Man’s rights are inviolable – his inherently by the sole fact that he is man. Never in history, however, have his rights been properly and fully recognized by any government, including the government of the United States of America. In the contemporary era of democracy and constitutional republicanism, achieving the full recognition of man’s rights by the government – i.e. achieving capitalism – requires an unrelenting effort on the part of its intellectual advocates in the marketplace of ideas that is a nation’s culture, be it the culture of the United States or that of any comparably free nation.
But just as with battles of force and firepower, battles of ideas must be waged with a strict adherence to reason. In war, one must move tactfully, taking into account the full context of one’s movements and the conclusions to which they might lead lest one’s own ineptitude grant one’s enemy the upper hand. The same applies to philosophic struggles, and the science which governs how one should engage in such arguments – the one which determines whether conclusion actually follows from premise – is logic.
It is therefore unfortunate that many supporters of the correct political conclusions – i.e. that the government should protect individual rights, not inhibit them – fail to employ logic when attempting to defend them. They argue with premises which undermine their own conclusions, granting the appearance of logic to their opponents. Worse, faulty premises beget faulty conclusions, causing even the most well-meaning liberty-minded individuals to drift away from capitalist conclusions to those of some other ideology that does not correctly understand the legitimate function of the government or the nature of individual rights.
These errors can take many forms, from poorly defining one’s terms to utilizing illogical standards, but some are markedly more common than others. The fallacy of interest to this essay is quite common among members of the right, especially in relation to two issues in particular: 1. the right of self-defense and gun ownership and 2. the legalization of drugs.
As the ultimate moral value to man is his own life, the liberty to pursue his life is a universal necessity amongst all men, as is the removal of force from human relationships since it interferes with said liberty. That liberty includes his right to defend himself, along with the derivative right to possess the most effective means to defend himself (i.e. a weapon). Further, it includes his right to ingest any such substance into his body as he wishes. No rights can exist without property rights, as all other liberties are based on the right man has to his most sacred of property, that is, his own life, and property rights include the right to dispose of said property, rationally or irrationally, lest they mean nothing at all.
Such is the argument that defenders of individual rights should make regarding these issues – the argument is abstract, dealing in principles which apply regardless of the idiosyncratic concretes peculiar to individual cases or situations. Sadly, many self-described defenders of these rights do not make this argument, instead arguing using irrational premises which aid the opponents of capitalism – statist and anarchist – rather than produce intellectual inroads against them.
Quite apart from the moral, intellectual arguments against restrictive government policies, many on the right (especially libertarians in relation to drug prohibitions) offer the fallacious argument that because these policies can never be implemented with 100% effectiveness, they ought not be implemented at all. If someone wants to obtain drugs or a gun illegally, pointing to the universal failure of previous prohibitions like the one on alcohol from 1920 to 1933 in the United States, then he would “find a way” no matter the regulations in place. Because there is a demand for these items, people will circumvent the system and fulfill that demand regardless of the possibility of legal punition.
This argument does considerably more bad than good, providing undue concessions to both statists and anarchists which they can then exploit to further their own political agendas.
In the case of statists, the argument implies that should the effective implementation of such policies be possible, there would not necessarily be reason enough to oppose them. If the only reason to reject such policies is their ineffectiveness, then it takes but one statist to offer a “solution” which will remedy the defects of the current legislation and its opponents will be left without an answer. As technology has progressed, Orwell’s dystopian nightmare has become a very real possibility. To argue that gun or drug prohibitions should be abandoned because they are ineffective only warrants further expansion by the government into the businesses, homes, and lives of individual citizens across the nation.
Statists should not be given such encouragement. America’s judiciary has upheld numerous statist policies because their defenders claim they forward the “public good,” so the right ought not delude itself into believing that similar policies banning guns or drugs, or policies strengthening existing bans, would not be upheld for the same reason. The Constitution is, sadly, not foolproof, and thus it is foolish to test its limits beyond what is absolutely necessary. If anyone truly believes that the courts would not allow the level of oversight necessary to produce total or near total prohibitions on drugs, guns, or anything else, then they have disregarded an entire century of jurisprudence, even if the judiciary has remained philosophically sounder than its sister branches.
Anarchists benefit from this argument as well. If one accepts that these prohibitions should be dismantled because they can never be fully effective, what other crimes ought to be deregulated because of the same premise? Can the government ever truly eliminate robbery? Rape? Murder? The answer is, of course, no. With this analogous reasoning in mind, one is left with two options: apply the premise consistently or abandon it.
The error of the first choice should be patently obvious. Despite how virulently anarchists may argue that criminal behavior should be handled through voluntary contract, anarchy fails to protect individual rights, undermining justice by the very absence of an objective code of law. As such, the premise that a legal prohibition should be invalidated simply because it is ineffective cannot be applied consistently.
Rather, the premise should be abandoned. Any attempt to alter the premise to apply to only “certain” prohibitions requires that one clarify which prohibitions are acceptable and which are not, and this still does not solve the errors by which statists can intellectually profit.
The ability to differentiate which legal prohibitions are permissible and which are not requires arguing on the moral level – why are certain prohibitions acceptable and others not? The answer lies outside considerations regarding the effectiveness of the prohibitions in place now, as moral prohibitions ought to be effective and immoral prohibitions simply should not exist.
The only legitimate function of the government is to protect individual rights as effectively as possible while simultaneously respecting those rights in the process. If the government regulates where no individual rights have been injured, then it is injuring individual rights itself and should eliminate the offensive regulations. This is capitalism. But to achieve it, one must understand what capitalism is, including the moral foundation for its policies. If one does not, then one may unintentionally lend aid to the anti-capitalist forces now in control of Western culture and politics. As cultural change is so crucial to subsequent political goals, especially in an era so intellectually tumultuous as this, errors like the one above are unacceptable and must be corrected lest the West’s decline into statism be unaltered.