Max Dunbar is a friend of mine and I enjoy reading his articles. Given my interest in libertarianism, I was particularly interested to read his article that was alerted to me via his Facebook status: “the trouble with libertarians: notes on the sex myth.” The post is actually a review of Dr. Brooke Magnanti’s recently published book, The Sex Myth: Why Everything We’re Told is Wrong. I have not read this book and thus cannot comment upon it; what I do wish to comment upon is a section in Max’s review where he makes an observation about libertarianism:
I give you Vincent Tabak. He murdered Joanna Yeates by strangulation in 2010, and a search of his computer revealed an internet history full of hardcore, violent pornography that depicted women being bound and choked. Nothing to see here, says Belle. ‘The judge made the right call, and Tabak was convicted of murder on a case that was strong enough on its own.’ She is right that the evil came before the influence, and that attributing the murder entirely to the effect of hardcore porn takes away the responsibility that Tabak should carry forever himself. But can we really say that Tabak’s obsessive interest in sadomasochistic imagery had no influence whatsoever on his crime?
The libertarian fallacy is to assume such a thing as the pure individual. [Emphasis added]
I asked Max what he meant by the sentence that I have emphasised above. He explained to me that it was “the idea that we can remain totally immune from external influence.”
Where Max is wrong is that libertarians qua libertarians do not have a position as to whether individuals can remain free from external influence. They are not specialists in being able to determine whether or not sadomasochistic imagery does or does not influence violent and/or sexual crimes. The libertarian view is simply that one should not initiate the use of non-consensual force. She would allow hardcore, violent pornography providing it was made with the consent of the actors. This is because the rights of actors have not been violated.
Ridiculing liberals, libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard explained in 1973:
[W]hile liberals are in favor of any sexual activity engaged in by two consenting adults, when these consenting adults engage in trade or exchange, the liberals step in to harass, cripple, restrict, or prohibit that trade. And yet both the consenting sexual activity and the trade are similar expressions of liberty in action. Both should be favored by any consistent libertarian. But the government, especially a liberal government, habitually steps in to regulate and restrict such trade.
The effect of allowing pornography or prostitution is not something with which classical libertarian theory concerns itself. The libertarian is just concerned that everyone involved was doing so of their own free will as opposed to under coercion. Even if it is true that hardcore violent pornography does influence violent and sexual crimes, the libertarian would not seek to prohibit it. Likewise, the libertarian would not ban alcohol or narcotics because some people who drink alcohol or use drugs become violent. The libertarian qua libertarian is concerned with the rights of the individual, she does not concern herself with determining whether violent pornography leads to violence.