I had a chat with a pair of zealous libertarians the other day. As zealous libertarians, they support a whole range of things that I don’t support – like legalized prostitution and legalized drugs.
The theory, of course, is a radical approach to “liberty” that says the government should radically be out of our lives. And what right should the government have to control our behavior by banning things like prostitution and drugs (and many libertarians would say the same thing about abortion and many other divisive social matters).
Ron Paul extended the Constitution and “liberty” to Iran, essentially contending that Iran had as much right to build nuclear bombs as America does.
I’m in agreement with libertarians on quite a few practical issues; I want to limit the size and scope of government, too. I agree with libertarians that government has grown far too large and powerful and the founding fathers would look at the United States of America they created and not recognize their republic in the nanny state that has resulted. BUT… I also believe that you can take a good thing – “liberty” – and carry it too far. For example, the anarchists can surely argue that ANY government is a limitation on individual liberty and should therefore be abolished. Even libertarians would agree that we need to have some level of government in a civilized society; the only question is how much. Democrats want a LOT, with some essentially wanting the government to take over every sphere of life in order to best control and shape how we live. Republicans want a moderate amount of government that guarantees a balance between liberty and the rule of law. And libertarians want the weakest level of government – at least unless you consider the goals of the true anarchist crazies (many of whom actually hypocritically want massive government but utterly rebel against anything that isn’t essentially a Marxist state).
I tried to explain to my friends – who tried to make the case for why prositution should be legal (which famed libertarian television personality John Stossil has repeatedly done) on the basis that it is a victimless crime and that government should not be in the business regulating sexual behavior – on the following grounds:
I tried to develop two points in response.
The first was to draw attention to a highly relevant debate that took place prior to the Civil War between Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen Douglas. I have referred to this exhange over the “right to own slaves” in the past in the context of abortion:
Douglas said that, although he was “personally against” the institution of slavery, “popular sovereignty” ought to determine whether slavery was legal or not. Does that sound familiar? The state isn’t “for” slavery or “for” abortion or – in the case of prostitution – “for” prostitution; it ought to be completely “neutral” and allow people to decide for themselves. In their Sixth Debate at Quincy on October 13, 1858, Lincoln’s famous response to Douglas was:
“So I say again, that in regard to the arguments that are made, when Judge Douglas says he “don’t care whether slavery is voted up or voted down,” whether he means that as an individual expression of sentiment, or only as a sort of statement of his views on national policy, it is alike true to say that he can thus argue logically if he don’t see anything wrong in it; but he cannot say so logically if he admits that slavery is wrong. He cannot say that he would as soon see a wrong voted up as voted down. When Judge Douglas says that whoever or whatever community wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical, if there is nothing wrong in the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong.”
The fact of the matter is that if government permitted blacks to be owned as slaves, it was not taking a neutral position. It was implicitly accepting the view that blacks were less than fully human, and therefore could be owned as property if someone chose to do so. And if the presuppositions justifying slavery were wrong, then as Lincoln said, one simply could not have “the right to do wrong” – even by popular vote. In the same way, by permitting unborn babies to be aborted, the government is not taking a neutral position. Rather, it is likewise implicitly accepting the view that the unborn are not fully human, and therefore can be regarded essentially as property rather than as persons (property that may be destroyed at will).
Allow me to apply Lincoln’s same argument now in the context of prostitution.
I believe in moral absolutes. One obvious example of a moral absolute is that it is objectively morally wrong for all cultures in all places for all times throughout history to torture an infant for fun. I believe in objective right and wrong, and in particular I believe in objective right and wrong as revealed in the Judeo Christian worldview that the founding fathers also nearly universally held.
I believe that prostitution and drug use and particularly drug addiction are morally wrong. And I simply agree with Abraham Lincoln that “you cannot have a right to do wrong.”
Now, if the libertarian wants to make the argument that prostitution is “right” and we OUGHT to be paying prostitutes to use their bodies to satiate our lusts, well, I’m hanging up the phone.
The next point I made was that prostitution was hardly a “victimless crime,” even on the ideal conditions envisioned by the libertarians.
If you are using prostitutes, your WIFE is a victim; your CHILDREN are victims; your family and friends who believe in and defend your honor when you don’t have any are victims; the institution of marriage – in which a man swears to have and to hold and to love his wife until his death – is a victim. And civilized society itself, which is based on the foundation of a family, is a victim.
And we can further point out that historically in most cases, the female or male who prostitutes herself or himself is very likely a slave to drugs if not an actual slave to a criminal gang and that the overwhelming majority of prostitutes degenerate and debase themselves out of abject bondage.
I would also argue that human sexuality itself – which I believe rises above the grunting physicality of animals – is also a victim.
And the physical health of society in terms of protecting that society from vile sexually transmitted diseases is also a victim.
The libertarian can say that it is precisely by legalizing prostitution that we can protect society from the STDs endemic to prostitution. But how would that work? Well, government would regulate it and require the prostitutes to have health inspections and require the customers to wear condoms.
But wait – wasn’t their initial premise to get government OUT of prostitution? Now we’ve got them in more deeply than ever. Now, instead of just the police and the courts – which we would STILL obviously require – you’ve got a giant bureaucracy of health regulators that you need to create.
Let me just throw one shoe into the machine: most men do not like to wear condoms. It’s not merely a matter of men’s “liberty” to not have to wear “raincoats” that is being infringed; there’s a whole other can of worms that gets opened: what happens if the “john” offers the prostitute a little extra money to not have to wear a condom? Do we trust the ethics of the prostitute never to accept such a “service” given the nature of the “services” she’s already accepting? We’d seriously better have a regulator in every room of every bordello throughout every sex act making sure that condom protection is worn at all time.
Oopsie. Gotta love that giant government. Don’t think you’re going to get away from it with this kind of hair-brained new policy.
And thus you have the magnificent explosion of government that the libertarian started out saying he wanted to eliminate. The road to hell has been paved a mile deep and a million miles wide with such good intentions.
That in addition to all the other problems I’ve discussed.
The legalization of drugs follows in the same path: if we legalize and regulate drugs, the argument goes, we can get rid of the organized crime that has historically followed drugs.
I say bullcrap. Because explain to me how criminal gangs won’t still be able to produce drugs at lower prices than the heavily government regulated suppliers can and undercut their pricing? Are you going to use goverment money to subsidize the drugs to make them artificially cheaper than the criminal gang offerings?
And obviously again, unless being a drug addict is a RIGHT, we shouldn’t be facilitating it. Yes, yes, I know; wouldn’t that also be true of alchoholism? But even on my argument, if you use alcohol, you still run into the fallacy of using ONE wrong (alcoholism) to justify ANOTHER wrong (drug addiction). We still allow alcohol because America has ALWAYS traditionally allowed alcohol in a way that it very definitely hasn’t always allowed smoking crack pipes. And I look at the traffic fatalities and the domestic violence and the ruined lives produced by legalized drinking and for some reason I don’t think it’s a good idea to multiply that societal ruin by a hundred fold.
I like a lot of what Ron Paul – who is essentially a Libertarian elected under the banner of the Republican Party – has said. But he lost me when he defended Iran’s “right” to have the nuclear bomb. I would argue that Paul took a good position to what amounts to an immoral extreme. The Constitution was never meant to be a suicide pact by which we surrendered to our enemies the right to develop the means to destroy us. We do not need to surrender the idea that people don’t have a right to do wrong, and we certainly shouldn’t have to allow others the “right” to destroy our country.
Further, Ron Paul joined with six other Republicans (versus the 219 Republicans and 20 Democrats who voted for it) to kill the House bill that would have banned sex- or race-selective abortions in America. Apparently, on Ron Paul’s view of “liberty,” a woman ought to have the “right” to kill her baby on the basis of gender or race. The 161 Democrats who voted against the bill – which required a 2/3 majority – are all moral idiots who ideologically back Planned Parenthood in spite of the fact that it has now publicly gone on the record supporting race-based (see also here and here) and gender-based abortions, child-sex slavery, and other horrors. That is, when they’re not defrauding taxpayers.
I hope you begin to see why libertarianism has always been such a fringe view in this country. In its history, the Libertarian Party has only ONCE received more than 1 percent of the national popular vote.
One of the men I talked to told me that Ron Paul actually had as many delegates as Mitt Romney did. Well, I knew that wasn’t true, but since I didn’t know how many delegates each candidate actually had, I went and looked: Mitt Romney had 1174 delates (clinching the Republcian nomination, by the way) to Ron Paul’s 119 delegates. And Paul’s delegates actually put him in fourth place behind Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich who all had more. Which is simply to say that you seriously need to consider FACTS in your ideology. People on the fringe are often on the fringe BECAUSE they refuse to consider the facts.
I would argue that Libertarians ought to simply get with reality and ask themselves which of the major parties best supports their views in the general election. In the primary system, knock yourself out: vote your conscience, etc. But if you WOULD have voted for the Republican who is overwhelmingly closer to your ideology than the Democrat if the Libertarian Party didn’t exist (because it essentially doesn’t and never has), you do worse than throw your vote away if the Democrat who is the biggest enemy of your ideology wins.
If you in any way, shape or form would like to see smaller government, I urge you to vote for Mitt Romney and for the Republican Party this November. No matter how imperfect they turn out to be, Romney and the Republicans will be infinitely better than the massive system guaranteed by Obamanomics that we’ve got now.