I’m glad we are having this discussion about virtue and libertarianism. In general outline, I’m fine with the general thesis Sorens and Ruger propound that virtue and liberty are compatible and synergistic. But I don’t see how they can claim to know that the activities they say are incompatible with virtue or living a good life are in fact that.
Since Sorens and Ruger say that libertarians have the “unfortunate reputation of focusing on drugs and sex”— thank goodness, rock and roll wasn’t on the list—let’s focus on those activities.
Sorens and Ruger make the following claims:
- “As a rule, acting in porn trades one’s dignity for money”
- “Purely recreational or commercial sex skews the important pair-bonding, psychological functions of sex…”
So I have a simple question: how do they know this? Can they provide good evidence? What concerns me is the one example they give regarding claims 1 and 2—porn star Belle Knox—does nothing to support those claims. At one point in what we hope is a long life, she did pornography (as I understand it, rape video fantasies) to make her way through college. Did this trade her dignity for money? Where’s the reliable evidence? In response to Steve Horwitz, they concede that “there might be circumstances that justify her decision” (my emphasis). But what we need here are reliable probability judgments about what’s the rule here (about porn, sex work, and dignity) and what’s the exception to the rule. More specifically, we would need to know (a) whether someone like Belle Knox who does porn for a short period of time for financial reasons will look back and correctly judge that her dignity was traded away and (b) that those who do porn or are sex workers for significant periods of time will make the same kind of judgment. It is beyond me how Sorens and Ruger could have the very particularized evidence for (a). (B) may be true, but again, we need evidence.
I turn now to drug use, I topic I think I know something about, but I will let others judge my work and the work of those who influenced me. (See in particular, Jacob Sullum’s excellent book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (Tarcher-Perigree, 2004)
Forgot about marijuana, that’s a soft and easy case. Let’s take heroin 🙂 (Sorry, couldn’t resist the joke. I do it every year in Current Moral Problems.) Is using heroin moderately (or perhaps even being an addict when it’s legal, safe, and cheap) in general at odds with being virtuous? If you are sure, check the evidence (or as Ayn Rand said often, check your premises) on moderate heroin use and heroin addicts by looking at Sullum’s book and my article on mandatory drug testing. Look at Edward Brecher’s Licit and Illicit Drugs (Little and Brown, 1973) about eminent heroin addicts. Or look at John Kaplan’s The Hardest Drug (University of Chicago, 1983) And Norman Zinberg’s Drugs, Set, and Setting (Yale University Press, 1986). My point here is that Soren and Ruger seem to me to violate the epistemic virtue of humility. There are clearly two excesses here: being too judgmental (think of Ayn Rand “judge and be prepared to be judged”) and refusing to judge others (“let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”) My concern is that even though Sorens and Ruger are correct to criticize libertarians that are libertines, they seem too judgmental.
 By the way, are Sorens and Rugers talking about illegal drugs? All drugs? This is not a pedantic point. Labeling substances that we disapprove of us as not drugs (consider the bizarre distinction between “drugs and alcohol”)-and things we don’t approve of as “drugs” has help enable what in my view is one of the most destructive policies in the past century, the “War on Drugs.”
 In the part of claim 2 that follows the ellipsis, Ruger and Sorens say “and can risk one’s self-respect, not to mention overall flourishing.” No reasonable person, of course, would disagree with the “can” claim.
 See “Against Mandatory Drug Testing,” in Drugs, Morality, and the Law ed. Curtis Brown and Steven Luper-Foy (Garland Publishers, 1994), pp. 301-17,” Smoking Tobacco: Irrationality, Addiction, and Paternalism,” Public Affairs Quarterly, (April 1994), pp. 187-203, and “Addiction and Drug Policy,” in Disputed Moral Issues ed. Mark Timmons (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp.155-60 [also in a number of other Current Moral Problem anthologies]
 I strongly suspect being a heroin addict is difficult to do while living a good life (and I say so in class when I teach this subject). But I could be wrong. I am pretty sure based on the evidence available to me, that moderate use of opiates is quite compatible with living a good life. How do I know? Because it’s been done in various cultures.
 I’m ignorant about the context of this quote. Hey, I was raised an atheist Jew, forgive me 🙂