On Soft Drinks and Abortion

 

This:

Reminds me of this:

“The law is justice—simple and clear, precise and bounded. Every eye can see it, and every mind can grasp it; for justice is measurable, immutable, and unchangeable. Justice is neither more than this nor less than this. If you exceed this proper limit—if you attempt to make the law religious, fraternal, equalizing, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or artistic—you will then be lost in an uncharted territory, in vagueness and uncertainty, in a forced utopia or, even worse, in a multitude of utopias, each striving to seize the law and impose it upon you. This is true because fraternity and philanthropy, unlike justice, do not have precise limits. Once started, where will you stop? And where will the law stop itself?” Frederic Bastiat

This is what happens when, instead of justice, personal conceptions of utopia drive policy, when each politician tries to impose his view of “the perfect society” upon everyone else. Banning sodas and encouraging abortions among 12 year olds behind their parents’ backs is exactly the kind of nonsense that results when government intervention abandons justice and makes the law about something else entirely: whether it be promoting personal health, the sexual liberation of 12 year olds or making everyone experience the same level of happiness.

I disapprove of binge drinking, habitual smoking, contraception, cussing and more but for me to enforce those particular views upon everyone else through the use of government coercion would be wrong because, while people really shouldn’t do any of those things, the law would cease to be about justice and instead would become the means where one man decides how all the rest must live – or else. As the late economist Milton Friedman so eloquently put it, “Whenever we depart from voluntary cooperation and try to do good by using force, the bad moral value of force triumphs over good intentions.” The law divorced from justice is nothing more than the personal fiat of politicians.

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6 thoughts on “On Soft Drinks and Abortion

  1. Thinking while writing…
    The classical definition of “justice” is “giving to each man what he is due.” What is due to man from the state? I would say that each man is due the capacity to flourish (i.e. to achieve his end, which is God). However, we see the flourishing of men within the most oppressive of regimes (St. Maximilian Kolbe for example). So man can flourish under tyrants, but it is easier (I think?) for man to flourish when he is in a free society. So, then, what is due to man from the state is the creation of a society which makes it easier for him to flourish. However, is it not easier to flourish in a society that discourages evil (actions that diminish man) vs. one that is apathetic towards evil? So the duty of the state is to discourage evil, right? How does the state discourage something? Well, it punishes those who do things that the state does not want them to do (a.k.a. force). So, the duty of the state is to make evil actions illegal by punishing those who do evil, right? But where do we draw the line? Contraception is evil. Masturbation is evil. Should the government make these evil actions illegal? If yes, then doesn’t the government become a theocratic tyrant? I’m just having a difficult time viewing the government’s role in making just laws as “simple and clear, precise and bounded.”

    Please show me where my thought drifts from logical coherence.

    • I think that we can say that when the restriction of freedoms or the damage done by the state surpasses that evil which it is trying to prevent or discourage then the law ceases to be just. That’s why I’m against drug prohibition for example. I’m against the use of drugs but the war on drugs seems to have done little to discourage their misuse, enforces draconian punishments (a full year in state prison and thousands of dollars in fines just for smoking marijuana, really? How does that help people?) and then there are the unintended consequences like 10,000 homicides annually. Likewise, the use of force in regards to contraception would be unjust. We cannot simply ban contraceptives outright because we would deprive people of their good uses (treating hormonal disorders and specific cases of rape) yet to allow them for “medicinal” purposes only would be very difficult. Doctors often prescribe “medicinal” marijuana for non-medicinal use. I expect that doctors would be even more likely to bypass the law in the case of contraception given how culturally acceptable (and even encouraged) its use is.

      I think that we can certainly say that it is wrong to subject people to punishments under the law for immoral acts that do not do direct violence to someone else. We should punish people for harming another person, harming or stealing another’s property or lying to harm someone’s reputation, for example. However, to incarcerate someone for smoking marijuana, to fine an employer for not providing the government mandated insurance, or depriving someone of the right to purchase a home or modify their property because they eat McDonalds every day or are addicted to pornography betrays a statist, prohibitionary attitude which does nothing to enable man to pursue God and, if anything, probably further disables him from doing so. A stoner allowed to live as a free member of society probably has an easier time flourishing than the stoner incarcerated in a state prison surrounded by rapists and murderers.

      I’m not sure if the just law is necessarily “simple and clear, precise and bounded” but I believe it to be objective with its foundation in the natural law and not subject to the personal whims of rulers. In this way I think that it is far more straightforward than the chaotic mess of human law divorced from natural and eternal law.

  2. Your first point make sense and is reasonably calculable. If the collateral damage done by the state, in their effort to discourage an evil, is a greater evil itself, then the law is unjust. That, I think, is pretty straight forward. I also like your point about criminalizing contraception. I would love to see it made illegal again, like it was only 50 years ago, but that cannot be done from the top down. It would have to be done bottom up, by the demand of the people, which will only happen if there is a major cultural shift.

    However, your second point is more vague. You say, “I think that we can certainly say that it is wrong to subject people to punishments under the law for immoral acts that do not do direct violence to someone else.” The problem I see here is defining “direct violence.” First, are we talking about physical violence only? I would disagree for two reasons. 1. It would neglect the psychological and spiritual aspects of the human person. 2. We already recognize non-physical violence as wrong (i.e. verbal and emotional abuse). So, do we include spiritual violence in your definition? Is so, how do we define that? If not, what justification do we have to not include it?
    The second questionable word is “direct.” All evil, even the most personal, effects the entire human community in some way. For example: If I watch porn in my basement I am forming myself into a person who turns women into objects. I am also forming myself into a person who is more likely to take this objectification to “the real world.” I am also participating, and thus encouraging, an industry that abuses men and women for profit. And the list goes on. I may not be directly do violence to another person, but I am doing a very large amount of violence to a lot of people. Isn’t that a worse evil than directly do violence against one or few people? Isn’t the state in some way obligated, because they owe man a society in which evil is discouraged, to act legally against those who use porn?

    P.S. I almost completely agree with you. However, in an attempt to understand this better I am playing devil’s advocate.

  3. I wrote a reply but then it got deleted. Here’s a shortened version.

    Government cannot force people to be virtuous.

    Prohibiting even the least evils and mandating virtue runs contrary to the reality of free will and is doomed to fail.

    The best government can accomplish is to prevent people from doing bad things to one another and allow them to exercise their free will more safely and little else.

    We must rely on powers other than government for the rest.

  4. How does the government “prevent people from doing bad things to one another” without “prohibiting even the least evils”? Can the government persuade individuals to refrain from evil without the use of force? Without punishing?

    • My point is that the government has the responsibility to protect its citizens through a strong rule of law and the police force from violent crimes, theft, fraud etc. But for a state to then use that force of law and law enforcement agencies to simply ban something and punish those who ignore the ban for no other reason than that it is bad (like porn or drugs or, heck, for drinking 32 oz soft drinks or not eating your broccoli) then the coercive power of government becomes an inappropriate tool that often only causes more damage while never actually solving the original problem. Public policy cannot be driven by good intentions alone but the likely consequences must also be weighed and prohibition has rarely, if ever, worked. Government can ban as many things as it wants but when people turn to a drug or sex or TV to fill a void in their life, state mandates from on high won’t turn them away or set them right and usually only make their situation worse by increasing the cost of their addiction, which does not dissuade them but drives them into poverty, or throwing them into prison (did you know that non-violent offenders are more likely to commit a violent crime in the future, after they were incarcerated? Justice, enabling man’s capacity to flourish, would seem to demand that we keep as many non-violent offenders out of prison as possible since to expose them to the hideousness of the prison world, to expose them to murderers and rapists, only serves to deteriorate their humanity even more so to the point that they themselves are more likely to murder or rape in the future). Only by changing our culture from the bottom up can we “make” people more virtuous. The best government can do is use its coercive power to protect society from violence, fraud and the like. It is up to our churches and private institutions, families and private citizens, to uplift society beyond basic peaceful cooperation.

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