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Letter: ‘Gilgo Beach Murders’

For me it is somewhat axiomatic that totalitarian societies like the Soviet Union collapse because of the freedoms they deny people whilst democracies like the United States collapse because of the freedoms they permit people. The latter part of the equation might seem odd until we consider the true nature of freedom. Freedom of religion doesn’t make people more holy, freedom of speech and press doesn’t make people more knowledgeable, and freedom to elect their leaders doesn’t make people better governed. Holiness, knowledge, and wise and just governance are moral, intellectual, and spiritual elements, not political, legal, or constitutional ones. This can be observed, writ small, in an unlikely local incident: the Gilgo Beach murders.

The Gilgo Beach murders have ignited, once again, the whole issue of the legalization of prostitution. If prostitution were a legalized, regulated, licensed, and taxed business, with some governmental bureaucracy acting as a pimp, the argument goes, women in the “sex industry” would somehow be safer from the likes of such latter day Jack the Rippers as Joel Rifkin and Robert Shulman. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m reminded, however, of what the historian John Lukacs’ wrote in 1970 in his The Passing of the Modern Age. The “liberation” of women in the Western world in the 20th century, he advanced, could be summarized as “how the emancipation of women has led to a pursuit of their degradation.” Is the freedom to degrade oneself in a democracy any less a sham than the supposed freedoms the workers enjoyed under communist regimes? I suppose we’ll let future archeologists sifting through the proverbial rubbish heap of history to answer this one.

I know a woman who, after being unable to find anything other than part-time employment for the last few years, finally landed a position as the administrator of a private upscale academy in New England. She and her two Master’s degrees and 25 years of teaching experience were finally able to get off of food stamps. No more being told she’s “overqualified” to work as a cashier in a supermarket. The civil libertarians would have us believe that, had she gone into prostitution, that it would not only be her free choice but a freedom that should be celebrated and defended. This is the freedom that will reduce Western democracies like the United States to a footnote in some future historian’s book.

Paul Manton