Legalize prostitution? Even some conservatives argue for it, and they are wrong

There is an annoying form of opinion writing that conservatives wise enough to live outside the Acela Corridor are acutely aware of.  It's usually produced by fellow travelers of the center-right, though it's unclear how versed in or dedicated they are to the disposition that is conservatism.

I call examples of this commentary "get over it, bigot" pieces.  Articles written in the sneering style are composed by preening authors anxious to be viewed as reasonable by the Left.  In pushing conservatives to drop their opposition to nontraditional policies, these moralists compose aggiornamentos for conservatism by making it indistinguishable from a less permissive liberalism.

The latest in this series of polemics comes from Brad Palumbo of the Washington Examiner.  In "Conservatives should make peace with the complete decriminalization of prostitution," Palumbo beseeches his conservative brethren to surrender on the legal proscription of prostitution. 

Why request a stand-down now?  The D.C. City Council is considering a measure that would completely decriminalize the oldest profession.  Dear me, I thought the District was filled with enough trulls already.

Palumbo's argument for bringing ladies of the night out into the day isn't the callow liberal cry of "I own me!  Waaaaaah!"  Essentially, it's the libertine argument that society's long established cure is worse than the disease.

"Conservatives don't have to like it, and they certainly don't have to view prostitution as moral or acceptable," Palumbo writes, rehashing the first argument every such "conservative" interlocutor makes.  "You don't have to like it for it to be legal" is the laziest attestation one can make in debating public policy.  It's almost Halloween, and I detest Almond Joys.  I'm not about to demand a national ban on the tasteless chocolate-coconut bar.  And I'm no more thoughtful for knowing the difference.

Moving on, Palumbo invokes the iron law of prohibition, pointing out that prostitution's illegality in of itself increases the potential for physical harm.  "Criminalizing prostitution only pushes it underground, making it significantly more dangerous for the women that participate."  Again, another facile point.  Selling your body isn't a normal commercial transaction like buying bananas from the supermarket.  Prostitution is an inherently precarious trade.  The industry's clientele aren't society's best and brightest.  They're lecherous, sometimes violently so.  Saying Mrs. Warren's Profession can result in deleterious accidents du travail is like saying pugilism can result in brain damage.  The QED is too obvious to be an incisive observation.

Regardless, Palumbo parlays the violence attendant in the so-called sex industry to get to his conclusive argument about legalization: "Pimps and johns alike have carte blanche to rape, beat, and abuse the women involved, because those women cannot go to the police without putting themselves in legal jeopardy."

Now, this is a better, more contextual point than the typical cri de coeur for unquestionable autonomy.  But it raises another question: who says women have to be chippies, anyway?  I'm not obtuse enough to suggest that every woman selling their yonic wares is doing it by choice.  Sex-trafficking is real.  Pace libertarians, it's not a "myth," but a shameful scourge on human dignity. 

Is there really no way for law enforcement to tell the difference between women forced to fornicate and those whoring of their own volition?  Police and prosecutors use discretionary enforcement all the time.  A pimped prostitute caught in flagrante delicto need not be locked up.  Her buyer and her slaver can face the full penalty of the law.

Palumbo resorts to empiricism to bolster his case, citing studies that show a decrease in "rape offenses" and "gonorrhea transmission" where prostitution is decriminalized.  How rape — even more coerced penetration? — occurs during commercial intercourse isn't explained.  Neither is why prostitution's illegality disincentivizes the use of cheap prophylactics.  The data are presented as their own argument, to be accepted unthinkingly.

To close his case, Palumbo appeals to the conservative instinct for less government: "A core tenet of conservatism is that government must be limited, in part because of the serious unintended consequences of government involvement."  Palumbo may commune with the ghost of Frédéric Bastiat to warn about the unforeseen effects of government action, but he's forgotten about Russell Kirk's admonition that "[e]very society, usually in theory and invariably in practice, has asserted its right to restrain those who would destroy the foundations of society."

Proscribing prostitution, trying to rid the streets of overly eye-shadowed and scantily-clad strumpets, is an assertion of the good in society.  The law recognizes the moral scope of sex, not reducing it to yet another pecuniary transaction.

Conservatives don't need to make peace with policy that debases desperate members of the fairer sex.  Conceding a higher good for the sake of popularity is its own form of prostitution.

There is an annoying form of opinion writing that conservatives wise enough to live outside the Acela Corridor are acutely aware of.  It's usually produced by fellow travelers of the center-right, though it's unclear how versed in or dedicated they are to the disposition that is conservatism.

I call examples of this commentary "get over it, bigot" pieces.  Articles written in the sneering style are composed by preening authors anxious to be viewed as reasonable by the Left.  In pushing conservatives to drop their opposition to nontraditional policies, these moralists compose aggiornamentos for conservatism by making it indistinguishable from a less permissive liberalism.

The latest in this series of polemics comes from Brad Palumbo of the Washington Examiner.  In "Conservatives should make peace with the complete decriminalization of prostitution," Palumbo beseeches his conservative brethren to surrender on the legal proscription of prostitution. 

Why request a stand-down now?  The D.C. City Council is considering a measure that would completely decriminalize the oldest profession.  Dear me, I thought the District was filled with enough trulls already.

Palumbo's argument for bringing ladies of the night out into the day isn't the callow liberal cry of "I own me!  Waaaaaah!"  Essentially, it's the libertine argument that society's long established cure is worse than the disease.

"Conservatives don't have to like it, and they certainly don't have to view prostitution as moral or acceptable," Palumbo writes, rehashing the first argument every such "conservative" interlocutor makes.  "You don't have to like it for it to be legal" is the laziest attestation one can make in debating public policy.  It's almost Halloween, and I detest Almond Joys.  I'm not about to demand a national ban on the tasteless chocolate-coconut bar.  And I'm no more thoughtful for knowing the difference.

Moving on, Palumbo invokes the iron law of prohibition, pointing out that prostitution's illegality in of itself increases the potential for physical harm.  "Criminalizing prostitution only pushes it underground, making it significantly more dangerous for the women that participate."  Again, another facile point.  Selling your body isn't a normal commercial transaction like buying bananas from the supermarket.  Prostitution is an inherently precarious trade.  The industry's clientele aren't society's best and brightest.  They're lecherous, sometimes violently so.  Saying Mrs. Warren's Profession can result in deleterious accidents du travail is like saying pugilism can result in brain damage.  The QED is too obvious to be an incisive observation.

Regardless, Palumbo parlays the violence attendant in the so-called sex industry to get to his conclusive argument about legalization: "Pimps and johns alike have carte blanche to rape, beat, and abuse the women involved, because those women cannot go to the police without putting themselves in legal jeopardy."

Now, this is a better, more contextual point than the typical cri de coeur for unquestionable autonomy.  But it raises another question: who says women have to be chippies, anyway?  I'm not obtuse enough to suggest that every woman selling their yonic wares is doing it by choice.  Sex-trafficking is real.  Pace libertarians, it's not a "myth," but a shameful scourge on human dignity. 

Is there really no way for law enforcement to tell the difference between women forced to fornicate and those whoring of their own volition?  Police and prosecutors use discretionary enforcement all the time.  A pimped prostitute caught in flagrante delicto need not be locked up.  Her buyer and her slaver can face the full penalty of the law.

Palumbo resorts to empiricism to bolster his case, citing studies that show a decrease in "rape offenses" and "gonorrhea transmission" where prostitution is decriminalized.  How rape — even more coerced penetration? — occurs during commercial intercourse isn't explained.  Neither is why prostitution's illegality disincentivizes the use of cheap prophylactics.  The data are presented as their own argument, to be accepted unthinkingly.

To close his case, Palumbo appeals to the conservative instinct for less government: "A core tenet of conservatism is that government must be limited, in part because of the serious unintended consequences of government involvement."  Palumbo may commune with the ghost of Frédéric Bastiat to warn about the unforeseen effects of government action, but he's forgotten about Russell Kirk's admonition that "[e]very society, usually in theory and invariably in practice, has asserted its right to restrain those who would destroy the foundations of society."

Proscribing prostitution, trying to rid the streets of overly eye-shadowed and scantily-clad strumpets, is an assertion of the good in society.  The law recognizes the moral scope of sex, not reducing it to yet another pecuniary transaction.

Conservatives don't need to make peace with policy that debases desperate members of the fairer sex.  Conceding a higher good for the sake of popularity is its own form of prostitution.