The law mandates that people must wait until they are 21 years of age in order to consume alcohol, on the grounds that that is the age at which the body is fully capable of handling alcohol. But it is well understood in biology and physiology that people's bodies grow and develop at different rates depending on any number of factors: environment, genetics, etc. And that is just the physical aspect of it. There is also the mental aspect of understanding the potential dangers of alcohol and knowing how much is safe to consume. Many 18 - 20 year old college students consume alcohol without any harm resulting. Is it accurate to draw a line in the sand and say "this is when you are ready for alcohol"? Sartre says that "existence precedes essence" which I interpret to mean that people are responsible for determining the course of their own lives. So shouldn't we have the freedom to determine for ourselves when we are ready for alcohol? Why should the government make that decision for us? If a person is both physically and mentally capable of drinking alcohol, but under the age of 21, then to enforce the minimum drinking age against that person you would be relying on argumentum ad baculum, wouldn't you? It seems like a violation of human dignity to deny me autonomy over my own digestive system.

And people are ready to drive cars at different ages. But I'm going to guess that it would be a bad thing overall if 12-year-olds were allowed to drive. And people are intellectually capable of entering into contracts at different ages, but even the 10-year-olds who think they are probably aren't.

In America, we tend to favor laws that aren't paternalistic. We tend to think that we should err on the side of treating adults as able to make responsible decisions, even though there are lots of cases where they aren't. But in America (and most places), we tend to think that paternalism about non-adults is another matter. It's not just that on average, non-adults are less ready to make decisions than adults. It's also that there are plenty of adults who would be quite happy to exploit the over-confidence, lack of experience and impulsivity of many non-adults. They'd be happy to sell whisky to 10-year-olds. They're be happy to hire children for bad wages to do dangerous work.

If you want to argue that there just shouldn't be any differences at all in what the law allows adults and non-adults to do, even if some of the non-adults are, well, children, then you've picked an interesting row to hoe, but that's not how your question is phrased. You seem to agree that not everyone is ready to decide if they should drink. It's just that you think the law should leave alone the people who are ready to make adult decisions. But as long as you agree that it's okay for the law to put some age- or maturity-related restrictions on people's actions, then we need to think about how laws like that can work. It would be an enormous waste of time and resources to have the police or the liquor store employee or whomever apply some kind of test to figure out if the person in front of them is really ready. So the law does what legal systems need to do to function: it creates rules that can be applied and enforced relatively straightforwardly and don't stray too far from common sense. In the case of alcohol, it's an aged-based criterion. It's rough. It lets some people drink who aren't ready to make that decision. And it prevents others from drinking who are. But it does at least rough justice to the facts about people's ability to decide this sort of thing.

Now I suppose we could have a drinking license that anyone can get if they can pass some kind of biological/psychological test. And we could even say that unless you've passed the test, you don't get to drink. Almost everyone would agree that this system has way too high a cost in individual liberty. But almost everyone would agree that letting 10-year-olds use their allowances to buy gin doesn't pay enough attention to the fact that children aren't simply small adults.

Maybe you're (I don't know) 17 and mature enough to make wise decisions about alcohol. And so maybe in some attenuated sense, the laws as they stand don't fully respect your dignity. But one likely cost of rejiggering the rules to carve out an exception for you would be a fair bit of harm to people who actually aren't ready to decide these sorts of things.

Legal systems don't have to produce perfect justice in every case to be legitimate. Offhand, laws that put age-based restrictions on drinking don't seem like the sorts of examples that would help make a strong case for anarchy. They seem more like the kind of trade-off that any workable legal system entails.

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