By : Doug Bandow

Peter McWilliams is serious about individual liberty. In the introduction to Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do he declares simply: “This is a book about freedom.” More specifically, it is about the right of people to run their lives without the interference of government so long as they do not violate the rights of others. While this thesis might seem unexceptional to readers of the Freeman, McWilliams has produced a unique and enjoyable, if at times uneven, text for keeping the state out of our personal affairs. 

Still, to some people the issues he writes of might seem to pale in importance compared to, say, health care, until you realize the human cost of the government s attempt to stamp out what McWilliams calls “consensual crimes.” President Clinton wants to arrest you if you seek care outside of his government-controlled medical system.

But the state is already daily filling the jails with people who have engaged in some act that others found to be unsafe, offensive, immoral, or something else. Writes McWilliams: 

More than 350,000 people are in jail right now because of something they did, something that did not physically harm the person or property of another. In addition, more than 1,500,000 people are on parole or probation for consensual crimes. Further, more than 4,000,000 people are arrested each year for doing something that hurts no one but, potentially, themselves.....

Looked at from this perspective, there are few more important issues than eiminating criminal sanctions against acts which only harm consenting parties, if anyone. As McWilliams points out, tolerance, just like responsibility, “is the price of freedom.” The ultimate issue is not what we would prefer our neighbors not to do, but our justification

in locking them up for doing it.

McWilliams begins sensibly enough by discussing the characteristics of consensual

crimes. He rightly prefers the term consensual to victimless because he does not claim that such activities never cause harm. Moreover, he deftly distinguishes consensual crimes from real crimes that perpetrators attempt to portray as victimless: nonviolent theft, for instance, as well as drunk drivers  “who recklessly endanger innocent (nonconsenting) others,” in McWilliams’ words. He also points out the absurdity of the state attempting to protect people “from being emotionally hurt by the self-destructive behavior” of others, insisting instead on physical harm to turn an activity into a crime. In the end, he argues, the law has a pretty important job-protecting  “innocent people from likely harm to their person or property.” And doing that right will keep officials busy enough.

Still, consent obviously does not affect the issue of morality. And it is the traditional tenets of the Jewish and Christian faiths that have done so much to shape government policies on consensual crimes. McWilliams gives no indication of sharing these moral visions, but he recognizes their potency: “To the people who find [consensual crimes] immoral, they are and may always be immoral.” Rather than arguing over what is moral, McWilliams nicely distinguishes different forms of morality.

One type, he argues, is “personal morality,” what we believe to be right. This can be conceived of as intra-personal morality, since it concerns the making of a good and virtuous person. The other category is what McWilliams calls “social morality,” which means “not physically harming the person or property of another.”This may be best understood as inter-personal morality, governing a person s relationship with others. Thus, the key to preserving freedom is not to eschew legislating morality the only firm basis for law is morality. What is critical is to enforce only social morality, in order to mitigate the impact of a person’s sin on others. The state should not attempt to legislate personal morality, engaging in soulcraft rather than statecraft.

McWilliams, obviously a free spirit when it comes to organizing books, goes on to add sundry observations on, among other things, the Age of Enlightenment, failures of

alcohol Prohibition, and hypocrisy of today’s -would-be prohibitionists of just about everything. Regarding the latter, he finds an obvious target: Cigarettes cause enormous carnage yet are not only legal but subsidized. Lest his sustained attack on tobacco-”cigarettes are our country’s most serious drug problem,” he argues--confuse one, he opposes tobacco prohibition.

There is much, much more in Ain’ t Nobody s Business If You Do. McWilliams devotes one long section to the many arguments against criminalizing consensual conduct. I

Indeed, at times one feels that one is getting the “kitchen sink” treatment, with no conceivable claim left out. For instance, he leads off contending that such laws are  

“un-American.”Now, they may be stupid, dumb, immoral, and a host of other things, but there is a long prohibitionist streak in U.S. history. And if the Founding Fathers had

voted on the legitimacy of, say, an anti-sodomy law, McWilliams would probably have been disappointed by the outcome.

Similar is the author’s contention that the prohibition of consensual crimes is unconstitutional. It would be nice if they were, but that isn’t the document given us by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Still, McWilliams’ chapter on this issue is

entertaining, and will certainly expand the reader’s understanding of what might be possible with a judiciary more sympathetic to a Constitution that was intended to create a limited government of strictly enumerated powers.

McWilliamss’ other claims are generally more persuasive. He titles one chapter: Laws against Consensual Activities Are Opposed to the Principles of Private Property, Free Enterprise, Capitalism, and the Open Market. It shouldn’t be necessary to defend such a proposition, but McWilliams does so with verve. He also makes many more traditional arguments against consensual crimes: the cost of arresting, convicting, and imprisoning people for possibly hurting themselves; the catastrophic impact on those prosecuted; and the encouragement of “real, “ or victimful, crimes. Reading these chapters alone

should be enough to convince the hardened prohibitionist that he is doing more harm than good.

Alas, the author’s desire to toss in the kitchen sink really shows with his section on  Consensual Crimes and the Bible. McWilliams’ biblical interpretation is more convenient than convincing, and is reminiscent of deist Thomas Paine’s reliance on Christianity to bolster his arguments in Common Sense. Suffice it to say that the Bible establishes

scores of principles governing an individual’s relationship with God and his neighbors,

but virtually none about when he should jail other people for failing to fulfill their duties to God. Moreover, Christianity’s unique emphasis on soulcraft suggests this to be a

n area beyond the state s purview. Where McWilliams does have something serious to say to believers is in his argument that separation of church and state is for their

benefit after all, as he points out, we are all  “part of a religious minority, “ and if we allow government to meddle in religion  “we have not invited God, but the devil, to be the leader of the nation..”

Generally more convincing are the other parts of Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do, covering how consensual crimes became crimes, the specifics of the most common consensual crimes, and answers to oft-asked questions (e.g., “what about the children?”). He even offers some truly clever ideas that deserve further discussion.

What is the proper age of consent for kids, he wonders? Let parents and child attempt to come to a mutual agreement: with rights would then come responsibility. As McWilliams observes,  “If the would-be new adults mess up, however, they do not get to hide behind their youth, inexperience, or innocence. They got the name (adult) and now they can

play the game (adult court).”

What does McWilliams believe should be done about consensual crimes? Repeal the

laws, of course, though he recognizes the very real political obstacles to doing so. In a short but helpful practical section, he reviews state laws regarding consensual crimes

and gives some advice on how to take political action.

The most important step, however, is to simultaneously educate the public and reawaken people’s commitment to liberty. Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do certainly should help do so. Peter McWilliams has entertainingly demonstrated that we need a second American revolution not only to reign in government spending and taxing; we also need one to stop the state from persecuting people who have harmed no one other than themselves. For helping to spread this message McWilliams deserves our thanks.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, specializing in foreign policy and civil liberties. He worked as special assistant to President Reagan and editor of the political magazine Inquiry. He writes regularly for leading publications such as FortuneNational Interest, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Times. Bandow speaks frequently at academic conferences, on college campuses, and to business groups. Bandow has been a regular commentator on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. He holds a J.D. from Stanford University.

My Peter McWilliams experience.

by: Michael Jirak

When I was younger, say 20 or so, I was at a crossroads. What to do with my life? I had narrowed my career choices down to Law Enforcement, or something in the culinary field. Law Enforcement was a-callin, because the pay is roughly the same (starting out), great benefits, and definitely not least, I could make a positive difference in my community.

I had been reading profusely - mainly culinary works, and cookbooks, honing my passion for cooking. But Law Enforcement was always there in my mind. I had a somewhat secret ambition to become an FBI agent. If you are going to be a bear, be a Grizzly, right? And as far as the good that could be done, it seemed that I could do a great deal more on a federal level. Can you imagine how gratifying it would be to capture guys on the Most Wanted list? Serial killers, bank robbers, and drug kingpins. Awesome.

Then my girlfriend recommended a book to me. I am always interested in philosophy works, particularly of the political or socio-economic stripe. I am quite liberal in my views, so I’m always interested in important things which affect my life and the general welfare of the country as a whole. When the book is good, I will utterly get lost in it. Ha. Did I.

The book that she recommended was Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity Of Consensual Crimes In A Free Society by Mr. Peter McWilliams, and it literally changed my life completely. It took Law Enforcement off the table. How, you may ask?

First, the War On Drugs is an enormous lie which abrogates the Bill Of Rights, the stated mandate of Law Enforcement as a whole, and the basic civil rights of every man, woman, and child in America. In order to get anywhere, career wise, in Law Enforcement, you’ve got to go through “Narcotics”. Why? Because the fines and court costs associated with “Narcotics” is the lifeblood of Law Enforcement in the United States. Roughly half of the U.S. prison population is there because of drugs. We live in a capitalist system. Money runs everything. Drugs, and their users, are a cash cow.

The main thing that struck me about this book was the way he attacks the issue of drug prohibition from every conceivable angle. I’d already had my misgivings about that particular aspect of cop stuff, and this book cemented and amplified those. How could I sleep at night, having put somebody in jail, and taking their freedom away, no matter how temporarily, over some weed in their pocket? Answer- I couldn’t. There was simply no way I could feel good about that. Whatever defense the rookie or veteran cop employs, he’s covered it already. And that’s not all.

He also covers prostitution and gambling, or as the Police call it, “Vice”. Again, it’s just adults engaging in activities which, potentially, can only harm those partaking in them of their own free will. Making them illegal is counter-productive to individual autonomy and freedom in a “free” society. If you are judgmental of such activities, prepare to have your eyes opened wide, if and when you read this book. (And I very sincerely hope that you do.)

So I pursued the culinary route. I wish I could have cooked for Peter. Oh what a feast Id’ve laid out for him, in return for the intellectual feast he treated me to. The money isn’t great, and I work like a dog, but I can sleep at night. I don’t know how cops and politicians do, but I hope it’s badly. Read Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do and tell me you disagree.

Brian Wright, book Review : Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do

The absurdity of consensual crimes in our free country—Peter McWilliams

Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do

1996, Prelude Press, 666 pages

"I never hurt nobody but myself

and that's nobody's business but my own."

— Billie Holiday

It's taken me too long to review this book because it's taken me far too long to actually read this magnificent book.  Everyone in Liberty World knows Peter McWilliams and most of us have shed many a tear for this sensitive, kind, humane, supremely intelligent, humorous author, publisher, and advocate of fundamental personal freedom.  For this man.

We cry because so benevolent an individual became one of the most celebrated and brutal victims of the prosecution of victimless crimes. He was literally murdered by the federal government, by men dressed up as legitimate, constitutionally franchised United States' authorities who denied him his property, his freedom, and the medical attention he needed to prevent him from choking to death, June 14, 2000. You can read the story of his barbaric murder by federal officials here.   There are a number of sites on Peter, and his own Web page has apparently been left up on the World Wide Web in memory.

Peter's cannabis activism, as evident by Ain't Nobody's Business, was a large part of the government's rationale for killing him: "How dare anyone write a book claiming the drug war is immoral and ineffectual, and that it mercilessly destroys innocent lives."

"We're in a war. People who smoke pot on a casual basis are guilty of treason. They shouldn't be arrested, they should be taken out and shot." — Daryl Gates, former Los Angeles Police Chief

(and ultimate whack job)

Peter was a casualty of that war, I'm increasingly convinced not as collateral damage but as a intentional target of the enemy.

In Summer of 2000, I attended the convention of the Libertarian Party, in Anaheim, California.  It had only been two weeks since Peter died, and I recall LP party founder David Nolan on the dais literally breaking down conveying to us what a wonderful man Peter was: as a businessman, his compassion for AIDS victims, his courage under his own affliction with that horrible disease, his persistence in the fight for medical marijuana to alleviate human suffering in general, and to top it all off his wonderful, playful sense of life.

Peter never stooped to the brutality of his tormentors; he held to the end that these officials who imposed and applied such draconian restrictions while Peter awaited sentencing were only well-meaning pawns in a silly policy.  "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."  Even though John Stossel managed to air a positive 20/20 segment on Peter's plight shortly before Peter died, virtually no one in the controlled media elevated the story to where it belongs: the saga of Peter McWilliams, late-20th-century Ghandi for personal liberty.

The reason I'd put off reading Nobody's Business for so long is, as a victim of government aggression myself (though negligibly compared to Peter), I knew what he was going to describe.  I had first hand knowledge about how the drug war destroys lives—a reasonable estimate is more than the current population of the United States (~300 million) have been the victims of government aggression for victimless crimes in the US during the 20th century—and the thought of revisiting in text this awful condition of unenlightenment depressed the heck out of me.  But I needn't have been concerned.  Nobody's Business is not only full of facts and anecdotes and, believe it or not, humor, it is full of hope.  It's actually a field manual and a voluminous reference for leaders in the heroic fight for personal freedom.

Cutting right to the chase, the following list is more or less transcribed from one of the earlier chapters.  McWilliams provides the most comprehensive indictment of government aggression for "sin crimes" you'll ever see:

Reasons for Stopping Government Aggression on Consensual Activities (esp. for Ending the Drug War)

   It's un-American—America is based on personal freedom and on the strength of diversity; the American Dream is that we are all free to live our lives as we see fit, provided we do not physically harm the person or property of others.

   It's unconstitutional—The US Constitution and the Bill of Rights clearly acknowledge our natural rights to be free from coercion by moralists, do-gooders, and busybodies.

   Laws against consensual activities violate the separation of church and state—Most arguments for laws against consensual activities have a religious foundation: the consensual activities are judged to be sins before God. The anointed faithful want the state to imprison and kill the sinners for the glory of God.

   Laws against consensual activities are opposed to the principles of private property, free enterprise, capitalism, and the open market—For the government to say that certain things cannot be owned, bought, given away, traded, and sold is a direct violation of both the sanctity of private property and the fundamental principles of capitalism.

   It's expensive—McWilliams provides an elaborate analysis of true costs of enforcing laws against consensual activities in America: $450 billion per year.  (When you add the destruction of human lives, the cost is easily three to four times that number.)

   It destroys lives—A single arrest and conviction, even without a jail sentence, can permanently affect one's ability to get employment, housing credit, education, and insurance. If you do spend any time in jail, your life is often completely ruined.

   Consensual crimes encourage real crimes—To support an addiction to a substance, for instance, most addicts will need to resort to property crimes in order to afford the high prices due to government-contrived scarcity.

   Consensual crimes corrupt law enforcement—The lure of easy money tempts most people; everyone knows cops have the best drugs... and access to mountains of cash and all the personal favors. A legacy of consensual crime laws is that one of our true heroes, the honest cop, is an endangered species.

   The cops can't catch 'em, the courts can't handle 'em, and the prisons can't hold 'em—As it is, the police are catching less than 20% of the real criminals (those who do violate another's life, liberty, and property); there's no way they can even make a dent in consensual crimes.  To free prison space for consensual criminals, real criminals are put on the street every day.

   Consensual crimes promote organized crime—Organized crime in America grew out of an earlier attempt to legislate morality: Prohibition.  The enormous amount of money at the disposal of organized crime via banning of consensual activities enables organized crime to buy the entire system of "justice."  They're the last ones to want consensual activities decriminalized.

   Laws against consensual crimes teach irresponsibility—If we maintain that it is the government's job to keep illegal anything that might do us harm it implies that anything not illegal is harmless. This is certainly not the case.

   Laws against consensual activities are too randomly enforced to be either a deterrent or fair—If the chances of being caught at something are only, say, one in ten million, that's hardly a deterrent. In fact, their very illegality often makes consensual crimes fascinating, glamorous, and irresistible.

   Law against consensual activities discriminate against minorities and the poor—Many consensual activities that the mostly white, male, heterosexual, affluent, Christian lawmakers have deemed illegal do not reflect the preferences or experiences of minority groups. Further, the laws are enforced unevenly.

   Problems associated with consensual activities cannot be solved while they're crimes—During Prohibition, how many were killed or became blind because of bathtub gin?  During the new Prohibition, how many drug overdoses are due to impurities?  If you're engaged in a consensual crime, "who ya gonna call" to report a real crime?

   We have more important things to worry about—How about finding missing children, combating terrorism, tracking down serial killers... for starters.  Even improving the quality of general education or paying down the national debt seem to rate higher than catching your neighbor sparking a doobie in his living room.

   It's hypocritical—To give one obvious example: Cigarettes do more damage and cause roughly one hundred times the deaths of all consensual crimes combined. Yet tobacco growers are subsidized, and the companies receive a regulated (tho high) profit; the same arrangement holds for purveyors of beer and spirits.

   Laws against consensual activities create a society of fear, hatred, bigotry, oppression, and conformity: a culture opposed to personal expression, diversity, freedom, choice, and growth—If you're different, you're bad and unpatriotic... or in the words of Daryl Gates: a traitor.  It becomes okay to humiliate, brutalize, ostracize, and even kill those who are not the same as we are.  A preacher with a battering ram becomes society's ideal.

The remainder of the book expands on each of these areas of analysis.  Further, Mr. McWilliams brings to light one gem of factual material after another, with humor and humanity.  I challenge anyone to read this book and insist that we persist with our policies against people we want to beat up for disobedience or for just being odd. C'mon folks, lay down the clubs and live up to the American ideal.

McWilliams' spirit lives on and is inspiring hundreds of new Ghandis... for example, moving forward measures for medical marijuana and agricultural hemp.  [My personal immediate favorite is NH Coalition for Common Sense, which has recently won an impressive legislative victory for partial decriminalization of marijuana in the Free State.] Law enforcement is now on board nationally with rational, humanitarian drug policy via Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).  [If you haven't had the privilege of seeing former lawman Howard J. Wooldridge in action—either on the road or on the (Capitol) Hill—I encourage you to catch up with him.  He visited East Lansing, Michigan, a year ago, and the college kids love him.]  

Finally, an effort related to repeal of consensual crimes—mainly because the asinine federal government won't remove agricultural hemp from its Schedule I narcotics list—Hemp Industries Association fights the good fight to recultivate a potentially trillion-dollar-a-year industry, agricultural hemp, for family farmers and local independent businesses of all sorts everywhere.  [Hemp can provide the raw-wealth engine to clean up and liberate the planet in short order.]

So right arm!  Read this book and join the army of enlightenment.


Speaking to the American people, do you really want to succumb to the superstitious dogma of a government system run amok?  Do you want to continue to arrest 4,000,000 of your neighbors and incarcerate 750,000 more, EACH YEAR, for crimes that are not crimesl?  What sort of madmen would advocate such policies?  Or are they mad at all?  Perhaps these laws are intended to protect the privileges of a financial elite, or organized crime, or both.  Prevent competition.  Do you think of that?  What's that saying: "Don't steal, it's illegal to compete with the government."

We've just seen in New Hampshire that the power structure is running scared of the truth.  When HB 1623 (decrim for small quantities of marijuana) passed the NH house a few days ago, the mayor of Manchester requested that another Manchester public official (who had voted for the measure) resign.  But the people have spoken and they realize the emperor wears no clothes; the mayor is probably wishing he never said anything as messages from hundreds if not thousands of citizens are undoubtedly plugging up his electronic inbox with support of the public official who voted for freedom.  "We won't be fooled again."

And in conjunction with this achievement on the front lines, I want to close my review with a note courtesy Matt Simon, fearless leader of the NHCommonSense cadre.  Pointing to the bizarre response of the mayor of Manchester to HB 1623, Matt cited the following observation from that ultimate defender of liberty himself, Mohandas K. Ghandi:

First they ignore you;

then they ridicule you;

then they attack you;

then you win.

Daryl Gates was right, we are in a war.  We're fighting for common sense, freedom, and the Constitution.  Treason by out-to-lunch rogue cops and politicians cannot be tolerated; any of these individuals prosecuting wars against consensual activity in the slightest fashion should be taken out and... "nonviolently and peacefully encouraged" to read Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do. (Then lay down their assault rifles and battering rams and retire from public life to manage ant farms or pound sand 24/7.)

2008 March 24

Copyright © Brian Wright | The Coffee Coaster™

Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do | Peter McWilliams | the Drug War

Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: Reviews