Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
suggested: we presume that violence is a bad thing. Indeed, as we argued in Chapter
1 (The state), one important definition of the state is that, as Max Weber argues, it
claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force or violence in a given territory.
Private individuals can only use violence with the permission of the state. However,
we might also insist that in granting permission the state provides reasons why it
permits the use of violence in some situations but not in others. One such argument
might be that there is a specific problem with male violence. Men – much more so
than females – are concerned to save face. Duelling was prohibited so as to give men
a legitimate reason for refusing to duel; in the absence of it being a criminal offence
men would be perceived as cowards for refusing to fight. Bare-kuckle fights were
outlawed because they were too close to uncontrolled street brawling and were
insufficiently constrained by rules (although there is now a World Bareknuckle Boxing
Association which regulates it). Boxing is acceptable because it is rule-governed and
is perceived to be a way in which men can release their aggression in a controlled
way – there is, for example, a distinction between fighting ‘above the belt’ as distinct
from ‘below the belt’ (meaning below the navel). It should be said, however, that
attitudes to female boxers are much more ambivalent and this may well reflect the
view that boxing is good for (some) men but bad for (all) women.
Faced with these kinds of arguments supporters of (consensual) sadomasochism
can adopt one of two strategies: (a) insist that the formula ‘harm + consent’ is
sufficient to justify its legality, or (b) argue that there are merits to sadomasochism
that justify it as an activity in itself. In regard to strategy (b) several arguments can
be advanced. First, many participants get satisfaction from it. A recent study of 58
practitioners, which measured levels of cortisol (indicating stress) and testosterone,
concluded that ‘participants who reported their SM activities went well showed
reductions in physiological stress (cortisol) and increases in relationship closeness’
(Sagarin et al., 2009). Second, rare among paraphilias – that is, unusual sexual
practices – there is an almost even ratio of (consenting) males and females (and the
females were not prostitutes). This suggests that sadomasochism is not a
manifestation of male aggression or violence. Third, sadomasochism isregulated,
analogous to the rules in boxing. There are ‘safe words’, which indicate when a
participant wants to stop.
We might, however, follow legal moralists and maintain there is something
intrinsically ‘bad’ about sadomasochism. Recall, that goodness (opposite: badness)
has a specific meaning: it denotes what is worth pursuing (rightness indicates what
we should do). If we follow Finnis’s idea that there are specific goods, then boxing
is ‘good’ because it is a form of play, whereas any sexual activity that is non-
reproductive and takes place outside marriage (defined as a union of one man and
one woman) is wrong (a violation of the good of ‘sexual permanence’). However,
Finnis’s arguments are controversial, in the strict sense of that word: they rest on
claims that are open to challenge and not widely held.


We have explored both freedom of expression and action, using Mill’s harm
principle as the starting point. That principle is not as simple as Mill suggests, and

Chapter 2 Freedom 51
Free download pdf