The Plant In The Middle Of The Culture Wars

This is a few weeks old, but we’re compiling it anyway.

Mary Grabar at Pajamas Media:

The position on the legalization of marijuana provides the point of departure from the traditional libertarianism of Barry Goldwater. In abandoning the duty to enforce social order, today’s libertarians have made a devil’s pact with the pro-drug forces of George Soros and company.

My libertarian friends like to say, “I’m a libertarian, not a libertine.” But though many of the advocates of libertarianism lead socially conservative lives, their agendas promote libertinism — especially when it comes to legalizing drugs. They forget that the moral order they have inherited is put at even further risk as laws change to allow more destructive behavior.

Case in point is the sad story of Andrew Grande, whose secret life as an amateur gay porn star is not being told in the media.

To the libertarian, such a profession would also not present a problem, as prostitution does not. But the two — drug use and the self-debasement of prostitution and pornography — go hand in hand. Ask any strip club dancer how easy it is to get up on stage stone cold sober. Ask anyone who has been under the influence about the stupid things he did. Indeed, Grande probably started young, when he was impressionable. And recent reporting has shown that our “safe schools czar,” Kevin Jennings, was head of an organization that used the schools to promote homosexual sex between boys and men. Certainly the ability to engage in such destructive behavior is enhanced by the use of drugs.


Libertarians are fond of pointing to the wreckage caused by the abuse of alcohol: deterioration of health, traffic deaths, and domestic violence. This is true, but it is an analogy that emerges from an abstraction. Libertarians argue that the only difference between the two is traditional: we have stamped alcohol consumption with a seal of social approval.

But I would argue that tradition should be a reason for its continued legal status and for denying legal status to marijuana.

The sanction for alcohol use goes back to the Bible. In the New Testament, references to its use in ceremonies like the Last Supper and the wedding at Cana appear. But Jesus also warns about excessive use. In the Old Testament, alcohol is shown to cloud the judgment of Lot. The Bible, in this way, tells us when and how we can use alcohol.

This means very little, though, in the arid moral climate of today’s libertarianism.

But I would argue that it should, not only from my position as a Christian, but from my position as a citizen of a country whose foundational values spring from the Judeo-Christian heritage. The sanction for alcohol use has lasted for millennia. It has become part of our rituals at meals, celebrations, and religious services. That is a large part of why Prohibition failed.

Marijuana, in contrast, has always been counter-cultural in the West. Every toke symbolizes a thumb in the eye of Western values. So it follows that in order to maintain our culture, we need to criminalize this drug.

The prohibition against marijuana is one brick in the foundation of our society. On a practical level the use of marijuana also works to knock out other bricks, like the work ethic, emotional engagement, sexual inhibition, and the ability to reason. For example, when one of my college students leads off in defense of the legalization of marijuana, he invariably does so in a disjointed manner, unable to muster the resources of reason and conviction to his argument. (He also does this in his essays.) One caller, “Dave,” to the Doc Washburn program displayed the same apathetic, but friendly, attitude.

While one cannot come to class drunk without drawing attention, he can attend under the influence of marijuana, sitting in the back of the room with a glazed, though not unpleasant, expression.

But that’s exactly what the left wants: a nation of young zombies — indifferent, unengaged, and uncaring. They provide amenable subjects to indoctrination. Alcohol may fuel fights, but marijuana, as its advocates like to point out, makes the user mellow. The toker wants to make love, not war.

David Swindle:

I’m sorry Mary but I remain thoroughly unpersuaded.

The arguments for drug legalization are numerous, and so as to avoid being dismissed as one of Prof. Grabar’s Jeff Spicoli students I’ll focus on one. (If Mary would like to engage the issue further then perhaps I’ll offer more.)

A single question for which all self-described “conservatives” should have a fairly similar answer: what is the purpose of the government as the founders intended?

The federal government does not exist to make the world better. It’s not here to eliminate poverty. (Look at inner city ghettos to see how effective the Left’s efforts have been.) It’s not supposed to try and make sure that more people can buy homes. (Look at the economic crash of 2008.) The founders never intended a government which would require all citizens to buy health insurance. (Look into a crystal ball of how the next few years will turn out.) When government is shifted toward bringing about some form of utopia it fails.

The purpose of government is to protect a free society. It’s to allow for a country in which the individual is sovereign, in which every man and woman can pursue his own destiny as they see fit. If they want to create jobs and raise families they can. If they want to destroy themselves then that’s their freedom.

So how does throwing people into jail for growing and consuming a plant fit into this understanding of government?

It does not.

Thus it makes sense that Goldwater was hardly the only important conservative whose opinion of marijuana softened over the years. William F. Buckley, Jr. went even further, advocating full-blown legalization in 2004.

Grabar responds:

Certainly, our government regulates substances it deems dangerous, doesn’t it?  It regulates certain drugs by prescription and outlaws others that are deadly.  That government regulation of a substance considered harmful will necessarily lead to infringements on all our freedoms seems to be a slippery slope argument.

Like many of my detractors, you point to the harmlessness of the drug.  But people are not thrown “in jail” for “growing and consuming a plant.”  Surely, you would have to agree that marijuana is not just a “plant” that you would grow in your garden, like spinach.  In fact, a better analogy might the one of growing poppies to produce opium.

Part of the absolutism is the refusal to acknowledge any of the dangers associated with marijuana or the concessions I made about the dangers of alcohol.  In my column I compared smoking marijuana to drinking alcohol, which I think is apt, depending on the strain of marijuana.  Both are used socially, both are relaxants, and both can be addictive.  The debate centers on legality.

Although marijuana is illegal, the punishment for its possession (alone) usually is very light. What legalization proponents (including William F. Buckley) don’t say is that many of those perpetrators serving prison sentences supposedly for “drug possession” have pled their cases down or are repeat offenders with long histories of other crimes, including violent crime.  So in effect they are not serving sentences for smoking a joint in their living rooms as many imply.

Those who do smoke in their homes (without any punishment I might add) say, “Look, I smoke every day and pull in six figures and pay my taxes, don’t beat my wife or kids, etc., etc.” That may be true.  It is also true for functioning alcoholics.

Again, the similarities between the two substances, and I revert back to an argument based on tradition and specifically our Judeo-Christian heritage.  I openly—and non-relativistically—assert that it is a heritage that is superior to all others.  I base my arguments on this premise.

The fact that I am accused of being a theocrat for simply invoking our cultural heritage and advocating for its values again points to an absolutism on the part of these libertarians, and I think, implicitly a rejection of the Judeo-Christian foundations of our culture.  Many of my detractors are absolutely hostile to the mere mention of the Bible or of why we should pay attention to it.

Swindle responds:

Is the Conservative Movement a political movement or a cultural movement? Is it about conserving the political ideas of the founders or the Judeo-Christian, “traditional” culture of the founders? (This is hardly an either/or decision.) And if it is about preserving a traditional culture, is it going to use the tyrannical power of government to do it? (And spend billions of taxpayer dollars?)

My answers to these questions should be obvious. I’m concerned about defeating the Left’s political machinations. And that should be the primary concern of conservatives. It’s not pot-smoking counterculturalists that are sending Guantanamo detainees to Illinois. The push for socialized medicine comes from leftists. (Harry Reid and Howard Dean are in no way “counterculture.”) And the political fight against these problems can only be won by a functioning coalition comprised of many peoples with many cultures who are united by a common political understanding of the role of government — the one I articulated in my previous post.

Mary wrote in her rebuttal that,

We lost the last election because we lost the culture war.

No we didn’t. John McCain lost to Barack Obama because of politics, not culture. Obama was a more exciting candidate who ran a much more effective campaign. It’s that simple.

A conservatism that can win is one which understands itself and defines itself as a political movement, not a cultural one. To do otherwise is to begin to destroy a functioning coalition that has been vital to defending America since Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley Jr., and Ronald Reagan brought it together in the 20th century. Conservatism must take the same approach to culture as the Constitution does — neutrality. Such an attitude worked for the document which has guided and protected our country for centuries and it will work for the Movement who has the same objective.

Calvin Freiburger:

Far be it from me to read too much into the defeat of John McCain, the poster boy for almost everything a Republican shouldn’t be.  2008 was the culmination of years of GOP incompetence and lack of principle, and for reasons completely unrelated to ideology, Barack Obama was perfectly positioned to seize upon it.

But it’s another thing entirely to assume that culture played no part in Obama’s ascendance.  A culture that worships gratification (particularly sexual) without responsibility or constraints, that believes truth is personal and relativistic rather than grounded in permanent wisdom, that has been conditioned to expect everyone else to provide for their every need and clean up after their every mistake, that sneers at traditional morality and religious belief…these trends and attitudes cannot help but play into the Left’s hands.

Simply put, a narcissistic, relativistic, secular, ignorant culture will always be receptive to a political movement that promises to give them things paid for with other people’s money, affirms their “if it feels good, do it” mentality, and assures them that supporting statism and “environmental consciousness” are the only forms of morality or compassion they’ll ever really need.

A conservatism that disregards our culture will not win; indeed, its political prospects will only diminish further still.  I grew up in a public school system completely dominated by the Left.  I have seen time after time how easily the average apolitical teen, bereft of solid core values and spoon-feed the consensus of popular culture, assumes the Left’s claims on government’s role and conservatives’ evil to be true, to say nothing of every liberal myth from man-made global warming to the military-industrial complex.

More importantly, I have seen the Right’s feeble response.  This is a battle in which the conservative movement is largely—and the Republican Party is completely—AWOL.  How many conservatives are formulating strategies to break the Left’s stranglehold on education, both K-12 and college?  How many are drawing attention to the corruption of Church teachings on compassion?  How many on Capitol Hill are challenging the Left’s poisonous sexual dogma, or publicly illustrating the connection between the Democrat Party and the cultural forces it cultivates and feeds upon?

Republican electoral failures cannot be attributed to a nonexistent emphasis on culture; indeed, it’s far more likely that our woes are intimately tied to our dereliction of duty on this front.  The same old tactics—conservatives talking to the same radio audiences, writing in the same magazines, and posting on the same blogs, all mostly to each other—will win converts to the Right from time to time, but not in numbers that can even begin to compare to how many people are unwittingly fed liberal presuppositions about the world by stealth in their schools, TV shows, music, and churches, all of which form an echo chamber, reaffirming the messages for one another.

Swindle responds:

Social conservatives like Calvin and Mary are entirely correct to point out that culture is important and that conservatives should be engaged within it. There are a wide number of broad conservative cultural values that conservatives across the range of the coalition can likely support without much controversy.

The idea that one should not devote one’s life to nothing more than smoking marijuana is a conservative cultural value upon which Mary, Calvin, and myself can likely agree. “Work hard” is another. “Take responsibility for you actions” is a third. “Religion is a good thing” is a fourth. “Strong families are vital to the health of America” is a fifth. “Don’t have sex with everything in sight” is a sixth — though I wager Calvin might take it a step further than I into “Don’t have sex until you’re married — and only with someone of the opposite gender.” I’m sure we could compose quite a list of these points.

It’s certainly important for those on the Right to continue to articulate these cultural values. What my statement from my post was intended for was the question of how conservatives pursue these cultural issues. I argue that it’s fundamentally at odds with the principles of the Constitution and the founders to utilize the force of government to try and shape the culture in our direction or any others.

More Swindle here and here.

Conor Friedersdorf:

Over at Pajamas Media, Mary Grabar assumes that libertarians want the legalization of drugs for principled reasons. That is certainly one motivation for their stance. But Ms. Grabar fails to grapple with the practical case for legalization. I’d sum it up by noting that prohibition costs billions of dollars per year, funds international cartels that murder countless innocents, destabilizes foreign countries, corrupts our border agents and police, undermines our civil liberties, transforms some neighborhoods in our cities into war zones, overburdens our criminal justice system, and doesn’t actually prevent widespread use of drugs!

Do take a moment to read through that list of ills again. Consider how costly prohibition is. Ms. Grabar must make a persuasive case that legalization would be even worse. Her piece does no such thing, and in the process, it includes one of the most laughable anti-legalization arguments I’ve ever seen

Radley Balko:

I can’t believe people still make these kinds of arguments. What a vapid waste of electrons.


Shorter Mary Grabar:

The very Devils Weed that makes my droning lectures bearable also happens to be a gateway drug to faggotry, so suck on that libertarians!

Kevin Drum:

I guess she’s nailed us, hasn’t she? Back to the drawing board, boys and girls.


Filed under Culture War, War On Drugs

2 responses to “The Plant In The Middle Of The Culture Wars

  1. “Judeo-Christian”?!?

    Dictionaries define “Judeo” as a combinative form. Thus, the compound word “Judeo-Christian” implies that Judaism (Torah) is no more than a dependent element of Christianity.

    In typical supersessionist and displacement Christian tradition, Christians thoughtlessly presume the prefix “Judeo-” to lay false claim to Judaism (Torah) by means of an impossible union of “Judeo-” (pro-Torah) with “Christian” (supersessionist and displacement antinomian=anti-Torah=misojudaism).

    Where values are shared, the accurate (and honest) way would be to state “Judaic and Christian…” (values, traditions, etc.) instead of “Judeo-Christian.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s