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Do Libertarians Believe that Nothing Should Be Illegal?

Summary:
Pro-abortion libertarians sometimes say the strangest things. Among the responses I received to my recent article, “Must Libertarians Be in Favor of Abortion,” was this statement: “I don’t see how a libertarian can be pro-life, if that means making abortion illegal, since libertarians don’t think anything should be illegal.” Libertarians don’t think anything should be illegal? This is even worse than the previous statement I critiqued: “I’m libertarian, which means I’m in favor of legal abortion.” Should rape be illegal? Should murder be illegal? Should armed robbery be illegal? Should carjacking be illegal? Should assault be illegal? Should kidnapping be illegal? Should arson be illegal? Should battery be illegal? Should burglary be illegal? Should child molestation

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Pro-abortion libertarians sometimes say the strangest things.

Among the responses I received to my recent article, “Must Libertarians Be in Favor of Abortion,” was this statement: “I don’t see how a libertarian can be pro-life, if that means making abortion illegal, since libertarians don’t think anything should be illegal.”

Libertarians don’t think anything should be illegal? This is even worse than the previous statement I critiqued: “I’m libertarian, which means I’m in favor of legal abortion.”

Should rape be illegal? Should murder be illegal? Should armed robbery be illegal? Should carjacking be illegal? Should assault be illegal? Should kidnapping be illegal? Should arson be illegal? Should battery be illegal? Should burglary be illegal? Should child molestation be illegal? Should shoplifting be illegal? Should hijacking be illegal? Should embezzlement be illegal?

In what kind of society worth living in would nothing be illegal?

Oh, but he couldn’t have really meant that libertarians don’t think anything should be illegal. Then why say it? Why make such an unqualified statement? No wonder “libertarian-leaning” conservatives and conservative Christians have such an aversion to libertarianism.

When I asked the question “Can the Government Ban Anything?,” I expanded and clarified it: “Is the federal government authorized by the Constitution to make illegal the possession of any substance that it deems it to be harmful, hazardous, immoral, addictive, threatening, damaging, injurious, destructive, unsafe, or dangerous to an individual or to society?”

Abortion is not a substance; it is an action. To write in response to that action that “libertarians don’t think anything should be illegal” is not limiting your remarks to illegal substances.

Although libertarians don’t think that nothing should be illegal, they do severely limit what should be so classified.

When it comes to the question of what actions should be illegal in a free society, the answer is a simple one: only those actions that infringe upon the personal or property rights of others.

Every real crime needs an actual victim—not a potential victim or a possible victim, but rather a tangible and identifiable victim who has suffered measurable harm to his person or measurable damages to his property.

There should be, as far as the law is concerned, no such things as nebulous crimes against God, religion, nature, society, humanity, civilization, the greater good, the public interest, or the state.

This means that there should be no laws against gambling, prostitution, ticket scalping, price gouging, pornography, or drug possession or use, unless such actions involve violating the personal or property rights of others—not their sensibilities, moral code, religion, customs, or traditions.

I think that all libertarians can and should agree that nothing should be illegal unless it infringes upon the personal or property rights of others. But this is a far cry from saying that libertarians don’t think anything should be illegal. Libertarians need to be more careful with their words.

Laurence M. Vance
Laurence M. Vance is an author, a publisher, a lecturer, a freelance writer, the editor of the Classic Reprints series, and the director of the Francis Wayland Institute. He holds degrees in history, theology, accounting, and economics. The author of twenty-four books, he has contributed over 700 articles and book reviews to both secular and religious periodicals.

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