Permit me to read an excerpt from Ludwig von Mises, master Austrian economist and one of the greatest classical liberal thinkers of all time. Mises, who many conservatives claim to admire, did not seem to think this was a minor matter. This is from Mises’s economic masterpiece, Human Action, written sixty years ago in 1949:
The problems involved in direct government interference with consumption. . . concern the fundamental issues of human life and social organization. If it is true that government derives its authority from God and is entrusted by Providence to act as the guardian of the ignorant and stupid populace, then it is certainly its task to regiment every aspect of the subject's conduct. The God-sent ruler knows better what is good for his wards than they do themselves. It is his duty to guard them against the harm they would inflict upon themselves if left alone.
Self-styled "realistic" people fail to recognize the immense importance of the principles implied. They contend that they do not want to deal with the matter from what, they say, is a philosophic and academic point of view. Their approach is, they argue, exclusively guided by practical considerations. . . .
However, the case is not so simple as that. Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government's benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.
These fears are not merely imaginary specters terrifying secluded doctrinaires. It is a fact that no paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from regimenting its subjects’ minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes man’s freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away. The naïve advocates of government interference with consumption delude themselves when they neglect what they disdainfully call the philosophical aspect of the problem. They unwittingly support the case of censorship, inquisition, religious intolerance, and the persecution of dissenters.
Radicalism on the drug issue is often seen in terms of the politics of the 1960s and since, but twenty years before Woodstock, one of the most serious and significant thinkers ever to ponder the importance of human liberty said all this, going far beyond what most critics of drug policy would say today.
But is Mises correct? Does he overstate his case? Is the abolition of the right to consume whatever someone wants really taking all his freedom away? And does drug prohibition really send us on the path to censorship and religious persecution?
In America, our liberties our ostensibly protected by the U.S. Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights. How much has the drug war compromised our Constitutional rights? Let us consider a countdown, starting with the Tenth Amendment and moving to First.