Once we step onto the sleazy road of questioning moral values, the fall is very fast. Just forty years ago, American society—liberal by any standard—overwhelmingly opposed pornography even in the most discreet settings; recall the legal debate over Deep Throat, which was only shown in adult movie theaters. Now the issue of artistic value is moot, and any pornography is protected under the freedom of speech statute. Likewise with homosexuality, which was obscene decades ago. Now we see homosexual marriage, adoption, and homosexual “rabbis.”

There is no answer to the Why not? No one can credibly explain why pornography or homosexuality is an objective abomination and destroys the very moral bases of societies. But we cannot explain many other things, too. Communists tried to predict prices and demand, and their planned economy failed miserably. There are no convincing proofs for the Big Bang or ape-to-human evolution, but they are taught in schools. People uncritically accept extremely questionable theories which bear heavily on their lives, such as democracy, reserve rate regulation, or social security investment. The very same people, however, demand formal proof for time-tested, obvious concepts, such as moral abominations. There is no such proof, nor could it ever appear; go ask your Federal Reserve chairman for a proof that the 0.25% rate change was indeed required. Many, perhaps most things in our lives, cannot be proven.

The people who abandon moral objectivism have moral preferences of their own which they try to enforce on others. The ACLU—which fought for the great constitutional right to sell porno magazines in common shops, barely disguised by a partial cover—enforced on the moral, non-consenting parents and their children the obligation to see the disgusting titles in bookshops and even supermarkets. The “XXX Adult Movies” signs throughout the residential areas are not harmless because they arouse mental associations and attract; any evil is attractive, or it would have died out. Libertarians, in effect, send to non-consenting adults and children a strong message that pornography is okay, look at all those porn shops around; they even explicitly teach children in schools that homosexuality is okay.

The Torah bans incest with a puzzling statement: it is hesed, loving-kindness. Genetic predisposition makes incest too much of an attraction, and the Torah prohibits such a strong desire, which can otherwise turn harmful. Pornography and homosexuality are doubtless present, they certainly appeal to strong desires. The obscenities might be not bad per se, but they open a door to indisputable moral degradation. Forget holiness or morality, what ethics can we expect from someone whose mouth waters at the sight of abominable scenes even as he watches them privately?

The world cannot exist in a vacuum of values. Once a value is removed, its opposite promptly takes its place.

Repression of immorality is justified on the grounds of marginal utility. Everything can be driven over the edge; every value can become its opposite. Freedom of speech, if taken as absolute, becomes a freedom of Nazi incitement. A freedom of pornography becomes a freedom of picturing minors in pornographic acts—which might not be illegal in the countries where the pictures are shot. Thirty years ago, even liberal feminists argued that hardcore pornography degrades women; obviously, such movies don’t promote respect for women.

Freedoms, like everything, are highly destructive and almost useless at the margins. A freedom of entertainment in the privacy of one’s home needs not extend to the marginal freedom of homosexual “marriage.” The Bible is not overly restrictive: for example, it accepts non-Jewish prostitution matter-of-factly, such as in the Judah and Tamar episode. Pornography is very different from prostitution in its reach: prostitutes are very few even in Israel, and they don’t substantially degrade public morality; pornography, on the other hand, is ubiquitous.

Restrictions on marginal freedoms are not necessarily detrimental to societal evolution. The evolution of morals is questionable in the first place; prostitution is as fringe an activity now as four thousand years ago. All societies criminalize some behavior; revolutionaries seek to overcome the prohibitions. Imagine a society which allows everything: it would soon be ruined by mad social experimentation. It is right for societies to erect entry barriers to new ideas and ostensibly new values: their adherents have to overcome the initial hostility, even if illegally, and convince the majority that their ideas are viable. In such a way, viable ideas proliferate eventually, while the wrong ideas are filtered out. One example is the anti-slavery movement, which was illegal originally but convinced most people in time. Such incremental, slow-paced evolution might be abominable to social reformers, but the only alternative would be allowing everything, down to Nazi groupings, KKK gatherings, and drug addiction. If it is legal to ban racism, a political theory, then how much more legal should it be to ban pornography?

Libertarians counter that since “one man’s freedom to swing his fist ends at the tip of another man’s nose,” there will always be ample opportunity to restrict harmful freedoms. That is not so at least because in the real life the noses are not clear-cut. Besides, the constant swinging of fists pushes the noses back and back. And more often than not, the nose’s owner has no time to react. We may not like the spread of pornography, but by now it is so well ensconced in liberal society that driving it back seems impossible.

A typical libertarian argument is that a country which suppresses some expression will eventually suppress much wider expression, even including political speech. That is nonsense. Societies constantly balance opposing objectives. That’s what the system of checks and balances is for. The libertarian argument can be applied to the government: every government tends to assume the most powers, so shall we dismantle the governments? No, but we keep them in check, theoretically, with judicial review. Contrary to the argument, it is the very equating of freedoms that dilutes them.

America enjoyed excellent freedom of political expression for two centuries when pornography was prohibited. After pornography became protected under the same freedom of expression statute as political speech, both of them became censored simultaneously.

The media and web hosting providers, who refuse publicity to child porn, also refuse publicity to “hate speech” and other controversial political expression. That is so simple: if pornography and political speech are both “expression” in the constitutional sense, if both of them enjoy the same First Amendment protection, then logically the same restrictions should apply for both. Indeed, it would be very non-liberal to censor one type of expression (porn) but not the other (political speech). Here we see a typical sophistic problem: expanding the term’s meaning undermines it. Once freedom of expression is construed to cover pornography, and while some restrictions on pornography are universally accepted, the same restrictions are applied to any expression.

The liberals who fought for legitimizing pornography in the 1960s, sowed the seeds of the current restrictions on free political speech.

freedom of expression against free speech