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.