Don’t Fence Us Into Your Brave New World!

To varying degrees Professor Castañeda, Ms. Hanson, and Dr. Carpenter all make arguments against the “prohibition model” and for the abolition or substantial modification of U.S. laws against illegal drugs. This is their silver bullet to solve the narco-terror threat to the United States. and Mexico. To avoid muddying their reasoning and weakening their arguments, they indulge in the luxury of stipulating the success of their new models ceteris paribus. Unfortunately, in the real world legalization of drugs would be ugly and messy.

Instead focusing on the supposed futility of taking any action to protect ourselves, our children, and our nations from the predators that would destroy us from within with these debilitating and addictive psychotropic substances, I would encourage my colleagues to confront the real issue — the taking of the drugs themselves and what that has done and will do to our society and our culture. If this were a case of chemical and biological warfare being actively waged against the American and Mexican people, they would pay more attention. And that is what it is.

It is just not that easy for my colleagues to fence off average Mexicans and Americans and shield them from the destructive effects of their proposed changes. Legalization or decriminalization would have many huge repercussions for the peoples and social compacts of both Mexico and the United States. In his comment about my essay, Dr. Castañeda chastens me a bit for going beyond the imaginary boundary lines of this discussion to include related matters such as the role of narco-trafficking in financing the anti–U.S. political campaigns of Hugo Chavez and other populist leftist totalitarians as well as the age-old problem of corruption in Mexico.

Indeed we were all constrained by space limitations in our initial essays, but had I been able to expand my comments on corruption I would have assigned even greater culpability to American elites for their dishonest and slothful approach to southern border issues. As was the case with the Mexican elites, it served the purposes of many American political leaders to continue a de facto policy of laxity about the security of the U.S.–Mexico border so as to encourage the inflow of migrants. The unruly state of affairs along the border enticed not only migrants but also narco-traffickers and other nefarious characters, eager to exploit the situation.

Numerous studies have totaled up some of the costs to taxpayers and consumers from the current problems with drug addiction. These burdens on society — estimated at more than $180 billion a year — affect everyone. Just the economic costs of heroin addiction and methamphetamine abuse alone run into the tens of millions annually in the United States for health care, lost productivity, law enforcement, and welfare. These costs would not shrink — they would swell with any moves towards legalization — and gobble up any tax revenue windfalls produced by it along the way.

Regarding the applicability of Plan Colombia to the Mexican situation, I would argue that the success of that plan in saving Colombia’s market-based democratic governance — which Dr. Castañeda acknowledges to be a desirable outcome and one that has largely been achieved — is the necessary precursor to resuscitating state institutions so that they are powerful enough to take on and defeat the drug cartels. Already the Colombians have had enough success that the cartels have been forced to ship their toxic products through the jungles to Venezuela and over (and under) the Caribbean and Pacific to Mexico. The Mexican government needs to recover the same degree of vitality. Through a ramped-up Merida Initiative the United States and Mexico can accomplish that goal, and secure the border, for a fraction of the proposed $1 trillion additional cost of Obamacare or other less worthy spending plans.

Fifty years ago, Whittaker Chambers critiqued materialists — on the left and right — for their pursuit, not of happiness, but of pleasure. That was certainly not the American Founders’ vision of “Ordered Liberty.” In his excellent book examining how traditional Christian-Judeo values established the ideal moral foundation for the great American experiment in republican self-government, Michael Novak notes that the Founders were well aware that a successful democracy depends upon a collectively virtuous citizenry, continuously informed and inspired by those values, to create and maintain the conditions of liberty in which each individual citizen desires to live. Without this foundation of virtue there can be no real liberty or freedom, and it is liberty which was (and remains) the chief goal of the American Republic.

The Founders knew that the pursuit of materialistic pleasures — through drug taking, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, and in countless other ways — undermines virtue and leads to moral weakness, opening the door to the rule of tyrants who use “bread and circuses” to control and enslave the people. This is the horrific scenario painted by Huxley in Brave New World. It is no accident that the Directors of the World State use psychotropic drugs — soma — to anesthetize and pacify their hatchlings.

Among the many perils faced by our Republic today, legalized psychotropic drugs are among the most sinister and subversive. People around the world who hold to traditional moral values rightly see them as a threat. A conservative, Roman Catholic country such as Mexico would be even less likely than post-modern America to legalize drugs. That is why Professor Castañeda, ever the skillful politician, wants the United States to give him political cover by taking the first steps towards legalization.

At the risk of being scolded again for straying off topic, I would note a related issue in closing. It was the life-affirming conservative social values of Mexico (in part) that permitted the births of “excess workers” in the first place (for which they are no doubt grateful!). Until recently abortion was outlawed and unavailable in Mexico. Ironically, in the decades following the legalization of abortion in the U.S. (Roe v. Wade, 1973), labor shortages created the jobs magnet for the massive waves of workers who trekked across our chaotic southern border to fill them.

Also from This Issue

Lead Essay

  • A U.S. War with Mexican Consequences by Jorge Castañeda

    In his lead essay, Jorge Castañeda observes that the consequences of the U.S. drug war fall unevenly on Mexico. The U.S. taste for drugs – and for prohibition – are the chief causes of drug-related crime in Mexico, he asserts. This creates a problem that Mexico cannot solve on its own. U.S. assistance has been insufficient, and Mexican resources are too few to take on the drug cartels effectively. Even if the resources were available, the militarization of life in Mexico would be politically unacceptable to most Mexicans, who have enjoyed a relatively tranquil military in contrast to many other Latin American countries. Another approach to the war on drugs would simply be decriminalization, but again, Mexico cannot unilaterally decriminalize, because it would face severe diplomatic consequences from the United States and possibly become a refuge for addicts. The United States must lead the way toward solving this problem, which is of its own making.

Response Essays

  • Making “Hamsterdam” an Option by Stephanie Hanson

    Stephanie Hanson suggests that decriminalizing drugs, and possibly legalizing marijuana, is a promising strategy for reducing drug-related violence. Yet she acknowledges that coordination problems exist between the United States and Mexico on this issue, and she suggests that a second-best option may be to enforce stricter controls on guns leaving the United States and heading to Mexico.

  • The United States Must Help Mexico Defeat Narco-Insurgencies by James Roberts

    James Roberts faults Prof. Castañeda for taking the easy way out: Drug legalization might not be much work for the elites, but it will ruin lives and degrade regional democracies. It won’t stop violence and may even increase it. The United States and Mexico should work together to fight Mexican drug cartels because the survival of the Mexican state is at stake, along with American lives and American morals. Mexico in particular needs to step forward, reform its corrupt government and enforcement agencies, and get its own house in order, rather than seeking U.S.-based solutions.

  • Only a Drastic Change in U.S. Drug Policy Will Ease the Carnage in Mexico by Ted Galen Carpenter

    Ted Galen Carpenter commends Jorge Castañeda for recognizing the nature of the problem that besets his country, but he suggests a more radical solution: As long as U.S. prohibition remains in place, he writes, violent criminals will dominate the trade in narcotics. Only ending prohibition can solve the international problems of the drug trade. Militarization of enforcement simply escalates the violence and corruption, because the cartels have enough money to bribe and/or fight their way through any escalation we’d be prepared to mount.

The Conversation