Magazine article The Spectator

In Defence of Harlots

Magazine article The Spectator

In Defence of Harlots

Article excerpt

Boston

The Boston, Melbourne, Oxford Universities Conversazioni on Culture is a stimulating series of talks which takes place every year in one of the three venues. This year's topic was 'Power Without Responsibility: Was Kipling Right? The Press.' Yours truly was invited to be one of the speakers alongside worthies such as Andrew Roberts, Kenneth Minogue, Roger Kimball, Renata Adler, Melanie Phillips, John O'Sullivan and David Pryce-Jones. I was billed as giving 'the occasional address', which was a presentation defending harlots. If you remember the Kipling quote, used by Stanley Baldwin in a 1931 Westminster by-election, it ends, 'the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages'. I thought the quote rather unfair to harlots and prepared a paper defending them. It was not a triumph, that's for sure, but it wasn't a total bomb either.

Actually, it was a singular honour to be invited. Dr John Silber, ex-president of Boston University, is a very learned and able man who has turned BU into a classical academic school and a great institution of learning. (He has resisted lowering standards and making the school attractive to trendy lefties.) Professor Claudio Veliz, the father of the Conversazioni, is an old friend and about as charming and nice a person as one can come across nowadays. I never realised how much fun the world of academia can be. I even sat next to a profs wife who got me thinking bad thoughts, the kind I have when I see Ashley Judd cavorting on screen. The Conversazioni are not seminars, but considerations of the great themes of our times by cultivated experienced - individuals, as opposed to the average academic who looks down through his or her tunnel vision on those who have lived life rather than taught it. Chatham House rules forbid me from quoting what some of the speakers said, and it's just as well. Everyone let rip. I particularly liked Andrew Roberts on the BBC, Roger Kimball on the New York Times, and an incredibly erudite Kenneth Minogue on the press in general. But back to me, for a change.

Although journalists can certainly be harlots, as can newspapers and TV networks, we all know that in common usage a harlot is a woman who provides a man with sexual pleasure. But does a harlot have power, in the true sense of the word? Does she have the ability to act or produce an effect? In the past, yes, but no longer. Nowadays, compared with the power of the press, she has none at all. Mind you, courtesans - prostitutes with a courtly, wealthy, upper-class clientele - have throughout the ages been known for their responsibility to their wealthy patrons. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.