Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ron Paul, the Civil Rights Act and the Social Value of Libertarianism

Ron Paul, like his son, says he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act.  Unlike his son, he doesn't hide, duck or dissemble.  Part of the thing that otherwise sane people sometimes find attractive about Ron Paul is he is not only honest in his political ideology, he is fearless in its expression.  Unlike almost every other sitting legislator or high government official, if you ask him a question he will answer it.  That is, the actual question that was asked, rather than the accepted procedure of answering a politically difficult question with an irrelevant talking point, as in "Senator, do you think large corporations should be able to avoid paying corporate income taxes?"  "I believe that the most important challenge facing our Nation is job creation, and I will work tirelessly to make certain that is our focus".

But not Ron Paul.  To assist him in this endeavor, he has a well-formed and highly developed political and economic philosophy, an 'all in' form of savage Randian Libertarianism.  This particularly virulent ideology is best suited for know-it-all post adolescents, but in some cases people retain it into adulthood, at least as long as they can ignore its contradictions and logical outcome.  In Paul's case, his opposition to the Civil Rights act, he says, is not rooted in racism but rather in the belief that government should not be allowed to make laws about how people utilize their own private property.

To be sure, the Civil Rights Act is a massive intrusion into private commerce.  You might own a hotel or a restaurant, but the government mandates that there are criteria upon which you cannot deny service, no matter how deeply you might wish to.  But segregation is a massive societal problem, and no matter how highly one might value laissez-faire capitalism, the markets were utterly unable to overcome the deeply ingrained social taboos and solve the problem.  It took the coercive power of the government, enforced by judicial fiat and in many cases men at arms, to correct this societal wrong.

Now, we know from his own writings that Ron Paul is a virulent racist.  But let's take him at his word that his objections to the Civil Rights Act, along with other government contributions to the nation's well-being, is authentically rooted in his ideological belief that individual rights and the free market trump any efforts by society to actively solve its own problems.  This forces us to confront perhaps the most ridiculously toxic result of actually implementing a Libertarian political and economic system.  That is, under this set of beliefs, you MUST blindly follow the constitution, even when doing so is overtly harmful to the people and their communities.  If something is deemed 'unconstitutional' in the sense that the constitution does not expressly allow it, then it is not to be considered, regardless of the cost.  This turns the concept of 'constitutionality' on its head - instead of something being unconstitutional because the constitution forbids it, in the Ron Paul worldview EVERYTHING is unconstitutional with the exception of only those things that are allowed.  In this system, there are no options for dealing with problems or emergencies.  Not only can the government not address large-scale injustices like segregation, but it cannot address emergencies like hurricanes and flooding, it cannot attempt to alleviate poverty or even educate the children.

It seems that it is a political philosophy that sticks to its most basic premises out of spite - a system of governance that by definition is unconcerned with the well being of the governed.  That would stand idly by in the face of great suffering merely to remain true to a rigid set of governing principles.  And a government that would do so has no legitimacy, no right to claim the power of governance, however disinterested, over a helpless and powerless population.


  1. Via LGM this DeLong post makes a mockery out of the libertarian nature of CRA opposition.

  2. what the hell happened to my comment?

    FYiPHone. Imma going back to WebTV.

  3. An overly powerful corporation or individual is as dangerous as an overly powerful government.

    For my money, it's the former that is our major problem.

  4. nader paul kucinich gravel mckinneyMay 16, 2011 at 4:26 PM

    ... the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can "throw the rascals out" at any election without leading to any profound or extreme shifts in policy ... Quigley

    President Barack Obama
    Uncle Sam or Uncle Tom

  5. Uncle Tom?



  6. Interesting piece, mikey. I'd add that the remedies used by the federal government for such things as freeing slaves and the CRA were explicitly recognized as being constitutional by the USSC.

    The USSC found this way because they recognized that the Constitution is more complex and nuanced than the Pauls and other Libertarians want to believe. There is a faction in the country who think the Constitution needs no interpretation, that it's black-and white and that their interpretation is the only correct one.

    It's a simplistic, adolescent view of the meaning of words and in many ways is the core of the problem: simple people want simple answers.

    Even w/v gets it: it makes me impatio