Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pondering victimless crimes.

John Stuart Mill got liberal/libertarian theory off to a bad start when he wrote: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." The problem is that many things harm people. Wal-Mart harms K-Mart. Two people bidding to buy the same item harm the other. My taking my patronage from one grocery store to another harms the one I am leaving. A proper defintion of harm is needed. But to do that one has to contemplate the differences between "positive rights" and "negative rights".

Sam Harris says we should not spend much time contemplating victimless crimes. True but we must spend some time contemplating the nature of rights and what is, or is not, a victimless crime and how to tell the differences between them and real crimes. P was mainly promoted, not on the basis that one should protect the drinker, but protect society from the harm caused by drinking. Mill's "Harm Principle" left a space for the extension of the Nanny state and could be one reason he ended life sympathetic to socialism.

"Only those actions which entail committing an action against the rights of the other would be forbidden. Only “harm” in the sense of violating the rights of others is forbidden. Harm which is caused by refusing to make others better off is not a crime. It is not a violation of rights. The Religious Right, whether it wishes to see it as such or not, is basically pushing a socialist concept of rights when it wishes to ban victimless crimes. I am sure that many socialists would be equally horrified to discover that they share so much common ground with their sworn opponents."

You can read the full essay here.