Over the past two weeks, a fascinating intellectual conflict has broken out on the Right over pornography, of all things. The debate was prompted by a letter from four Republican congresspeople to Attorney General William Barr, calling on Barr to “declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority.”
This, on its face, should be unobjectionable. There is no fundamental First Amendment right to pornography — it is not merely an aspect of free speech, as the Supreme Court has explicitly ruled, and as Founding-era philosophy makes clear — and there are clear externalities to certain aspects of pornography. So, for example, it’s hard to imagine why any conservative, even a conservative with libertarian leanings, would oppose banning the dissemination of pornography to minors, or the ability of local communities to bar the posting of pornographic images in public spaces, or a legal crackdown on sex trafficking (I’m not aware of many libertarians, even socially liberal libertarians, who oppose any of these things).
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