Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rand Paul, Racism, and the Libertarian Conundrum

This morning, I read yet another piece on Rand Paul, the libertarian son of libertarian icon Ron Paul. Dr. Paul, an ophthalmologist, is currently a Tea Party favorite, having won the Republican primary for one of Kentucky's Senate seats. He's...well...interesting. Yeah, he's youngish, and photogenic, and his family is photogenic. But unlike other tea party folks, he speaks with what to me seems strangely flat affect.

Though the talking points coming out of his mouth are red meat to the Tea Party folks, they are delivered as a slow, deliberate, passionless mush. In terms of rhetorical style, he makes Al Gore sound like Benito Mussolini. Populist firebrand he ain't.

I can appreciate that.

Dr. Paul has been attacked vociferously on the left following comments he made about the Civil Rights Act, which enforced integration in the South. This has been taken, I think, as some form of tacit pandering to the racism that still weaves it's way through some corners of the American South. That may in some ways be true. When politicians speak of the rights of the states and localities and corporations and individuals and against the federal government, it's hard not to hear echoes of the Confederacy.
But when Dr. Paul was asked about the Civil Rights Act by progressive talking head Rachel Maddow, it was something of a loaded question. His response...which was to muse in the abstract about whether it was a good thing for government to mandate actions on the part of businesses (meaning, in the context of that law, you have to serve non-whites) was immediately attacked as coddling racism.

Honestly, though, it wasn't. I don't for a moment think that Rand Paul is a racist. He's just articulating a consistently libertarian position. Government is bad. Period. Unfortunately, that philosophical resistance to all things federal works under the assumption that localities and groups of individuals will always act in ways that respect the liberties of others.

They...um...don't, you know. That, I think, is the biggest challenge for anarchists and libertarians. If every human being acted in accordance with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, living a life filled with compassion for strangers and the Other, then we could be anarcho-libertarian and all would be well. That's the character of the Basilea Tou Theou, way I see it.

But we are not now in that place, or rather, we are only there in part. Which means that in the here and now, there are individuals and groups of individuals who actively work to impinge the liberties of others. Government...particularly if it is by the people, for the people, and of the people...exists to protect the liberties of those who are oppressed. The exercise of the power of the state in defense of those liberties is not monstrous or oppressive.

It is, as both Paul of Tarsus and St. Augustine recognized, necessary.


  1. "...philosophical resistance to all things federal works under the assumption that localities and groups of individuals will always act in ways that respect the liberties of others."

    Nice straw man.

    The fact that libertarians balk at the necessity and legitimacy of the federal government and its statues in no way implies a belief that localities(?) or groups of individuals will be any less corrupt.

    The anti-government movement is largely based on the belief that people are NOT good, and that giving them vast powers over others' lives will naturally lead to corruption, abuse, and widespread misery.

  2. @ newworld: Isn't he, though? I can just see him skipping down the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy.

    Most thoughtful libertarians hold a position that is more broadly opposed to government power in any of it's forms. But the Tea Party brand is, to my eyes, rather less thoughtful. It tends towards the reflexive anti-federalism that got legs during the Reagan Years, and the "devolution" movement (more power to *cough* localities) of the 1990s.

    Where I think I part ways with the libertarian movement is in the assumption that the market and human associations are somehow "better" than government. Power imbalances and self-seeking exist in any system in which human beings participate. Corruption, abuse, and widespread misery occur with surprising frequency in the absence of government.

  3. So, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't"?

  4. @ newworld: Or, perhaps, "Better the devil who was freely elected than the devil who wasn't." Although heaven knows all them devils seem in cahoots these days.

  5. What I find most interesting about Rand Paul (and his father too for that matter) is that Dad currently gets paid by and Rand, if he wins will get paid by the Federal government. They will, in a sense, be working for the Federal government. Isn't that some kind of contradiction?

  6. @Pastor Bob - if we could do away with the 'career politician' this wouldn't be an issue. They'd have to retain employment outside of the Federal government. "Back in the day" politicians weren't in constant campaign mode, pandering incessantly to the tyranny of the majority, as they had occupations outside of the political sphere. Politics is big "bidness" these days. I think we'd all benefit immensely if we were bereft of the 'political class'. It just doesn't work well.

  7. One of the reasons I self identify politically as a minarchist is that I view the governments of the world as a, wait for it.... neccessary evil. I know, a horrible term, but being a believer in the veracity of scripture and God's ability to communicate (you know He created that whole language thing, I figure He can use it to convey His ideals) to us certain truths within those scriptures, I see wordly government as a tool that He uses and holds to a standard.

    All the way back in 1 Samuel you see the people of Israel demanding that they have a king set over them. Yet again, they reject God as a people. Of course, God warns them via Samuel what having a king will mean and it ain't pretty. And what makes it even uglier is that they get Saul.

    Of course, in the New Testament, Paul as you quoted in his letter to the Roman church, gives credence to the idea of government being ordained by the Father. However, and here's the rub, that government is legitimate in asmuch as it adheres to the principles God sets forth. Anyone here ever read Rutherford's "Lex Rex"? He's a Scottish Presbyterian from the 17th century. I recommend it.



    Of course, I think the grossly overbloated government bureacuracies we see nowadays don't hold too well to the principles God has set in place. Thus there's that minarchism ideal. And I freely admit it's just that, an ideal.

  8. @Beloved: Freely elected is a matter of opinion. I haven't voted for anyone holding office in my state, and even if I had, elections simply determine the members of the republic--an entity not accountable to the public except during elections.

    @Pastor Bob: Are the Pauls guilty for using state roads and highways as well? Maybe they should levitate their way to the supermarket.

    There is a vast difference between milking the system and trying to take it down from the inside.

    @Jonathan: How does a minarchist keep his government from metastasizing?

  9. @ Newworld: Which is why we...um...have elections. To hold our representatives accountable. And whether ya personally voted 'em in or not is immaterial to whether they were "freely elected." Dubya was freely elected...well...the second time, anyway. But Reagan and Bush Senior certainly were. As was Bob McDonnell in the great state of Virginny.

  10. "@Jonathan: How does a minarchist keep his government from metastasizing?"

    Missed this one. Sorry bout that.

    That's the million dollar question, isn't it? ;o) Of course, knowing that man tends toward selfishness and outright "evil" given the opportunity, you certainly don't want to give him the kind of power that comes with the State especially in the contemporary sense. Robert Nozick in some of his essays and most especially his "Anarcy, State and Utopia" argues that some form of minarchism "will naturally arise" from anarchism. The key is mutual agreement on keeping that "State" at a profound minimum. But that only presents more problems, obviously, as folks tend to enjoy power over others. So given the opportunity would they really deny themselves that power? Probably not.

    Curiouser and curiouser. I know anarchists and minarchists are supposed to be at opposite poles, but I don't think they are. Both seek the dismantling of the State in it's present form, through peaceful means of course. However, my personal problem has always been, as a student of Christ and His scripture, the obvious credence, both in a negative and positive sense, given to government of some sort in the affairs of men throughout the text of scripture. It's hard for me to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak.