TOWN HALL

One of the proposals on this site is to sponsor of series of national town halls debating proposals to radically reduce government at all levels.

The following piece suggests how the opening address of such a Town Hall might go:

We often hear that the founding fathers, when drafting the Constitution, intended that the federal government perform relatively few and conceptually simple basic functions. These included national defense, foreign policy, and a judiciary. The states might perform more services, such as maintaining roads. But at no level was government supposed to provide entitlements or redistribute wealth.

Today, we find many examples where government tries to use its police or funding powers to influence or coerce personal behavior, supposedly for some kind of collective good which some call "ordered liberty."

I am proposing to you today, however, a resolution.

Government shall not attempt to regulate personal moral choices except one: that one adult human being does not perform aggression upon or violate the choice of another.

This can lead to many specific proposals to which there will be many specific objections. We'll find as we progress, however, that the objections can usually be answered in two or three brutally simple ways.

First, many people are uncomfortable with having more freedom, because then they will have to face their own personal weaknesses.

Second, many people are uncomfortable with having the personal responsibility for dealing directly with vulnerable or needy people, often those in their own families. Indeed, they would face this responsibility if government got out of the business of providing a safety net.

Some of our specific proposals would amount to radical changes in legislated public policy. For example and as 1996 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne suggests, we really can consider eliminating the income tax and replacing it with nothing. We can privatize social security, government funded health care, and schools. We can allow people greater leeway to defend their own property by bearing arms.

Other proposals need to be extended to the states, and they would require constitutional amendment because to do so by federal statute would walk on the unenumerated powers of the states. These proposals might include prohibiting both Congress and all the states from banning private adult consensual sexual relations, prostitution, gambling, pornography, and ingestion of any substances that individual adults choose into their own bodies. They might mean states could not limit the control women have over their own pregnancies or people have over ending their own lives. They might even prevent governments from intentionally subsidizing the interpersonal relationships we know as marriage. Any intellectually honest argument may have difficulty distinguishing reliably the "morality" of some of these behaviors; separation of drug use and homosexual conduct, for example, may require appeal to the questionable concept of homosexual "immutability" (even if there are credible theories of psychological growth which contradict immutability ).

To many, these proposals sound like a call for anarchy. Representative democracy, it will be argued, must always concern itself with essentially moral choices and the sharing of sacrifice that a democratic society needs to guarantee its survival. Competent adults allegedly must constrain themselves in their most extreme behaviors in order to protect more vulnerable members of society, especially children, from the dangers of such "vices" as drugs and gambling. Furthermore, life, because of circumstances differentially inherited by people from their ancestors, is just plain unfair; government must try to level the playing field.

But these arguments will be answerable by appeals to personal responsibility as our only driving moral principle in law. For indeed, a libertarian society, and one which does not need to tax at all, must expect two commitments from all of its citizens.

First, every person will be fully accountable for his or her own actions (and those of the children he or she parents) and nothing else. As in a chess game, a person pays for his own mistakes. Influence on or even temptation of the motives of other adults is not the same thing as aggression.

Second, every individual will need to understand that a certain amount of charity - of a willingness to care about some other people who may not immediately appeal to him - and a capacity to make commitments towards others, is an important part of the growth process that really does lead to healthful personal sovereignty. This last point cannot, of course, be legislated, but it can become understood and expected.

So a debate on a more libertarian future must proceed on two levels. First, it must identify and articulate truly libertarian principles, which are, which some issues like tort reform, not always as self-evident as they sound. Second, it must consider the voluntary changes is personal behavior needed for these principles to be safely implemented.