The Last Freedom (and its Relationship to the First) February 18, 2014
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World seems, for the most part, to be closer to the future we are facing in the West than George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I do think that parts of Orwell’s vision are still important, however; in particular the appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four on Newspeak and Orwell’s essay on “Politics and the English Language.” But I want to focus on an important passage from Huxley’s preface to the second edition (1947) of Brave New World. I will quote it here:
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. [Italics mine – HFA]
It is one thing that many libertarians want to add sexual freedom to the long list of freedoms that they would like to promote. And we have seen “conservatives” mocked because they would shrink government and yet insert it into the bedroom. [How does that apply to abortion? Abortionists don’t do house calls, do they?] But let’s look at the other side of the coin, the “progressives”, often in American English called “liberals”.
“Progressives” are generally known for wanting to increase legislation, regulation, and restriction on our lives. Guess what is the exception. They want to keep government “out of the bedroom”, but if you want to build an extra bedroom on your house, you will be answering to City Hall, and maybe to the Coastal Commission. If you wish to accompany your romantic activities in the bedroom with a roaring fire in the fireplace, make sure you don’t do it on a “No Burn Day”, of which many have been declared in Southern California this winter. In fact, homes built after a certain recent date cannot have real fireplaces at all! Businesses, of course, have to keep their eyes open even more to make sure they are not violating some law or regulation; and to contend that the penumbra “constitutional right of privacy” extends to our finances is enough to mark you out as an extremist, as the Swiss have now admitted. The “private Swiss account” is a thing of the past.
Why do I not see progressives being mocked about this inconsistency? Well, perhaps they hold that sexual freedom and some related freedoms having to do with life [such as abortion and euthanasia] are the first and most important freedoms, for which we may have to abridge the rest. But if Huxley is right, it is more suitable to call sexual freedom the Last Freedom, the one that remains when all others are taken away.
What then is the First Freedom? It is generally said to be religious liberty and right of conscience; that people should be not only free to practice their religion openly, but advocate it and seek converts to it, and even more to the point, be free to apostatize from it and convert to another. This is the freedom that the Muslim world has not come to accept.
Calvinist thought on the Ten Commandments has generally divided morality into two sections; our duties to God, comprised in the first 3½ commandments, and our duties to our fellow humans, to be found in the next 6½. The first is no business of government at all. The second is the basis of our law. [C. S. Lewis points out, in Mere Christianity, that there is a third kind of morality, which has to do with our training and empowering ourselves to be righteous and functional people, or not; civil government is not supposed to be involved in this in the criminal or civil law, but gets involved in it where government becomes educator of the young or rehabilitator of criminals.]
[Parenthetically I might mention as a practical matter that in one way the “First Freedom” is really property rights and land use; unless one is in a online casino space shuttle, the exercise of any liberty, whether of speech and press, economic, or even sexual, depends on the right to use land to exercise the right; any civil right is a dead letter without the right to use land to exercise it. This is not a doctrine that is particularly popular at City Hall.]
I have found other commentary on this subject. One of the most thorough is an article called “The Sex Vote” by James Poulos, and lest you think Mr Poulos is some old fashioned kind of person, here is a picture of him fronting his punk band. Poulos ends this essay by pointing out that the erotic world is competitive, and that “sex voters” might go with a state that “will not only own your home but install a stripper pole in your basement” which sounds a lot like Huxley. [More from Poulos at The American Scene.] And evidently sex is not supposed to be fun, which is why we have sexual freedom, according to Heather Wilhelm, who writes about the “fun police” who defend sexual freedom but take the fun out of everything else, and sex too. And Stratford Caldecott quotes G.K. Chesterton as declaring “that the next great heresy to undermine civilized existence `is going to be simply an attack on . . . sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back. . . . The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan’.” This was written in 1926, which of course was the Roaring Twenties and the height of the Great Gatsby era. And Rod Dreher introduces his essay “Sexual Freedom as Secularist Sacrament” with a Freedom a tale of how Scandinavians are thinking about outlawing circumcision of boys, which Jewish law requires.
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”.