Blogs > Liberty and Power > I AM IN GOOD COMPANY

Jan 10, 2004 3:50 am


Back on December 2nd I had to apologize for previously posting the bogus Stella Awards, including the urban legend of Merv Grazinski, in this space and I still consider myself to have let the Blog down. But, after reading Thursday’s Washington Times I do not feel quite so bad anymore. It seems one of my hero’s Walter Williams made the same mistake and he too had to admit a lack of due diligence. In his column he points out that 40 or 50 years ago no one in their right mind would have found such things believable.

Williams goes on to give some examples of true stories concerning unjust lawsuits that seem to my mind to be almost as fantastic as the made up ones. He then writes, ”What is common to all of them is the absolution or the attempt at absolution from personal responsibility. Are people to be held responsible for their actions? In the case of tobacco use, it's not the smoker who is responsible for his illness, it's tobacco companies. In the case of obesity, it's not the individual, but fast-food companies and food manufacturers who are responsible. It's the same with criminal violence — the gun manufacturer is partly to blame. What does all this say for the future of our nation?”

However, the notion that individuals are not responsible for their own actions goes back quite a bit further in our history then 40 or 50 years. The idea that black people are either childlike or brutish and therefore cannot control themselves was along with the need to convert them to Christianity one of the two pillars of the ante-bellum pro-slavery argument. Also, much of the Progressive Era reforms had as their central tenet an absolution of personal responsibility. People were not responsible for their own economic well being, therefore various means of income redistribution had to be attempted. People were not responsible for their own behavior when they used alcohol or took certain kinds of drugs, therefore the disease model of drug use and prohibition came to the forefront.

When Williams talks about drive to blame tobacco companies and fast food franchises for the problems of those who use their products he is in reality speaking about a modern day extention of the war on people who use certain kinds of drugs. Though the seedy looking dope dealer lurking around the schoolyard has been replaced by Ronald McDonald, the underlying philosophy is the same.

That Walter Williams would leave the war on people who use certain kinds of drugs off of his above list of the ways in which personal responsibility is being avoided did not surprise me. I have long noticed a pronounced tendency by black conservative intellectuals such as Williams, Thomas Sowell, and Alan Keyes to avoid the subject of illegal drugs. I have never read anything by Williams on the topic and only thing I have seen by Sowell, that comes close, was a recent column in support of mandatory minimum sentencing. In this piece he argued that those who steal or do violence to others should be sent anyway for a long time. Although, he failed to mention that those kinds of inmates are almost always not the ones subject to mandatory minimum prison terms. In fact the felons Sowell is concerned with are sometimes let out early to make room for the kinds of prisoners serving mandatory sentences, drug law violators who have harmed no one else’s person or property. When pressed on the point Alan Keyes will respond by saying that the illegal drugs enslave their users and that he cannot support slavery, completely oblivious to the fact that he is suggesting that we free these so called slaves by putting them in prison.

If I had it in my power to command the above three conservatives to read two books they would be Jacob Sullum’s Saying Yes, In Defense of Drug Use and Jeffery Schaler's Addiction Is a Choice, then maybe they would lend their powerful voices to ending the war on people who use certain kinds of drugs. Because, if we want to return America to a nation and a culture where the individual is held responsible for his or her own actions ending that war is a necessary first step.

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James Barnett - 1/15/2004

I can only speak for Walter Williams. I took his class and he would use the war on drugs to illustrate economic principles. I think he tones down his libertarian messages to appeal to conservatives.