Why Prior Restraint?

Why do so many have the immediate reaction of putting prior restraint on people’s actions instead of restricting the people who actually abuse thier freedoms? For example, in the ‘child licensing’ thread, a number of people came out in (generally theoretical) favor of requiring some kind of license or test before having a kid. Wouldn’t it make more sense for a free society to avoid restricting what its responsible citizens do, and instead impose penalties on people who have kids they can’t support, don’t raise their kids in a remotely reasonable manner, etc?

The tendancy for people to want to pass a law requiring some massive new beurocracy to tell everyone how to live their lives is pretty frightening. Especially when there is a very workable and less abusable system already in general use - punishing people for doing Bad Things, rather than instituting more forms to be filled, more government workers to abuse their petty power, more fees to be paid, etc.

The people who are in favor of theoretical prior restraint aren’t exactly looking at it in terms of “keeping people from doing Bad Things”. A license requirement never keeps people from doing Bad Things They’re looking at it more in terms of driver’s licenses, or medical licenses or almost any other license- parenting,like driving or practicing medicine, requires training and knowledge to be done competently and it’s important enough that it be done competently for society to require some minimum level of knowledge. Theoretically, I don’t have a problem with that. Practically, it couldn’t be enforced as a license, although a required child development class in high school might be a start .


“An ounce of prevention…” is probably applicable to the reasoning. In general, it is considered better to restrict the privileges of all in some minor way in order to prevent the serious problem resulting from its abuse by the few.

There are arguments that can be used against this tendency, of course, but it seems to be acceptable, to a degree, by the majority – which is who chooses the legislators.