, to protect women as a group from gender discrimination, and to foster respectful intimate relationships between men and women. In this book I focus on a different argument, which is that prostitution is harmful to those who do it. Contemporary feminist critics maintain that prostitution is inherently dangerous; that it commonly results in lasting feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred; that it typically interferes with the ability to form stable, trusting, mutually respectful intimate relationships; and that it typically results in the loss of important . . .

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