Obituaries

RIP Phil Harvey, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Who Expanded Human Pleasure and Human Choice

Harvey, who died last week, dedicated his life to supporting human pleasure along with the power to manage it responsibly.

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Phil Harvey—erotica and contraceptive entrepreneur, philanthropist, novelist, and supporter of Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this magazine)—died last week at age 83. His work and giving combined an eagerness to help people achieve pleasure with an enthusiasm for helping them widen and manage the choices they could make to live and reproduce responsibly.

Harvey worked for decades in institutions he founded or co-founded that were dedicated to promoting reproductive choice, including Population Services International and DKT International. In 1972, he founded Adam & Eve, a groundbreaking mail order business specializing in erotic literature, film, and objects.

A constant thread in his business and avocations has been fighting government attempts to quash expression and action. He wrote a 2001 book on that topic, The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve. As detailed in a review of the book by Nick Gillespie in Reason:

In 1986, Adam & Eve was invaded by law enforcement officials on the hunt for "obscene" materials. Thus began an eight-year battle, in which Harvey fought the federal government for the right to sell dirty movies, condoms, and other sexual aids to willing adults. After winning an obscenity trial in conservative Alamance County (during which prosecutors made a show of entering into evidence a "foot-long double dong" sold by Adam & Eve), Harvey found himself up against the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Edwin Meese.

The Meese DOJ pursued a nationwide strategy, "Project Postporn," in which it filed simultaneous, multiple-district prosecutions against porn sellers. The goal—often successful—was to scare vendors into quickly accepting draconian settlements that allowed them to avoid or reduce jail time by shuttering their doors. Harvey took a different tack: He fought the federal obscenity charges (eventually spending some $3 million on legal fees), and brought a civil suit against the feds, ultimately settling all matters largely on his terms.

That wasn't Harvey's only legal fight for greater liberty of expression and action for himself and others. He got to the Supreme Court in 1977 with a challenge to New York state's laws against nonprescription contraception, Carey v. Population Services International, and won a victory for the free spread and advertisement of contraceptives, even to the unmarried. He also fought one legal battle in the long, twisted fight over the government's insistence that nongovernmental organizations that get federal funding cannot promote or perform abortions.

He fought another legal battle against compelled speech in one of his bailiwicks, an officious government policy demanding that any recipient of government money to fight AIDS must publicly state they are opposed to prostitution. Harvey's DKT International was a philanthropic nonprofit that also believed in healthy business models, not just pure charity, dedicated to selling low-cost birth control tools and knowledge to the poorer parts of the world. The company used both its own income and other private money and some federal funds, which Harvey thought should not dictate he be forced to say something he did not believe. He won the case at first, then lost on appeal, though later a legal challenge from another source finally overthrew the demand in a 2013 Supreme Court case.

As The Economist described Harvey in a 2004 profile, he was a curious combination of fervent defender and provider of "sexual pleasures of the rich" as well as "family-planning and AIDS-prevention problems of the African poor." He insisted his goal was not to lower the birth rate per se, though he acknowledged that evidence indicated giving more contraceptive choice to people of any income level tended to do that. His goal was to empower people to make whatever reproductive choice they wanted.

Harvey was a defender and supporter of free speech and expression in general, and produced movies dedicated to free speech and expression such as Can We Take a Joke? (2015) and Mighty Ira (2020), the latter about the American Civil Liberties Union's free-speech paladin Ira Glasser. He openly regretted seeing some of America's mainline sources of cultural power and indoctrination such as Harvard University and prominent public universities adopting speech codes.

Free expression and matters directly affecting his erotic and contraceptive enterprises were not his only political concerns, however. Most recently, in a 2020 book he co-authored, Welfare for the Rich, Harvey focused on the ways government power and money often end up lining the pockets of the powerful, wealthy, and well-connected, shaking any naive belief that big government is surely necessary to help the little guy fight back against market or corporate power.

As Harvey told Gillespie in a 2016 interview discussing another book he co-authored, The Human Cost of Welfare, he was concerned as well about a disturbing pattern in welfare state incentives for the less-well-off that made people see working and bettering themselves through their own efforts as a high-risk choice, since it meant they risked losing welfare benefits. That dynamic, Harvey thought, vitiates people's built-in desire to accomplish things for themselves and thus build up their dignity and self-worth.

Harvey's work and philanthropy were dedicated to freedom, and to the power and ability to manage those freedoms responsibly; a delightfully and quintessentially American combination that helped bring pleasure, choice, and control to countless people in America and across the world.

A video of Gillespie's 2012 interview with Harvey:

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29 responses to “RIP Phil Harvey, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Who Expanded Human Pleasure and Human Choice

  1. This Phil Harvey sounds like a good libertarian.

    Initially I thought of Paul Harvey, a radio blowhard from the 70s and 80s.

    1. That's funny, initially I thought of that time when you got your pedophile ass banned from Reason.com for posting dark web links to hardcore child pornography.

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    3. Paul Harvey was no prude himself, and while not perfectly so, espoused many libertarian thoughts.

      And unlike certain trolls, he always concluded with a "pregnant pause" followed by a snappy, cheery, friendly: " ...Good Day!"

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    4. Calling Paul Harvey a Blow Hard. God! i hope the irony doesn't escape you.

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  2. We need a lot more libertarians like Phil Harvey to post in Reason's comment sections. But these threads are made up of nothing but bible thumping conservatives, who mistakingly think of themselves as Libertarians.

    1. And don't forget the Mean Girls, sarcasmic!

      Or possibly you're just a whiny faggot little bitch, and there's more to libertarianism than porn and weed. Don't worry, there's a lot of whiny cumbrained faggots who mistake libertine and libertarian.

    2. But these threads are made up of nothing but bible thumping conservatives, who mistakingly think of themselves as Libertarians.

      I know, right? I find the Bible-thumping conservatives cheerleading the circumvention of the 1A and the purge of smut from the internet based on a pre-school understanding of Jesus' teachings about The Good Samaritan particularly idiotic.

      1. Wha??? It's not like pornographers beat up the poor traveller.

        By the way, of all the things falsely accused of racism nowadays, the term "Good Samaritan" used by The Bible really is racist for implying that Good Samaritans are rare and exceptional.

        1. Those fuckin' Samaritans will steal the rims right off your chariot.

          1. Good thing the chariot is made of Iron or JHVH-1 could take a stop-stick to it too. (Judges 1:19.)

    3. As long as a single twitch thot sex worker doesn't get demonetized, I don't give a shit how locked down we are, and how many medical procedures are forced upon us.

      1. We need morale support in the fight for freedom too. Would it make it any better if she were cosplaying The Statue of Liberty or Zena, Warrior Princess?

        It won't make you or anyone a "fair weather friend" or a "sunshine patriot" to get a little enjoyment between rants and struggles. After all, "eternal vigilance" is a long game and you can't burn out if you want to keep on going. Enjoy and then jump back in the fight!

  3. long live Phil Harvey.

    1. Uh, he can't. He's dead. But his court precedents and company live on, Thanks Be Unto Him. Thoughts and deeds.

    1. Nice? What's nice about the dearh of a sex goodie man?

  4. Phil Harvey would have liked something like this. This weekend I took a bunch of mushrooms and got super-high. It was a difficult time as I got into a fight with a fractal and the goddamn etch-a-sketch in my head kept deleting the hexagons I was… well… I won’t go into it more than that. I’m sure you can relate.

    But you know what kept me going through the whole experience of seeing God and being profoundly disappointed? Thinking of Donald Trump and his massive Phallus and his magnificent wisdom. Some things are just inscrutable, you know.

    1. Say "Hi!" to Daniel, Ezekiel, and John The Revelator for me.

    2. Profoundly disappointed with seeing God? i'. sure He's losing sleep over that.

  5. We need more stories about plumbers and pizza delivery guys visiting comely young women and 'expanding human pleasure' with them.

    1. "I've got your pepperoni pizza, lady. Here's the pizza...and here's the pepperoni."

    2. That's part of what Adam & Eve sold and still sells in DVD and streaming media.

      Nowadays, they sell sex toys through their main site adameve.com and they sell their DVD movies on a separate site AdultMovieMart.com and they now stream on AdamEveVOD.com

      At this rate, if Adam & Eve keeps going, Stacey's Mom will have it going on through eternity in neural uploads!
      https://youtu.be/dZLfasMPOU4

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