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Catholics, Libertarians, and the Drug War

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In my blog post of yesterday, I asked how any Catholic, in good conscience, could choose to embrace statism rather than libertarianism, given statism’s embrace of coerced charity, a concept that denigrates and destroys God’s great gift of free will. This was in response to a conference recently held at the Catholic University of America entitled “Erroneous Authority: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism.”

Today, let’s look at the drug war. It would be difficult to find a better example of the fundamental difference between statists and libertarians than the drug war. Statists favor having the state punish people, through fine and incarceration, for possessing or distributing drugs. Libertarians favor drug legalization.

Once again, I ask the same question that I asked with respect to coerced charity: How can a Catholic support the drug war? How can he possibly reconcile what the drug war does to people and to society with Christian principles?

Consider the consequences of the drug war.

The drug war gives us drug lords, drug gangs, gang wars, and violence. Some 60,000 people have been killed in Mexico during the past 6 years. That’s not because of drugs. That’s because of the drug war.

How can any Catholic support such things?

Oh, I know that the statist will say, “Jacob, don’t judge us by the actual results of our program. Judge us instead by our good intentions. We just want to end illicit drug use. We don’t favor drug lords, drug gangs, gang wars, and violence.”

But when it comes to governmental policy, Mr. Statist, good intentions are quite irrelevant. What really matters is what the government policy brings into existence. And the drug war has brought drug lords, drug gangs, gang warfare, and violence. That’s what making drugs illegal does. It brings into existence a black market, an illegal market that inevitably attracts an unsavory element in society, a class of people who have no reluctance to resort to violence to garner market share.

Compare that to a legal market, one that libertarians favor, in which the sellers consist of pharmacies and other reputable businesses that garner market share by striving to please customers in a peaceful, harmonious way. Isn’t that better than drug lords, drug gangs, gang warfare, and violence?

I suppose it could be said that good intentions might matter when a governmental policy is first being proposed. But after the policy has been in place for years and even decades and it’s producing the same adverse consequences, then good intentions have to fall by the wayside. After years and decades of producing drug lords, drug gangs, gang warfare, and violence, anyone who favors the drug war must necessarily be viewed as being willing to accept the adverse consequences of the drug war as a necessary cost of waging the drug war.

It’s really no different with so many other adverse consequences of the drug war. Consider, for example, robberies, muggings, burglaries, and thefts. The drug war makes drugs much more expensive than they would be in a legal market. That makes it much more difficult for an addict to satisfy his addiction. It induces him to resort to violent means to acquire the money to pay for the exorbitant black-market prices for the drugs he is seeking.

After all, we don’t see alcoholics or winos resorting to robberies, thefts, burglaries, and muggings to get the money to satisfy their addictions. The same holds true for people addicted to tobacco. That’s because booze and tobacco are reasonably priced given that they are legal to acquire.

How can any Catholic in good conscience support a governmental program that induces people to resort to robberies, muggings, thefts, and burglaries in order to finance their addiction?

Moreover, let’s face the obvious: If the intention of the drug war is to eliminate illicit drug use, it would be difficult to find a better example of failure in a government program than that. Right? After all, if the drug war had succeeded in achieving its goal after decades of warfare, there wouldn’t be a need to continue waging the drug war. Right? Yet, statists tell us that it’s more urgent than ever to continue waging the drug war despite the fact that decades of drug warfare haven’t achieved what was supposed to be achieved.

But let’s get to the heart of the drug war — the way that the state treats people who are addicted to drugs. Isn’t drug addiction bad enough? Not for the state. It piles on and does its best to ruin people’s lives even more by sending them to jail for 10 or 20 years and living thereafter as convicted felons.

Is that really any way to treat someone who’s addicted to drugs? Is that really reconcilable with God’s second-greatest commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself? Isn’t the libertarian way, which involves sympathy, empathy, understanding, treatment, and rehabilitation for drug addiction much more consistent with Christian principles than the statist way of criminal prosecutions and convictions and jail sentences and fines?

Indeed, don’t drug laws discourage people from seeking treatment? After all, with the drug war one never knows who is a snitch. And one snitch can get an addict sent to jail for decades. So, under the drug war addicts cannot be open and honest about their addiction, which is one of the necessary steps to rehabilitation. Instead, he has to keep it secret and keep it internalized, which only aggravates the addiction.

Moreover, let’s be honest: The drug war falls disproportionately on blacks and Hispanics, making it the most racist government program since segregation. Why should a Catholic want to be associated with that sort of thing?

Let’s also not forget drug-war corruption. You know, things like bribery of judges, prosecutors, and law-enforcement personnel. Also, asset-forfeiture laws, which enable law-enforcement personnel to legally steal cash from poor people, especially on the highways, knowing that the poor will lack the funds to sue to get their money back. How in the world can any Catholic in good conscience support these sorts of things?

Most important is the concept of free will. Why should Caesar — the organized means of coercion and compulsion known as the state — wield the authority to punish people for engaging in conduct that is entirely peaceful and consensual. Why should Caesar be punishing people for exercising free will in a way that does not involve the violation of other people’s rights?

Sure, I know, many people say that drug usage is harmful, but can’t the same be said for a broad range of other peaceful conduct, such as alcohol or tobacco addiction, eating unhealthy foods, gambling, coveting, envy, adultery, or gluttony? What business is that of Caesar?

I mean, we all would agree that people shouldn’t be free to murder, steal, rob, burglarize, and do anything else that involves the initiation of force against others because that interferes with the right of others to live their lives the way they want.

But there is an entire ambit of behavior and choices that don’t involve the initiation of force against others. Under what authority does Caesar punish people for those things? After all, isn’t a genuinely free society one in which people are free to make the wrong choices, so long as their conduct is peaceful? If people are free to make only the right choices, how can they truly be considered free?

Anyway, who’s to judge a person’s choices when it comes to drugs? Each person’s situation in life is different. Why not leave the state out of the equation? Of course, if a person initiates violence against someone else while under the influence of drugs, the state should go after him. Absent that, the state should butt out.

The drug war, which goes to the core of the statist philosophy, violates fundamental principles of liberty and free will and produces drug lords, drug gangs, gang wars, violence, robberies, muggings, thefts, burglaries, and political corruption. How can any Catholic in good conscience support the drug war? How can any Catholic be anything but a libertarian, given that libertarianism, unlike statism, is consistent with Christian principles of peace, harmony, and good will toward others?

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.