Conservatives say they believe in the Constitution, limited government, federalism, free enterprise, individual freedom, private property, and the free market. But, of course, this means absolutely nothing since they say they believe in these things even when their actions show that they don’t believe in any of them.
Consider the drug war.
Does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have a war on drugs? Of course not. But that doesn’t stop conservatives from supporting the DEA and the federal drug war.
Is a government limited to reasonable defense, judicial, and policing activities compatible with government interest in the eating, drinking, smoking, medical, and recreational habits of Americans? Of course not. The only limited government that conservatives seek is one limited to control by conservatives.
Do conservatives believe that all drug polices should be instituted on the state level and that the federal government should have nothing to do with prohibiting or regulating drugs? Of course not. Conservatives only believe in federalism when the federal government does something they don’t like.
Do conservatives believe that free enterprise includes the freedom to buy and sell drugs? Of course not. They want the government to prohibit people from peacefully buying and selling drugs.
Do conservatives believe that individuals should be free to use drugs in the privacy of their homes? Of course not. They have no problem with SWAT teams breaking down your door in the middle of the night because they suspect that you have drugs in your home.
Do conservatives believe that what you do on your property is your business as long as what you do is peaceful and consensual? Of course not. They are okay with the government confiscating your property if you use it to facilitate commerce in drugs.
Do conservatives believe there should be a free market in drugs? Of course not. They want massive government intervention in the market when it comes to drugs.
But it’s not just the issue of the drug war that shows the tyranny of conservatives.
Consider the issue of prostitution.
Now, just like I don’t believe that anyone should abuse drugs, I don’t believe that anyone should engage in prostitution. But if they choose to do so, that is their business, not my business, not your business, not society’s business, and not the government’s business.
Not so, says conservative Scott Yenor, a professor of political science at Boise State University, in an article written for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Yenor takes issue with something that Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) said in an interview with The Root. Speaking of prostitution, Harris said that relations are based on consent, and “when you are talking about consenting adults, I think that … we can’t criminalize consensual behavior, as long as no one is being harmed.” Yenor maintains that “Harris’ position appeals to a deeply held principle; namely, that all relationships are permissible so long as they are founded on consent and do not harm others.”
If you object to Harris’s statement and the principle behind it, as does Yenor, then what are we to conclude but that you believe that the government should criminalize consensual behavior even if no one is being harmed.
And with laws come penalties. What Yenor doesn’t say is that the result of this is for people to be harassed, fined, have their property confiscated, and/or put in a cage for engaging in harmless, consensual behavior that the government doesn’t approve of.
This is the tyranny of conservatism.
I want to focus on two things that Yenor says regarding prostitution.
He begins by asking a question: “Should a willing woman be able to sell access to her body for sex to a willing man?”
Yenor never answers the question. Instead, he asks another question:
What if the woman is not willing—for example, if she has been bought or sold through sex trafficking? Harris says such women haven’t consented. Nobody “who hurts another human being or profits off of their exploitation should be … free of criminal prosecution,” the senator said.
But this distinction between the legal and illegal would be difficult in practice to police. With more prostitution, one gets more exploitation.
No one, including Senator Harris and any libertarian, would ever question laws against sex trafficking. This is merely a smokescreen set up by Yenor. The issue is, as he states: “Should a willing woman be able to sell access to her body for sex to a willing man?” Although doing so may be immoral and sinful, and may result in disease and social ostracization, in a free society, the answer has to be a resounding “yes.” And regarding Yenor’s “distinction,” this is like saying: With more people driving cars, one gets more accidents—so let’s have the government restrict the number of people who can drive cars or ban people from driving cars altogether.
Another thing that Yenor says is that “part of what makes a country livable and decent over the long term are laws that support public morality, like laws against prostitution.” Another diversion by Professor Yenor. No one is talking about public morality. We are talking about two individuals privately exchanging cash for sex. The right to engage in prostitution does not mean that one has the right to have sex in public places or violate the property rights of a third party.
I said that I wanted to focus on two things that Yenor said regarding prostitution, and I did. But I can’t resist bringing up something else that Yenor said that is not related to prostitution. As a typical conservative, Yenor is a drug warrior. As such, he couldn’t help but disparage marijuana in his article: “People who use marijuana on a daily basis are more prone to commit acts of violence and are more subject to mental illness. Liberals insist that’s not a harm.” This was right after he had the audacity to say that “liberals like Harris are notoriously selective in applying notions of what constitutes harm.” But would it not be equally true if I said this: “People who use alcohol on a daily basis are more prone to commit acts of violence and are more subject to mental illness. Conservatives insist that’s not a harm”? Conservatives are just as selective in applying notions of what constitutes harm as Democrats.
C.S. Lewis had it right: “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Such is conservatism, an authoritarian philosophy that thinks people should be fined or imprisoned for engaging in private, peaceful, harmless, consensual behavior merely because the government doesn’t approve of it.