Leonard Read (1898–1983), opponent of Roosevelt’s New Deal and founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, was one of the twentieth century’s great champions of individual liberty, private property, the free market, and limited government. He counted among his friends and advisors such luminaries as Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt. Although he authored numerous collections of essays, Read’s most enduring work has arguably been the 1964 book Anything That’s Peaceful.
Read’s one simple rule for society was that it should permit anything that’s peaceful. Not only because the costs associated with stopping peaceful activity always outweigh the benefits, but also because it is immoral for individuals or government to prohibit anything but fraud and violence.
According to Read, the government should be strictly limited to “juridical and policing functions.” The role of government is simply to “keep the peace.” Explains Read, “Keeping the peace means no more than prohibiting persons from unpeaceful actions.” Everything else should be left “to the free, unfettered market.” When a government goes beyond this and prohibits peaceful actions, “such prohibitions themselves are, prima facie, unpeaceful.”
Many people who claim to agree with Read and say they are for liberty, property, free markets, and limited government believe nothing of the kind. Those who call themselves conservatives may rail against socialism, liberalism, and government intervention, but they stop short of wholeheartedly embracing the freedom philosophy. Those who call themselves liberals may pride themselves on their commitment to tolerance and civil liberties, but they likewise reject real freedom. Both groups ultimately show by their actions that they are statists at heart. Just look, for example, at the wide bipartisan support for the war on drugs.
Read believed that “how much of a statist a person is can be judged by how far he would go in prohibiting peaceful actions.” He maintained that “the difference between the socialist and the student of liberty is a difference of opinion as to what others should be prohibited from doing.” This difference of opinion “highlights the essential difference between the collectivists – socialists, statists, interventionists, mercantilists, disturbers of the peace – and those of the peaceful, libertarian faith.”
In my state of Florida, State Representative Ritch Workman, a Republican from the city of Melbourne, has filed a bill (4063) to make dwarf tossing in Florida legal once again. This bizarre competition, which once took place in Florida bars, consisted of bar patrons seeing how far they could throw dwarfs decked in protective gear. The practice was outlawed by the Florida legislature in 1989, when a law was passed that punished bars with $1,000 fines and the suspension or revoking of their liquor licenses if they sponsored a dwarf-tossing event.
Rep. Workman, who believes dwarf tossing to be “repulsive and stupid,” nevertheless told the Palm Beach Post that he was on a quest to “seek and destroy unnecessary burdens on the freedom and liberties of people.” “This is an example of Big Brother government,” said Workman, who also focused on economic freedom: “All that it does is prevent some dwarfs from getting jobs they would be happy to get. In this economy, or any economy, why would we want to prevent people from getting gainful employment?” The bottom line, according to Workman, is that “it’s none of the state’s business if somebody wants to do this.”
A statement released by the Little People of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy and support for individuals with dwarfism, condemned the Florida bill because the practice of dwarf throwing is “undoubtedly unsafe and subjects the individual being tossed to serious medical harms. Even with padded gear on, dwarf tossing exposes the individual to permanent injuries to the spinal column or even death.” “Far from participants, dwarf tossing treats people of short stature as a piece of equipment and encourages the general attitude that people with dwarfism are objects,” said Gary Arnold, President of Little People of America. Leah Smith, the Vice President of Public Relations for Little People of America, added that “rather than limit the liberties of any citizen, the ban protects the health and welfare of the community.”
Now, to some people, and perhaps even to most people, dwarf tossing may be repulsive; it may be stupid; it may be juvenile; it may be degrading to all little people; it may be unsafe, it may be dangerous; it may even be deadly. But – as long as it is practiced by adults on private property, is voluntarily undertaken by the dwarf, the bar owner, and the contestants, and is peaceful – there is no legitimate reason for government at any level to prohibit the practice. Rep. Workman is right: “It’s none of the state’s business if somebody wants to do this.”
When Leonard Read wrote that society should permit anything that’s peaceful, he meant anything that’s peaceful. In a free society, that includes boxing, professional wrestling, mixed-martial-arts cage fighting, violent movies and video games, and anything else that some people find distasteful, including dwarf tossing.
Read admonished his readers to take stock of what they would prohibit others from doing to accurately find their own position “in the ideological line-up.” But he also said that “this method can be used to determine anyone’s position.” Those who would seek to prohibit peaceful activity between consenting adults are in opposition to the freedom philosophy, no matter how much they talk about their commitment to liberty, free markets, and limited government.
It is understandable that the practice of dwarf tossing might offend people afflicted with dwarfism, and I am sympathetic toward them, but no one has the right to not be offended because of his stature – or his weight, deformity, handicap, disability, or nose shape. But I have no sympathy for the sensibilities of those offended by the practice of dwarf tossing – nanny statists, idealistic do-gooders, bureaucrats, regulators, politicians, and busybodies with nothing better to do than seek to prohibit peaceful activity.