The Doors of Perception

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Hmm, I see that former Congressman Bob Barr has been appointed to the Libertarian Party’s National Committee.

Now I’ll readily grant that Barr was one of the more libertarian-minded Republicans on the Hill; and maybe the LP should be congratulated for landing such a high-profile member.

Still, as I recall Barr was very strongly in favour of the war on drugs, and I’ve seen no mention of his having changed his mind on that issue. Does his “star power” really outweigh the downside of having a drug warrior on the LNC?


0 Responses to The Doors of Perception

  1. Anonymous2 December 16, 2006 at 1:33 am #

    If an ardent drug-warrior can be a Libertarian, then the Libertarian Party is even more of a joke than it already is…

  2. Brad Spangler December 16, 2006 at 7:01 am #

    I’m aware of the natural tendency to succumb to the equivalent of the Erisian Law of Fives (the harder you look for strange occurrences of or relations to the number five, the more you find them).

    Even so, to me this news about Barr seems to support to at least some degree a particular notion…

    Konkin was right.

  3. Joe December 16, 2006 at 8:01 am #

    Not only has Barr agreed to be on the LNC, but supposedly he also “announced” as possibly seeking the 2008 LP presidential candidacy (at least IIRC the wording of a survey I received from Advocates for Self-Government–unfortunately I can’t view it again).

    P.S. Notably missing from the survey, under “organizations doing work for liberty”, which included the LP, Cato, FEE, FFF, Advocates, Reason Foundation, etc.: the Mises Institute (and of course, Molinari and C4SS– but you guys are too radical for plain old libertarians).

  4. Norman Horn December 16, 2006 at 1:51 pm #

    Yeah, I wondered that about Barr myself. But perhaps he only supported the war on drugs b/c he was still Republican, maybe with a little less principle than Ron Paul. Let’s just pray he turns around.

  5. Administrator December 16, 2006 at 5:20 pm #

    I’ve heard a rumor that he might be announcing a change of mind on the drug issue soon; we’ll see.

    Even if he does so, I have misgivings about Barr as LP candidate (as opposed to merely an LNC member). As I recall he had a “family values” social agenda on a lot of issues. Of course, so does Ron Paul, but Barr was generally more willing to use state power to promote them. Still, maybe he’s seen the light there too; I’ll wait to see.

    On the plus side, he’d be a much higher-profile LP candidiate than — well, than anyone they’ve had, actually. And his recent good relations with the ACLU and such may mean he wouldn’t alienate lefty voters as much as one might initially assume.

    Speaking whichly, whatever happened to this guy? He’s supposedly spent his whole adult life planning to run for the LP 2008 nomination, but there’s been nary a squeak from him.

  6. Administrator December 17, 2006 at 4:55 am #

    Update: one of my contacts in the Libertarian Party informs me confidentially that Barr definitely HAS abandoned his support for the drug war and will be issuing a statement to that effect very soon; at the same time, one of my contacts at Reason magazine informs me confidentially that Barr definitely HAS NOT abandoned his support for the drug war and that this will be clear in a new interview with Barr that’s going up on the Reason website on Monday.

    Well, this should be fun! Somebody’s in for a surprise – I just don’t know who yet.

  7. Brad Spangler December 18, 2006 at 8:23 am #

    Great. Schroedinger’s Politician… He’s simultaneously pro and anti until a quantum wave front collapses and he gets elected.

  8. Administrator December 18, 2006 at 12:38 pm #

    Okay, the Barr interview (taped last week) is up on the Reason site now. Here’s the relevant section:

    reason: In 2002, the Libertarian Party called you the worst drug warrior in Congress. No hard feelings?

    Barr: To be honest with you that’s never come up in our discussions. I’m not going to let minor disagreements come between us.

    reason: But you haven’t changed your mind on the drug war, or on gay marriage?

    Barr: There are going to be differences with my colleagues in the Libertarian Party. I can’t imagine there is ever going to be a party I agree with 100 percent of time.

  9. Mark Laufgraben December 18, 2006 at 1:36 pm #

    Totally disgusting.

  10. Rad Geek December 19, 2006 at 4:24 am #

    If they want someone really prominent for the 2008 presidential race, maybe they could drop Bob Barr to the VP slot, and instead nominate the exhumed corpse of Augusto Pinochet.

    Minor disagreements aside, he does have lots of name recognition. Plus I hear he’s for privatizing Social Security.

  11. labyrus December 19, 2006 at 12:06 pm #

    Wait, so he’s against gay marriage, too? Not only a drug warrior, but a bigot.

    I guess it’s only a “minor disagreement” if you think that one group of people deserves fewer rights than others, now. Not only that, but a drug war which puts thousands in prison each year simply never comes up in discussions about leading a party that’s supposedly founded on the idea of freedom. If wikipedia is correct he’s also against reproductive freedom, which apparently is another “minor difference” that isn’t work talking about, since obviously the IMPORTANT kind of freedom is that rich people are free to move money around to their hearts’ content, anything that would affect the rest of us is “minor”.

    If the libertarian party weren’t already a bunch of corporatist hypocrites, I might be upset.

  12. Eric Roark December 20, 2006 at 9:59 pm #

    The move is probably a good one for the party. And actually the typical libertarian stance toward legalizing “all” drugs could use some serious re-thinking. Libs are absolutely right to think that the only justification for the state to use force is in response to rights violating conduct. Now, I don’t think it is at all plausible to suggest that one’s smoking marijuana violates rights. But perhaps the use of certain drugs (PCP, for instance) does violate the plausible right of persons not to be put in risky situations. I’m not thinking of the user here, but folks the user might injure or harm given their use of certain drugs. This explains why the libertarian can argue that the drunk who gets behind the wheel should be physically removed from his car even before he actually hits someone. He puts me at a “risky enough” situation and in so doing violates my rights. I guess if one wants to use a drug that has the strong potential to make them violent while in a straight-jacket in a padded room then so be it. But at a minimum there must be strong constraints on when and where people can use drugs that have the strong potential to make then violent. Such constraints protect rights. But when and where certain drugs are normally consumed they might actually constitute a rights violation. And if this is right then the legalize all drugs movement of rights-protecting libertarians might be out of place.

    None of this is meant to imply that the current war on drugs is either moral or effective – it is niether.

  13. Sergio Méndez December 20, 2006 at 11:25 pm #


    What drug turns people violent? Doesn´t that happen with alcohol too? Why aren´t you for banning alcohol then?

  14. Rad Geek December 21, 2006 at 12:09 am #


    I don’t see how the case of powerful drugs is any different from the case of other things that can be dangerous to others when used irresponsibly, such as whiskey, automobiles, rifles, tasers, kitchen knives, gasoline, chlorine bleach, or propane grills.

    If you handle a potential danger irresponsibly, and somebody gets hurt, then the victim gains an enforceable right to collect damages as compensation for your negligence. That’s a good reason for people to set up courts to do objective fact-finding and make judgments on allegations of negligence. It is no reason at all to create, or to support, a regulatory state that imposes blanket prohibitions and jails anyone who so much as possesses some item that could possibly increase (to some unspecified degree) the likelihood that you’ll harm some unspecified third parties if you happen to use it without taking proper precautions.

    Just so we’re clear, what do you suggest having the government do to people who have, say, a dose of PCP in their possession?

  15. Eric Roark December 21, 2006 at 12:17 am #


    That is an excellent point. And all of my above thought turns on the odds that one will place another in a risky situation. The drug I had in mind was PCP. But there might well be other drugs, designer drugs perhaps or maybe meth, that fit the bill which I discussed that I know less about.

    In theory, if my drinking a beer turns me into a total nut and puts you in a risky situation. Then my drinking it would, I suggest, violate your rights. And most libertarians, myself included, think that a rights violation can be stopped with force. Now, it just so happens that having a drink or many drinks simply doesn’t work this way for most people. It doesn’t put you in a risky enough situation to constitute a rights violation, and hence force should not be used to stop it. Bugt my guess is that PCP is different in this key respect than booze. But this is just an empirical question and I would be fine with the reguilation of any substance whose use violates my right not to be placed in a risky situation.

    I do not think that anyone has a right to use force to stop the consumption of any drug or booze on paternalistic grounds. No libertarian could think so. But if some drugs used in normal fashions place innocent folks in risky situations then at the very least I think that the regualtion of when and where the drug is consumed is in good order as a mechanism that protects the right of people not to be put in risky situations.

    Thanks for passing along the question.

  16. Eric Roark December 21, 2006 at 12:31 am #


    I enjoyed reading your post. It really gets to some nuances. First, my having a does of PCP on my mantle that I just look at and adore doesn’t put anyone in a “risky enough” situation. So, given the argument I am pressing it does not follow that thye mere possession of PCP is something that would justify the use of force. The violation of rights would consist in the taking of the drug. Now, the real question it seems to me turns on whether or not some aqctivites are intrinsically risky, that is intrinsically risky enough to violate a persons right not to be put in a risky situation. The answer is, I think, clearly yes. Nozick gives a great example of such a behavior in Anarchy where he cites the example of a person playing Russian Roulette on the head of another with a six-shooter. This behavior is intrinsically risky enough to coinstitute a rights violation of the type I am pushing here.

    So can one responibily take PCP or is the taking of the drug intrinsically risky enough? This is likely where we diagree. I suspect that PCP consumption in a normal environment (i.e., walking down a public street) is risky enough. I’m not sure one can take this drug in a responsible fashion. This is an empirical claim that I might be wrong about. But can’t we imagine certain drugs that cannot be taken in a responsible fashion (they are just intrinsically risky enough). And it is these drugs whose consumption violates a rights violation when they are taken.

    Now, I realize what I say above is a deep departure from broken war on drugs. That war is immoral in so many ways that its lambasting cannot be given justice here.

    How should we punish one who places another in a risky situation (which with the present question concerns consumption as opposed to possession)? I really don’t know, good question. How do we punish the drunk who doesn’t actuallyn hurt anyone or Nozick’s Russian Roulette player? I do think punishment is in order, but I really don’t have much to say in respect to how much.

    Thanks for passing along the thoughts.

  17. Isak Davis December 21, 2006 at 9:49 am #

    I don’t think it’s useful to think of these things as rights violations, but rather potential rights violations and credible threats. If someone poses a credible threat to someone, by, for example, brandishing a sword and running towards them, they don’t have to wait for a rights violation to occur to defend themselves. In my opinion, possessing a nuclear bomb is so dangerous that anyone has the right to seize it and dismantle it.

    I’m skeptical that any illegal drugs are really dangerous to anyone. I think i’ve read that they act as pacifiers, making their users less inclined towards violence. In any case, in the case of pcp, according to wikipedia, there’s no scientific evidence that it induces violence.

  18. Eric Roark December 21, 2006 at 10:41 am #


    My own impression is that the person who plays Russian Roulette on others does violate their rights as does the drunk who gets in his car and swirvs into my lane as he narrowly misses me. Also, the the person who comes to my house with design to kill me seem to violate my rights well before the bullet in the gun he fires actually crosses my bodily sphere. The major advantage to treating these types of threats as rights violations is that if we do then then we can clearly justly use force to stop folks fro engaging in such threats. Rothbard is right when he tells us that libertarianism is a theory of non-aggression. That is, unless someone is violating rights no crossing their bodily sphere. Thus, in terms of justly using force against threats to us we gain a big advantage by referring to the threating act as a rights violating act.

    Wikipedia might be right about PCP, but I actually suspect it is wrong. In any event there are many drugs that don’t make their user “calm.” PCP is one, but another is, I think, meth. These drugs don’t make one calmer. But I’m not so worried about the elirical question. (Although from a policy standpoint it is important.) Just take all the drugs (however many there are) whose consumption creates a risky enough situation for normal folks and either highly regulate these or ban them. If the number of these drugs is 0, then I guess we will have a very simple drug policy (no policy at all). I highly doubt the number here, however, is 0. You note that you are skeptical that illigal drugs are dangerous to anyone (I’m assuming excluding the user). I doubt this, but if this empirical claim is true then I do agree that any drug policy (of using force against the consumers of drugs) would be a bad idea.

    Thanks for thoughts, I think this is a great discussion.

  19. labyrus December 21, 2006 at 1:35 pm #

    Most fears about people on drugs being violent are nothing but media-induced hysteria. Being around someone who’s on meth isn’t fun, but isn’t particularily dangerous.

    Regardless, is my right to not have to deal with the (possibly significant but I doubt large) risk of someone on PCP attacking me more important than that person’s right to not be sent to prison? I’d say no.

    More importantly, why should it be the state that’s charged with preventing this destructive behaviour. I think ordinary people and communities could do a far better job. A law against drunk driving doesn’t stop the drunk from getting into his car. His friend, or a bartender, the host of a party or even a complete stranger who notices him getting into his car does.

  20. Eric Roark December 21, 2006 at 1:53 pm #


    I suspect you are right about most fears being media (and politically) driven. The media and government tried to trick folks in the 50’s into thinking the marijuana use would make people crazy and violent. Obviously a bunch of hooey. But I think the risk is real in the case of PCP or at the very least we can imgaine it being very real with the newest designer drug.

    People who violate rights can, most libs think, be justly punished for their rightsw violating acting. So if the PCP user does violate my right not to be put in a risky situation then he can be punished. In such a case he has no right not to go to prison, he is a rights-violator. And as such no right to avoid punishment for his unjust acts.

    I think you are right about the state. I am at heart an anarchist myself. I suspect that in some of my past comments I leaned much to heavily on the concept of the state. The right to use force against a rights violator to either punish or prevent the rights violation is a right that we all possess (as uindividuals). Thus, I see no problem with an individual (not as a cop but qua individual) restraining a drunk to prevent him from driving. This is not an unjust use of force.

  21. Administrator December 21, 2006 at 7:07 pm #

    Latest Barr update here.

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  1. Social Memory Complex - January 11, 2007

    […] Rad Geek shares my opinion of Bob Barr’s possible 2008 Presidential Run on the LP ticket: If they want someone really prominent for the 2008 presidential race, maybe they could drop Bob Barr to the VP slot, and instead nominate the exhumed corpse of Augusto Pinochet.Minor disagreements aside, he does have lots of name recognition. Plus I hear he’s for privatizing Social Security. […]

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