Archive for justice

Feb
17

Hard Questions on the Drug War

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As I have maintained in all of my articles on the drug war, the war on drugs is a monstrous evil that has ruined more lives than drugs themselves. The war on drugs is really just a war on individual liberty, private property, civil liberties, financial privacy, personal responsibility, the free market, a free society, and freedom itself.

Take the case of Jesse Webster, 46, a former cocaine dealer from Chicago who was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for “participating in a drug conspiracy and filing false tax returns.”

Webster turned himself in 1995 when he learned that the police were looking for him. Because he refused to become a confidential informant, he was denied leniency and sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonviolent first offense.

For a sentence like that, Webster said, “I thought I’d have to hurt somebody, do bodily harm.”

The A.C.L.U. “estimates that more than 2,000 federal inmates are serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses.” Like James Romans, someone who is serving a life sentence for selling marijuana. Even worse, “in a sample study of 169 federal inmates incarcerated for nonviolent crimes,” the A.C.L.U. “found dozens who were first-time offenders, as well as many others who had only misdemeanors and juvenile infractions in their past.” And that doesn’t even take into account the state prison population.

Although Webster now shares a 65 square-foot cell in a medium security prison in Southern Illinois, he spent 16 years in maximum security prisons—including Leavenworth—with murderers and rapists; that is, people who committed actual crimes.

“I should have done time,” Mr. Webster said. “But a living death sentence?” “A commutation of sentence which would result in his service of 20 or so years in prison is enough punishment for his crimes,” wrote Judge Zagel (the judge who sentenced him under the harsh sentencing guidelines of the day) to the Office of the Pardon Attorney of the Justice Department.

No, Mr. Webster, you should not have done time—any time. And no, Mr. Zagel, 20 years is not enough punishment—it is 20 years too many. This is one prisoner serving time in federal prison who should be released immediately. But not because the sentence was too harsh, not because it was a nonviolent offense, not because it was his first offense, not because he only received three minor infractions in prison, not because his last infraction was in 1997, not because he earned in prison the trusted position of captain’s orderly, not because he has kept in contact with his mother, not because his mother is ill, not because he has seen his granddaughter only once, not because he got religion, not because he has been reformed, not because he has been rehabilitated, and not because we should feel sorry for him.

As much as we may not like the personal habits of cocaine users and the chosen profession of cocaine dealers, in a free society the government has no business regulating, interfering with, or prohibiting the free and voluntary exchange of any substance. The very fact that we have a war on drugs means that we don’t have a free society.

My thoughts on the evils of the drug war are contained in my book The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom and the other articles on the subject that I have written since the book was published in September of 2012.

What I do want to address here is a sincere question from a reader that I received in response to a short blog post I did a month or so ago about the case of Jesse Webster. Like any good libertarian, my reader’s initial reaction was that “there was no crime committed, since neither drug dealing nor tax evasion actually has a victim.” However, a family member of his raised a hypothetical scenario that I’m sure others have broached in the past:

What if he had sold drugs to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from an overdose?  Would the sentence have still been unjustified?

My short answer is yes. My longer answer is this:

Even if it be acknowledged that someone might justifiably be sentenced to life in prison without parole because he sold drugs to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from an overdose, that is still no argument for the drug war. It is rather an argument for punishing those who contribute to the death of a minor. What if instead of a 12 year old someone sold drugs to a 52 year old and that 52 year old died from an overdose? Would anyone recommend a sentence of life in prison without parole? Would anyone recommend a sentence at all? The issue here is the legal distinction between minors and adults as it relates to crime and punishment. This I leave to libertarian legal theorists.

Not in any particular order, here are some additional thoughts on the matter.

1. There are some hard questions on the drug war, usually regarding drugs and children. Questions of this nature should immediately raise a red flag because invoking “the children” is a standard tactic of the Left when seeking to justify gun control, WIC, food stamps, Head Start, Medicaid, etc. Much evil has been done by government in the name of child safety and child protection.

2. Just because libertarians oppose the war on drugs and support a free market in all drugs doesn’t mean that they believe it would be a good thing for anyone to use drugs, that they are indifferent to or unconcerned about the dangers of drugs in the hands of children, or that they are naïve about the potentially negative consequences of drug abuse.

3. If drugs were legal, I think it is fair to assume that governments would treat them like tobacco and alcohol; that is, it would be illegal for minors to possess them and for people to sell them to minors.

4. Has the war on drugs prevented drug dealers from selling drugs to 12 year olds? Of course it hasn’t.

5. The question of the legality of any or all drugs is purely a state matter. Even if someone thought that the states should wage war on drugs (I don’t), they would have to at least acknowledge that the federal government has no authority whatsoever under the Constitution to incarcerate anyone for selling drugs to anyone, including children.

6. What if someone sold a nail gun or a gallon of bleach to a 12 year old and that 12 year old died from misusing either product? Would a sentence of life in prison without parole be justified? If not, then why should the sale of certain drugs be treated differently? Just because the government has declared that certain drugs are illegal while nail guns and bleach are legal?

7. It has been estimated that 7,600 Americans die every year from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin. Should someone who sells (or gives) aspirin to a 12 year old and that 12 year old dies from an overdose be locked up for life without the possibility of parole? Would anyone but the emotionally distraught parent of the dead child even think of such a thing?

8. A 12 year old certainly bears some responsibility for buying drugs and overdosing on drugs. The question did not concern someone forcing a 12 year old to take drugs or tricking him into doing so. And neither did the question concern selling drugs to a 2 year old or a 12 year old with the mental capacity of a 2 year old.

9. The parents of a 12 year old who buys drugs and overdoses on drugs may bear some responsibility if they never bothered to warn their 12 year old about buying or taking anything from strangers. And even if the seller was a family friend, the parents still may bear some responsibility if they never warned their 12 year old about the dangers of drugs.

10. Drug dealers, like any “normal” businessmen, want repeat business, not dead customers.

11. Being a drug dealer doesn’t necessarily mean that one is so stupid and/or evil that he would sell drugs to a 12 year old.

12. Would a 12 year old be able to come up with enough money to buy enough of a drug to overdose?

Neither I nor any other libertarian professes to have all the “right” or “libertarian” answers to every question raised about the drug war. One thing is for sure: The world is full of dangerous items and substances, but it is the job of individuals, families, churches, consumer groups, and concerned organizations to keep Americans from using or abusing them—not the government.

Originally published on LewRockwell.com.

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This article was jointly written by Doug Stuart and Jessica Hooker. See Part 1 here.

Elizabeth Stoker has argued against what she presumes to be the incompatibility of Christianity and libertarianism.  In our first post we examined the first of her three arguments. Here we begin to look at the subject of private property.

2.) Not only does the Bible indicate that God values private property, in it we see God’s desire to see property stewarded for its value to humanity. 

John Locke began his Second Treatise on Government with a comment on property:

“…we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit…”

The idea of private property is fundamental to libertarian philosophy and is clearly supported in the Bible.  We find in the book of Exodus the laws God gave the people of Israel as they emerged from Egypt.  This covenant between God and the Israelites ordered justice in their community.  Part of that covenant and establishment of justice included property rights.  Exodus 22 deals solely with laws regarding property—both livestock and land—and also lists the restitution that is required if these laws are violated. While this may be an oversimplification, the concept of property rights was a part of God’s arrangement with Israel in ordering a just society. God expected them to share, yes, but how can one share what is not one’s own? Perhaps the phrase “stewardship rights” is more accurate a description than “property rights.” We each “own” something, which is to say, we are stewards of real property, and God has certain expectations of us. Read More→

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Sep
03

Would a war with Syria be just?

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Just war theory is not perfect, but insofar as it can be used as a “bludgeon” against war I am not entirely against it. To that end, here is an image to share around Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you feel necessary. Credit goes to the Libertarian Party of Tennessee for putting this together.

Picture courtesy of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee

 

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Jul
31

Is Progress Possible?

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CS_LewisThis essay by C.S. Lewis was originally published in The Observer in 1958. It was subsequently printed in the book God In the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, subtitled “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.”

Intro from God in the Dock: From the French Revolution to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, it was generally assumed that progress in human affairs was not only possible but inevitable. Since then two terrible wars and the discovery of the hydrogen bomb have made men question this confident assumption. The Observer invited five well-known writers to give their answers to the following questions: ‘Is man progressing today?’ ‘Is progress even possible?’ This second article in the series is a reply to the opening article by C.P. Snow, ‘Man in Society’, The Observer (13 July 1958).

Progress means movement in a desired direction, and we do not all desire the same things for our species. In “Possible Worlds” Professor Haldane1 pictured a future in which Man, foreseeing that Earth would soon be uninhabitable, adapted himself for migration to Venus by drastically modifying his physiology and abandoning justice, pity and happiness. The desire here is for mere survival. Now I care far more how humanity lives than how long. Progress, for me, means increasing goodness and happiness of individual lives. For the species, as for each man, mere longevity seems to me a contemptible ideal. Read More→

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Jun
10

Politics, Left and Right

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Tim Suttle, author of An Evangelical Social Gospel? (which I reviewed here) recently posted an article in the Huffington Post Religion section titled, “What is the Chief Political Concern of the Bible?” Suttle comes from a neither-left-nor-right perspective, though seems to lean left in many areas. Regardless of his leanings, he seems to affirm the inherent toxicity of the “left vs. right” argument in politics.

Tim, here’s an invitation: jump ship entirely and join the Libertarian Christian movement! One of the more beautiful compatibilities between libertarianism and Christians interested in social justice is their respective concern for unjust power structures and institutions.

Now, I’m coming from what could be called the Austro-libertarian perspective, which is not your popular strain of libertarianism. In fact, it’s probably more critical of Big Business and institutionalized injustice than any libertarian perspective that I’ve stumbled upon. If the evils caused by money and greed are your root concern, look no further than the outright damnation of the Federal Reserve creating money for the rich at the expense of the poor! If Big Business “success” raises your blood pressure, the Austrians are there to explain economically and politically why their success is often unjust and deserves our scorn. If it’s the poor you’re concerned about, look no further than the Austrians to explain why sound economics are critical to the well-being of everyone, including the poor.

In his article, Suttle asked several high-profile theologians and thinkers like N.T. Wright, Brian McLaren, Stanley Hauerwas, and Walter Bruggemann what they believed the chief political concern of the Bible was. Their responses, while in context might represent particular manifestations of “left-leaning” institutions created and protected by the State, aren’t per se anti-libertarian. I’ll comment on a few of them.

“The chief political concern of the Scriptures is for God’s wise and loving ordering of his world to be operative through humans who will share his priorities, especially his concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This concern was embodied by Jesus in his inauguration of ‘God’s kingdom’ through his public career and especially his self-giving death, which together set the pattern for a radically redefined notion of power.”

N.T. Wright

Wright is one of my theological heroes. He has a way of speaking for audiences both scholarly and popularly, and is widely acclaimed for his writings in both areas. His response is classical, with its use of phrases like “loving ordering of his world” and “radically redefined notion of power.” Which makes me wonder, What is more radical a definition of political power than that of the Austrian or Anabaptist tradition?! While Left and Right bicker constantly over their own visions of power over the rest of us, Austrians (and many Anabaptists) will say, “Maybe we should rethink this notion altogether and discover a better way for peaceful order.”

“I believe that the central political question is the management of public power in order that there should be an economically viable life for all members of the community. Thus justice is front and center and some texts, especially in Deuteronomy, are for the distribution of wealth in order that all may be viable. Obviously such justice is marked by mercy, compassion and generosity. The purpose is to create a genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors.”

Walter Bruggemann

Ah, yes, the “management of public power”! Such a wonderful topic among libertarians, Austrians in particular. Perhaps our goals aren’t exactly the same as Bruggemann’s, but justice is certainly front and center when it comes to issues of power. Creating a “genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors”? Austrians approach the issue as though everyone has authority over himself or herself. I have no right to trample yours, nor you mine. It ends there. Let’s cooperate! (A quick aside: while most Austrians are not minarchists, many libertarians believe that if a State must exist, it must do so only to ensure that cooperation takes place rather than coercion and fraud.)

“God’s solidarity with the poor, oppressed, outcast and forgotten.” Brian McLaren

I chucked when I saw McLaren’s brief response here. He’s naturally vague, which is fodder for conservatives to throw back in his face (he rarely returns the favor). Obviously, this statement is not anti-libertarian in the least. A free society certainly has room for this; indeed, this sort of solidarity might even flourish more without the State’s crowding out of true solidarity. Can you think of anything less truly unifying for a community than a transfer of wealth from some to another, most of whom don’t even know each other? I have a hunch that the goals of social justice isn’t fed hungry people or clothed naked people, but that all people experience solidarity and community.

Others answer with words like “health societies,” “revisioning communities,” and others reflect the nature of God’s intent for human well-being and God’s own glory. Suttle is on to something. God is indeed interested in how society is arranged. God sent Jesus to redefine what society ought to be. Jesus died in contrast to the violence of the kingdoms of this world.

Suttle’s theological influences are close to my own, and I believe they have much to teach libertarians who typically shy away from issues of social justice. At the same time, folks like Suttle might benefit from the economic analysis of society and the power structures that exist.

Nobody jumps ship so easily, especially when the sources and critiques are commonly thought to be on “the other side.” Yet because Suttle has made it clear he hasn’t stopped learning and journeying, let me switch metaphors and offer a more modest proposal: Come, taste and see the Austrian critique of power, the elite, and money. Let it whet your appetite for sound economic thinking on issues of justice, morality, and the common good. 

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