Young Americans for Freedom, the major conservative youth organization, recently sponsored, through its Young America's Foundation, a weekend conference in Philadelphia on "Privacy: the rights of the individual, and the role of government." W.C. Fields, when asked for his epitaph, replied: "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." I don't know if it's really that bad in the City of Brotherly Love, but I had no time to find out since I had to leave Philadelphia bright and early the morning following the conference for New York City en route to Boston.
In its more libertarian moments, YAF stands strongly against government supervision of the citizenry's lives, although when it comes to victimless crimes—well, another story, anon. On the second morning of the conference, Mr. Tom Charles Huston, formerly a White House aide to President Nixon, and peripherally involved in planning some of those events about which we hear so much, spoke on government surveillance of private citizens. Although he tried to convince his listeners that at the height of the disturbances, back a few years, those in the know thought they knew enough to justify some of those taps on phones and the like, the thrust of his speech was opposed to such government surveillance.
Later in the day, the former editor of the YAF publication, Jerry Norton, spoke eloquently in favor of the volunteer military, pointing out that the draft military is most certainly a government invasion of privacy. His colleague on that panel, Ronald Docksai, national chairman of YAF, delivered a splendid address on various forms of population "control" and experimentation, including cloning and other forms of asexual reproduction. Docksai voiced his concern, shared, I believe, by most of his listeners, that in our fascination with science we may be rushing into a situation of almost sci-fi tinkering with the individual. It made one think.
I spoke after lunch on victimless crimes, urging an end to government censorship of any form of reading matter, any form of consensual sexual activity among adults, and the like. I was rebutted by Prof. William A. Stanmeyer of Georgetown University Law School. Mr. Stanmeyer takes the traditionalist line, and sees no difference between the libertarian-conservative position I espoused and the libertinism I derided. The emphasis in his talk was on Virtue, which, he avers, the government has a right to enforce.
Mr. Stanmeyer, we learned, was so incensed by a piece I had written some months ago in NEW GUARD along the lines of my talk at the conference, that he set out to challenge it and is now sitting on a 300-plus-page manuscript outlining his views. I await the book eagerly, though to be frank, I know it already. One has heard it again and again, although no doubt Stanmeyer's approach will be scholarly and inventive.
At bottom, the traditionalist approach is one seeing the worst possible consequences of extended freedoms in the personal sphere. And so: what, he asks, will happen—what will happen to our social fabric if people can do what they want, read what they want, sleep with whom they want where they want? Why, natch, we'll all go straight to the dogs. Ah indeed, we might well go straight to the dogs, but I am inclined to think that route will be traveled because of other disturbances in our society than those I would like to see decriminalized. The Stanmeyer view, one shared certainly by many tens of millions of Americans, is not easily dismissed just because it is authoritarian and morose.
No other issue so raised the interest level at the YAF conference as that which Mr. Stanmeyer and I debated. Maybe sex and related matters are the conservative cuckoo, as someone—Gore Vidal?—once said. I'm not sure. I do know that you will find these economically libertarian people all across the conservative spectrum, but the minute the very idea of decriminalizing crimes without victims rears its head, the conservative "movement" falls into pieces, one side, mine, taking a strict libertarian line, the other retreating to the collectivist fold: let us have government enforce morality, by all means, by any means, some say. Mr. Stanmeyer's forthcoming book should make its case well, as he did in debate with me in Philadelphia. I fear that his view is destined to prevail for sometime yet, perhaps for many decades more. It is repugnant to the libertarian mind, but then, the American is no more a libertarian than he is a vegetarian, perhaps less the former than the latter.
Dr. Brudnoy's viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with the viewpoints of Murray Rothbard and Tibor Machan.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Viewpoint: The Individual, the Government, and YAF".