Last week a debate was hosted by Students For Liberty and America’s Future Foundation in DC by a group of interns. Libertarians (represented by CATO and IJ interns) faced off against Conservatives (represented by Heritage interns) in what turned out to be a heated debate that focused more on drugs than I would have originally thought, but after some reflection I realized that drug use is actually representative of the philosophical differences between the two groups.
It really comes down to sovereignty. Libertarians generally argue that our bodies belong to us, not the state, not our parents and not some higher being. Since our bodies belong to us we should be free to do what we wish as long as we don’t harm anyone else, or as the lovely Sara Scarlett put it, “I find it both perverse and grotesque that any decision concerning what is inserted into my body is anyone else’s business but my own.” Conservatives tend to pay lip-service to this principle but argue that the state should step in if the social costs are too high.
This is where things got interesting for me. The Conservative side certainly did argue that they were Consequentialists when it came to legal drug use. Unfortunately, many Conservatives refuse to acknowledge that evidence continues to show that prohibition of any drug only transfers that drug to the black market, increases violence, increases risk and harms society more. I don’t know why Conservatives do this, it seems intellectually dishonest to claim you care about the consequences but ignore evidence that says policy should change.
If conservatives decide that the consequences is not the best argument they need to fall on two other ideas: historical and morality. If Conservatives decide it is morally wrong for people to use drugs and the government should step in, why don’t conservatives fight for alcohol prohibition. The debaters addressed this by saying alcohol has historically been a part of American life. It seems strange to me to say that history trumps morality because that would justify maintaining all sorts of evils.
I think Conservatives (at least the two in this debate) did not have a strong footing for controlling what people put in their bodies. In fact, it was this lack of philosophical grounding that led me to leave the conservative belief system that I held through most of my life.
I am perfectly willing to respect people with different views as long as they strive for intellectual honesty and try to remove hypocrisy from their own thought and action, but these Conservatives I can’t even respect. They make excuses for the status quo desperately, even when it makes them look like fools.