Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Hypocrisy of Conservatives

It does not take a great leap of cognitive skill to, upon reading this blog, realize that I am a conservative with a strong libertarian bent. So it may come as a big surprise when I take on conservative writers like Dinesh D'Souza. I like D'Souza as a writer and a thinker, I loved his book Letters to a Young Conservative and read his columns on a regular basis. But D'Souza often argues that the left is hypocritical in its views and it often is, but then I read columns like this one.

In dealing with pornography, D'Souza makes the same hackneyed complaints about "modern" pornography versus "acceptable" pornography of years past.
The liberal defense of obscenity and pornography began many decades ago as a defense of great works of literature and of free speech. It began as a defense of books like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. But now some liberal advocates insist that all forms of sexual explicitness are equally deserving of legal protection and that no restriction of obscenity or pornography should be allowed.
So sexually explicit material in a book is fine, but sexually explicit material in a magazine is not? I have not read Flaubert, but I have read the other two novels and I will readily admit much of the pornography available today would make these two books R rated at best. But that doesn't detract from the fact that modern pornography is still deserving of protection.

The fact that the ACLU crusades to keep magazines like Hustler and Screw on the shelves is no reason to decry the effort merely because you don't like the advocate (which D'Souza clearly does not). That does not mean that there are limits to what should be available based on the audience. D'Souza writes:
It is a long way, for instance, from James Joyce to a loathsome character like Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine. There would seem to be an obvious distinction between fighting to include James Joyce in a high school library and insisting that the same library maintain its subscription to Hustler. For the ACLU, however, the two causes are part of the same free speech crusade. In a sense, the ACLU considers the campaign for Hustler a more worthy cause because if Hustler is permitted, anything is permitted, and therefore free speech has been more vigorously defended.
While it may be arguable as to whether Ulysses should be on the shelf of a high school library (although I tend to saying yes), having Huster on the magazine rack is clearly inappropriate given the users of a high school library.

Admittedly, there are some types of pornography that clearly cross lines, specifically child porn. But the ban in child porn is not based on some sort of exception to the First Amendment, but rather the ban is the logical result of the prohibition of sexual abuse of children.

But D'Souza reveals the same sort of holier than thou attitude about free speech that many liberals exhibit, only on different subjects. Many convervatives, such as D'Souza, claim that liberals claim free speech protection for their views but then attempt to muzzle speech they don't like (the topic of a chapter in D'Souza's Illberal Education). However, then D'Souza says he doesn't like pornography because it is obscene.

Of course it is obscene, that is what makes it porn. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be protected. Freedom of speech is a difficult ideal to uphold for t means granting the same protection to speech and forms of speech you find loathsome as it does to protecting speech you agree with.

While I still respect D'Souza, my respect has been diminished a little.

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