WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN DOCUMENTARIES
A documentary challenge to laws against victimless crimes, questioning both the logic and practical effect of legislating the private personal behavior of consenting adults. [ Sex, Drugs, & Consenting Adults credits: Executive Producer: Victor Neufeld/ Journalist: John Stossel/ 50 min/ Documentary-Educational/ Government Enforced Morality, Libertarianism 101, John Stossel]
Preview available here.
This provocative film by ABC’s John Stossel examines virtually the entire panoply of criminalized victimless behavior, including: pornography, prostitution, gambling, drug use, ticket “scalping,” sodomy, adultery, use of non-FDA approved medical treatments, and euthanasia. Taking each in turn, Stossel offers both critics and defenders of laws prohibiting these activities a chance to speak, himself acting as devil’s advocate against all sides. These interactions are wonderfully useful at showing just how shallow the arguments for such laws really are, and give a rare forum for the arguments against. Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU and an active defender of a broad range of personal liberty, and Peter McWilliams, author of Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do, provide much of the intellectual firepower on the libertarian side.
Stossel also interviews many actual lawbreakers themselves. Putting a face on these “crimes” is important in itself because these typically middle-class violations of the law involve people with whom the vast viewing public can identify. They look and talk like neighbors, friends, and relatives. And that “they could be us” experience is essential to getting people to care enough to forgo the use of state violence to control them.
Some of his interviews reveal the often inhumane nature of government meddling in people’s personal lives. The most sympathetic of these is the case of a terminally ill little girl who had been denied an experimental medical treatment because the FDA considered the treatment too risky. As the angry father of the girl said: “[The government’s] not protecting my daughter. What they’re doing is tantamount to murder.”
At the same time, while promoting legalization of pretty much everything in the nature of personal adult behavior, Stossel is careful to distinguish between legalizing something and encouraging or approving of it. He even explicitly makes the case that there is a legitimate role for persuasion as a way to discourage unwanted behavior.
If there is any downside to this film, it is only that so much is covered here that each subject is touched upon only briefly. Sadly, the number of criminalized victimless behaviors is so high that to do much more would have turned the film into a miniseries. That broad coverage is also a strength, however, because it conceptually ties together the entire spectrum of victimless crimes. So if a viewer has sympathy for legalizing one thing, this presentation might make them see the logic of legalizing other consenting adult behavior.
Sex, Drugs & Consenting Adults is a fantastic film from a libertarian perspective, no question about it. It makes the case for personal liberty without compromise but in such a reasonable way that even opponents of personal liberty will find it difficult to object. It also gives people a motivation to want to be tolerant. As Peter McWilliams says near the end, “With our tolerance we buy our freedom.” This film is recommended for outreach material.