When conservatives criticize the social recognition of homosexual couplings, they often ask the following: If we disregard our civilization’s tradition of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, then on what basis should we limit the public recognition of sexual pairings? Similarly, in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Scalia criticizes his fellow justices’ opinion that there is a fundamental right to engage in homosexual activity. If the States are unable to regulate certain sexual activities, then by what principle may they legislate on other matters of sexual behavior?
State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding. See ante, at 11 (noting “an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex” (emphasis added)). The impossibility of distinguishing homosexuality from other traditional “morals” offenses is precisely why Bowers rejected the rational-basis challenge. “The law,” it said, “is constantly based on notions of morality, and if all laws representing essentially moral choices are to be invalidated under the Due Process Clause, the courts will be very busy indeed.” 478 U.S., at 196.2
At the time, leftist politicians howled that the bigoted Scalia was comparing homosexuals to those who indulge in incest and bestiality. His point, however, was not answered by the renovators of morality. Instead, there have been stirrings to treat other forms of sexual deviance as a matter of fundamental right. This is not surprising. It is, rather, the internal logic of liberalism’s pushing our liberal society to consistency.
The philosophical core of liberalism is that there is no common human good, or at least there is no way of discerning rationally that common good. Instead, each human being must seek his own self-chosen good. An ideal liberal polity would be one in which all human beings could and would get what they want. Of course, men want different things, and their choices invariably interfere with the desires of their neighbors. Hence, the exercise of liberal politics is the attempt to facilitate individuals’ actualization of their chosen goods. According to Lawrence Auster, “right-liberal” politics approaches this goal by prioritizing liberty and by creating a stable commonwealth where people are free to pursue their own idea of happiness, while “left-liberal” politics tries to achieve the liberal end through society’s collective enabling of individual goods. For all liberals, though, there is no order of goodness transcendent to the individual will—there is only the messy calculus that one must wield to maximize the competing wills of the citizenry.
As such, liberal regimes find it difficult to justify limits on sexual deviance. Who is to say what is deviant when no norm is allowed? Of course, Millian England did not champion public displays of lesbian cunnilingus as a matter of fundamental right (or freedom of expression!), but the public will for such restrictions on behavior, sexual and otherwise, derived from social adherence to other gods than the idols of liberalism. Yet, as liberalism has become the philosophical center of our society, it has eclipsed other considerations, and what I call “existential logic” has worked to render liberal society more consistent with its fundamental principle. Men uncomfortable with every new attack on old, fixed standards cling, sometimes mindlessly, to vestiges of the pre-liberal order. For those ideologically purer in their liberalism, these retrogrades standing athwart history, yelling “stop” are simply unenlightened bigots who want to live in the past, and their stubborn adherence to tradition betrays their prejudice and irrationality. The liberal vanguard never questions the legitimacy of liberalism itself, and the unenthusiastic liberals—called “conservatives”—cannot articulate what troubles them so in the liberal trajectory. Pretty much everyone in a liberal society is a liberal; how they differ depends on their level of readiness to embrace the latest destruction of social norms.
Once one recognizes the way that liberalism unfolds in a society, the transition during the past decade from the Court mandated legalization of sodomy to homosexual “marriage” as la cause gauchiste du jour makes sense. Both the legalization of homosexual behavior as a matter of fundamental right and the social acceptance, recognition, and privileging of homosexuality (in marriage) manifest the lack of any moral ordering principle—an absence required by consistent liberalism—which undermines society’s ability to regulate sexual behavior. After all, why should a certain conception of sexual morality rule instead of another? Ever new normalizations of deviancy cause some discomfort, but eventually the resistence always tires and concedes. Auster and his interlocutors have called this gradual accommodation of liberalism and of its victories the “Hegelian Mambo”:
In the Hegelian Mambo, as the left become more left, the right, in defining itself in opposition to the ever-more threatening extremism of the left, and not in terms of unchanging principles of its own, abandons its prior positions and moves ever further leftward itself. Thus, for example, at the rate we’re going on the life-style front, in ten years’ time a conservative will be a person who disapproves of sexual intercourse between humans and animals, and in fifteen years’ time a conservative will be a person who disapproves of marriage between humans and animals. The moderate position will be to support civil unions.
Nonetheless, in the meantime, conservatives try to dissuade their countrymen from the most recent descent into Gehenna. At the present moment, most Americans still feel revulsion toward certain forms of sexual deviance, such as incest, polygamy, bestiality, and pederasty. All but the most principled liberals find regulating such sexual behavior justified. It is for this reason that conservatives compare homosexuality to these other forms of fringe sexuality (in our society). When Rick Santorum used to make such arguments in the Senate, the Left labeled him a hatemonger. Like Scalia on the Court, this Italian dared to group homosexuals with perverts! What leftist critics fail to realize is that, given the liberal trajectory, a conservative must refer to what contemporary society still—for the moment—considers perversion to illustrate how society is justified in regulating sexual behavior even if such regulation obstructs the fulfillment of certain members of society. Laws against pederasty frustrate those whose sexual yearnings tend toward children. Laws against incest similarly “oppress” people who lust after their near of kin. Yet, it is in the best interest of society as a whole to deny certain people their own chosen goods. This is ideologically unpleasant to liberalism, but few people are so committed to liberal principles that they would fail to agree. This is what Auster calls the “Unprincipled Exception” among liberals. In “extreme” examples, liberals limit the claims of liberalism by acknowledging other (non-liberal) social principles. By forcing a liberal to consider “extremes,” a conservative hopes to show the liberal that we should acknowledge such principles all the time. Perhaps, he thereby sets his opponent upon a path of conversion from liberalism. More likely, though, he simply incurs the wrath of self righteous “tolerance” for grouping poor homosexuals with pederasts and livestock boinkers.
Update: To a friend’s comment (listed below in the comments section), my response is as follows (it was too long for a followup comment):
My main points are (1) that generally consistent liberals only consider non-liberal principles when confronted with “extreme” (for now) situations that offend their illiberal sensibilities and (2) that such is why conservatives make the argument “ad bestialitatem.” In doing so, conservatives do not equate homosexuality with bestiality. Well, perhaps the Westboro Baptists do, but thoughtful rightwingers realize that different transgressions damage the social fabric to different degrees. It is the political equivalent of sin; some sins harm the soul more than others. Idiotic statements such as “sin is sin” do not take much to refute them. Certain bad actions enchain men in vice faster and more firmly than others. To use an extreme example to make the point, a man who mass butchers and then eats forty children on a day care rampage will suffer far more spiritual and mental consequences than the man who sleeps in one morning out of sloth.
Do you deny these points? You state,
No one in their right mind will ever believe that bestiality or pedophilia is morally acceptable, partly BECAUSE OF the principles of liberalism—the animal probably is not consenting, and the child is too young to know what he/she is doing, so their will is not valid.
Of course, I agree with you—no one in his right mind would think such a thing. Yet, a liberal is not in his right mind; he has adopted faulty principles, which inevitably lead one attending to them to error. Contrary to what you mean, however, many respectable liberals boldly wish to go where no Christian society has gone before. To see liberalism in its purest form, ignore the politicians who must play to the masses’ unprincipled sentiments and look at the intellectuals. These are the men whose beliefs operate most according to principle as opposed to inherited convention—that relic of illiberal darkness. Consider Peter Singer, a well known professor of ethics at Princeton University, not a fringe character. He has famously argued that there is nothing wrong in zoosexual relations as long as the activity does not harm the animals involved. For what does it mean for an animal to give or to withhold consent? If the beast does not object (from pain) to an activity that arouses only one party, how is such wrong according to liberalism? “It’s all good” is the motto of the age.
As for pederasty, there is an organized political movement to lower the age of consent throughout the West. Indeed, the beginning of the homosexualist rights movement saw many attempts to “liberate sexually” underage homosexuals, though the overall movement distanced itself from N.A.M.B.L.A. and its friends during and after the age of American obsession with child abuse in the 80’s and 90’s. As standards soften and dissolve, though, expect to see more open and frequent questioning of age of consent laws. For a liberal, how does one justify maintaining the age of consent at eighteen or even sixteen? On what liberal basis can you say that consent is not valid for a thirteen year old? The same forces that brought about women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, the political mobilization of youth, and the normalization of homosexuality will undoubtedly crash against conventional pieties concerning pederasty. Your “no one . . .” would have likewise applied a generation earlier to any normalized perversion celebrated today. Who would have expected homosexual “marriage” twenty years ago? Who would have expected employer and government financed birth control to be a civil right? What a Fluke! In A.D. 1940, only the far, far Left envisioned a post-Roe world in its dreams. Today, an America without Roe v. Wade is as troubling to half the country as the Third Reich. Think about that.
Moreover, liberals should anticipate more and more handwringing about virtual child pornography. Virtual pederasty “has no victim” according to the liberal Zeitgeist. No one is exploited. Yet, pederasts get to indulge their sexual proclivities through it. For a liberal, this is a win-win situation (how Cartesianism is ever the answer to our moral dilemmas!). The traditionalist will condemn virtual child pornography, as it is objectionable in itself and as it will further corrupt the soul and sexuality of one who indulges in it. Yet, in liberal society, the traditionalist’s only publically admissible argument will be studies that show the increased risk for “warm blooded” predation among those who use virtual child pornography.
You mention that liberals may oppose incest for its health consequences. You have a point—many American left-liberals wax fascist in their desire to control “unhealthy” consumption. Mayor Bloomberg and his many totalitarian leaning allies in the public health sphere are ever jonesing to ban junk food and to regulate our lives in various ways. Yet, the Left is extraordinarily inconsistent in these matters. Consider homosexuality, for instance. Male homosexual behavior has extremely dangerous consequences for individual and public health. Social science studies and medical surveys of male American homosexuals have noted their significantly elevated rates of disease and social pathologies for several generations. Sodomy is a public health nightmare, and yet the Bloombergs of the world would never think of regulating homosexual behavior. For these cultural Marxists, the social equality of all sexual tendencies (well, minus a few for now that still maintain a stigma) is far more important to them than their public health goals. Their liberalism trumps their social engineering orientation in such cases. I fully expect this very tendency to erode the laws if not the social taboo against adult incest.
You write, “consistent liberals will always accept much of the things Scalia lists, and they will never accept other parts of it.” Existential logic will whittle away their inconsistencies, and they will indeed accept the rest. A survey of the “liberated” West over the past century lends credence to my argument.