Prostitution: Reply to Shane Fookes

While Shane Fookes at least offers an argument in favor of the prohibition of prostitution (unlike my last critic), that argument is weak. Moreover, Fookes fails to respond to my arguments in favor of legal prostitution, and he misrepresents some of my views.

Fookes argues that, in addition to protecting people’s rights, government must “restrain evil.” The problem is that Fookes never explains which evils the government ought to restrain, or why. Nor does he consider that, to forcibly “restrain evil” beyond the violation of rights, government must itself violate rights.

The evils that I think government should restrain are the evils of initiating force and fraud; that is, the evils of violating people’s rights. Fookes thinks that the government should prohibit vices (“evils”) that do not violate rights. He never says whether he believes that the government should ban all such vices, or just some of them, or how to decide.

Following are some vices that are currently legal (taken from my Speakout and additional commentary):

* Drinking too much alcohol.
* Smoking (in one’s home and outside).
* Overeating.
* Engaging in indiscriminate sex among consenting adults.
* Cheating on one’s spouse.
* Indirectly exchanging expensive dinners and trips for sex.
* Not working when one’s children need the income.

If Fookes believes that the government must “restrain evil,” then does he believe that the government should impose criminal penalties for each of the vices listed above? Many of the vices listed above can be at least as harmful as engaging in prostitution; for example, failing to support one’s children can severely harm those children yet fall short of criminal abuse. Does Fookes believe that the police should arrest, and the courts should imprison, people for all of the vices listed above? If not, then why does Fookes believe that only some vices (such as prostitution) should carry criminal penalties? Until and unless Fookes can provide a plausible answer to this question, he has not made his case.

Fookes is wrong to conclude that the government should “restrain evil” beyond the violation of rights. The first problem is that even restraining actual vices tends to foster abusive government that invades our privacy and causes unintended social harms. (For example, the legal prohibition of prostitution results in more disease and more violence against prostitutes.) The second problem is that, while rights violations can be clearly defined, “evil” is the subject of vast disagreement. Many Americans believe that blasphemy, atheism, pornography, and homosexuality are evil. Other Americans believe that eating meat, wearing leather, and building large houses are evil. Does Fookes believe that all of those things should also be banned? If not, then how does he propose to distinguish actual evils from pretend ones? Who gets to make those decisions? Once the machinery of “restraining evil” is in place, what’s to stop it from falling into the wrong hands? After all, Islamic totalitarians act to “restrain evil” by their understanding.

Fookes claims, “Based on [Armstrong’s] logic, all drug use should be legalized, and all forms of indecency laws, traffic safety laws, etc., should be eliminated.”

I have indeed argued that drug use, by consenting adults when the operation of heavy machinery or similar circumstances are not involved, should be legal. I have written many thousands of words arguing my case, and if Fookes can’t be bothered to consider my case, I don’t see why I should recapitulate it here.

I don’t know what Fookes means by “indecency laws.” Does he mean laws requiring clothes? If so, then I would point out that nudity is legal on private property and properly illegal on tax-funded property. The problem with banning all alleged “indecency” is that, first, not every indecent act violates rights, and, second, “indecency” is ambiguous and subjective.

Fookes is wrong that my position entails the elimination of traffic safety laws. So long as roads are tax-funded (and I don’t concede that they should be), the government must set the policies for using those roads. However, I would note, if you build your own road, you may properly establish the policies for using that road.

So Fookes has not established that the government should “restrain evil” beyond the violation of rights. Nor has he explained how any reasonable limits can be established once government gets into the business of forcibly “restraining evil” beyond the context of rights, whether the evil is real or based on some dogma.