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The Distinction Between Sin and Crime

Thus the scourge of liquor was wiped off the face of the earth.

Consider drug-control policy. As previously noted, this is an issue where critics of prohibition lament the “legislating of morality.” The argument against prohibition typically takes one of two paths. Drug abuse may be portrayed as something not worth moralizing about, the “no big deal” defense. More common is the notion that drug abuse is a “victimless crime.” That term implies a division of morality into the realms of self and other, asserting that government should only concern itself with the latter.

That’s generally the right direction. Objective morality does not condone drug abuse. A rational pursuit of happiness does not seek short-term pleasure at a severe long-term cost. However, the immorality of drug abuse does not violate the rights of another individual. And since government informed by objective morality would exist only to protect rights, it would not act to prohibit drug abuse.

What of gay marriage? In civil terms, the union of two people is a contractual arrangement which should not be subject to the review of third parties. Society does not get to ratify contracts. If two people want to live together, combine assets, and grant each other agency, it remains their business.

That said, the movement to redefine marriage through the force of law seeks far more than contract rights. What gay marriage proponents are after is the affirmative action currently granted to married couples, preferential treatment which however well intentioned is still a violation of rights. The uncomfortable truth surrounding the marriage issue is that heterosexual couples have long been subsidized by their unwed neighbors. It is that state endorsement which homosexuals covet, along with the social sanction it implies. Under government informed by objective morality, marriage contracts would be just that, conveying no special benefits beyond the terms agreed upon. As a result, religious individuals and institutions with conscientious objections to homosexuality would never be forced to violate their conscience.

How about foreign policy? Can war ever be moral? It can according to the case made in Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism by Yaron Brook, Elan Journo, and Alex Epstein. Brook explains:

As we argue in the book, the principle that should guide our foreign policy is the same principle that should guide all governmental action: Our government should protect the individual rights of Americans. That’s our government’s only proper function. Deriving from that same purpose, our foreign policy should work to protect the lives and the property of individual Americans—from threats that are initiated outside the borders of this country. Clearly one major threat that the government must be on guard for—and retaliate against—is that of countries or groups launching a war against us or sending out terrorists to cause the mass slaughter of Americans. Other kinds of threats include threats to the property of Americans: Think of the pirates off the coast of Somalia taking ships for ransom. It is part of the government’s job to secure our right to property, to protect our ability to trade freely, and to prevent our property from being stolen by thugs on the high seas.