Ed Brayton reported on the indictments of the owners of the three largest online poker sites doing business in the U.S. Although online gambling isn't illegal in the United States, the Bush and Obama administrations have insisted that it is illegal. Ed also notes that, at the moment, it's likely that billions of dollars of winnings owed to hundreds of thousands of American citizens are in frozen accounts and may end up forfeited altogether. So in the interest of protecting Americans, the government has seized an enormous amount of their money.
I wonder if the conservative blogosphere will go apoplectic over nanny statism as they did when they learned that a Chicago principal banned lunches from home. And how many conservatives who object to mandatory nutritional labeling on menus and outright banning of trans fats will object as furiously to the gambling indictments and the massive cash seizure?
My very strong suspicion is that many won't give a rat's patootie about it. For more than a few Americans, when individual liberty runs up against their moral values, cracks in principles become visible and a little nanny statism doesn't seem like such a bad idea. I can't be the only person who sees the irony in Liberty University aggressively preparing students to go out into the world to work for the restriction of choices of consenting adults based on moral objections.
Consistent application of principles isn't just a problem for conservatives; it's a problem for liberals, as well. Libertarian-leaners are more often genuinely concerned with consistent application of principles and I believe that a case can also be made that absolute consistency is itself a problem.
But if one hysterically invokes first principles as if they are sacrosanct, except when those principles run up against personal moral values, I would say that those principles aren't really principles. Or the principles are an anti-principle: I will defend to the death your freedom to do what you want, as long as I don't personally find it too morally objectionable. Sometimes people try to get around this by piggybacking a non-moral rationalization to disguise the moral nature of their objections, but that's often a very transparent maneuver that fails under scrutiny.
To be clear, I am not referring to people who say that principles are sometimes imperfect enough to require occassional compromise*. I'm talking about those who treat principles as sacred and inviolable, reacting hysterically to small infractions as if they signal that we're living under intolerable fascist rule, while giving wide berth to huge violations of said principles in cases involving personal moral disapproval. I'd expect some sign of at least wrestling with reasons for the distinctions.
I do believe that liberals can carry nanny statism too far, but I think many conservatives talk the give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death game too forcefully for people who make so many glaring exceptions without ever admitting to the inconsistencies.
Alright, have at me. At one time this was all very clean for me. I admit that things have become kind of muddy for me in recent years. I think I've become something of a pragmatist, believing that many human beings are not fully fit to be free--that we are consigned to living with one foot on a rock and the other on a dangerous slippery slope where government must have powers that may in some circumstances deprive some people of individual liberty. Moreover, I think there is an element of subjectivity as to where exactly we should draw every line on government power.
And I do have some bottom lines, the ultimate being the First Amendment. We need words. We need the freedom to support or criticize in order to deal with all of the above.
Rather than drag on with practical examples at this point, I'll wait to see if anyone has some comment on this.
If you approve of occasional compromise, how do you make that determination? Do you knowingly ever allow pragmatism to temper your application of political principles? Or perhaps you view this subject through an entirely different frame.
*A vivid example: establishing governments that protect individual rights must inevitably begin with some violation of individual rights. Even if a government is instituted by democratic vote, the initial presumption is that the collective has power over individuals for no reason other than the fact that they say they do. All will be subject to the designated powers of the new state. I believe this is one of the objections many anarchists have to the state. It's an entity based on power over people and the power is inevitably used to crush the average person.