The role and extent of government has been a matter of contention since Man first developed government. Nowhere is this more true than the ongoing war over what, if any, harm any government should allow to happen to the People.
Even the philosopher Hugo Adam Bedau, a current favorite among limited government and social liberal circles doesn’t provide much surcease from the argument.
Government should allow persons to engage in whatever conduct they want to, no matter how deviant or abnormal it may be, so long as:
- they know what they are doing,
- they consent to it, and
- no one — at least no one other than the participants — is harmed by it.
— Hugo Adam Bedau
Sure, Bedau’s words sound good and is if they’d make a good framework for the limits of government involvement and interference with the lives and actions of the governed. Sadly, however Bedau’s words beg the questions of what is the proof of knowledge aforethought and what constitutes consent.
His words also, much like the Wiccan Rede – An it harm none, do as you will – leave the glaring and easily warred over questions of what’s the harm and, much like claims of offensiveness, just who gets to decide that harm has been done in the first place.
No, not even Bedau’s simple prescription will ameliorate the conflict over just what the government should be allowed to regulate or proscribe.