sohrab amhari david french

Sohrab Ahmari, David French & Prostitution

on September 6, 2019

En route to the Sohrab Ahmari/David French debate at Catholic University last eve, I had my own brief debate with the Uber driver over legalized prostitution. The Washington, D.C. city council is debating a legalization proposal. Street walkers and open brothels, although illegal, operated very openly in DC for decades. The Uber driver recalled that the first mayor succeeding the corrupt Marion Barry greatly increased the fines for prostitutes, which incentivized their departure from DC streets.

But the driver said he’s asked frequently by out-of-town passengers for referrals to call girls. He declines but says other drivers oblige. Since prostitution continues regardless, although now largely out of sight, the driver favors legalization, regulation, and taxation.

I disagreed, saying much of prostitution is about the trafficking of underage girls. It’s exploitation, not commerce. And although prostitution will always exist, its criminalization helps contain it. No less importantly, it messages societal disapproval. The law is a teacher.

Neither of us persuaded the other. But the exchange was an appropriate preamble to the Ahmari/French debate. Ahmari wants Christians to wage culture wars more fiercely, envisions the state more assertively enforcing morality, and is not confident that liberal democracy is best suited for seeking the highest societal good. French advocates civility, believes liberal democratic institutions are best suited for protecting what Christians cherish on earth, and is less confident in the state’s capacity to legislate morality reliably and helpfully.

Ahmari has highlighted as modern decadence Drag Queen Story Hours, in which drag queens read children’s books to juveniles at public venues including libraries so as to mainstream gender bending. Last eve he warned that this movement now has 35 chapters in America, which French dismissed as hardly a major force in a nation of over 320 million. America has always had unsavory groups, he said. More importantly, he said, viewpoint neutrality by government legally protects Christians and others having their own access to public venues. Ahmari derided such neutrality, preferring government partiality towards traditional religion and morality.

From Ahmari’s perspective, French wants an open market place society in which religion and morality are treated neutrally alongside unbelief and vice. From French’s perspective, Ahmari unrealistically wants government to safeguard and promote religion and morality.

In actual policy, French and Ahmari are not that far apart. They both want legal protections for the unborn. They want religious freedom protected. Neither thinks the law should protect pornography. Both disapprove same-sex marriage. Both likely approve the civil religion tradition of state reference to God as author of justice and liberty.

French denied his differences with Ahmari reflect Protestant/Catholic theological disagreements. But Ahmari insisted they did, asserting that historic Christianity is more willing to mobilize state power. Yet French also favors state action against vice. Although not discussed, no doubt French and Ahmari agree prostitution should be illegal, both because it entails trafficking minors and is intrinsically degrading to human dignity, as biblical religion teaches.

The divide between French and Ahmari is maybe not so much Protestant/Catholic as Thomist/Augustinian. The former school, focused on natural law and church authority, often has more confidence about building the semblance of a righteous society. The latter, more focused on humanity’s fallen nature, is less trusting of church or state reliably sustaining virtue and true religion in society.

Too bad the Uber driver did not attend last eve’s debate. Presumably he’d have sided with French’s preference for the liberties, within limits, sustained by liberal democratic institutions. And he would see that perspective affirming his belief that prostitution, although unfortunate, is inevitable and so should be legalized, regulated and taxed.

But I would counter, with which French presumably would agree, that even liberal societies, to sustain humane values, which are ultimately derived from biblical religion, must discourage and contain vice, even while admitting that vice is persistent in our fallen world.

Ahmari believes American society is more prone than ever to vice, with Drag Queen Story Hours in mind. But like the Uber driver, I recall DC in the 1980s, when only a few blocks from the White House, brothels and bath houses openly and uncontroversially hosted anonymous trysts at mid-day, as indifferent downtown office workers streamed by outside.

The old days were not necessarily better or worse. They were different, but they also were like today, as vice and virtue always dwell together, so long as Providence permits.

  1. Comment by David on September 6, 2019 at 9:29 am

    I happen to live in a town that rather unexpectedly turns out to be the epicenter of prostitution in the US. This is due to immigrant women being sent out to various parts of the country. Many of these are trapped in their occupation and are essentially slaves. The morality of prostitution is one thing, but slavery-like conditions should be opposed by all.

  2. Comment by Gene Callahan on September 6, 2019 at 10:10 am

    “I disagreed, saying much of prostitution is about trafficking of underage girls.”
    I’m sorry, this is like saying during prohibition that “Much of the liquor trade involves bootlegging.” Of course, any legalized prostitution would *not* involve this. Listen, be a traditionalist here: the Middle Ages were much more sensible than us on this one: legalize, *and* carefully contain it in certain districts.

  3. Comment by JR on September 6, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Other than the assumption that drag queen story hours are considered ‘vice’ [does that really need to referenced multiple times in one short article?], I would suggest that most of America would fall in the middle between these two arguments.

    I doubt a majority would agree that an enforced ‘Religious Nation’ would be a good thing.

    I also doubt that a majority would agree that a state cannot or should not legislate (to some extent) a reasonable level of morality. Murder, Fraud, etc come all to mind. Those same principles can exist independent from a religious source.

    “Too bad the Uber driver did not attend last eve’s debate.” The guy was trying to earn some coin instead. Maybe you should have invited him along! 🙂

  4. Comment by Dan W on September 6, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    How is “Drag Queen Story Hour” vice?
    I agree it sounds bizarre, but I wouldn’t want to replace it with Gay-Bashing, a popular sport from the 20th Century. Frankly, our children are going to encounter trans-gendered people somewhere, why not in a public library reading Dr Seuss stories?

    Legal prostitution in Nevada seems like it would be a good model for other states. I suspect human trafficking is epidemic in Las Vegas, where prostitution is still illegal.

  5. Comment by Porgie Tirebiter on September 7, 2019 at 12:20 am

    They can encounter them as strange perverts (i.e., truthfully) or they can encounter them in the public library as role models.

  6. Comment by Zaria on September 9, 2019 at 4:55 am

    Sounds Good still going legal prostitution in Nevada

  7. Comment by Steve on September 6, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    “Moreover, the group has expansive aims. ‘We are going to groom the next generation,’ one participating drag queen stated. Events involve drag queens asking children, ‘Who wants to be a drag queen when they grow up?'”
    “In Houston, organizers disbanded a drag event unaffiliated with the nonprofit after a series of unnerving events that included death threats, the removal of an armed protestor from a reading, and the revelation that a past performer was a registered sex offender.” In parenthesis, then the paper says, “The organizer said background checks not been conducted on its earliest performers.”
    “Videos of past story hours reveal pornographic adult entertainment, provocative outfits, sexual dancing.” I’m not going to read the rest of that sentence. I’m also not going to mention some of the explicit sexual messaging that comes later in this article. “It’s hard to interpret this adult entertainment as sweet, especially when the librarians hosting these events sometimes fail to do proper background checks. Two of the queens featured in story hours in Houston where later exposed as convicted sex offenders and pedophiles.”
    “if you think it’s no big deal that sexual perversion is now being celebrated for young children dressed up in a direct rejection of the so called gender binary, if that doesn’t represent a cultural crisis to you, then I simply have to press the question even harder. Answer it honestly. What then would it take for you to recognize a cultural crisis?”

  8. Comment by Steve on September 6, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    ‘Drag Kids’ Attract Pedophiles, Which Is No Surprise
    July 8, 2019 4:09 PM

  9. Comment by JR on September 9, 2019 at 10:20 am

    From the article: “The “drag kid” zeitgeist is interesting to witness, particularly at this moment in our history. As a culture, we have more or less come around to admitting the dangers involved with sexualizing children in, say, beauty pageants; that phenomenon is so commonly understood that there is a Wikipedia page titled “Sexualization in child beauty pageants.”

    Pedophiles exist. Sexualizing children, in any way, is like attracting moths with a flame.

    Your moral crusade against the (wholly voluntary attendance) drag queen story hour is misplaced.

  10. Comment by Dan W on September 7, 2019 at 8:23 am

    New York Times Article from June 2019

    How many schools have been shot up by drag queens? Can’t think of one…

  11. Comment by David on September 7, 2019 at 9:56 am

    If a white person gave a story hour in blackface, it would be considered offensive to Blacks. Can not drag queens be considered offensive to women?

  12. Comment by Carla Guido on September 7, 2019 at 10:41 am

    I consider them extremely offensive to women. I am a woman- and the idea that all it takes to become one is to put on high heels and way too much makeup is demeaning, offensive, inappropriate…as far as the DQSH routine… if this has to be accepted in the name of “diversity” or “inclusion”, then how about NRA Story Hour? Or Evangelical Pastors Story Hour? I can just imagine how THAT would go over…

  13. Comment by Tony Heine on September 7, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    There is another way to look at the debate between Ahmari and French.

    John Adams famously said:
    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    What doesn’t get quoted as often is what he wrote just before those two sentences. It is a prediction of what will become of America if we were no longer that moral and religious people.

    “But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another…which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practicing iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world…”

    Ahmari seems to recognize that Adams words are true, our Constitution and government structures are not capable of dealing with the people we have become; they need to be adjusted to fit the current reality of who we are.
    French seems to take the view, which I believe to be common among most conservatives, that our Constitution is great and adequate for a wide spectrum of beliefs and principles among the people it governs.

    I believe both Ahmari and French are wrong. They are having this debate about two generations too late. A post-Christian people do not want the government to enforce a Christian morality, nor do they understand the Christian origins or value of the “liberal democratic institutions”.

    Adams and the other founding fathers had a deep appreciation of three things that seem lost to our current generation:
    A sense of the fragile, always-threatened, nature of liberty.
    The fallen nature of humanity.
    The reality of a God-ordained natural law that is immutable and inescapable.

    The founding fathers took these truths and established a Constitution and form of government that became their gift to us. If “paying it forward” is our only way to recognize the unpayable debt we owe that founding generation, then we have defaulted.

    Abandoning our rightful obligations to ourselves and our posterity, we have decided to purchase the inevitable consequences that come from being the immoral and ungodly people that Adams warned against.

    And these consequences will come, just as they are assured by Kipling’s Gods of the Copybook Headings, Solzhenitsyn’s “men forgetting God” warning, and the first chapter of Romans.

    Drag Queen Story Hour is the earnest money on America becoming Adam’s “most miserable habitation”.

  14. Comment by James Cubie on September 7, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    “William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

    Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

    William Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

    Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

  15. Comment by Kevin Offner on September 7, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    As both French and Ahmari acknowledged in last Thursday’s debate, none of the founding fathers would have dreamed that their notion of “freedom of expression” would have included drag queens in a public library encouraging children to imagine same-sex acts, or pornography of the most vile degree being piped into family living rooms via the internet.

    Then pluralism of today is of a different nature than the pluralism of the 18th century.

    What we are attempting to do in our country today is to build a whole nation upon a foundation that intentionally jettisons any reference to God. While religious people are allowed to have their private opinions, the public realm of laws and rules must not reference divine revelation. To the old question, “Can man be good apart from God?” the answer today is a resounding, “Yes!”

    But a country founded on pure relativism can not stand.

    Christians by all means should do their best to influence politics and laws. But we mustn’t expect that someone who has rejected God as having any demands on his life should be expected to adopt laws that have their grounding in God’s character and revelation.

    This is why many Christians resonate so deeply with The Benedict Option. By no means suggesting that all Christians withdraw from politics or engagement with the public, secular sphere, the encouragement is for Christians to make sure their churches are strong, unashamedly built on God’s revelation.

  16. Comment by DOUGLAS E EHRHARDT on September 9, 2019 at 4:54 am

    Thanks Tony.The truth !

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