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Sex And The Last Freedom

Blue Kennel, riffing off Aldous Huxley and James “Pink Police State” Poulos, speculates that we are becoming the sort of society in which sexual liberty will be the “Last Freedom” that will be left to us when all the rest of them are taken away. Here he quotes Huxley from the preface to the second edition of Brave New World (1947):

Nor does the sexual promiscuity of Brave New World seem so very distant. There are already certain American cities in which the number of divorces is equal to the number of marriages.  In a few years, no doubt, marriage licenses will be sold like dog licenses, good for a period of twelve months, with no law against changing dogs or keeping more than one animal at a time.  As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensating to increase.  And the dictator (unless he needs cannon fodder and families with which to colonize empty or conquered territories) will do well to encourage that freedom.  In conjunction with the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio, it will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.

Poulos on what he would later call the Pink Police State, also quoted by BK:

Is it any surprise, then, that where the mass pursuit of greater citizenship ends, the mass pursuit of greater sexuality tends to begin? Though almost any product can be marketed as offering sexual satisfaction, nothing beats the reality. No amount of video gaming or Internet porn has yet satiated all our pride, envy, greed, and lust—and if it did, we’d uncomfortably feel like we’d become, in some essential way, less than human. We have diligently cleared the decks to making sexual life a central feature of the full experience of individuality today. A great sex life, exceptionally well-tuned to our personal preferences, is very nearly our vision of the highest.

As we recognized earlier, however, ours is not the age of sybaritic abandon and Caligulan excess that we might have feared in 1972. Just as a capable sexual athlete delays and controls an orgasm, ours is, taken in the aggregate, a particularly well-managed form of excess. As with citizenship, we have learned an important lesson from the sexual revolution and the AIDS epidemic: to minimize harm while maximizing pleasure. But unlike the practice of citizenship, which seems less and less significant to living the good life, the pursuit of sexuality is something we like well enough to invest extra resources into cleverly pushing the limits even as we maintain them. We curb them to enjoy them more fully. And, barring any serious harm that results, we find ourselves only somewhat uncomfortably certain that individuals can and should push those limits in whatever way appeals to them. Whereas we are increasingly resigned to the continued shrinkage of our vestigial political member (the capability of citizenship), we all seem to agree that only ‘theocrats’ want to stop the burgeoning progress in our society of sexual capability-seeking—and that this theocratic project, because it is baseless and illegitimate, must be foredoomed.

Poulos is talking about the strange connection between the shrinking of political liberties and the rise of sexual liberty. Poulos and Huxley see a connection — as does Blue Kennel, who proposes a way to live with the “Last Freedom” — sexual liberty — while preserving as much religious liberty as we can. Excerpt:

Since the Lawrence case in 2003, we have been pretty much stuck with the Last Freedom as a constitutional right.  I propose a way we could harmonize it with religious liberty; consider it a parallel to religious liberty. People would have freedom to choose their sexual behavior as they do their religious behavior.  And the question of whether certain people are ‘born that way’ or not would be neatly avoided.  It’s a behavior, not a skin color.  Lots of people are ‘born that way’ into certain religions, and then choose different ones.  And if [often by religious motives] people choose a different kind of sexuality than the one they were supposedly ‘born into’, then no one needs to make a fuss about it or call them ‘self hating’ or whatever.  The most important thing is that the rights of religious communities to impose their standards and to excommunicate, if necessary, must be stringently upheld.

There are other ways to resolve other issues.  For example, if the provision of health insurance could be detached from the workplace, as I think I have advocated elsewhere for other reasons, the issues around Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor being compelled to be complicit in the distribution of abortifacient contraceptives would not arise.  And, in dealing with issues like the baking of wedding cakes and other ‘public accommodations’ issues, this standard would mean that where one can discriminate according to religion, one can discriminate according to sexual behavior.  This is a standard that I could, ahem, ‘tolerate’.

Is there a potential compromise here? Thoughts?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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