The Public Interest

Liberal Censorship?

Walter Berns

Fall 1981

ONE would have thought that the censorship issue had been settled in the liberal societies of the West. In theory pornography may be proscribed by the law-in the United States, for example, it is not protected by the First Amendment—but in practice it is readily available, and not merely as part of an under-the-counter custom. Not only is pornography popular and a major element of our popular culture, but it is legitimate, if not respectable. When a president of the United States finds it not improper to appear in the pages of Playboy, who is left to do the work of Anthony Comstock?  And why, for that matter, should anyone think it should be done? In 1970 we had it on the authority of President Johnson’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography that obscenity and pornography do us no harm and, by helping us get rid of sexual hangups and all that, may even be beneficial. In any case, middle-class America learned that it was a lot of fun-no longer was it necessary to go to an American Legion smoker in order to watch famous actresses masturbate-and it was especially agreeable to be told that with complete freedom of expression the arts would finally begin to flourish.

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