Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Footnotes to "The Harm Principle"

Joe Miller (Bellum et Mores) notes the preceding post ("The Harm Principle") and observes that my variation on John Stuart Mill's famous dictum "doesn't sound much like the Mill that I know and love." It is not the Mill whom Joe knows and loves -- and it is (as Joe suspects) an oblique (and dashed-off) reply to Joe's discussion of my post on gay marriage. To fully appreciate my view of the harm principle, it is necessary to read my multi-part series, "The Meaning of Liberty," especially the installments "Liberty as a Social Compact" and "Social Norms and Liberty," and then to delve my favorite posts, especially those under the headings of Libertarianism and Other Political Philosophies and Self-Ownership. I await Joe's explication of the harm principle, which he promises to deliver in a post later this week at Catallarchy.

My objection to the Millian version of the harm principle isn't to Mill's words but to the superficial and self-serving interpretation of those words by most adherents of "liberalism" (i.e., pseudo-anarchist libertarians and pseudo-liberal statists whose embrace of "liberty" is limited to such politically correct causes as pot-smoking, abortion-inducing, and gay-loving). The fact is that we live in a society in which government wields great power and influence over our lives. When government actively promotes such fundamentally anti-social practices as abortion and gay marriage -- practices that mock respect for life and family -- it does far more than license those who wish to engage in such practices. It actively encourages those practices.

I do not find it a coincidence that loud, loutish, crude, inconsiderate, rude, and downright foul behaviors seem to have become the norm since the the end of World War II. Such behaviors have risen in parallel with the retreat of most authority figures in the face of organized violence by "protestors" and looters; with the rise of political correctness; with the perpetuation (in deed if not word) of the New Deal and its successor, the Great Society; with the erosion of swift and sure justice in favor of "rehabilitation" and "respect for life" (but not for potential victims of crime); and with the legal enshrinement of infanticide and buggery as acceptable (and even desirable) practices.

Given that government isn't going away, we can either use its power and influence to destroy society or to reinforce the mores that are essential to civil society. There appears to be no middle ground on which to stand. Those who advocate the "almost anything goes" interpretation of Mill's harm principle know not what they do. But what they do (and have done) is make possible the erosion (and possible destruction) of civil society. They shall reap what they sow, but so shall we all. And there's the pity.