Libertarianism is a philosophy which says I own my body and property, and I pledge not to aggress against another’s body or their property. We teach it to kids but somehow when we get older we forget that it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. The Bible says in Matthew to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” My mom told me to treat my brothers “as I would want to be treated.” Therefore, if I don’t want someone to interfere with my body and property, I shouldn’t interfere with theirs, correct? The Declaration of Independence says that “all men…have certain unalienable rights. And that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When you hear people on the news saying their rights were violated, they are probably really saying that either their life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness has been violated. One fascinating perspective that I’ve learned from libertarianism is that all rights are essentially property rights. Think about it…if you own your body and any property that belongs to you, then all of your rights stem from your property. For someone to kill or hurt you would be a violation of your property. For someone to steal from you would be a violation of your property. Etc. etc. It’s important: all rights are property rights. Forget everything else. For you Constitutional scholars out there, you can forget enumerated, Constitutional rights for now, as well; because all that matters is that you own your body and you own your property. Sweet.
Today I want to talk about how people violate property rights by imposing their moral convictions on others. To premise this argument I want to relay a foundational element of property rights and really of society in general: if someone is not violating you or your property, then your moral disagreement with said person should not give you the right to coerce them into abiding by your viewpoint. What do I mean by this? Let’s say your neighbor drives a pink car…and you hate the color pink. In fact, you have a morally-held conviction against the color pink. You tell your neighbor he should get a different car but he doesn’t listen. Maybe even your other neighbors agree with you and you all want him to get a new car or to move! To do so, you and your neighbors rally to get a city ordinance passed saying no one can drive pink cars. Hooray!
This example is crazy, right? No one would expend that much energy just to defeat a pink car. But it’s the principle of the matter: the person in this example took his or her own personal, moral conviction so far as to actually prohibit someone from doing something that wasn’t violating anyone’s rights in the first place. This happens in America literally every day and in many forms. People substitute their ability to persuade for a government mandate. We don’t like that people smoke, drink, or gamble? Let’s pass a law that says who, when, and where people can do those things! Because if I am morally opposed to people smoking, getting the government to enforce regulations is so much easier than persuading people that it’s bad for them. Do you see what I mean? In using the government and police as the strong-arm for morality enforcement, I am indirectly violating the property rights of others. In restricting someone from doing something that does not affect me or my property, I am violating their innate rights. To put it broadly, its the notion that “I trust myself…but I don’t trust my neighbor.” I trust ME to be responsible with driving, eating, exercising, owning guns, drinking alcohol, etc., but I don’t trust THAT GUY! And because I don’t trust him, I want the government and the police to enforce moral regulations against him.
Think about the amount of laws, money, time, energy, and manpower used to enforce morally-charged regulations. What do I mean by morally-charged regulations? I mean laws that regulate drinking, smoking, eating, driving, cell phone usage, gambling, fireworks, firearms, drug usage (both prescription and narcotic), and dozens of others. I can imagine what went on in most of your heads as you read that list…you probably thought that yes, some of those are way too regulated. You want more freedom when it comes to owning guns, or driving, or being on your cell phone. But those others, you’re not so sure about. I mean, what would a world look like if the government didn’t regulate drugs and gambling and other harmful activities? Our culture and society has grown up and become so accustomed to the idea that our government, at any level, knows what is best for us. I mean who is going to oppose a War on Drugs, or a War on Poverty? (This guy). What we are really dealing with when we talk about morally-charged regulations is a violation of property rights. If I want the government and the police to stop my neighbor from owning a gun, or drinking copious amount of alcohol, or smoking ten cartons of cigarettes a day, then I am violating my neighbor’s natural right to own his own body and his property. You might be thinking… “so you’d be fine with your neighbor getting drunk and loading up fifteen assault rifles next door to you?” No, of course not. But I don’t want the government or police being the enforcers for what is right and wrong. Once again, it’s the principle that I am wrong to use the government/police to enforce MY moral convictions.
If I should not be allowed to interfere with your body or your property, why should the government? (Don’t get me started on the thievery that is income tax). You have at your disposal, when you morally disagree with someone, your ability to persuade, influence, or leave the problematic situation. Perhaps in the future I will explain how, even if you think the government SHOULD police all of these moral areas, they do a terrible and costly job of it (which of course they do with everything they get involved in). Think about Prohibition in the 1920’s, or LBJ’s War on Poverty, or Nixon’s War on Drugs…did any of those work? Like Ron Paul said… “we can’t even keep drugs out of prisons!” The reason these moral endeavors, launched by the federal government, fail is because they are unwinnable and unethical “wars” in the first place. Our government has been entrusted with an enormous and dangerous amount of moral responsibility. And doing what they do best, our government fails time and time again, violating property rights all the while.
“He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” ~Benjamin Franklin
“A free man must be able to endure it when his fellow men act and live otherwise than he considers proper. He must free himself from the habit, just as soon as something does not please him, of calling for the police.” ~Ludwig Von Mises