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October 2005
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Liberalism’s Brain on Drugs

At some point, everyone ought to throw his or her political theory — whatever it is — up against the wall of reality to see if it sticks. I ran smack into that wall when the state shackled Mark, one of my best friends, and hauled him off to a dank, violent, maximum-security prison for a 17-year stay. His crime: possession of a spoonful of cocaine, some of which they said he intended to distribute.

That’s the beginning of a good article by Ryan Grim in today’s In These Times.

I’ve always believed that we live in a fundamentally liberal society that can trace its way back to enlightenment thinkers like Jefferson, Madison, Locke, Mill and Rousseau. Sure, the past 24 years of the Reagan, Bush and even Clinton regimes haven’t been kind, but one bedrock principle still seemed intact: If not equality and fraternity, we’ll always have liberty. And so, as guards frogmarched my friend out of the courtroom shackled hands to feet, I wondered how confining that man for 17 years jives with my understanding of our nation’s values. Is imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people an acceptable policy result of a liberal, pluralistic democratic society? Or, is the drug war proving libertarians correct about the potential for abuse of government power?

Grim goes on to point out some of the abuses of freedom caused by the war on drugs (the drug war exception to the bill of rights, the huge prison populations, etc.), and liberalism’s failure to face or respond to them.

Silence from liberals in this debate is, in effect, an endorsement for the status quo. It is time to stand up in defense of liberty — not just equality and fraternity.

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