Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Paul and the Libertarian Civil Rights Problem

I think Rachel Maddow hits the nail on the head with the whole controversy over Rand Paul:

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This whole controversy has the sad ring of familiarity to it, at least to me. I heard people for many years articulate just this sort of position, that private business owners should be allowed to serve whoever they want and to refuse service to whoever they want (and I saw that in action with stores and restaurants in 1960s Dallas displaying signs in the windows reading "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone," and we all knew who "anyone" meant) . I should point out that none of the people I remember taking that position was racist, though taking such a stand in the all white relatively affluent part of Dallas I grew up in was not especially brave. The people who took this position always called themselves libertarian. One of the things that always struck me about libertarian thinking is how abstract it all is, how ideas and principles become divorced from practical effect. The practical effect of scuttling Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would be to effectively void all the rest of the Act. If desegregation was confined only to government facilities and (maybe) government contractors, then Jim Crow would be very much alive and well. All we would have accomplished is to replace legal segregation with de facto segregation (some would argue that is what we have now).
This would affect not only African Americans. The "gay ghettos" in cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco were not the creations of gay folk simply flocking together. They were the only neighborhoods with landlords willing to rent to them. Gay folk were lawfully refused leases in most other neighborhoods. That is still the case in most states and cities. It is still legal in most states to fire someone from their job for being gay. This is what everyone who is not white, straight, and male would face if there was no Title II in the Civil Rights Act. What the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did was finally enforce the Fourteenth Amendment which said that every male born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen regardless of color (the Nineteenth Amendment would rectify that little mistake of leaving out the female half of the population). The Amendment states clearly that all are entitled to the full benefits and rights of citizenship. Citizenship does not end when we cross a threshold into a private business, our own or someone else's.

Libertarians make me fond of Adam Smith. I'm not a fan of capitalism, but its ideologues make me appreciate the old Scottish pragmatist who first articulated a case for capitalism. Adam Smith was not an ideologue. He would probably look upon ideologues of all stripes with astonished incomprehension. He would probably be amazed at the idea of selfishness promoted to moral virtue. For him, human selfishness was a fact of life. He proposed using natural human selfishness toward socially useful and benevolent ends. I doubt that he ever considered selfishness to be especially virtuous any more than urination is virtuous. It's simply natural and necessary. He would probably not agree that property rights are absolute, and that taxation is always theft. He believed that taxes and some measure of government regulation were necessary for any decent and livable society. He believed that labor was fully within its rights to organize independently, and to bargain collectively for advantageous contracts. I doubt Adam Smith could find work these days at the Cato Institute, or at the American Enterprise Institute. He was a pragmatist, not an ideologue.

My argument with libertarianism is precisely that it is so abstract and ideological. On that score, it probably owes more to Lenin than to Adam Smith (the Soviets had an ideology, and some people believed we needed an ideology to counter theirs). My other argument with them is their tendency to put property rights above all else. I think otherwise. Human rights take precedence over property rights. I don't dismiss or trivialize property rights (very unsocialist of me), but I think they have their place and should stay there. That place is not on top over all.

Just to be clear,
I do not think that Rand Paul represents the Republican Party, conservatives, or even most libertarians. However, there is that extreme ideological school of libertarianism out there that would end a lot of law and policy (from Social Security to Medicare to much of the Civil Rights Act) that are popular and historically are beneficial.
I've not personally encountered anyone who holds these views in 30 years. I'm very surprised that this has become an issue again 45 years after the Civil Rights Act passed.
The Civil Rights Act complete with Title 2 is settled history with almost everyone including Republicans. However, the Republicans do have an abiding and growing credibility problem with minorities. The party does have a history of exploiting white anxieties and resentments over race for the sake of political expediency. Until recently, a lot of conservatives beginning with Lee Atwater tried to expand the appeal of conservatism beyond its historic white base. Now, that seems to be thrown into reverse.


Rand Paul gets curiouser and curiouser. He has ties to some very far-right groups like the Constitution Party which has ties to the Christian Reconstructionists (of Rousas John Rushdoony "Biblical law" and "stone the fags" fame).

... and even curiouser. This morning, he rushed to the defense of BP on the matter of responsibility for the oil spill.

... and still more curious, most people seem not to have noticed that the voter turnout in the Kentucky primary was higher for the Democrats than for the Republicans. I would imagine that Senator McConnell is worried. I'm thinking that 2010 will perhaps not be a rerun of 1994 after all.


Davis said...

Can Kristallnacht be far behind?

JCF said...

It only occurred to me, soon after Our Rachel's interview w/ Paul: Daddy Ron named him after Ayn Rand, didn't he? }-p

Randians ALWAYS seem to live in a Purely Abstract World of Ideology. A world where there's NEVER any inequality, that's not justified (on a basis of Social Darwinism). A world where "No ____ Need Apply/Will Be Served, Housed, Medically-Treated, etc etc etc" applies to them.

I recall the story of the Neo-Nazi, who had to hear one of his fellow skinheads say that HIS daughter-with-a-birth-defect should be euthanized, before he GOT IT.

When will Rand (and the other Randians)? That there IS a proper role for government to say to Joe Private Citizen/Property-Owner, "NO, you CAN'T do that!"?

To wit:

This morning, [Rand Paul] rushed to the defense of BP on the matter of responsibility for the oil spill.

To be expected! How dare the Federal Government tell drilling-rights OWNER BP how to do their job?

Randians are totally "The (Ideological) operation was a success, who cares that the (REAL WORLD) patient died?" crowd. Feh!

JCF said...


That should have read

A world where "No ____ Need Apply/Will Be Served, Housed, Medically-Treated, etc etc etc" *never* applies to them.

Counterlight said...

I'm puzzled by the emerging fusion of Randianism with fundamentalist Christianity. Rand herself was a militant atheist.
They are both supremacist movements, and both are about success and domination, but still I'm surprised.

June Butler said...

Maybe I'm naive, but I'm continually surprised that we must fight the same battles over and over. Social Security, desegregation - what's next? I know I've left re-fights out.