Max Mosley and liberal attitudes to Nazis

The other week I had a fairly heated argument about Max Mosley. I didn’t blog it at the time for reasons that will become obvious, but since he’s in the news again, why not.

For those who don’t know, Max Mosley is head of something to do with Formula One, and was filmed having a(n allegedly) nazi-themed orgy with five prostitutes. At one point he apparently had his head checked for lice, which is a reference to concentration camps. Many many many people are disgusted, unsurprisingly, and many many many people think he should lose his job, and amongst these are some very liberal people.

So here’s the thing, as I started arguing it. He may well be a nasty piece of work. He may be sympathetic to the Nazis. He may be an anti-semite. But until he does something, in the course of his job, that expresses any of these attitudes, I don’t see the grounds for sacking him. Having a nazi-themed sex orgy may be distateful to many people, but isn’t actually illegal. It’s also not part of his job description, and was done in private (until the News of the World got hold of it, anyway). So how can it be liberal to demand he lose his job?

But the above isn’t really an accurate reflection. Prostitution is clearly illegal, for a start, and doing something illegal is a fair reason to lose your job. Pragmatically, I see plenty of other problems. I wouldn’t want to know the guy, and he probably needs mental help. I think there are suggestions he has behaved badly in his job, too.

All fair enough. I’d got off to a bad start in what had started as a casual discussion, as I hadn’t explained myself properly. I wasn’t actually intending to defend the guy in reality. I was really arguing about Hypothetical Max, and the general liberal principle.

Let’s say they’re Theoretical Prostitues, who are free and happy in their job and are treated properly by all their clients1. Let’s say he has done nothing wrong job-wise, and there’s no reason to think he will. People may react still differently to him in this world, but they shouldn’t. Nobody has been harmed, and his fantasies are all in his head. You can’t say ‘people at work will react differently to him so his job will be affected’, as that’s the point – should people act differently towards him (at work, if you want to shun him personally, sure)? (In Theoretical World people think things through before speaking).

I thought this would calm the situation down, but the person I was arguing with still disagreed. They said he should still suffer. When pressed, their argument became, essentially, the Nazis were really, really evil, and expressing any kind of desire or sympathy relating to them is unconscionable. I was even warned not to blog it, as I would ‘upset a lot of people’. Which is bit of an overestimation of my readership, but since we’re in theoretical land anyway, I’ll bite.

Let me just stress again that I am not defending the guy in actuality. I am also not trying to trivialise Nazis, or people’s hatred of them. I’m just confused.

I was surprised that somebody I consider (very) liberal reacted so badly, and the vehemence of their argument took me by surprise. I really, really pissed them off, and I’m wondering what I’m missing. It may be a case of ‘there are lots of more important illiberal problems to work on before we get to this kind of thing’. But, still.

What do you think? I’m not defending liberal principles with a flaming sword, here, and I’m fully prepared to be convinced. But I don’t yet see the argument, and I don’t see the harm in discussing it, either…

  1. I doubt Theoretical Prostitutes really exist, but that’s irrelevant []