Citizens can be trusted to handle freedom

By Tibor Machan: Syndicated columnist

In Florida, we can witness a rather direct confrontation between citizens and the nanny state. The case reportedly involves the “owners of two local escort services — Destin’s Angels and Florida Dream Girls — (who are) facing possible prison time on charges they used escorting as a front for other crimes,” the State Attorney’s Office said. “These escort agencies were fronts for prostitution,” Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Michele Nicholson told reporters.

The details are not important here, although matters are complicated by the fact that in addition to the escort services being offered, a raid on some of the establishments also yielded illegal drugs. But even that is beside the point because the drugs were not injuring anyone apart perhaps from those who used them. So the bottom line is that the local authorities were flexing their muscles by going after a bunch of criminals without any victims.

Of course this kind of case is legion in America and has been for decades. The supposed leader of the free world, to which people come from all corners of the globe to escape oppression and harassment, is itself, in fact, engaged in plenty of oppression and harassment.

America’s crime rate is embarrassingly high precisely because its criminals include thousands of men and women who have done nothing more vile than to sell, buy and consume substances that are no more dangerous than ordinary alcohol and have engaged in sexual liaisons that leave a lot to be desired from the point of view of romance and family values.

OK, it should really not be argued that prostitution is nice or that people ought to enjoy themselves by means of drug abuse. What is worth pointing out, however, is how utterly sad it is that our lawmakers and law enforcers place so little trust in citizens who are facing the temptation to do such things and who think they have the moral authority to interfere.

Let’s face it, there are always temptations awaiting us all to get involved in immoral, wrongheaded, imprudent, self-destructive or salacious undertakings. But in a free society people are expected to deal with these without some dictator, tyrant or even well-meaning nanny ordering them to desist.

Sure, there is a long tradition in most places around the globe to ban acting on such temptations, to lock up those who provide the temptation and those who yield to it. This is because, sadly, too many people throughout human history haven’t become convinced that personal responsibility is better than paternalism when it comes to dealing with adult human beings.

The plain fact is, however, that in a truly free country resistance to temptation would come from the individual, his or her family, friends, service organizations, churches, etc., not the law (the task of which is to secure our rights, not to run our lives).

That even Americans can dispute this just shows how far we all are from fulfilling the true meaning of the revolution that created this country, one that rests on the idea that everyone has the unalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, among others. A serious appreciation for what that means would inform us that however morally objectionable some conduct is, free men and women may not be stopped from engaging in it other than by advice, urging, ostracism and other peaceful means.

Only if conduct violates rights may it rise to the level of a crime.

Yes, this is not the greatest incursion on our liberties we find in our country, but it is nonetheless one that needs to be stopped. And if it cannot be stopped because of the stubbornness of those who just have to meddle in other people’s lives by means of coercive laws and regulations, at least some of us need to point out just how contrary to the spirit and letter of freedom such policies are. Then, perhaps, after the full implication of the principles of freedom become more widely appreciated, public opinion and policies may develop that do not treat people as wards of government, infants in need of nannies to run their lives.

In other words, then, perhaps, freedom will truly reign.

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu