Can Morality Be Legislated?

August 23, 2012

Prep Question, Prepper Mindset

legislating morality

Today, I’d like to explore a topic that, while not directly related to prepping, does influence the direction that the United States is heading and thus it also affects our need for prepping. My intent for this post is to challenge your thinking and start a conversation in the comments section below. How about it? Are you ready?

The question: Can morality be legislated?

At first blush, it seems like a simple question. It’s clearly wrong to steal, to murder, and to assault someone. Those are easy examples. There are clear victims for those crimes. When we put laws in place to criminalize those activities, we are not legislating the morality or the good behavior of society; we are protecting the rights and personal liberties of an individual.

A more apt example is: should taking “illegal drugs” be illegal? When a person uses meth or cocaine, he is certainly destroying his own life. He is walking down a path that leads to destruction. But is he harming anyone else? Is there a victim to be protected? Should the government protect us from ourselves and our own bad choices? That’s the question.

What about prostitution? If two consenting adults enter into a relationship, albeit a very short one, should that be illegal? Since both parties are consenting adults, there is no victim. What about the spouse of one of the adults? Is he/she a victim? Marital trust was broken and the relationship was damaged or perhaps even destroyed, but no personal freedoms were infringed upon. So should the government get involved with our personal relationships? That’s the question.

Unethical or illegal?

The general consensus would probably be that these example activities are not moral or ethical. Few people would argue that taking mind-altering recreational drugs is a good moral choice. I’d doubt that many would say that visiting a prostitute is ethically ok. But does that mean these activities should be illegal?

Where does the line between personal liberties and freedoms end and societal and civil responsibilities begin? And how much of the line should be enforced through laws?

Put another way: what role should government and the laws it enacts play in our daily lives? Should it enforce norms that the majority find acceptable? What if the majority doesn’t fit your own norms?

It’s not a purely academic or theoretical question. There is a lot at stake. Great minds have struggled with this question for many years.

So, what do you think? Please be civil and considerate in your responses.

I’ll post my thoughts on the matter on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012.

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10 Comments on “Can Morality Be Legislated?”

  1. Steve S Says:

    The short answer is no, it can’t and shouldn’t be legislated.

    While I’ve pretty much always believed that morality couldn’t actually be legislated, I used to believe that laws could be used to, at a minimum, encourage moral behavior, if not outright enforce it. But that was before I understood about liberty, and what it really meant, and didn’t really understand how our nation’s laws are truly supposed to be based on the Constitution.

    Since I now better understand that enforcing a law which has made a crime out of an act that does no harm to anyone other than the one committing the act, is itself an immoral act, much more so than the original act. By using the government to enforce morality, we are condoning the use of force against another person(s) to make them do as we see fit, to force them to conform to our beliefs. Sound familiar?

    This also creates the problem of moral hazard, which does the opposite of what the laws are expecting. People end up looking to the government to decide what is right and wrong, rather than to their family, cultural norms, or religious beliefs or traditions.


  2. scrambo Says:

    well my feeling is that no you shouldn’t try to legislate morality. There are God,s natural laws put forth in the Ten commandments that protect man from his innate faults. The problem is that then there are man made laws and as you can see they are getting more and more out of hand. they don’t make sense and the unintended consequences are often more problematic than the original offense. Man’s wisdom is short and you can just turn on the news and see how corrupt and convoluted it has become….most recent example is obamacare…and nancy pelosi’s comment we need to pass it so we can see whats in it….insanity !


  3. Iowa Prepper Says:

    No morality shouldn’t be legislated. That being said that ARE some tricking areas of morality that could go either way. Example being illegal drugs. Directly they shouldn’t be legislated. Indirectly they can cause violence, pain, and death. Alcohol is another one. People can choose to drink however much they want. They just have to live, or die, with the consequences of doing so. Alcohol is legislated to the point that you get punished if you do certain things or cause certain things to happen. Drugs would have to be similar. Prostitution shouldn’t be legislated at all. In Vegas its not either. Why should it ? If two adults want to have sex let them. It’s consequential regardless if money changing hands or not.

    Honestly religious morality is between said person and their particular diety. Shouldn’t have anything to do with anyone else. Even if it affects someone else who had no choice in the matter. Provided it’s not against the law.

    Doesn’t matter if you are a religion or a government. You shouldn’t be imposing your morality on others.


  4. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Well, I answered this somewhere, possibly the wrong place.


  5. Clay Says:

    Wish I would have seen this when it actually posted, but seeing how I just now ran across this blog I guess later is better than never.
    Anyway, I have enjoyed perusing your blog and find it informative and entertaining and now that I have seen this post I find it REFRESHING.
    The answer is definitely NO. The government was set up to protect mine and your property rights not to legislate morality.
    I have yet to run across or meet many Christians who have this point of view.
    I can’t even stand to be part of a church because of this perspective held by many believers.
    We are supposed to be free in this country and have liberty in the Lord, but are far from it and even the bible says “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17); but Christians, in my experience, want to live in tyranny and actually be tyrants regarding moral and ethical ideas.
    Thanks for giving me hope that there may actually be like minded people out there who are believers and truly believe in liberty and freedom!


  6. teotwawkiandifeelfine Says:

    NO morality and/or ethics should not be legislated. I have both reason and example. The point of the laws isn’t to protect me from me, it’s to protect me from you. And you from me. Look at the heart of the useful laws; say, stop at a stop sign. If you don’t follow this law, not only will you be harmed (so what in the eyes of the law), you are very likely to cause harm to someone else. Laws against murder, assault, rape, stealing …, the basic laws, are all written to protect one human from another (or at least offer a good reason to not do the behavior.) What are the basic Laws about? What do we teach our children is so very basic to society? What would everyone agree with whole heartedly? What would they all say you, “yes, that is bad. Don’t do that”, too?

    Law is meant to protect the individual from society and others. It has nothing to do with personal impacts, in a free country. My example of a good intention going wrong and being ‘bad’: Forced seat belts on consenting adults. There is no direct impact of me wearing a seat belt on you – I am the one hurt, not you. There have been no cases where a seat belt stopped any damage to any person that was not wearing it. Taking the idea that Law is meant to protect one person from another, this is bad Law. It does not protect one person from another. It imposes a moral belief that has no direct impact on others. ‘It is “for the good of the rider.”‘

    So lets’ go one step farther with the law- it’s logical (and I can guarantee this is also true) that wearing a helmet in and on any moving vehicle will increase the general safety of the riders, much like seat belts reduce the damage done to riders. Now helmets have no impact on the other person, but they’ll make sure you have a better chance of getting less damage in an impact. All motor vehicle riders should be forced to wear a helmet.

    Next step extending the law more. An accident at 70 mph vs 55 mph is more damaging and more likely to cause damage to both parties. The speed limit should be 55 mph. Wait, 30 mph is far less damaging than 55 mph impacts, the speed limit should be 30 mph. Wait. 15 is even less and more protection for the drivers. 7 is even less. And 3. And 2. And 1. In fact, by banning all motor vehicles you could save a lot of $ and lives. 50,000+ people die each year from motor vehicle accidents. This must stop. To use the rhetoric often used ‘If this saves but one life…’ You can save 50,000 those lives by just banning motor vehicles at all, it’s for their own good! 50,000 lives. And it would be far easier to police!

    Legislating morality/ethics is wrong, every way from Sunday. Law is meant to protect the innocent from the guilty, NOT to protect everyone from themselves. Can’t it be shown that, the proponents of laws such as the seat belt law, by their flawed logic, any damaging behavior, environment and setting should be removed as fast as possible, as far as possible for the safety of the individual? Shouldn’t they be prosecuted for people who died because they didn’t legislate a way to stop those deaths? Surely the impact of their behavior should cause them to be judged by the same logic they use to make the Law.


    • Joe Says:

      “Law is meant to protect the individual from society and others. It has nothing to do with personal impacts, in a free country.” Well said.



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  2. Reader Spotlight: Can Morality Be Legislated? | - August 30, 2012

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