Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« The power of backbenchers: Canada versus UK | Main | For the last time, Harper is not a social conservative »

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh, Those Wacky Libertarians

In the run-up to Rand Paul's, son of Ron, victory in the Kentucky GOP primary, I kept finding rather nasty articles about the libertarian firebrand. Not from the usual suspects on the Left, who believe that anti-statists in general are prophets of the small government Anti-Christ, but from conservatives. Case in point, this little screed from the National Post:

In an interview (he just can’t stop talking!) Friday morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, Paul said the Obama administration’s criticism of oil giant BP was “un-American.” We’re not exactly sure why, but given Paul’s world view, it’s likely because he thinks private businesses are so sacrosanct as to be beyond reproach from government – whether they discriminate based on race or preside over ecological disaster.

Not quite. He openly critcized those provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination on private property. Basically the same stand taken by then Senator Barry Goldwater, who voted against the act. Paul was advocating for old fashioned private property. If you own something that means it is yours, and the government cannot tell you what to do with it unless you clearly threaten the rights of others. No one has a right to eat a meal on your property. 

One of the trickiest parts about being a classical liberal, or libertarian, is trying to explain the difference between the legal and the moral. The two are constantly being conflated. It is morally wrong to be bigoted. But being a bigot is a personal opinion. The government isn't going to change my mind by forcing me to serve people I hate. Just as the state isn't going to convince a crack addict that he is killing himself by throwing him in jail. Being a classical liberal, or libertarian, is about saying that individual rights are sacrosanct enough that you allow, even those you despise, those rights. We don't get to pick and choose which opinions are to be legally tolerated on the airwaves, or in print, or on the Internet. We don't get to play God over the lives of others and say that you are not conforming, and therefore must be punished. The state as all-knowing father has a long pedigree, though not a glorious one.

Every age has its particular version of evil, and its own inquisitors to fight it. In modern Canada they are the Human Rights Tribunals, whose original rationale was to fight discrimination in housing and employment. Many critics of the Tribunals describe them as a noble idea that was perverted. No, they were a perverted idea that was simply taken to its logical extremes. If a landlord and restauranteur can no longer exercise their own judgement in deciding whom to serve, then they no longer own their properties or businesses. The state has arrogated to itself the authority to substitute its judgement for those of private citizens. It did so under morally impeccable cover. But so are most infringements of liberty. 

Rand Paul was simply making a consistent case for liberty, though he has since backtracked. In the 1960s this case for liberty was seen as nothing more than a thin disguise for bigotry. Nearly a century earlier, when Jim Crow was coming into being, a handful of American classical liberals objected that laws mandating segregation on private property, like railways and public transit, were infringements on private property. The legislators of the Old South thought their moral ideal, racial purity, entitled them to over-ride the property rights of business people who did not want to discriminate. Jim Crow, government mandated bigotry, should be a cautionary tale to those who believe that a government can be wiser than its people. The argument that Canada's Human Rights Tribunals, or certain provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, destroyed widespread racism fails to understand that these were the products of social change, not their cause. The majority of Americans and Canadians in the 1960s thought bigotry abhorrent enough that the state should act to protect minorities. Earlier, when the majority of Canadians and American thought differently, Jim Crow and racially based exclusion of certain immigrant groups, was the norm. The state is no wiser than its people.

Posted by Richard Anderson on May 27, 2010 | Permalink


I find it ironic that many who are castigating Rand Paul for saying the government should not be telling private business whom they could and could not server, were against the Jim Crow laws of the South because it was the government telling businesses whom they could and could not serve.

I don't like Rand Paul for some of his pandering to the pro-war statists, but he is right about this.

Posted by: Mike | 2010-05-27 7:39:20 AM

"Many critics of the Tribunals describe them as a noble idea that was perverted. No, they were a perverted idea that was simply taken to its logical extremes."

Exactly, very well put.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2010-05-27 7:44:09 AM

I agree with Kalim. That was excellent point.

Posted by: Charles | 2010-05-27 8:50:39 AM

Stick a fork in Rand Paul, he's done. Race is NOT something one can equivocate on. Now his opponents will jump all over him as soft on racism. So much for your "libertarian" cause. I suggest that you people learn some history, and then some political strategy. why not defend Holocaust deniers, the Aryan Nations, neo-Confederates and Toronto school board members while you're at it.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was necessary to solidify the gains made in the Civil Rights Movement. Your so-called "liberty" was used to justify racial bigotry. The Johnson Administration correctly used the law and the Constitution to expand and preserve freedom for all, not just white people. I wish Mr. Harper would do the same to Ontario, which is rapidly becoming an Apartheid state.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-05-27 10:19:30 AM

ZP: "Race is NOT something one can equivocate on."

Why is it OK for you to be racist and no one else?
Just wonderin'...

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-05-27 10:26:49 AM

Hating haters may seem ironic but it is perfectly acceptable, especially in the case of white Ontarians. The more despised they are, the quicker they can be brought to heel and forced to change their evil ways. The same things happened to white Southerners and white South Africans, so why not white Ontarians?

Just wonderin'

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-05-27 11:04:37 AM

be careful zebulon someone might think that your a hater and come after you

Posted by: don b | 2010-05-27 11:33:09 AM

don b, he is a hater, or he is baiting people. Ignore the race comments, some of the other stuff he says is good or funny or both.

Posted by: TM | 2010-05-27 11:54:01 AM

He is also being attacked from the Kentucky Libertarian Party for being "too conservative" and they will run a candidate against him.

Posted by: Floyd Looney | 2010-05-27 11:54:32 AM

So where is Matthew Johnston these days? I have not seen him post in a long long time???

Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2010-05-27 5:21:40 PM

Good post. While we are talking about Rand, I wonder if he thinks the same as his father. He said some questionable things about the EPA, but knowing the way the news works, they where most likely taken out of context. I guess enough people identified with him, he won, so now we wait and see.

Posted by: Steve Bottrell | 2010-05-27 10:56:35 PM

Although I hate his stances on abortion and immigration, I am heartened that Rand Paul has a greater open-mindedness than his father on foreign policy. He better win.

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2010-05-29 11:20:43 AM

@Floyd: The Libertarians who've been complaining about Paul sound more upset about his views on abortion than his civil rights or BP comments. In any case, they probably will not run a candidate against him because (1) no one has volunteered, and (2) U.S. federal law prohibits parties from recruiting candidates for congressional elections.

Posted by: George Dance | 2010-06-06 11:48:14 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.