KNOWLES: What The #MeToo Movement Can Teach Conservatives About Liberty

DALLAS, TX - July 15: Brian Hugh Warner performs as Marilyn Manson in concert at the Gexa Energy Pavilion on July 15, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Mike Brooks/DAL/Voice Media Group via Getty Images)
Mike Brooks/DAL/Voice Media Group via Getty Images

Just when you think you know a rockstar satanist, more than half a dozen women accuse him of abuse. Three years ago, Evan Rachel Wood recounted harrowing tales of an anonymous ex-boyfriend during a congressional hearing on sexual assault. Now she has identified her abuser: shock rocker Marilyn Manson, to whom Wood was briefly engaged in 2010.

During her testimony, Wood described the “worst part” of the “domestic violence” as involving “sick rituals of binding me up by my hands and feet to be mentally and physically tortured until my abuser felt I had ‘proven my love for them.’” She recalled, “While I was tied up and being beaten and being told unspeakable things, I truly felt like I could die, [and] not just because my abuser said to me, ‘I could kill you right now.’”

Some of the rocker’s former colleagues have backed up the women’s claims. “Every single thing that people have said about him is fucking true,” insists former Manson guitarist Wes Borland. “He’s fucked up, and he needs to be put in check, and he needs to get sober, and he needs to come to terms with his demons. He is a bad fucking guy.”

In his defense, Manson has not quite denied the allegations. “These recent claims about me,” he insists, “are horrible distortions of reality.” He does not deny that events resembling those Wood describes took place. But Manson adds what he considers to be a crucial caveat: “My intimate relationships have always been entirely consensual with likeminded partners.” How could Manson’s sexual escapades constitute abuse if his partners agreed to participate?

Wood acknowledges having technically consented to the relationship and at least most of the sex acts. But she also questions her ability to give consent. “He started grooming me when I was a teenager,” she charges. “I was brainwashed and manipulated into submission.” In other words, she was never truly free to “consent” in the first place.

Whether or not the actress in fact consented to the acts depends upon one’s definition of liberty. The modern liberal view conceives liberty as the ability to follow one’s desires and appetites wherever they may lead him. According to this definition, the distinction between liberty and licentiousness that our Founding Fathers so often emphasized disappears. Liberty, the modern liberal view holds, guarantees the right to visit a brothel just as surely as it means the freedom to go to church on Sunday.

Conservatives have traditionally tended toward a different understanding of liberty. In the words of Lord Acton, the traditional view understands liberty, not as “the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” As Christ explains to the Apostles, “Everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” In other words, the modern liberal notion is not only wrong, but it actually makes liberty impossible. The classical pre-Christian understanding of liberty takes much the same view. According to this definition, we attain liberty, not by doing whatever we please, but rather by practicing the virtues and taming our base passions, for which purpose we undertake liberal education. When we neglect virtue and indulge vice, we become slaves to our appetites and forfeit our freedom.

Drug addicts demonstrate the distinction. According to the modern liberal view of liberty, drug addicts are the freest people in the world. They indulge their appetites however and whenever they please, so long as they can find their drug of choice. But according to the classical view of liberty, drug addicts are slaves. When a heroin addict joneses for a fix, there is little he won’t do to satisfy his cravings. He may will with his intellect to resist temptation, but his appetite will overpower his loftier desires, and he will degrade himself to stave off withdrawal. According to the modern liberal view, he has freely consented to whatever unspeakable act scored him the dope. In reality, he cannot consent because sin and vice have compromised his free will.

“Age of consent” laws presuppose the classical view of liberty. Children cannot consent because they, like the heroin addict, cannot control their appetites and have not fully cultivated their will and reason. We educate children so that they may learn to use their liberty. 

For decades, the Left has exalted “consent” as the highest political good. Much of the Right has followed suit, cravenly refusing to articulate a substantive moral vision and instead embracing the modern liberal view that mistakes licentiousness for liberty. But the depraved rituals that Wood accuses Manson of performing on her are wrong whether the “likeminded partners” believed them to be “entirely consensual” or not. The overwhelmingly left-wing ladies of the #MeToo movement have stumbled unwittingly on the conservative reality of liberty. Like it or not, conservatives should listen.

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The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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