Incest Putting Liberals to the Test

Is incest wrong, and if so, why?

Reuters brings us news of a most revolting sort:

A Columbia University professor has been arrested on charges of having sexual relations with his daughter, officials said on Friday.

David Epstein, 46, a political science professor at the Ivy League school, faces one count of incest in the third degree, according to a complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

He had relations with his daughter, now 24, from 2006 through 2009, the complaint said. Epstein was released on his own recognizance after appearing before a judge on Thursday.

People on both sides of the political aisle can unite in condemnation of Prof. Epstein's behavior.  After all, is not "incest" cited as one of those situations, right up there with "rape," which is used to justify the right to abortion?  Committing incest is one of those acts so far beneath contempt as to be unworthy of defense.

But wait!  Look again at the specifics given in the article: Prof. Epstein's daughter and accused incestuous lover is now 24, and the alleged relationship began in 2006.

Simple subtraction reveals a starting fact: The incestuous lovers were consenting adults.

For the world's liberal elites, and especially at Ivy League far-leftist bastions like Columbia, there is one and only one question permitted when judging the acceptability of any sexual practice no matter how perverse or reprobate: Were the participants consenting?  Some professors even defend the ability of children to consent to sex; nobody questions the ability of 21-year-olds to make their own sexual choices.

On what grounds, therefore, can Prof. Epstein even be criticized, much less imprisoned?  Should not government stay out of consenting adult's bedrooms?

Conservatives have no such problems; they're generally quite comfortable with answers involving "Thou shalt not" and "abomination."  This case presents a serious poser for the left, however:

  • Are they willing to defend the right of consenting adults to openly commit incest?
  • Are they willing to affirm such adults with respect to their sexual choices?
  • Or are there, in fact, certain limits as to who or what ought to be sleeping together regardless of consent?

The obvious answer is that, yes, there are and ought to be limits.  But if that's the case... there's no logical or rational reason why "opposite gender" can't be just such a limit, or even "the same race," to say nothing of "the same species."

We're eagerly anticipating an explanation of principle from the denizens of Babylon-on-the-Hudson.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Law.
Reader Comments

Wait a tic. Two questions...

1) Why wasn't the daughter also charged with incest? Was she not also breaking the law?

2) How did they find out about it? If they were both consenting, neither would have told. Even if a friend heard about it and told on them, they would certainly not have admitted it to the cops when questioned.

That leaves two possibilities:

a) One of them was *not* consenting and told the police in order to break it off.

b) Someone in the family witnessed it and went on the record.

December 17, 2010 10:26 AM

The author does point out one significant admission: that "Conservatives" are driven by authority, and no rational basis for their morality exists; similarly their authoritative nature, too, belies that a morality based on "thou shalt"s is not grounded in Reality.
One should reject this a priori, especially in a social/[political context, for some of us are not driven by conformity nor an insane urge [for is not insanity derived from irrationality?] to be controlled or control others.
We choose freedom .. and the necessity of living by our choices, and responsibility thereof.

December 17, 2010 12:15 PM

@lfon, the daughter was not charged because we live in a society where a woman can stab her husband with a kitchen knife and the police will arrest HIM on count of "domestic violence" if he calls 911. There is really little else to say on that topic.

@irvnx, interesting thoughts. Authoritarianism is not absent from liberal thought, either, of course.

December 17, 2010 9:35 PM

Another thought on the "thou shalt not" and "abomination" mentality...

Abigail and Brittany Hensel are siamese twins who share one body. They basically look like one girl with two heads, although of course they are each individual personalities. From the neck down they share all of their parts.

They have one set of functioning genitals. I understand that one of them recently got engaged (they're in their early twenties). There is no way that one of the sisters can consummate their marriage without involving the other; to put it bluntly, when you have sex with one of them, you have sex with both of them. Isn't sleeping with your wife's sister adultery? Is this man going to be engaging in adultery EVERY TIME he sleeps with his wife? Is there a church out there giving its blessing to this abomination?

Never mind the fact that if either of the Hensel twins were to masturbate, it would automatically be lesbian incest.

Is there a way for these poor girls to enjoy sex without it being an abomination, or must this marriage be discouraged by all right-thinking Christians on the grounds of decency?

December 19, 2010 10:02 AM

Unless there are actual victims, no sexual misconduct should be illegal. In this case, it appears there were no victims - so it is a matter of personal morality (or lack thereof).

December 19, 2010 11:04 AM

One of the canards used against "conservatives" (which, I'll admit is aided and abetted by conservatives) is that a demand for moral behavior doesn't necessarily mean a demand for legislation.

For instance, Christians can call incest, homosexuality and any sexual relationship outside of marriage an abomination. That doesn't mean that, in our current political evolution, that we should necessarily legislation against such things (leaving the arguments for homosexual "marriage" aside for the moment - we're talking about sexual acts, not relationships).

What the debate is about, however, is what's the best, in the long term, for society? Centuries of human history have shown that on balance, a stable 2 parent family is the best. Yes, there are exceptions. This whole topic has been written about extensively by Lee Tydings here at Scragged ( In the past, when society cared about society, rather than pursing a hedonistic self interest, it passed laws to discourage sexual behavior that was a long term detriment to society. Children born of incestuous relationships have a much higher risk of various birth defects. Thus, to protect the unborn child and society from these consequences, laws were passed to discourage the behavior.

But it's important to note that these laws were passed as much out of an effort to protect children as much as they were to enforce some sort of religious morality on people (and one might argue that religious morality grew out of experience in knowing what was healthy for society and what isn't).

So, one may argue that "unless there were actual victims, no sexual misconduct" should be illegal. The problem with that is that there are often victims...innocent children born to adults who thought more of their own sexual pleasure than the potential consequences of their acts. In this case, what would have happened if the daughter had gotten pregnant? Dad is both dad and grandfather? What about the potential for birth defects? Oh...wait, I know the answer. Just abort the child.

December 20, 2010 10:22 AM

It's also true that you cannot have laws enforced only by the police. The best government, and only effective kind, is self-government - and by far the easiest way to make that work, is for people to believe that a supernatural God is keeping an eye on them.

So from the purely pragmatic point of view, it is extremely helpful for society to have an externally-delineated moral code that is generally and widely agreed upon. We don't anymore, and that's why our society is falling apart. Our Founders understood this well.

December 20, 2010 10:43 AM

a morality based on someone's famine induced hallucination, be it Muhammad or Moses, is insufficient grounds for living— one would never use such for collateral w/ non-believers... unless– like the greybeards just mentioned earlier— one would back it up with threats of physical force.
Even less so does an ethical code base on threats/force/intimidation work in this age where one's fallacies are more easily exposed.
And our Founders understood this as well-- your right to your Puritanical/Inquisitional/Islamic breed of religion & politics ends where my nose begins.. and I can smell deceit & despair a long ways off

December 20, 2010 8:31 PM

My grandfather's sister married her cousin (early 1910's) for reasons of love in the companionship sense. They knew the risks and refrained from having children. (Don't know how they managed that it back in those days.)

Religion in general tries to codify behavior into good and bad. Sometimes it is what is good or bad behavior in the eyes of the Leader (Thou shalt kill my enemies), or based on experience (refraining from eating pig due to the illnesses that were observed from eating the animal back in those days). Some are based on deep observations of human nature: "thou shall not kill" because of the psychological changes/damage it does to the human being.

So religions took a dim view of incest due to the prevalence of generic defects which would have been heightened because tribes were small and intermarriage with close relatives (cousins and second cousins) common.

So is it OK to eat pig meat today? Depends on what country you are in as to how safe any meat is. Is marrying your sister OK with society? Well, not if you are going to have children, we still mix chromosomes the old fashion way.

Religion is a window into man's past wisdom. Some is good, some isn't. So the real question is are you thinking like Ivnrx who has a panic attack at the mention of religion, or can you consider without prejudging the issues of society taking into consideration the lessons of history?

As far as the Father/Daughter issue here, there are some very deep psychological issues of control and pleasing an authority figure involved there that would need to be looked into before judging it to be between consenting adults. I would favor labeling that kind of relationship "Verboten".

January 29, 2011 2:44 PM

Dear Sparky.. "panic" attack may be extreme: i see today the use of religion such as Islam (and once Christianity: at least we've repealed blue laws & witch burning, though the anti-abortionists & prayer ideologues are pretty vocal~!) to justify atrocities based on divine revelation, and thus by logical equivalence any use of force against someone, especially by effecting laws based a religion– an appeal to authority– is groundless, and wrong:— one's liberty should not be subject to any prophet, whether living or dead, or those who claim such mystic knowledge.
I agree about the parent/child relationship: i think it would be damaging, and research anyway would be unethical.

January 29, 2011 5:20 PM

Guess what? Being "consenting adults" (which is certainly hard to put a lot of faith in since it's STILL A FATHER AND DAUGHTER) really doesn't mean jack. It's STILL INCEST!!!

April 26, 2013 11:43 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...