What Is Evil CAN Produce Good Fruit: Why Pornography And Marijuana Have Exposed The Errors Of Libertarian Conservatism │ Bradley Goodwin
According to the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus Christ tells his disciples that what is evil cannot produce good fruit. But in one recent aspect of politics, a good fruit has been drawn from something morally bad, or more accurately two morally bad things. In this case, it is marijuana and pornography. Not so much these things themselves, but the political debates on them.
In the past few weeks, both issues have been raised in the political sphere. On pornography, a campaign has been raging against a government plan to prevent those under the age of 18 from viewing porn by asking for verification of their age beforehand. On marijuana, this week’s news concerned the calls for legalisation from a newly formed political group called the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, spearheaded by Conservative MP Crispin Blunt.
It is striking that members of the Party of social and moral responsibility, in substantial numbers are seeking to abandon these principles in favour of recklessness. Even worse so when considering the arguments are done in the name of another actually conservative principle: liberty.
This overdosing on liberty on both issues seems to be dominated in the public domain by the Adam Smith Institute (who in pride at their campaign for cannabis decriminalisation have taken on the name Adam Spliff Institute, seemingly in jest at journalist Peter Hitchens who originally gave them the title, who for too long has been one of the very few voices speaking out against the harms of cannabis and the legalisers’ proposals).
The argument of the libertarians, who seek to stop the porn bans and legalise marijuana are rooted in that which is practical. Porn bans? They won’t actually stop kids seeing porn, so why not just abandon them? Criminalising cannabis? They don’t actually deter people from using it, and its users aren’t getting caught anyway, so shouldn’t we just legalise it?
In emphasising the practical, the debate is deliberately rid of its’ moral content. This, I believe is both a deliberate tactic of the libertarians, and a consequence of libertarianism itself.
These practical arguments have one goal: to override the moral debate behind taking drugs and watching porn. If the actions have no moral content, they become mere transactions, commodities to be exchanged between consumers. The sphere of the debate is no longer concerned with morality but with liberty. Not with right or wrong, but free and unfree.
The debate of free and unfree is one much suited to their favour in a society such as ours. The impact of Thatcherite ideology has had one long-lasting negative impact on our society. Liberty is no longer just a value to defend, but the prism by which our lives and actions have any worth. The result is the unrelenting consumerism that dominates our society.
In other words, the libertarians have tipped the conditions to win the debate in their favour, both in the Conservative Party’s sympathy to the politically rewarding times of Thatcherism, and in society’s embracing of liberty at the expense of morality.
Concerning moral debates, all the libertarian can do in response is to shrug their shoulders and avoid the issue. This is an understated error in its philosophy, and a catastrophic one for society.
Yet, the debate is not yet over, and the battle is still being fought. The debate against marijuana and pornography can be won.
Firstly, the point I have made must be introduced into the argument. The use of pornography and marijuana are indeed both actions and not mere transactions of commercial goods. They involve real people, not consumers, and have a moral component. Both have their moral problems, and ones that those against restrictions should be held to account for.
Pornography strips out the emotional investment from the act contained within it. Rather than being an act of giving of the self between two people of both emotion and body, porn instead becomes about taking. The consumer takes the produced labour of those involved and takes it to fulfil their own desire, disregarding any sacrificial giving to the wayside. To its users and defenders, it is a mere transaction to fulfil a desire, the elements of human nature invested are stripped out.
The concern about marijuana legalisation, although perhaps not so considered or easier to ignore, there is still an equally moral case against marijuana use to be made.
Firstly, it is argued that we ruin lives by sending people to prison for its’ possession, and the lives that get ruined are disproportionately those who are already poor or ‘marginalised’. What is being ignored here is the obligation we all have to follow the law regardless of our identity. Our constitution recognises this as the rule of law, that grand fundamental legal principle that gives true equality under the law, specifically recognising this moral point. If there are a significant proportion who get away from such punishment from using cannabis, should we really treat those who commit a moral evil of breaking the law by saying they haven’t, simply because some people get away with breaking the law?
That argument could be extended to a whole other range of crimes too, surely? Some thieves get away with theft, so couldn’t we stop the persecution of thieves and just save the money used in imprisoning thieves. These principles could be applied to a whole manner of crimes. Some people aren’t caught and the law isn’t always effective in deterring these other crimes, so why not just take away the prohibitions altogether, right?
Of course, there would be a rush here to make the almost cliché response: crimes like that harm others, marijuana use harms nobody (or nobody else but themselves if they are willing to make that concession, although that’s often hard to tease out). In fairness, that response is to be expected. When the morality has been stripped out, and is viewed through the lens of an economic transaction, the response is bound to be about the quality of the product.
Quite simply put: this assumption is false. Marijuana is not a harmless commodity. It involves the moral action of breaking the law (while it remains illegal) and the product itself does do damage. For evidence, just see the new ‘cannabis clinic’, opened for sufferers of cannabis-induced psychosis. They have had their minds-altered, their lives changed irrevocably by the use of such a substance, there is no going back for them. And no, it is not just the user here that is harmed. The taxpayer pays for this self-induced harm, money diverted from those ill through no fault of their own, and from other vital state services in dire need of funding. Not to mention the victims of crime as a result of drug taking, those who drive while under their influence or those stolen from for drug money.
For these arguments to be won, the sheer moral bankruptcy of libertarianism needs to be exposed. The conditions may be in the libertarian’s favour as it stands, but the moral arguments are too important not to be made.
The cruel irony? If the libertarians get their way, the world they create may lack the very virtue of liberty they exalt so highly.