Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

May 20, 2010

Rand Paul Under Attack from the Left for his ‘Lunch Counter Libertarianism’

by Stephen Littau

Now that Dr. Rand Paul easily dispatched the big government establishment Republican candidate Trey Grayson in the Kentucky senate primary, the Left is already on the attack. Rachel Maddow had Dr. Paul on her show regarding some comments he made concerning the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The issue: the notion that the federal government should not force private businesses to adopt anti-discriminatory practices.

In response to The Rachel Maddow Show interview, Jake Berliner for The Huffington Post writes:

Pretty much everyone is rightfully offended by this sentiment. The question of whether or not it is an overreach of government to desegregate lunch counters is long settled. What still exists is the sort of economic libertarianism that drives one to Paul’s conclusion.

Paul’s beliefs about constrained government – one so limited that it can’t enforce basic rules that serve the good of society – translate on the economic front into a free market responsible for virtually everything. In this case – theoretically – if the market was not amenable to segregated lunch-counters, people would stop buying food at segregated diners, and the hidden hand would have cured racism.

Whether or not the market ‘cures racism’ is not the point, Mr. Berliner. Yes, I believe that most Americans in 2010 would not patronize a business that would refuse service to someone based on race but this is really a freedom of choice and freedom of association issue.

Berliner continues:

But the fact is that, as America enjoys its place as the one true global superpower, we no longer have the luxury of a government that sits idly by and allows the free market to solve every problem, whether of civil rights or economic prosperity.

How the hell would you know? When was the last time we truly had a ‘government that sits idly by’? Government screws up civil rights progress and the economy but non-existent lassie faire policies receive all the blame. This is hardly a ‘fact’ sir.

While competition and markets have been key to allowing the innovation that has driven American prosperity, so too have crucial pieces of government investments. From decisions over two centuries to build a world-class Navy capable of allowing the U.S. to be a titan of global commerce, to Eisenhower’s National Highways, to the creation the Internet, to preventing a second Great Depression, key, responsible government actions have not only not impinged on our economic freedoms, they have enabled the prosperity that has made us not just free, but truly great.

There is just so much wrong with that paragraph I don’t know where to begin but the basic point I think Mr. Berliner is trying to make is that its government rather than entrepreneurs that makes America great.

As Dr. Paul rightly pointed out in the Rachel Maddow interview, most of the Civil Rights Act dealt with racist policies of the government – the very government that Mr. Berliner, Rachel Maddow, and others from the Left thinks is so wonderful. It was government which was responsible for allowing slavery to exist, the ethnic cleansing and removal of the Native Americans, the internment of American citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry, and racial segregation of government schools, buses, and other public spaces, just to name a few examples.

If government is supposed to be our moral compass, why then are we surprised when private actors do such things as segregate lunch counters when government has already said such a practice is acceptable?

Attacks from the Left towards libertarian philosophy and those who champion it should not come as any surprise and is nothing new; ask those who supported Barry Goldwater. Rand Paul presents a threat the Left isn’t used to: principle.

The Left can easily defeat the logic of the typical Neo-Conservative or Social Conservative because of the inconsistency of his or her principles (i.e. in favor of some liberties but not others). But when people are introduced to the rights of Life, Liberty, and Property, these are quite simple, consistent concepts to grasp.

If the people of this country ever wake up and realize there are more choices besides the Left and the Right, individuals such as Dr. Rand Paul are quite dangerous indeed.


*He’s actually quite moderate, even for a small ‘l’ libertarian. Personally, I wish he were more like his father and actually be opposed to the War on (some) Drugs. Having said that, he would still be the most libertarian person in the Senate and would be a welcome change.

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  • Libertarians …. LOL

    “It was government which was responsible for allowing slavery to exist…”

    Either this is one hell of a poorly worded sentence, or you have such a seriously warped view that you’ll find a way to blame everything on government.

    How can you chide what this sentence suggests to be GOVERNMENT INACTION in the same article wherein you’re ranting that the government should be more inactive.

    In any case, this is exactly the sort of goofy absurdity that extremist libertarianism leads to, and precisely why it is a largely ignored philosophy, and why — rightly — it is not even a blip of a political force anywhere in the world.

  • http://fpffressminds.blogspot.com/ Stephen Littau

    The only purpose of government is to protect the life, liberty, and property of individuals. The government was not doing its job when it allowed this practice to take place (and no, the slaves cannot be considered property because no person has a higher claim on the individual than the individual).

    I don’t think anything I said was inconsistant at all.

  • Controlphreak

    The obsession magnet is strong with this one… this guy’s tenure (should he win the election) will prove to be very, very action packed.

  • Controlphreak

    Forgot to add, nice to see both Reason and Wonkette have already taken a good crack at him. I do look forward to the full gamit of fun here :D

  • Black Romulan

    Do you think that consumer adtitudes have any impact on which vendors are chosen by the market? If so, what makes contemporary consumers more socially savy today as opposed to in 1964? Your argument hinges on your belief that Americans in 2010 would not patronize businesses with bad racial policies, so I ask what makes the American consumer more tolerant today to warrent such trusting turn of public policy?

  • John V

    This is why politics sucks. When you actually consider what the significance of Paul’s very nuanced view on this is and then juxtapose over what his potential duties as Senator would be, you quickly come to the correct conclusion that this matter means absolutely nothing.

    He will be voting on budgets, taxes, appropriations and so on. And yet, while we can debate whether or not it is good or wise or prudent to have so much money and influence voted on in DC ( I am opposed), the fact that such a decision about who should be qualified to do all this voting on behalf of the citizens of KY would be seriously and deliberately dumbed down to this irrelevant gotcha argument about civil rights and federal power is just frightening and simply further proof to how bad this process is.

  • Controlphreak

    Romulan first off, television has made the entire population more pliable to any and all situations that face them. The elite understood that from the inception of mass media. Television specifically, however, has a physical component of emotion dissociation to it that is now widely understood by any who study the field. Corporate business got in on that and consolidated techniques that are so powerful to be consider a drug in its own right.

    To answer your specific question concerning why the population’s tolerance, I say why wouldn’t they? These jobs are the only ones that pay a living wage now? The prerequisites are (almost “were” considering that the jobs are largely no longer even open) a university education and at least a university time spent in a corporation.

    This entire model is collapsing, as many post-industrial models of almost everything are just beginning to collapse, right now. The population you are facing now is only beginning to awaken to what the effects of corporatism are, in terms not only physical realities but mental realities.

    Who knows, before long, some savvy members of the lower disenfranchised class will discover the “personhood” of a corporation itself.

  • Controlphreak

    On Rand Paul: this man may be much less than meets the eye. That’s what the MSM is trying to bang home the message at least.

    To support this, look at Karl Rove’s implicit endorsement of him the other day. Karl Rove? Yes. The guy that should literally be in prison. Yes. This is a very clever and quick pick-up of the original neocon guard of Rand Paul.

    I am saying that when they failed to defeat Rand by Dick Cheney’s endorsement of his opponent, their psychological wing also learned too quickly that a better way to defeat Rand’s symbolic power is to associate themselves with him.

    You may think I’m reaching here, but a disgusting persona like Karl Rove suddenly endorsing the man has a very direct and sullying effect on a supposed savior.

    And not only that, but Rand himself did decide to talk like a neocon when he thought he could win, which kind of let me down personally. Dunno how you see it.

  • Libertarians …. LOL

    “The government was not doing its job when it allowed this practice to take place…”

    Unfortunately, as slaves were not recognized as citizens, a guarantee for the US government to extend rights to them is questionable at best, just as many would now not demand that illegal aliens receive full protection of the law.

    The fault of the Antebellum version of slavery lies quite squarely with the CAPITALISTS who created it and perpetuated it for centuries. It’d be interesting to see if you would be willing to stand up and place that blame where (in my opinion) it very clearly belongs.

    In any case, with the announcement from Rand Paul’s spokesperson, it may just be that Rand is more than willing to sacrifice these libertarian principles for the sake of his campaign. That makes a good bit of this issue moot.

  • Controlphreak

    “Libertarians … LOL” can I ask what your definition of “capitalism” is? Not trying to “beat” you or something, but I’d like to know the definition you’re working with here.

  • M Btok

    Steve Watson
    Prisonplanet.com
    Thursday, May 20th, 2010
    Related: The Establishment Is In Full Blown Panic Over Rand Paul
    Following his huge grass roots victory in the Kentucky primary, the establishment on both sides of the phony political paradigm have instituted a desperate and sustained smear campaign against would be Senator Rand Paul.
    Neocons have uniformly attacked Paul as “weak on defense” because he does not support the illegal interventionist wars of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost trillions in taxpayer dollars to finance.
    And while some neocons have attacked Paul as too overtly Libertarian, establishment neolibs are attacking him for not being Libertarian enough! The primary reasons being because, as a medical doctor, he is against abortion and, secondly, he has yet to express an opinion on gay marriage.
    By far the most ridiculous, conniving and abhorrent political attack, however, was put together by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who set aside a 20 minute segment of her show to attempt to convince her viewers that Rand Paul was in favour of racial segregation, as if he is some kind of klan member.
    The talking point stemmed from an interview earlier in the day that Rand Paul had conducted with NPR, in addition to another previous interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal when Dr Paul was asked his views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
    In both instances, Paul stressed that he abhorred all forms of racism and discrimination and that he broadly supported the legislation which he sees a major development in American history. Sticking to his Libertarian and constitutional principles, Paul added a caveat that he felt where private businesses are concerned, the issue becomes more of a philosophical debate regarding the first amendment and how far the federal government should be involved in limiting free speech.

  • Controlphreak

    As long as the guy slashes the government role by leaps and bounds he’s a success.

    Regardless, economically we are entering Phase 2 of the new depression so it doesn’t matter who cuts the micromanaging, but no one better than he. We talk as though there is so much philosophy to sort out here, but unfortunately real austerity is about to cut a whole lot of conversation that used to be thought of as vital quaint status once agencies stop being funded.

  • Controlphreak

    Really the entire hoopla about Rand is overdone. If he represents a severe reduction in Government’s role in our daily live, that is going to be accomplished no matter who gets elected. And kind of shortly! Yeah, the money is nowhere hahahaha.

  • Libertarians …. LOL

    @Controlphreak

    Your question is an excellent one. When *most* people talk of “capitalism” they are implicitly referring to a system of markets that is subject to regulations designed to proactively curb abuses.

    Here though, I’m referring to the capitalism espoused by Ron Paul, which I think (justifiably) is the same idea of capitalism that Rand Paul would defend … indeed, the same idea of capitalism that Rand Paul already has defended.

    This is the idea of unfettered capitalism … where, as Rand Paul says, businesses of the South should have been free to continue denying quality medicine, education, and other practical needs of life to minorities. Even worse, in this extremist form of capitalism, it is also abhorrent for the government to provide these services.

    To be clear, I do speculate that Rand Paul’s philosophy would allow him to happily support anti-slavery laws, however that’s a bit separate from my declaration that the Atlantic slave trade is still obviously the product of profit-seekers with an “every man for himself” attitude.

  • Black Romulan

    Control, thank you for explaining this issue in concrete terms like living wages and media exposure. Often I see groups wanting to apply esoteric dogma on real-world situations, but in this case your explaination cuts to the quick of hundreds of years of racial iniquity simply by explaining that the post-industrial models are changing. Of course there is nothing stopping the average consumer from acting in their own racial best interest, as it had been back in the 1950s and 60s, and since the modern consumer would never tolerate such injustice with their dollars we can be certain that government’s role in protecting certain groups is wholly overstated. Maybe a better way to ensure general access to goods and services is not to guarentee such with governmental protection but to leave social justice actions to private organizations endowed by private donations so the libertarian-minded don’t even have to support such with taxes at all. We can trust modern individuals to act in the best interests of all citizens, so truly the libertarian model should apply here seeing as though otherwise all things in this country are pretty much equal across the board and nothing else controls these issues of racial inquity and bias in our country. Thanks for the clarity.

  • Libertarians …. LOL

    To the above…

    I think the suggestion that “the free market” could eradicate attempts at segregation amount to wishful thinking.

    I’ve witnessed shopkeepers get wide exposure while making racially derogatory comments, and subsequently have watched their businesses continue to prosper. Personally … if I had to speculate based on what I’ve seen, I’d say that a rebirth of segregation would flourish in large parts of the US if the government ended its efforts as a guarantor of justice on this front. To me, the idea that we could maintain today’s opportunities through the force of market mechanisms alone seems unrealistic given the prevalence of communities that reinforce intolerance.

  • Controlphreak

    I see it as this- the federal and most state governments as we know them today will disappear as we knew them in the past once reality finally hits. You should probably know how to do something. The end.

  • Controlphreak

    ^Even that won’t be a guarantee. You should probably know how to both do something and also not be a complete asshole before TSHFT also.

  • Michael O. Powell

    “There is just so much wrong with that paragraph I don’t know where to begin but the basic point I think Mr. Berliner is trying to make is that its government rather than entrepreneurs that makes America great.”

    I have to gripe here, Stephen. That is quite obviously not what Jake Berliner said at all. He was making the point that both the government and the private sector together share a hybrid form that helps one another. This is broadly agreed upon from most boardrooms to dinner tables to think tanks, aside from the Mises Institute. There is a problem of corruption inherent in that, just as there is a problem of allowing abuse by business communities to run rampant in pursuit of a laissez faire ideological utopia.

    Because public-private partnerships can lead to corruption doesn’t mean that it’s unavoidable. European television channels and Canadian ferries are some of the most impressive operations I’ve ever seen, because they’re publicly funded and effectively monetized, whereas the ferries and TV stations of North America are unrideable and unwatchable.

    To borrow a quote from George Orwell, political speech is essentially the process of rationalizing the immoral. That’s exactly what Paul is doing here. Libertarianism is as fallable as any other ideology, and a business owner (especially groups of business owners, along with their elected advocates) is just as capable of abusing people and destroying lives as anyone in government.

    On segregation, however, I want to make a point that will put me in a totally different camp from my previous statement. It’s important to remember that most ethnic and religious groups in this country SELF-segregate, even if they don’t realize it. A trip to some of the most progressive cities in America, like Seattle or San Francisco, will bear this out. Immigrant groups and others start shops and communities of their own and never visit the other ones. No intervention is going to stop the human tendency to find a like-minded community, engage in that community and close off from others.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    “If government is supposed to be our moral compass, why then are we surprised when private actors do such things as segregate lunch counters when government has already said such a practice is acceptable? ”

    It is quite evident you have not lived in a population of racist. It isn’t unimaginable to me, that segregation would exist without the law backing it up. In fact there were no law enforcing segregation for almost 20 years after slavery ended. It also blatantly existed after the Civil Rights Act.

    The Jim Crow laws were local and it was the Supreme Court that said they were acceptable and constitutional.

    You also act as if we do not have representative government and many whom were discriminated against had no vote. So those that thought genocide, slavery and segregation were morally right, were the ones that had the power and their supporters had no qualms.

    The government wasn’t bestowed on us, by some omnipotent entity.

  • http://dumbolddad.blogspot.com Dedicated_Dad

    “…Immigrant groups and others start shops and communities of their own and never visit the other ones. No intervention is going to stop the human tendency to find a like-minded community, engage in that community and close off from others.
    Comment by Michael O. Powell — May 21, 2010 @ 3:09 am ”

    It’s human nature, and perfectly acceptable — so long as it isn’t white-folks doing it.

    Put another way “some animals are more equal than others.”

    IMHO, it’s long past time to put all of it behind us. Our Republic has done some disgusting things in its history – no right-minded person could argue otherwise – but we’re still infinitely better than the rest of the world.

    Our “poor” – “underpriveleged” – get manicures, have cell-phones, housing, clean water, free food, and tend to wear “designer” clothing as well.

    Spend a few days in the African nation of your choice, then tell me again how much you suffer because of what was done to your ancestors!

    FACT: Anyone living here today who is descended from slaves is infinitely better off than the descendants of those who escaped the slave-raiders and hence lives THERE.

    To acknowledge that a past wrong benefits descendants in the present does not in any way lessen the horrific nature of the wrong.

    I’m not excusing or justifying it, I’m saying “GET OVER IT.”

    DD

  • http://dumbolddad.blogspot.com Dedicated_Dad

    PS:

    Oh, and “Count your blessings!!

    DD

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    DD,
    To whom are you speaking, the ones who benefited from the affirmative action of Jim Crow.

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  • Thomas P

    The Rand Paul brouhaha brings into sharp relief the basic dichotomy around which nearly all today’s political arguments quietly revolve: liberty vs. equality. I don’t think I’ll be saying anything novel here, but I’ll say it nonetheless:

    Modern America’s attachment to the ideal of equality is so deeply entrenched at this point, most people don’t even recognize it anymore as such, particularly on the left. It’s just a given — it’s the fundamental prism through which everything gets viewed.

    Because it’s so entrenched, they fail to see, let alone appreciate, its threat to liberty. It has taken on something of a sacred quality, settled and unquestioned, and so when a Rand Paul comes along to argue a simple principled point — a point that would have been conventional wisdom just a few decades ago — it’s taken as a kind of heresy.

    Just look at the assumptions embedded in the Huffington Post piece, for instance, where “curing racism” is taken for granted to be the most important variable in all this. That certain cures might conflict with certain other principles — property and association rights, in this case — is treated dismissively, if even considered at all.

    That’s probably one of the biggest frustrations in being a libertarian in 2010 America. We’re constantly battling opponents who are unable or unwilling to argue at the level of first principles, who refuse to step back for a big-picture view, and who thus cannot acknowledge the tradeoffs that come with their embrace of equality as the leading ideal.

  • Brian N.

    To ‘Libertarians…LOL’, have you read the constitution? It enshrines slavery (3/5 rule) where the previous setup (the articles of Confederation) did not. Re: discrimination: Plessy v. Ferguson was not a policy of inaction.

    “Unfortunately, as slaves were not recognized as citizens, a guarantee for the US government to extend rights to them is questionable at best, just as many would now not demand that illegal aliens receive full protection of the law.”

    The constitution does not (at least, not as written) extend rights to anyone. It recognizes natural rights prior to any authority claimed and guarantees that the government formed by it will not violate certain of them in certain ways. That the federal government took less time than for the ink to dry to break this promise should come as a surprise to no one but the sort of person who really believes that any country ever worked as described in their high school civics course.

    “The fault of the Antebellum version of slavery lies quite squarely with the CAPITALISTS who created it and perpetuated it for centuries. It’d be interesting to see if you would be willing to stand up and place that blame where (in my opinion) it very clearly belongs.”

    Capitalism is a phenomenon which, politically, is synonymous with industry. The industrialists were located in the North, the hotbed of abolitionism. Just as ‘the state’ in the modern sense did not exist until the 16th century (Peace of Westphalia) neither did capitalism in the modern sense exist until the 19th century (at least in America) and that ought to be taken into consideration. In any case, why would you only be especially interested in someone’s opinion if it already squarely matched with your own? That’s not a very good way to examine ideas.

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