Friday, September 16, 2011

Conflicting Notions of Liberty & the Right to Do Wrong:

The post from David Post on Justice Thomas got me thinking more deeply about liberty rights and the American Founding. As a libertarian I tend to resolve conflicts in favor of political liberty as a default position.

The case Brown vs Entertainment Merchants Assn involved on the one hand the liberty of video game producers to market violent products even to those underaged v. the right (liberty?) of parents to raise their children with “absolute authority” and “total parental control over children’s lives”.

It's not easy to draw the line on where liberty ends and license begins. One standard I absolutely reject -- and I think the Founders rejected to -- is that we have no right to what is "wrong" in an objective sense (understanding that reasonable folks will disagree over what in fact IS wrong in an objective sense). Such a standard truly makes liberty meaningless or "hollow shells" (to use TVD's term in the comments).

The Founding Fathers believed men had an unalienable right to worship as they pleased which necessarily gives men an unalienable right to break the first half of the Ten Commandments and many other parts of the Bible (a very demanding book on moral issues).

But even extending beyond the narrow "rights of conscience" issue. Take Justice Thomas' standard on rights of parents. Absent thorny issues like when parents' near absolute authority conflicts with others' freedom of speech, I tend to agree with Thomas. Parents almost own their minor children, yet have the responsibilities to provide for them. Short of beatings which go beyond reasonable corporal punishment (I don't defend corporal punishment as good policy; but I don't think it's illegal to spank your kids) or neglect of necessaries, parents can do whatever the Hell they want with and to their kids. But that doesn't make what they do necessarily moral. It just means parents have a right to do what may be wrong. The Westboro Baptist Church or kids who are brainwashed into the KKK are two reductio ad absurdum examples. Or the humiliating emotional abuse to which many parents subject their children. I think for instance the emotional abuse that DJ AM's father subjected him to was gravely immoral and strongly contributed to his suicide. (I don't attribute causation as I believe all adults are ultimately responsible over the choices they make as adults.)

But I would see this as part of a parents' right to do wrong that comes with the almost absolute authority over their minor children of which Justice Thomas speaks. And this right to do wrong is part of a natural liberty right as America's Founders understood it. Again, the line draws at no beatings beyond reasonable corporal punishment and providing for necessaries.

We can't have government bureaucracies enforcing standards like "you can't emotionally abuse your children or we will fine you or take your kids away." But emotional abuse of your children is gravely immoral. I think any meaningful conception political liberty, ultimately, conflicts with the Nanny State of the Left and the Granny State of the Right. Maybe I'm wrong. But make no mistake giving people the right to self control and liberty over their own lives necessarily means giving them a right to do wrong and make mistakes.

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