Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rand Paul: Worse than a racist.

Rand Paul's tortured explanation of his opposition to parts of the civil rights act is being taken by some to indicate that he is either a covert racist or wishes to send a covert signal to racists that he is on their side.

Rand Paul's supporters are attempting to show that Paul's interest in positions that have traditionally been shout out to racists is in fact due to his deep and sincere belief in the rights of the individual and not a continuation of the covert-racism that many GOP figures such as Trent Lott and Jesse Helms engaged in for decades.

While there are many reasons to be skeptical of these claims, the counter-claim that Rand Paul is a rigid ideologue rather than merely a racist is actually a lot worse.

If Rand Paul is taken at his word, he is such a rigid ideologue that he would have opposed the real improvement in personal liberty provided by the civil rights act in favor of an abstract, theoretical definition of liberty. In Paul's world only the government can threaten liberty. No action by a private citizen can ever threaten liberty unless it involves coercion. In Paul's world, liberty matters above all else, but the term liberty has a fluid meaning that can be adapted to any purpose.

In the real world of course, the private individuals in the South could only discriminate by calling in the force of the state to remove blacks from whites-only lunch counters. As with Paul's assertion that 'tort law', not government regulation is the answer to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the gulf, libertopia is only achieved by ignoring state involvement in the favored case. Tort law is created by government legislation and (in common law jurisdictions at any rate) the decisions of government courts. Paul is not insisting on an absence of government regulation, he is insisting that the government is only allowed to regulate through retribution.

Libertarians are fond of the notion that the political spectrum is two dimensional, with a libertarian/authoritarian axis in addition to the left-right divide. The claim being that authoritarianism rather than any particular economic theory was the common factor in the totalitarian governments that came to power in the 20th century.

Rand Paul would clearly like to be placed on the libertarian end of the spectrum. But if we look at the consequences of his ideology rather than his purported principles he starts to appear distinctly authoritarian. Like Lenin he insists on placing a theoretical liberty defined by his rigid ideology above actual liberty.

Libertarians like to claim that they had no part in the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. But this is only true if we ignore Latin America where a series of generals insisted on the need to defend liberty by replacing the democratically elected government through a military coup. And the fact that stalwart 'libertarians' such as Milton Friedman could support such murderers in the name of 'liberty' is certainly proof strongly suggests that it is a rigid commitment to ideology that is the defining enabler of totalitarianism above all others.