Vice is Nice But Incest is Best: The Problem of a Moral Taboo
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Incest is a crime in most societies. In the United States, incest is punishable in almost every state with sentences going as far as 20 and 30 years in prison, and even a life sentence. Yet the reasons traditionally proffered in justification of criminalization of incest—respecting religion and universal tradition; avoiding genetic abnormalities; protecting the family unit; preventing sexual abuse and sexual imposition; and precluding immorality—at a close examination, reveal their under- and over-inclusiveness, inconsistency or outright inadequacy. It appears that the true reason behind the long history of the incest laws is the feeling of repulsion and disgust this tabooed practice tends to evoke in the majority of population. However, in the absence of wrongdoing, neither a historic taboo nor the sense of repulsion and disgust legitimizes criminalization of an act.
KeywordsIncest—Vice Crime Immorality—Taboo Harm Wrongdoing
I would like to thank the deputy director of Rutgers Law Library Paul Axel-Lute and my research assistant Daniel Derasmo for their help in researching this project. I am also grateful to my colleagues Stuart Green, Adil Haque, Saul Mendlovitz, and George Thomas, as well as the participants of the Vice and Crime workshop at Rutgers School of Law (Newark), 2011, particularly my commentator Luis Chiesa, for their thoughtful and challenging comments.
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