Should Libertarians Favor Denying Rights Because Those Denied Will Be More Likely to Agree With Them After?
By David Henderson
That is the longest title I’ve ever used. But I couldn’t figure out a way to shorten it.
Why am I asking? Because in a post this morning, that’s what Tyler Cowen advocates. In a piece on gun control and foreign policy, he writes:
There are the libertarians, who hate martial culture on the international scene, but who wish to allow it or maybe even encourage it (personally, not through the government) at home, through the medium of guns. They are inconsistent, and they should consider being more pro-gun control than is currently the case. But I don’t expect them to budge: they will see this issue only through the lens of liberty, rather than through the lens of culture as well. They end up getting a lot of the gun liberties they wish to keep, but losing the broader cultural battle and somehow are perpetually surprised by this mix of outcomes.
So, according to Tyler, American libertarians, of whom I am one, should be more pro-gun control than we are because succeeding in gun control (he doesn’t specify, crucially, how much) will make the culture less militaristic.
Tyler is right, I think, that most libertarians see the issue through the lens of liberty. That’s certainly true in my case. Which is why I’m unwilling to favor gun control in order to change the culture. I don’t have near the certainly Tyler seems to have that people with fewer guns would want the U.S. government to be less inclined to use even bigger weapons on people in other countries. If I did, I admit that that would be a tougher problem than I think it is. I’ll have to think about it.
And why don’t I see much connection? Because my impression is that the United States had a very uncontrolled gun situation in the 1930s, when the vast majority of Americans wanted their government to mind its own business abroad.
By the way, John Thacker, who often comments on these posts, has a very good response to Tyler on Tyler’s site. He has a few, but here’s his best:
Are you defining “being more pro-gun control” as being culturally opposed to owning guns, while steadfastly opposing most regulation as doing more harm than good and being unworkable? That seems to be what you argue regarding alcohol and other drugs. Most gun regulations are unworkable on practical grounds, and the “easy” solutions tend to have the same sort of drawbacks (especially for the poor, etc.) as the war on drugs, the war on carrying or transferring sums of cash privately, or the war on not cutting your grass in the middle class way in small suburbs of St. Louis.