Properly speaking this may belong under the Beginning at the Beginning post, but considering the volital nature of these discussions, it won’t hurt to have it as its own post.
Now, I respond to Geoff’s posts in particular because I have to say that like the majority here I disagree with the majority of what he is espousing. Unlike the majority here, I imagine I agree with a substantial part of what he is saying.
The chief area I disagree with Geoff on (as I have told him before) is Libertarianism. For example: the illegitimacy of civil prohibitions on prostitution, homosexuality, assisted suicide, drugs, etc. Geoff is of the opinion that such prohibitions are “unenforceable”, impossible to have “unless you are knocking on bedroom doors”, and “should be legal”. These comments are derived from Geoff’s general precepts that “an unenforceable law is not a law at all”, that a “ ‘community’ does not have any new or special rights, or more rights than each and every individual in society has”, such evils “should be tolerated, for fear that more and greater evils would ensue”, and that “legislating against something…won’t work unless there are actual concrete [i.e. unconsenting] victims.” These are ultimately summed up in his belief that “you can only legislate against something if it is a violation of another person’s will or property”, and his position that such immorality can only be fixed through convincing someone that it is bad. As he describes it, “Otherwise it ultimately boils down to ‘Why shouldn’t I do this?’ ‘Because it’s illegal.’ ‘Oh. Well that’s not a very good reason. It’s penal law. Great.’”
To begin with, I believe that Geoff misevaluates the place custom has in what he describes. He writes:
In the past, it was not law that kept people from committing suicide, performing homosexual acts nor contracepting. The laws existed, yes, and were patently unenforceable. But such behavior was ultimately prevented by the overwhelming understanding by the individuals who comprise society that these actions were grossly immoral. One should also note that when the laws prohibiting these practices were finally lifted, these actions had been accepted, almost openly, for the decade preceding the repeal of the laws….
When it comes to pornography, #1 U.S. industry as it is, the only way to get people away from it is convincing them of why it is evil. We had laws against it before, and it was unenforceable then. The only reason it was not the biggest industry then was because people recognized why it was evil and abstained from it. Changing someone's mind has to come from convincing, not force. Otherwise, it ultimately boils down to "Why shouldn't I do this?" "Because it's illegal." "Oh. Well that's not a very good reason. It's a penal law. Great."Prostitution also violates "intrinsic human dignity." Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas said that prostitution should be tolerated, for fear that more and greater evils would ensue. I believe the unending "war on drugs" is similar. If not for the artificial shortage of these chemicals that drives prices up and makes illicit drug dealing lucrative, there would not be such widespread turf wars and violence, not only by dealers, but their users who rob and kill to get money to buy it.Prohibition is similar. They were passing a law ultimately intending to curtail the abuse of alcohol. A good end, yes? Alcohol abuse actually went up during prohibition. Sts. Augustine and Thomas were right: you need to allow certain evils in order to prevent greater evils. That is why God allows moral evils on earth: because it would be a greater evil to crush our free will.
Later on in the same string he writes
You could have a law against major distributors and pornography stores, but this stuff can be made by any Joe with a $600 camera and transmitted via the internet. You're not going to be able to achieve your ultimate end of getting rid of pornography. There will always be a demand, and the demand will be satisfied. The prices will go up, but it will be satisfied. We need to go after the root cause: why do people want this garbage? We need to convince them of the reasons they shouldn't. Get rid of all the demand, and you'll get rid of all the supply. Curtailing some supply does not eliminate demand.
Now consider the following: we agree that such things as prostitution, pornography, etc. ought not be practiced. Geoff admits that “such behavior was ultimately prevented by the overwhelming understanding by the individuals who comprise society that these actions were grossly immoral.” In other words, Geoff admits that, historically speaking, such evils have been minimized by the presence of a strong custom against it. He also says, “When the laws prohibiting these practices were finally lifted, these actions had been accepted, almost openly, for the decade preceding the repeal of the laws.” In other words, according to history, the laws have out-lived the customs. And yet he proposes to eliminate all laws prohibiting homosexuality and pornography (except maybe the distribution of pornography) even though many of our communities still retain an “overwhelming understanding…that these actions were grossly immoral.” Now remember, these prohibitions are not all ancient ones. Pornography could hardly pre-exist photography, and drugs did not enter America to a significant degree until after the Civil War, becoming most significant after the World Wars when they were used on the battlefield and such, causing a explosion of addictions. Apparently Geoff does not consider the possibility that such prohibitions, while they do not and cannot eradicate the evil, helped to establish and preserve the custom that does minimize the evil until other factors destroyed the custom. He sites Aquinas and Augustine—“ you need to allow certain evils in order to prevent greater evils”--but Aquinas and Augustine were speaking in a time when the “unenforceable” laws against prostitution were present and did help to keep prostitution a “dirty” crime on the outskirts of town. They did not speak against the laws, but the absolute enforcement of the laws. In their opinion, too strong of enforcement of these laws would drive the prostitution underground, allowing it to slip back into the city where it could threaten to undermine the established socio-moral order. Thus they tolerated it on the outskirts of the city where the evil was contained, where the effects of the evil lifestyle were more apparent, and where the prostitutes could be better ministered to by religious and lay people who understood that even prostitutes had souls to be saved.
In other words, basically argue that such laws are totally ineffective. They are like the Prohibition you even say. I remind you that United States still has the most stringent of laws on drinking in the world. Why? Because the movement that helped establish prohibition have created a “overwhelming understanding…that these actions were grossly immoral.” And they used the law to do it.
There is much more I could say regarding your position, but this post is long already. What I propose is this: I challenge you to start with human nature and the nature of the created and Uncreated order, and I want you to demonstrate that libertarianism is the best political philosophy. Or conversely, I will start with human nature and the nature of the created and Uncreated order and posit what I believe is the best political philosophy. Whoever does so should take it slowly and step by step so that he can easily respond to critiques. He would have to define such things as “freedom”, “authority”, “rights”, etc., and be able to defend his position with a proper argument.
If you would like to begin, go ahead. If you would like me to try, I will.
I await your response.