This piece at the Library of Law and Liberty reminds us of those classic City Journal pieces out of Birmingham and deserves a lengthy quote. But do read the whole piece.
It is absolutely no mitigation of the man’s behavior that the woman in the case was foolish; but to disguise this foolishness on the grounds that it might be considered ‘blaming the victim’ has two harmful aspects.
First it confuses the spheres of the legal and the moral. Foolishness is not a crime and is not punishable by law, but it is still foolishness. To suppose that the foolishness of the victim might be a mitigation of the crimes against her makes the overlap of the legal and the moral so great that it is an invitation to totalitarianism. The wisdom or foolishness of the victim had nothing to do with the man’s legal guilt.
Second, to obscure from the woman her own foolishness, on the grounds (for example) that she is suffering from some kind of syndrome and is therefore not responsible for her own actions, is to dehumanize her and to deny her the agency to behave any differently in the future. My experience of such women is that they are perfectly capable of acknowledging their own foolishness, and indeed do so with relief, after having been persuaded for so long that they are passive victims and nothing but passive victims. There are, of course, such victims in the world: but this woman was not one of them. Moreover it is a very short step from considering the woman in the case to be nothing but a victim to considering the man in the case also to be nothing but a victim…
“To suppose that the foolishness of the victim might be a mitigation of the crimes against her makes the overlap of the legal and the moral so great that it is an invitation to totalitarianism.”
In a preachy moment, I once told my brother, who does not vote, that he chooses not to live in a democracy because he has no say in the election of his leaders or the laws they pass.
This quote has me thinking how one can also voluntarily live in a totalitarian state by equating the moral with the legal. More than once in my life, when discussing the morality of a particular action, people have responded to me, “well, it’s not illegal.” I always thought of this as irrelevant and evidence of sloppy thinking. It had never occurred to me that, by permitting a government to decide what is moral, one grants the state just that type of power for which the worst despots long.