Wednesday, October 7th, 2009...10:25 pm

You Don’t Have to Put on the Red Light

Jump to Comments

“No, Mr. Green. Communism is just a red herring. Like all members of the oldest profession, I’m a capitalist.”

-Miss Scarlet, Clue (1986)

If something is inherently capitalistic in nature does that make it inherently good?

Perhaps I was a bit hasty in characterizing Walter Block as a very persuasive debater in my introductory post about Defending the Undefendable.  Block’s first chapter “The Prostitute” was underwhelming at its best and highly offensive at its worst.  I do not believe that prostitution should be illegal.  I believe that good arguments can be made against outlawing prostitution.  I just don’t think Block made any of them.  Instead of attempting to show that prostitution should not be subject to criminal sanction, Block tries to show that this is a legitimate good and somehow beneficial to society.

I have listened to lectures by Dr. Block on the topic, so I know he’s not actually in favor of prostitution qua prostitution, but my interaction here is with his arguments in DtU.

Block’s first argument attempts to compare prostitution to a Norman Rockwell painting where a milkman and a pieman trade wares.  Both people have made the transaction voluntarily, without force or fraud, so this is in essence the same type of situation.  Here Block makes the same mistake that many Christians do in failing to distinguish between sins and crimes.  It’s almost a “libertarian positivist” type of thinking.  If no coercion or fraud is involved it must be good.  By what standard?  Good for whom?  Block also advances an essentially utopian view of prostitution where abusive pimps are the exception rather than the rule and the prostitute can voluntarily leave the trade at any time.  He implies that any correlation between abuse and prostitution is merely coincidental.

My disagreement with Block here is metaphysical.  He must believe that sex is somehow a neutral action just as the market is amoral.  Neither of these can be supported by Block’s arbitrary worldview.  The Bible tells another story.  Sex outside of marriage is inherently sinful.  It always leads to degradation rather than glorification in all circumstances.  Block fails to prove that if a trade is not coerced, it is necessarily a good thing.  Now I’m aware that Block is trying to make the case that Mises makes in Human Action that people will not engage in trade unless they both value what they are getting more than what they are giving up in the ex ante sense.  But why can’t you have a situation where a trade takes place and yet both parties always end up worse off than before?

Although no Christian should ever participate in prostitution as a buyer or a seller, the solution is not to make it illegal.  The women who brought the baby before Solomon to judge between them in the famous case (I Kings 3:16-28) were both prostitutes.  In this passage where Solomon is portrayed as the wisest of kings, he did not punish them criminally for being prostitutes.  He also did not remove the child from the custody of its mother because she was a harlot (much to the chagrin of contemporary social service types).  As is readily apparent, perverted people will still engage in prostitution regardless of whether it is legal or not.  Scripture should be our standard of whether prostitution ought to be criminal or not.  The prohibitionist is trying to be wiser than God.  As the gospel permeates the world and the nations are discipled, prostitution will pretty much disappear due to decline of both supply and demand.  This will be accomplished by the church and not the civil magistrate.

Block tries to show that not only should we not make prostitution illegal, but we should not criticize it either.  That’s kind of preachy for what I thought would be a defense of the “amoral” market, and he bites off more than he can chew.  Block presses his error of conflating sins and crimes by implying that because this “trade” shouldn’t be prohibited, it shouldn’t be considered wrong either.  This is well beyond the scope of the philosophy he presented in the introduction, but he doesn’t seem to care.  He argues that many dating patterns resemble prostitution.  Here I’d tend to agree with him, but as an argument against the dating patterns rather than for prostitution.

Then Block trashes marriage by trying to use the same argument.  All relationships are trades; therefore marriage is morally little different than prostitution.  “The marriages in which the husband provides the financial elements, and the wife the sexual and housekeeping functions, also conforms clearly enough to the model.  In fact, all voluntary human relationships, from love relationships to intellectual relationships, are trades. In the case of romantic love and marriage, the trade is in terms of affection, consideration, kindness, etc. The trade may be a happy one, and the partners may find joy in the giving. But it is still a trade. It is clear that unless affection, kindness, etc., or something is given, it will not be reciprocated (Block, 6).”  Block’s reductionism here is repugnant.  I did not vow to marry my wife only if affection and kindness were reciprocated.  I vowed to unite my life with hers in sickness and health, richness and poverty, for better or for worse.  I vowed to enter into a relationship that mysteriously images the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Even if (for the sake of argument which in no way corresponds to the most joyous reality of my actual marriage) my wife never reciprocated anything, I would still be compelled to love, protect, and cherish her.  My duty to be a faithful husband is in no way impacted by what I receive in return.

Block concludes “Several social commentators have correctly [sic] likened marriage to prostitution.  But all relationships where trade takes place, those which include sex as well as those which do not, are a form of prostitution.  Instead of condemning all such relationships because of their similarity to prostitution, prostitution should be viewed as just one kind of interaction in which all human beings participate. Objections should not be raised to any of them—not to marriage, not to friendship, not to prostitution (Block 6-7).”  This is as preachy as an Al Gore documentary.  How anything like “should” exists within Block’s worldview is still beyond me.  This first chapter was truly disappointing.  I expected better.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.