Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul is Not a Racist

Update: 4:00PM

Other opinions on this matter from:


Suspect Device


For real entertainment, read the Paul thread at Peach Pundit.

And Loki's facebook points me to this op-ed at the Washington Post where the author deconstructs Paul's argument on libertarian grounds.

------------------Original Post------------------------

And people don't automatically agree with you just because.

It is a shame we cannot have a real philosophical discussion about anything in this country without folks misconceptualizing the whole thing.

I watched the whole Maddow interview with Paul. I've read a few things about it on the internet. I had yet to see where any of the controversey comes from, until I realized that we're dealing with two epistemologically closed worldviews attempting to communicate.

This is not a defense of Paul's position. I don't agree with him. But I am forced to wonder at the breathless posturing on the part of his interviewers and the writers. It is as if they cannot grasp his fairly easily stated position.

Like a Christian trying to understand a Buddhist's "version" of salvation, this subject will be defined by a conceptual difference. Feel free to take issue with Paul's position, but please do not see it as an ignorant or racist point of view.

It took Maddow nearly 20 minutes to illuminate the following points that could have been gleaned from the first 3 minutes of airtime:

1. Rand Paul does not personally believe in discrimination
2. Rand Paul believes that institutionalized discrimination on the part of any government should be illegal
3. Rand Paul believes that discrimination on the part of individuals, property owners and businesses, as it relates to their own person, property or business, is a seperate and more complex issue

This is, of course, completely ideologically consistent with American libertarianism. As a matter of fact, I would posit that this is one of the very foundations of the current state of American libertarianism. It is the perhaps boldest line that divides my political philosophies from those of my libertarian friends.

Paul's firearms analogy is ideologically consistent as well. If you own a coffee shop, and you don't want people to come in with their legally purchased firearms, do you have the right, as the proprietor, to refuse them entry or service?

Another analogy could be your right, as a proprietor, to allow smoking in your coffee shop. If you want to allow smoking, shouldn't you be able to do so? It is your business, after all, and anyone who doesn't like it need not patronize your business.

Paul's philosophy makes no distinction between business owners who discriminate based on legal carrying of firearms or smoking, and business owners who discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender, etc. The proprietor is the owner of the property so they make the rules that govern the establishment, and they do so without government interference.

Because when does the expression of any individual's personal liberty infringe upon the expression of another individual's personal liberty? In libertarianism, the government should not erode one individual's personal liberty at the expense of another - the individuals should interact as individuals, making their own decisions. Government is only allowed to step in when one individual's person or property is injured by another.

And no, simply refusing you service at a lunch counter or refusing to grant you a loan based on your skin color or membership in a club does not usually count as an injury to adherents of this philosophy.

Here's how it is supposed to work:

To Paul and other followers of current libertarianism, the free-market and freedom of association will diminish desegregation naturally, and more effectively than any intrusive government regulation.

Yes, there may be lunch counters that refuse to serve black people (or Jews, or Catholics, or homosexuals, or whatever group the owner does not like), but that's OK. That unwillingness to serve will create a market of customers who have no lunch counter to patronize. All someone has to do to end the discrimination is to open their own lunch counter that does not discriminate.

In addition, people who disagree with the discrimination displayed by the proprietor of the first lunch counter, because of their liberty to associate or not associate as they so choose, will be able to express their opinions with their feet and patronize only lunch counters that do not discriminate. People who don't care either way (and who belong to demographics allowed at both lunch counters) will benefit by having two lunch counters competing for their business. Because the pool of potential patrons is larger for the second, non-discriminating lunch counter, that business has a better chance to succeed in the free-market.

Through this mechanism, the free-market diminishes discrimination more effectively than any intrusive government regulations.

Of course, believing that requires a substantial dismissal of several dynamics essential to the understanding of American history.

I didn't say it was rational, or even realistic. Remember, I think current libertarian philosophy is based on a worldview dominated by a free-market capitalist version of utopia as fantastic as any Marxist's wet dream.

But real people believe this stuff, so I'm going to pay attention. I'm not going to dismiss it as some crazy fringe movement. These are valid points, and serious questions regarding the role of law and government in relation to our lives and property. This is one of the oldest political questions our civilization wrestles with.

So let me reiterate the big news, before a philosophical thought excercise concerning the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became headline news: Rand Paul just won the nomination for the US Senate seat for a state likely to send him to Washington in November.

November 2010.



suspect device said...

So it's not rational or realistic, but you won't dismiss it as a crazy fringe movement? Just because people believe it, you have to take it seriously? There are some folks in Texas with some study guides to sell you.

I think it's quite clear that Paul's statement DO come from a racist position; while he may not be a frothing back-to-Africa type, it says a lot that his concerns and examples about government interference center around civil rights legislation. You shift the scale of his argument toward lunch counters, but what started this all was his equivocation on whether he would have voted for the Civil Rights Bill. I see precious little concern about, say, net neutrality, and an awful lot of faux-serious beard stroking about the right of property owners to discriminate.

The morally untenable aspect of his position is that it values property rights over civil rights, and it assumes that government's only proper interventionist role is when those property rights are violated - that government has no business assuring the civil rights and equal opportunities for citizens. As usual, the libertarian position that freedom of association and the Glorious Market will right social wrongs ignores that fact that government intervention occurs BECAUSE the market/invisible hand never works out that way. As I've said before, allowing this mythical world of restaurants, let's say, to discriminate against customers, to serve whatever they want without safety regulations (can't have government telling you not to serve raw milk, right?), to make their own rules, isn't free market capitalism: it's anarchy

He gets no points from me for his sincerity: he's a sincere asshole. I'd like to hear how he reconciles his absolutist positions on abortion (none, ever, for any reason) with his hands-off rhetoric when it comes to seating coloreds at your lunch counter.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I do not think the philosophy is rational or realistic, but I am just as error prone as the next guy.

I agree with many of your points about government as the guarantor of civil rights and equal opportunity. But I accept that my way of looking at things is not the only way to look at things.

Ignoring libertarian philosophy will not make it go away. Dismissing it as a fringe movement, despite its obvious popularity nationwide, is akin to burying a head in the sand. These questions are not new ones philosophically, economically or morally.

Debate on merits is the only way to challenge these ideas, and as long as the debate centers around misconceptions, the more epistemologically closed adherents become on either side. If we want government to remain a guarantor of civil rights, we have to defend our beliefs rationally, even if we think the other side is not behaving in a rational manner.

And Paul never said he wouldn't vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (at least not as far as I heard). He said that had he been a senator at that time, there would have been a different discussion regarding Title 10 on a constitutional question. That's a world of difference from "Rand Paul doesn't care about black people."

George Mauer said...

Libertarian philosophy has been around forever and suspect sums up eloquently the real arguments that have been against it forever.

Furthering the conversation would entail responding to them rather than restating your premise.

I too don't give much credit to the philosophy. There's a reason why it's mandatory to roll your eyes when a forty year old man rants excitedly about Atlas Shrugged.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Libertarian philosophy has been around forever

That's my problem, and one reason I take these cats so seriously.

The liberalism and the universal civil rights our society currently enjoy are the historical abberation, not the norm.

Rolling your eyes takes that glaring historical truth for granted almost as badly as libertarians dismiss all the other dynamics contrary to their utopian economic models.

George Mauer said...

Point taken.

There's an unintentional straw man there.

The presence of people with such beliefs should certainly not be dismissed. It's a bad move to ever dismiss people.

However, I think it's fairly safe to be dismissive toward the philosophy as it simply does not hold up in an intellectually honest debate. Suspect's arguments fail when debating a man such as Rand Paul and not because they are not correct - it's because he's playing a different game.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

playing a different game


The problem with the debate is conceptual. Their philosophy begins to fall apart as soon as details, logical conclusions or historical facts get in the way. At some point, they're going to have to stop criticizing political opponents, and start laying out their own policy positions.

We'd best be ready for those moments, since we've had difficulty enunciating the advantages of a liberal society for some time now.

suspect device said...

Detail, history and logic have never been an impediment to the advancement of a political ideology. The success of a particular ideology has more to do with economics and emotions than logic or fact -- if the money isn't flowing, people are more than eager to fall for anything.

And libertarianism hasn't really been around that long -- although it has ancestors in the enlightenment free will-determinism debate and various old-timers have been drafted as proto-libertarians, it wasn't used in a political sense until the mid-nineteenth century. "Classical" libertarianism (and I know there's no such thing) was all about human freedom and individual liberty, and I think it's grimly ironic that it's now been co-opted to reflect Old-Right Republican thought.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Detail, history and logic have never been an impediment to the advancement of a political ideology.

Not in every case. Political ideologies can be blunted and mitigated by a well spoken, motivated and publicized challenges.

That's the thing about opposition parties, they work better when their policy goals are broadly defined against the party in power. I've long desired an actual public debate where the libertarians begin by defining their policy goals in more concrete terms.

By expounding on the political framework he has, Paul opens up the whole "movement" to serious and valid policy questions.