Indeed, Douthat tried to normalize Hanson's piece by citing an essay in the London Review of Books by Amia Srinivasan, which, while pointing out the socially (and thus politically, in part) constructed nature of desire, unequivocally answered the question with a solid no:
The question, then, is how to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question, a question usually answered by more general patterns of domination and exclusion. It is striking, though unsurprising, that while men tend to respond to sexual marginalisation with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, women who experience sexual marginalisation typically respond with talk not of entitlement but empowerment. Or, insofar as they do speak of entitlement, it is entitlement to respect, not to other people’s bodies. That said, the radical self-love movements among black, fat and disabled women do ask us to treat our sexual preferences as less than perfectly fixed. ‘Black is beautiful’ and ‘Big is beautiful’ are not just slogans of empowerment, but proposals for a revaluation of our values. Lindy West describes studying photographs of fat women and asking herself what it would be to see these bodies – bodies that previously filled her with shame and self-loathing – as objectively beautiful. This, she says, isn’t a theoretical issue, but a perceptual one: a way of looking at certain bodies – one’s own and others’ – sidelong, inviting and coaxing a gestalt-shift from revulsion to admiration. The question posed by radical self-love movements is not whether there is a right to sex (there isn’t), but whether there is a duty to transfigure, as best we can, our desires.Douthat offers "an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate." He acknowledges that this "is not the natural response for a society like ours. Instead we tend to look for fixes that seem to build on previous revolutions, rather than reverse them."
Douthat's seeing a convection between Hanson's post and Srinivasan's effort to expand empathy and compassion and push back on the social construction of desire, while defending the right of individuals to choose their own partners doesn't speak well of him (he reductios her arguments ad absurdum).
Douthat suggests that "incels" will turn to technological solutions, which I think is both profoundly sad, and wildly optimistic. I'd just suggest that Douthat has rather missed the point of the manifestos of Alek Minassian and Elliot Rodger, who murdered 6 people in 2014, and who Minassian perversely titled "Supreme Gentleman."
They are not looking for respect for their celibacy. Rather, Rodger's and Minassian's manifestos sound in domination, in a sense of entitlement to women's bodies, whether or not the women's souls are involved. They sound in status, and a truly toxic masculinism--the "Pick-up Artist" as a totemic figure.
As for Hanson--well, Hanson's post reminds me of Herman Wouk's phrase in War and Remembrance (p. 151): "obtuse, cold-blooded, sickening drivel." He suggests that "Sex could be directly redistributed, or cash might be redistributed in compensation." In an update, he is surprised that his talk of sex being "directly redistributed" has caused such recoil:
A tweet on this post induced a lot of discussion on twitter, much of which accuses me of advocating enslaving and raping women. Apparently many people can’t imagine any other way to reduce or moderate sex inequality. (“Redistribution” literally means “changing the distribution.”) In the post I mentioned cash compensation; more cash can make people more attractive and better able to afford legalized prostitution. Others have mentioned promoting monogamy and discouraging promiscuity. Surely there are dozens of other possibilities; sex choices are influenced by a great many factors and each such factor offers a possible lever for influencing sex inequality. Rape and slavery are far from the only possible levers!Note that he does not rule them out, and never expands upon his earlier words about "direct redistribution," focusing in the update on the cash alternative.
Moreover, Hanson is treating sex--that is, the sexual use of a woman's body, to be more precise--as a commodity. There is nothing about the woman's desire, or lack thereof. No empathy for those whose sexual availability is treated as a public good to be parceled out as needed for the needs of others.
Simply put, Hanson shows no awareness of women as human beings in their own right, as having inner lives of equal complexity and value to those of the men whose needs he seeks to address. It bids fair to replace in obliquity Richard A. Posner's infamous 1985 Columbia Law Review article in which he treats rape as a "market bypass." (To be fair, Posner grew in his decades as a judge, and I suspect he probably flinches on remembering this particular piece.)
If there was ever a question that we as a culture need feminism, men as much as women, Hanson is Exhibit "A."