Unsustainable Liberty: On Marijuana and Marriage

“The same self love in all, becomes the cause of what restrains him, government and laws.”

 Alexander Pope

It is only fitting that the Supreme Court announced it would hear cases regarding the definition of marriage only weeks after the first U.S. states have legalized the use of marijuana. From the conservative viewpoint, the debates surrounding each issue are fundamentally the same, for in both cases there is concern that an inability to exhibit the self-restraint that is necessary for self-government will only result in an invitation for government control.

On the legalization front, my opponents will no doubt point to quotes like those of William F. Buckley, who acknowledged the drug war was a failure. In this much we can agree. It has been a failure. But failure is not a reason for giving up, but rather it is a reason for reevaluating tactics.

Many have said we should embrace the Legalize Movement as a movement of liberty, and that to do otherwise is inconsistent with our hands off approach. I personally am suspicious of the “liberty” for which this movement advocates. I am reminded of the words of John Milton: “License they mean, when they cry liberty.”

Conservatives are interested in creating sustainable liberty; a type of liberty that can only be preserved in a well ordered system by self-governing individuals who practice self-restraint. History has shown that failure to do so only results in expanding government power. Nothing illustrates this more than the history of the marriage debate.

Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation correctly pointed out that long before conservatives found themselves in a debate about the definition of marriage, they were in a debate about marriage itself. Some fifty odd years ago the sexual revolution came with prophets preaching “free” sex and “free” love. Conservatives were there to point out that nothing is free, and asked who would pay for all this “free” sex. It took them awhile to respond, but we finally got our answer. This past year they sent a spokeswoman, named Sandra Fluke, to Congress. She declared that “free” sex was now too expensive, and that the government must intervene.

Conservatives are skeptical of the legalization movement for the same reasons we were skeptical of the sexual revolution. It was not a sustainable liberty. We don’t imagine it extravagant to say that some 50 odd years from now another representative will be sent to Congress to declare that addiction is too expensive, and that government must intervene.

The drug war has been fought badly, and it is time to fight it on a different front. To completely embrace the legalization movement to gain votes in the short term would be to betray the long-term interest of our nation and of true freedom. I propose that conservatives and libertarians, who truly care for the preservation of true liberty, join hands in promoting “Just say No” campaigns. Conservatives should be open to reducing penalties for possession, but also work to empower local churches and communities to work to end drug use.

Many of my counterparts have celebrated the recent votes in Colorado and Washington State. I join with Edmund Burke, and say that before we congratulate them on being able to “do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do.”

Many have said similar things over the coming debate on the definition of marriage, and that it is just another issue we should abandon in the name of winning the future. But it is wholly un-conservative to abandon the past in the name of the future. The family is the cornerstone and foundation block of the independent and self-governing community. Without it there can be no sustainable liberty.

Congressman Paul Ryan stated:

“A ‘libertarian’ who wants limited government should embrace the means to his freedom: thriving mediating institutions that create the moral preconditions for economic markets and choice. A ‘social issues’ conservative with a zeal for righteousness should insist on a free market economy to supply the material needs for families, schools, and churches that inspire moral and spiritual life. In a nutshell, the notion of separating the social from the economic issues is a false choice. They stem from the same root.”

Brian Miller | George Mason University | @BrianKenMiller

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