I couldn’t resist a challenge from Peter Burnett to comment on the latest thing in Dutch public broadcasting, a radio show where the cast engages in real sex and drugs and then discusses it. Burnett is “eagerly awaiting the comments of our resident libertarians”, which I think includes me.
The basic point would be that libertarianism doesn’t claim that this kind of thing is good, but that legal means will be ineffective or counter-productive. Societies capable of passing and enforcing such laws don’t need them, and obviously societies that can’t pass such laws won’t be helped by non-existent laws. Moreover, as generally happens with government intervention, enforcement will simply get more hidebound and disconnected from reality as time goes on. One need merely look at the flip side as exemplified by this very story of government intervention in broadcasting. In a variant of Gresham’s Law bad rules will gradually force out good judgement.
So what can be done? I think it’s a situation that’s very parallel to economic issues. Government attempts at direct intervention merely serve to muck up societal mechanisms. A government can’t directly create a vibrant economy or a healthy society, it can only ruin them. What government can do is provide a consistent set of basic rules in which capitalism and civil society can flourish. I firmly beieive that if the government simply doesn’t actively destroy the ability of society to control itself, things will tend to return to good state because ultimately that good state is materially good for society as well. It’s not stupid to be good.