I have just finished listening to the Radio Free Delingpole podcast in which the host and Paul Rahe discuss drugs, society and the role of the state as a mediator between the two. Paul Rahe seemed, as elsewhere, to be arguing that the prohibition of drugs is necessary in order to promote the existence of a responsible citizenry capable of executing their civic duties.
Now, I wouldn’t for a minute want to dispute the fact that a state requires a base of responsible people able to make rational decisions. What I would want to push back against, though, is the idea that responsibility can be encouraged by reducing freedom of choice. Does it make sense for the state to say to individuals, ‘We want you to be responsible and independent, but you are absolutely not allowed to do x, y or z because they’ll make you irresponsible’? Does the notion of a responsible and independent citizenry even hold any meaning when all the ‘irresponsible’ choices have been banned?
I think the question boils down to one of trust in the fundamental wisdom of the people. This, after all, is what we rely on in democracies, and rightly so. If the state trusts people, that is, if we trust each other, enough to make decisions about the fate of our nation, shouldn’t we trust them in deciding their own fate? Why should the right to start and/or vote for a political party whose sole aim was to instigate a nuclear war be sacrosanct, but the ownership of a given plant species or chemical compound be a crime? Both actions might well put me and others around me at risk, given the right circumstances, and neither are responsible. If we don't trust each other (explicitly) to make the right choices about drugs, why do we trust each other (implicitly) to make the right choices about nuclear weapons or even economic policy?
Is political freedom intrinsically different from personal freedom, or is it special only in so far as it represents all other freedoms?