Archive for Book Reviews
It is often said that libertarians arrive at their views from different routes. Some by Ron Paul (a conservative Christian), others by Ayn Rand (a devout atheist), others still through studying economics or history. Some grow up in libertarian homes. We are all on a journey, and those of us who call ourselves libertarians (whether we assume that title proudly or apprehensively) often criss-cross each other along the way.
Joseph Charles Putnam has recently self-published a book titled A Bible Based View of Liberty and Free Governments. Putnam definitely comes at his libertarian-leaning viewpoints from a different route than I have. Putnam describes himself as “limited government ‘Constitutional’ libertarian,” and his book is a manifesto of his viewpoint on Scripture and its relationship to liberty.
Putnam makes no qualms about his commitment to the AV1611 translation of the Bible, more popularly known as the King James Version, as well as a reliance upon Webster’s 1828 English dictionary. As a fundamentalist Christian looking to find God’s expectations for humans, he has a thorough knowledge of the English text of Scripture, and cites it throughout the book. Read More→
Tags: Bible, government, libertarianism, liberty
Tim Suttle doesn’t like to simplify the complex. While both of his books are relatively short, he navigates gracefully through a few tricky areas, avoiding many of the pitfalls of such a task. One would think that with a title like Public Jesus, his chapter on political life would end up looking more progressive than conservative or libertarian. Yet Suttle treats the issue of political life by looking at the nature of baptism and Christian citizenship.
Our heavenly citizenship began, says Suttle, ever since we renounced our citizenship in the kingdoms of this world by being baptized. Being raised with Christ is a new identity, an advanced citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But here’s the rub for Americans: being a citizen of an earthly country “makes many demands upon our lives that we rarely think about.” Suttle laments that American Christians all too easily conflate the Christian “we” with the American “we.” He then warns us of the dangers of political engagement because “our primary concern is not the advancement of a country, but the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” Then he uses a phrase that I find tremendously helpful if we but stop to reflect on their meaning. He says, “Participating in the organization of society is a sacred calling, part of our original vocation to have dominion, to fill the earth, subdue it, till it, keep it, and cause it to bear fruit. The call to organize our common life so we image God to all creation involves polity and organization” (italics mine). That phrase, “the organization of society,” was used deliberately. Suttle wants us to know that organizing society is sacred work, but he’s also careful to not say that the state or governments are in and of themselves sacred.
If this weren’t enough to make the libertarian in me smile, it gets even better: “Politicians and parties on both the right and the left operate upon the very same underlying assumption. They each believe that they should be running the world.” The question I wrote in the margin was, “What about a movement or party whose goal is to stop acting like it can run the world?”
Ultimately, Suttle argues, the Christian has to stop trying to fit on a political continuum of left-right or fundamentalism-secularism, but to begin identifying with Jesus. Because we are resident aliens whose citizenship is the Kingdom of God, identifying with Jesus will make us permanent outsiders to the world, for better or for worse. To identify with Jesus means to take up a mission to serve the world, and “we have to accomplish our mission without government-sanctioned power.”
While governments promise the security of freedom, justice, and peace with no way to deliver them, the way of Jesus will bring us all three through the mission of the church embodying the cross in community for the good of the world. That’s why we say that in the Kingdom of God, up is down and down is up.
Tags: conservativism, libertarianism, progressivism, public jesus, Tim Suttle
Review of Mark A. R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Angela Hawken, Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), xxi + 234 pgs., paperback, $16.95; and Jonathan P. Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark A. R. Kleiman, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), xx + 266 pgs., paperback, $16.95.
These two books are part of a series by Oxford University Press called What Everyone Needs to Know. There are currently twenty-six books in this series. The books are written in a question-and-answer format. Obviously, with titles like Invasive Species, Pandemics, and Overfishing, not every book in the series is of interest to libertarians. But aside from Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (reviewed by David Gordon here), these two books on the drug war are the two titles that libertarians would be the most interested in.
The three common authors of these books are all academics at major universities. Beau Kilmer is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. The marijuana book also includes an additional author, Christina Farber, for one chapter.
Drugs and Drug Policy contains 10 chapters with between 9 and 23 questions per chapter. The book also contains acknowledgments, an introduction, a conclusion on "what is to be done?" that is not in a question-and-answer format, an appendix on "how drugs work in the brain" with eight questions and answers, a bibliography, and an index. Each chapter concludes with recommendations for additional reading. There are no footnotes.
Drugs and Drug Policy "includes facts about drugs and drug-related behavior, pharmacology, prohibitions, regulations, and taxes, and how drug enforcement, drug prevention, and drug treatment work, along with their characteristic problems and limitations."
Marijuana Legalization is divided into 2 parts with a total of 16 chapters with between 5 and 17 questions per chapter. The book contains acknowledgments, an introduction, a concluding chapter not in a question-and-answer format that gives the author’s opinions about marijuana legalization, a bibliography, and an index. Each chapter except the last concludes with recommendations for additional reading. There are no footnotes.
Marijuana Legalization is "not intended to persuade" the reader of any particular answers to questions about marijuana legalization and use. The authors "hope to provide both sets of advocates with material for an honest and logically coherent debate, and give people who have not yet made up their minds the raw material needed to develop informed opinions."
Due to their question-and-answer format and skillful manner of explaining technical information, both books are extremely readable. And in spite of the brevity (in a good way) of the answers, the books are very thorough. Although I disagree with the authors’ conclusions, I recommend both books for the information they provide about drugs and the drug war.
What I want to focus on are those parts of these books that relate to drug legalization, drug decriminalization, and drug freedom.
In Drugs and Drug Policy, that would mainly be chapter 2, "Why Have Drug Laws?" and the conclusion, "What Is to Be Done?" In Marijuana Legalization, that would mainly be most of the chapters in part 2, "Legalization and Its Consequences," and the concluding chapter, "What Do the Authors Think about Marijuana Legalization?"
In Drugs and Drug Policy, the authors point out that alcohol and tobacco "far exceed all the illicit drugs combined in the number of problem users and the resulting ill health and death." But instead of pointing out the hypocrisy of the war on drugs and calling for full drug legalization, they recommend tripling the tax on alcohol because it would "improve the health and longevity of heavy drinkers" and "protect nondrinkers from drinking-related accidents and violence" and "banning additives and the pre-rolled cigarette" and "requiring that all smoking products be made from strains of tobacco that do not produce the tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNs) that create most of the cancer risk." They reject John Stuart Mill’s "harm principle":
That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.
Why? Because "the case for protecting people from themselves – when it can be done at acceptable cost in terms of intrusive enforcement – seems attractive." The authors are utilitarian nanny statists.
In their conclusion, the authors present three lists of policies: a "consensus" list of eleven items they "think might command widespread support," a "pragmatist" list of six items "that could appeal to those prepared to think about drug abuse as a more or less straightforwardly practical problem," and a "political-bridge-too-far" list of six changes "that make good sense to some drug-policy wonks, but that involve departures from current practice and more radical thinking than a prudent politician would endorse."
Obviously, the third list is the most radical. But aside from calling for higher alcohol and cigarette taxes, the authors propose "allowing users to grow their own cannabis, or to form small consumer-owned cooperatives to grow it for them." But "alas," they say, "this approach would yield no tax revenue, which greatly reduces its political appeal."
In Marijuana Legalization, the authors again point out how much more dangerous alcohol and tobacco are than marijuana. They even say:
If we were making laws for a planet whose population had never experienced either marijuana or alcohol, and we had to choose one of the two drugs to make available, there would be a strong case for choosing marijuana, which has lower organic toxicity, lower addictive risk, and a much weaker link with accidents and violence.
But since "that’s not the planet we inhabit," and "alcohol has been an ingrained part of many cultures since the Neolithic revolution," the authors reject treating marijuana as alcohol. "History matters. Custom matters. Practicality matters," say the authors. I guess freedom doesn’t matter.
In the book’s final chapter, "What Do the Authors Think about Marijuana Legalization?," drug freedom is not in their thoughts.
Angela Hawken says: "Existing policies suit me well." But then she goes on to say that she thinks "it’s pretty clear that the cost-benefit balance is in favor of loosening the reins on marijuana." She deems it "worthwhile to experiment with legalization" of marijuana, although she is "concerned with the exploitation of medical-marijuana laws." Hawken also calls for raising taxes on alcohol and restricting its advertising.
Jonathan Caulkins says he would "vote against legalizing marijuana." He prefers reforms and "middle path" options. He is worried about "the children of dependent users." He claims to "generally agree with libertarian notions of letting people harm themselves if that’s what they choose," but "only to a point."
Mark Kleiman posits six options: current policy, decriminalization of use but not production and distribution, permission to use, grow, and give away marijuana, but not to grow or sell it professionally, legalization without commercialization that allows home production and small cooperatives, commercialization with high taxes and tight restrictions, and commercialization on the alcohol model. Missing, of course, is the drug freedom option. Kleiman’s first choice of what he would like to see happen is "permission for production and use through small not-for-profit cooperatives, with a ban on commerce."
Beau Kilmer doesn’t "see much difference between alcohol and marijuana when adults use either in moderation." He has "serious concerns about our current marijuana policies." Although his "thoughts about marijuana policy continue to evolve," if he were "approached for advice by a policymaker who represented a constituency seeking significant changes in their marijuana policies," he advises the incorporation of a "sunset provision" to whatever is decided and rejects legalization because "it is risky to implement the most extreme alternative to prohibition."
Both Drugs and Drug Policy and Marijuana Legalization suffer from the same problems.
There is little attention paid to the views of principled libertarians who argue for absolute drug freedom for freedom’s sake.
The authors take it for granted that the federal government should have a drug policy. Churches may want to have a drug policy. Families may want to have a drug policy. Businesses may want to have a drug policy. Sports teams may want to have a drug policy. Fraternal organizations may want to have a drug policy. But it is not the concern of the federal government to solve drug use problems or ensure that there aren’t any drug abuse problems.
The authors take it for granted that the federal government has the authority to ban substances it deems to be harmful, dangerous, or immoral. But as anyone who has read the Constitution even once can see, the federal government has no such authority.
The main problem, of course, is that real and absolute drug freedom isn’t even presented as a viable option.
So, as I said earlier, although I disagree with the authors’ conclusions, I recommend both books for the information they provide about drugs and the drug war.
And that, in this reviewer’s opinion, is what every libertarian needs to know about these two books on the drug war.
Originally posted on LewRockwell.com on February 6th, 2013.
Tags: economics, ethics, freedom, health, health issues, libertarianism, liberty, war on drugs
I must recommend two important books for Libertarian Christians.
The first is Turn Neither to the Right Nor to the Left, by D. Eric Schansberg. This book was published in 2003 but I only recently saw a copy. Here is a great quote: “Human government is responsible for the most gruesome events in history.” The chapter on “Why Christians Shouldn’t Legislate Morality” is worth the price of the book. I don’t plan on reviewing the book since it came out so long ago, but I highly recommend it.
The other book is one that I really wanted to review: Blood Guilt: Christian Responses to America’s War on Terror, by Philip P. Kapusta. I read it and re-read it and took lots of notes, but I just wasn’t able to get a review written. The format is simply 37 essays in mostly chronological order written since Sept. 11, 2001, about various aspects of Christianity and war, often tied to current events. Because of the book’s format and the style of some of the essays, the book is somewhat hard to read. A very unusual and unique book. Here is a quote I used in a recent LRC article:
In fighting against these nations, the armies of Israel acted as God’s agents of wrath and were used to execute His judgments. The wars of Israel were always to be at God’s command, subject to His laws, and for the occupation and the defense of the Land of Promise. The children of Israel could only kill when killing in the name of God – that is, when killing in obedience to a direct mandate from God.
Unlike the children of Israel, who were brought out of Egypt and given a land of their own and provided with a set of laws to govern them within God’s divine kingdom, Christians have not been given a similar tract of land to defend or fight for. Neither have Christians been given a king upon earth who enforces God’s laws when violated.
The book can be purchased through Amazon. The book is specifically designed for Christians. Do I accept everything the author says in the book? No. But these things are in the minority. The essays on just war theory not being Christian are excellent. I highly recommend the book.
Tags: Book Reviews, christian libertarianism, recommended books
To many newcomers to libertarian ideas – especially Christians – it is not always perfectly clear why libertarians oppose the War on Drugs so strenuously. Some Christians even think that the only reason libertarians oppose government prohibition is so that they can get high legally. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, we despise government prohibition because it is a power no government should have. Moreover, the War on Drugs is an incredible example of precisely how a government usurps liberty, destroys lives, and consolidates power unto itself. This short book by Dr. Laurence Vance, writer at LCC, LewRockwell.com, Mises.org, and the Future of Freedom Foundation, explains in great detail why everyone should oppose the War on Drugs .
Vance begins the introduction by giving his purpose in collecting these essays into book form:
This is not a book about the benefits of drugs; this is a book about the benefits of freedom. I neither use illegal drugs nor recommend their use to anyone else. I am even skeptical about the health benefits of most legal drugs.
So why this book? Because I believe in freedom. I believe in individual liberty, private property, personal responsibility, a free market, a free society, and a government as absolutely limited as possible.
The book then contains 19 essays, written over the past 4 years, that tackle the War on Drugs from a variety of angles. A few common themes resonate throughout the book:
1. The War on Drugs is unconstitutional. You would think that “conservatives” who support the United States Constitution would readily admit when the Federal government has overstepped its bounds, but such is rarely the case. Still, the Feds do not follow their own rules, and we should point this out whenever possible. Substance prohibition has never been constitutional.
2. The War on Drugs is a total failure. It has clogged the judicial system and incarcerated completely innocent people, instigated worldwide violence, corrupted law enforcement, eroded civil liberties, and destroyed financial privacy. Additionally, it hasn’t even been able to prevent drugs from getting into prisons much less the general population. By any standard of “helping” anyone, the War on Drugs has completely failed. To me, those in jail for possession of illegal drugs – assuming they have not committed a violent act – are prisoners of war and deserve to be liberated immediately.
3. Drug abuse is a health issue, not a legal issue. If you oppose government intrusion into health care, then there is no reason at all to support the War on Drugs. It is not the government’s business to dictate health issues to you.
4. The War on Drugs is a war on the ideals of liberty and a free society. Actions that are not aggressive in nature have no business being prohibited by government. Vices are not crimes, and it is not the purpose of government to monitor the behavior of citizens like a nanny! The War on Drugs is a perfect example of why government intrusion into people’s lives does nothing but harm. In order to ward off “vices” like illicit drugs, the government must continuously undermine liberty.
Vance even has an essay for why Christians should oppose the War on Drugs. Yes, Christians are free to consider drug abuse a great evil, but such evil should not be compounded by a drug war that is an even greater evil. Vance argues that Christians are both inconsistent and immoral for calling upon the state to punish non-crimes:
It is not the purpose of Christianity to use force or the threat of force to keep people from sinning. Christians who are quick to criticize Islamic countries for prescribing and proscribing all manner of behavior are very inconsistent when the support the same thing [in the United States]. A Christian theocracy is just as unscriptural as an Islamic theocracy.
Now more than ever we Christians ought to expose the War on Drugs for what it is: a War on Freedom. Laurence Vance concisely brings you a wealth of information to educate you on the issues, and I highly recommend this book to any believer anywhere.
Interested in learning more? Check out The War on Drugs is a War on Freedom at Amazon.com. Remember that you support the work of LibertarianChristians.com every time you make a purchase at Amazon for 24 hours after clicking an LCC link!
Tags: drugs, free society, freedom, health, health issues, Laurence Vance, law, marijuana, vice, war on drugs