As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, over the last several years, I’ve taken a journey in my political philosophy from what most would define as conservatism (some would likely use the term neo-con) to a more libertarian worldview.
The journey hasn’t always proven easy. I will admit, sometimes standing on a libertarian principle makes me queasy. I’m not thrilled with standing up for someone’s right to smoke pot. Or hire a prostitute. Or gamble away their life savings. I am a devout Christian and these activities represent moral shortcomings in my mind. Even setting aside my faith, these activities wreck lives and destroy families.
Not a good plan.
But I recognize the fragility of liberty. When I start imposing my values on others, it becomes more difficult for me to defend my own choices. I find the most obvious example in protecting freedom of speech. If I don’t defend the neo-Nazi’s right to express his ideas, how can I defend my own right to criticize the government? Some would find my speech just as “dangerous” as the skin-head’s.
I think that’s the point Ron Paul was trying to make during the debate in South Carolina last week when he challenged laws criminalizing heroin.
Washington Post op-ed writer Michael Gerson didn’t get it.
“The de facto decriminalization of drugs in some neighborhoods — say, in Washington, D.C. — has encouraged widespread addiction. Children, freed from the care of their addicted parents, have the liberty to play in parks decorated by used needles. Addicts are liberated into lives of prostitution and homelessness. Welcome to Paulsville, where people are free to take soul-destroying substances and debase their bodies to support their ‘personal habits.’”
I could make the same argument for alcohol. In fact, I would argue that booze ranks equally high on the “soul-destroying substance” scale, and has wrecked far more lives than drugs like cocaine and heroin.
I wonder if Gerson advocates prohibition.
I wonder if Gerson advocates prohibition.
Paul went on to make the point that laws won’t stop people from engaging in destructive behavior, a point Gerson completely misconstrued.
“Paul was claiming that good people — people like the Republicans in the room — would not abuse their freedom, unlike those others who don’t deserve our sympathy.”
Gerson later piled on.
“Paul is not content to condemn a portion of his fellow citizens to self-destruction; he must mock them in their decline. Such are the manners found in Paulsville.”
I’m not sure I’m willing to pick up Gerson’s compassion card here, considering his solution lies in locking the heroin addict up in a cage.
Paul’s point, and one any thinking person has to accept as true, is that a law doesn’t stop self-destructive behavior. We have draconian drug laws. The federal government spent over $15 billion in the “war on drugs” in 2010, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. And we still have children being raised by drug addicted parents, kids playing on needle littered play grounds and all of the other drug-related social ills Gerson lists. Perhaps a better approach exists.
If you don’t believe me, come visit me here in Kentucky and we’ll go into some of these communities waging war against meth – and see just how many people are on meth – despite the law enforcement efforts.
But my biggest issue with Gerson, and like-minded conservatives, is this notion that they possess some kind of lock on exactly which moral values government should enforce for the good of society.
“It is the teaching of classical political philosophy and the Jewish and Christian traditions that true liberty must be appropriate to human nature.”
I happen to agree with Gerson’s view. It’s the forcing part I have a problem with.
You see, some radical Islamists believe sharia law must be enforced in order to “appropriate” true morality to human nature. They view adherence to their religion as a higher moral value than the western concept of liberty – something they presumably reject in favor of their religious law. Adherents see no line between religious and civil law.
You have to wrap your head around the concept that some people don’t accept our view of liberty and they believe in the moral superiority of their position as strongly as the social conservative hold to theirs.
So, the question for Gerson is this – if the radical Islamists were one day able to win the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans putting his “conservative” values in the minority, would he accept sharia law? Would they not have the same “right” to dictate their values if they had the power?
If Gerson’s not willing to stand up for the right of others to engage in activities he happens to disagree with, or even finds morally repugnant, who is going to stand up for him when somebody with power comes along who finds his “Jewish and Christian traditions” a moral shortcoming?
This leads us to the root of our problem. The progressive mindset has completely infused both the left and right. Both seek to use the power of government to achieve their ends. Both look to government first.
But government was never intended to shape moral values. Its role is to protect life, liberty and property. The job of the church, the synagogue, the mosque, and whatever institution atheists create is to change the hearts and minds, to mold people into morally responsible citizens, and keep them from ruining their lives with drugs, alcohol, gambling, prostitution, et all. We need private social organizations to step up and help the addict, the poor and the sick. We need individual citizens to reach out and lend a hand to their fellow man and woman.
But we’ve abrogated our responsibilities as Christians and as citizens, leaving everything to the government and pleading hopefully to our saviors in D.C. Too many Americans have convinced themselves that by voting for the right politician and getting the right law passed, they’ve done their job.
I respectfully disagree.
Liberty presents the only logically consistent standard and truly viable political philosophy. Each individual enjoys the freedom to live their lives as they see fit (short of infringing upon another's life, liberty or property) and also the freedom to try to convince their fellow-citizen their way is best. We retain the freedom to work to mold society into our own vision trough churches and other institutions, minus coercive force of government. If our way is truly "good" others will certainly join. If not, we will eventually come to see the error in our thinking.
I happen to believe the truth is strong enough to stand testing.