Friday, February 22, 2013

Button on Drugs

Hopefully that title got your attention.  Unfortunately for my readers, this post is not an entertaining story of drug fueled adventures like those penned by P.J. O'Rourke or Hunter S. Thompson.  It instead concerns political philosophy.

(Note: The definitions I am using for "libertarian" and "conservative" are not shared by all those who identify as libertarian or conservative but some generalizations must be made.) 

It is important for conservatives and libertarians alike to differentiate between practical and philosophical libertarianism when approaching public policy.  Drug policy is an excellent way to illustrate the distinction.

Libertarians would have the production, sale, and consumption of recreational drugs legalized.  However, is entirely possible to support the legalization or at least partial decriminalization of drugs without being a libertarian.  The difference between adopting the libertarian position and being a libertarian is a matter of how one views human freedom.

A pure libertarian would say that individuals have the right to do whatever they want so long as they do not harm anyone else.  Therefore, the state has no right to prevent the use of drugs or the free exchange of drugs between consenting parties.  The conservative position is quite different.  Conservatives believe that one does not have the right to do evil and that the recreational use of hard drugs is not only evil, but a gravely harmful evil.  The fact that the evil is done to oneself does not make it acceptable.  A person has no more right to use heroin than he has a right to hang himself.

However, despite the evils of drug use, it is entirely possible for a consistent conservative to adopt a practically libertarian position.  One may maintain that there is no right to do an evil but that the evil should be tolerated by the civil authorities for legitimate prudential reasons.  Whatever one thinks about drug policy, no one can deny that the War on Drugs has caused overcrowding in prisons, an increasingly militarized police force, and a significant amount of violent crime in both in the United States and Latin America.  Drugs are undoubtedly more difficult to get than if they were legal, but they are far from impossible to obtain.  The conscientious citizen must weigh the negative effects of drug prohibition against the decreased availability of harmful narcotics. 

Well intentioned people can disagree about how to establish a just and free society, but it essential that a common understanding of justice and freedom is maintained.  Just states may differ in the severity of sanctions against evil behavior, but people need to properly identify evil, and recognize that there is no freedom in doing wrong.


  1. I know a person who is a dyed in the wool liberal, except when it comes to marijuana. Then she is more hardlined than the most hardline conservative. She won't even accept decriminalization of pot.
    That aside, I can see some merits in the argument for decriminalization of pot.
    In the end, the real problem boils down to a spiritual one. Without God, more people are going to turn elsewhere. & drugs, legal (alcohol) or illegal, is where they often turn.

    BTW, I assume you know that button is the slang for a couple different drugs in the category you are refering to.

    1. Actually I did not know that. I'm a square.