Bertram wants to reduce terms to universals, as libertarians do, but in a way acceptable to what he would call "liberalism". It can't be done, and in the meantime he's pissing off people who think the attempt itself is offensive.
We can legalize both prostitution and janitorial services while criminalizing sexual harassment, because telling an MBA (male or female) to mop the floor is not the same as telling him or her to give you a blow job. Sex in our society is a trouble spot, but saying that doesn't change anything else; far too many people confuse and conflate the state and the community. The state is bureaucracy. When the community becomes bureaucracy the community is weakened and following that, the state is as well.
In a poll a few years ago 20 percent of French women said they saw no problem in sleeping with their boss for a raise. A modern office Lothario who sleeps with employees free to chat to their friends about his 3 inch cock and a man who takes advantage of poor uneducated women who are too ashamed to tell their closest friends are not both guilty of the same level of abuse. We do not however make different laws or rules for different classes or ethnic groups.
In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.Judt was a schmuck but that's not the point.
Shortly after I took office, a second-year graduate student came by. A former professional ballerina interested in Eastern Europe, she had been encouraged to work with me. I was not teaching that semester, so could have advised her to return another time. Instead, I invited her in. After a closed-door discussion of Hungarian economic reforms, I suggested a course of independent study—beginning the following evening at a local restaurant. A few sessions later, in a fit of bravado, I invited her to the premiere of Oleanna—David Mamet’s lame dramatization of sexual harassment on a college campus.
How to explain such self-destructive behavior? What delusional universe was mine, to suppose that I alone could pass untouched by the punitive prudery of the hour—that the bell of sexual correctness would not toll for me? I knew my Foucault as well as anyone and was familiar with Firestone, Millett, Brownmiller, Faludi, e tutte quante.1 To say that the girl had irresistible eyes and that my intentions were…unclear would avail me nothing. My excuse? Please Sir, I’m from the ‘60s.
...So how did I elude the harassment police, who surely were on my tail as I surreptitiously dated my bright-eyed ballerina?
Reader: I married her.
One exchange between commenter QS and Bertram
QS 06.03.12 at 9:58 amIt was QS earlier on who referred to the banning of sexual relations between teachers and students. I don't have to agree with her on every count to accept her as an advocate for her beliefs and to say that she has Bertram dead to rights.
You’ve turned sexual harassment into an intellectual game, that is where the “creepiness” originates. How do you moderate that? You don’t. You realize that your ability to treat the issue so dispassionately, playing the game of Find the Universal, probably has something to do with your maleness and position outside this particular terrain.
Sexual harassment was banned not because we found the Universal Principle Against Harassment but because women and men who believed it to be wrong fought successfully for prohibition. These people were likely motivated by a variety of ideas and experiences. The way we keep the libertarians marginalized is not by abstract philosophical games but by appealing to this concrete history.
Chris Bertram 06.03.12 at 10:06 am
QS: your latest tells me that you see political philosophy as it is usually practised as involving a profound mistake. You are entitled to that opinion. It is not one that I share.
I won't mention Holbo again.