Not all atheists are civil libertarians, and not all libertarians are atheists. But much like salt and pepper, more often than not they go together. A good case in point is Australian columnist Phillip Adams. He is both a card-carrying atheist and a die-hard civil libertarian. Such a mix usually spells trouble.
That was the case this weekend in his latest column. In a piece entitled “Ban it and watch it flourish,” (Weekend Australian, 17-18 March, 2007) he sought to make the case that prohibitions of just about anything are counterproductive, a waste of time, and not much fun either.
He begins with these words: “PROHIBITION doesn’t work. Didn’t work for grog. Doesn’t work for drugs. Failed with porn. Hopeless with ideas. Not only does prohibition not work, it’s entirely counterproductive.”
Thanks for those brilliant insights, Phillip. However, a slight paraphrase, if you don’t mind: “PROHIBITION doesn’t work. Didn’t work for pedophilia. Doesn’t work for traffic lights. Failed with guns. Hopeless with terrorism. Not only does prohibition not work, it’s entirely counterproductive.”
The truth is, prohibition works well on a lot of things, and that’s good news. Bad things should be banned, pure and simple. But that doesn’t suit Mr Adams. He further seeks to make his case in this fashion: “Taboo or not taboo? If you want to promote something, persuade the church or state to condemn it or, better still, ban it.” Actually he is amiss on several counts here.
A more accurate way of describing how governments can increase (or decrease) something goes like this: the more a government taxes something, the less you will tend to have of it. And the more a government subsidises something, the more you are likely to have of it. An example of the former is high-taxing nations that discourage work and productivity, while an example of the latter is the welfare state, where government largess encourages more and more people on to more and more welfare-dependency.
Moreover, both the state and religious groups condemn many things, and want to see many things banned or prohibited: murder, rape, and so on. The fact that these things are discouraged or banned by the state clearly does not mean they are increasing. Indeed, rates of these activities would surely be much higher if they were legalised. Thus seeking to discourage certain behaviours and activities is both a good idea and a practical one.
But Adams claims it just does not work on things such as drugs, alcohol and the like. Well, let’s look at those issues briefly. Take the matter of drugs. One of the nations with the lowest usage of illicit drugs in the Western world is Sweden, because it has one of the toughest, just-say-no approaches to drugs.
In Australia by contrast, which has a much weaker policy (really based on the harm-minimisation model) illicit drug use is much higher. The data bears this out quite clearly. Consider just a few figures: around 4 per cent of Australian adults use amphetamines, compared to just 0.2 per cent of Swedes. And 13 per cent of Australians use cannabis compared to 2 per cent of Swedes.
Prohibition and get tough policies work, in other words. Legalisation or weak enforcement policies however result in more such activity. So Adams is simply wrong here.
And even Prohibition in the US, much maligned by the libertarians, was not such a failure. It had many good results: consumption of alcohol declined substantially, as did the cirrhosis death rate for men (cut by two-thirds between 1911 and 1929), and arrests for public drunkenness dropped 50 per cent between 1919 and 1922.
The bottom line for many libertarians is that they simply want their various ‘pleasures,’ be it consumption of porn or drugs or free sex, and they don’t want anyone denying them their right to get all they can. Of course whether we have a right to such things as porn is another matter. But for many libertarians, talk of freedom of speech and other red herrings are used to justify a life of self-indulgence and hedonism.
Fortunately for this nation most of our intellectualoids only pen silly columns, and don’t govern our people or make our laws. If they did we would all be up the creek. Our libertarian gurus would likely have us all enjoying snuff films beamed into our homes 24/7; there would be heroin sold in Kmarts, child porn delivered with the junk mail, and terrorist manuals available in our school libraries.
Such extreme scenarios may not be all that far-fetched for some of these libertarians – or rather, libertines – who want no restraints on their appetites, no constraints on their lusts, and no checks on their selfishness. But no nation can long last that gives in to such irresponsible and reckless behaviour.
As the Apostle Paul so rightly warned, “in the last days perilous times shall come. For men will be lovers of their own selves … lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4). That sounds like a pretty good description of where we are at today.