Ross Douthat has a particularly odious OpEd in the New York Times: Pot and Jackpots
Yes, he’s talking about marijuana and casinos.
But both have been made possible by the same trend in American attitudes: the rise of a live-and-let-live social libertarianism, the weakening influence of both religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, the growing suspicion of moralism in public policy.
And both, in different ways, illustrate the potential problems facing a culture pervaded by what the late sociologist Robert Bellah called “expressive individualism” and allergic to any restrictions on what individuals choose to do.
So he feels that he needs to express his concerns, and (as a conservative concern troll) the concerns all liberals should have regarding the impact of such a thing as marijuana legalization.
But liberals especially, given their anxieties about inequality, should be attuned to the way that some liberties can grease the skids for exploitation, with a revenue-hungry state partnering with the private sector to profiteer off human weakness.
This is one reason previous societies made distinctions between liberty and license that we have become loath to draw — because what seems like a harmless pleasure to the comfortable can devastate the poor and weak.
Ah, yes, because the poor and the weak have been doing so well under prohibition. It’s just been a walk in the park for them, dodging SWAT teams and drug dealers and having parentless children.
Ross is a conservative trying to get liberals to take his bait — tap into their often reflexive anti-libertarianism, and appeal to their concern for the poor and the weak — but he’s done so in a manner that’s a bit too obvious.
However, there are liberals (and I can think of some who we’ve discussed here) who actually would be quick to take the bait – the arrogant do-gooders who think that the unwashed masses are incapable of making their own decisions, and therefore should have a strong well-off person make those decisions for them. Interestingly, if someone made the exact same argument about women needing men to protect them from themselves, those same liberals would probably be appalled.