New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is demonstrating one of the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives, on the one hand, and libertarians on the other.
Kraft was recently caught in a sting operation allegedly involving the payment of money to people in a Florida massage parlor in exchange for a sex act. Florida officials say that they have videotape evidence of the crime. They have charged Kraft with the criminal offense of “soliciting a prostitute.”
Although Kraft initially pled not guilty, indications are that he intends to accept a plea bargain entailing a deferred adjudication. The agreement would require him to admit guilt, perform 100 hours of community service, pay court costs, and attend a class on the dangers of prostitution. In return, he would receive a “deferred adjudication,” which means that he’ll never be convicted of the crime so long as he fulfills the terms of the agreement.
Meanwhile, Kraft has issued a public statement expressing deep remorse: “I am truly sorry. I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard.”
Two questions naturally arise: First, why is this a criminal offense? Second, don’t cops have better things to do than setting up sting operations in massage parlors?
Let’s start with the libertarian position. Libertarians hold that a genuinely free society is one in which people are free to do whatever they want, so long as their conduct doesn’t involve the initiation of force or fraud against another person. A short description of the principle states that a person should be free to do whatever is peaceful.
What if a person makes a choice to engage in peaceful conduct that most everyone else in society disapproves of? Libertarians say that this is the very essence of freedom. If people are “free” do only what others say is permissible, then that cannot legitimately be considered a free society. It’s only when people are free to engage in what others consider is irresponsible, immoral, and dangerous conduct that people can legitimately be considered free, so long as their conduct is peaceful.
Thus, people in a genuinely free society have the right to ingest whatever drugs they want in whatever quantity they want. They have the right to climb dangerous mountains. They have the right to commit adultery. And they have the right to engage in prostitution.
That’s not to say, of course, that libertarians necessarily condone or agree with the choices people make when they are free. It’s simply to say that libertarians hold that freedom necessarily involves making choices that others might consider are irresponsible, dangerous, or immoral, so long as their conduct is peaceful.
In a libertarian society, the state would leave Robert Kraft alone. What he does in a massage parlor is none of the government’s business. Rather than setting up sting operations involving video equipment in massage parlors, the cops in a libertarian society would be limited to go after murderers, rapists, thieves, robbers, and others who initiate force or fraud against others.
There is another factor to consider, however. The NFL is considering sanctioning Kraft for his conduct. That is entirely consistent with the principles of a free society. By buying a team within the NFL, Kraft has agreed to certain terms and conditions. If such terms and conditions entitle the league to sanction him for what he has allegedly done, the league can legitimately sanction him under libertarian principles.
By the same token, if fans choose to boycott New England Patriots games as a protest against Kraft’s alleged misconduct, that is also their right under libertarian principles.
Just leave the state out of the process. Again, prostitution is no business of the state.
That’s obviously not the position of conservatives and liberals. They believe that it is the role of the government to dictate morality and principles of “right” conduct to the citizenry, not only with respect to violent conduct (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, etc.) but also with respect to non-violent conduct, such as drug usage, diet, gambling, and prostitution.
Another example of how different conservatives and liberals view freedom, as compared to libertarians, involves the concept of charity. Libertarians believe that freedom necessarily entails the right of a person to keep everything he earns and decide for himself what to do with his money. If he chooses not to donate to charity, libertarians say that is his right.
Conservatives and liberals hold the opposite. They say that people cannot be trusted with 100 percent freedom when it comes to charity. Therefore, the state must be used to force them to do the “right” thing with their money. That’s where welfare-state programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, and education grants come into play.
Thus, under the conservative-liberal paradigm, people are “free” to live their lives any way they choose so long as they make choices that are responsible, moral, and “right,” as defined by others. If someone chooses a course of action that conservatives and liberals consider is irresponsible, dangerous, immoral, or “wrong,” then the state can target that person with arrest, prosecution, incarceration, and fine.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the conservative-liberal crime of “prostitution,” like so many of their other positions, is rife with hypocrisy and inconsistency. If Kraft had taken a massage parlor employee out to an expensive dinner, wined and dined her, given her a nice piece of jewelry, and then taken her home and engaged in consensual sex, he would have been fine. It was only by virtue of his paying her directly in exchange for a sex act that caused him to run afoul of the conservative-liberal law.
The conservative-liberal paradigm is not freedom at all. After all, by their definition of freedom, people in communist countries are free. As libertarians hold, it is only when people are free to choose wrongly, so long as their conduct is peaceful, that people can genuinely be considered free.