Libertarianism’s finite definition of “liberty”…

11 Jan

Ron Paul’s presidential campaign has put his libertarianism philosophy in the spotlight and led to some healthy debate regarding its actual effectiveness as policy. By definition, it claims to hold individual liberty as the “basic moral principle in society” but yet Paul has expressed his repudiation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the basis of preserving rights of property owners, which is arguably a version of the same reasoning that led to the Civil War

OK, Paul is pro-life, so presumably he’d oppose slavery because of the act of aggression against a living being.

Or not:

Sure, Paul is opposed to slavery but is cavalier — in the libertarian style — regarding ending it. He bemoans the loss of 600,000 Americans during the war. According to the 1860 census, there were 3,950,528 slaves. Slavery is a living death — in the sense that you work for free until you die and with minimum coffee breaks.

The proposal of the U.S. “buying out” slaves from the South would violate Paul’s respect for property ownership by compelling slaveowners to sell their property. That would be a terrible precedent unless it’s based in the logic that slaves aren’t property. If that’s the case, then why are you paying slaveowners for them? The slaves would still receive nothing for their years of free labor, but their owners would essentially get ransom money. Lincoln could have dropped off the briefcase containing the unmarked bills in a deserted alley in Montgomery, Alabama.

Paul seems to forget that the entire Southern economy was based on slave labor. If I paid you $1 million for your entire labor force, which worked for free, you would still need to replace them and with people who’d expect wages. It wouldn’t take long for you to go bankrupt. The South would never agree to this. Though maybe they would be forward thinking and accept the terms, as the freed slaves would have nowhere to go and would conceivably wind up working for them for ridiculously low pay. The plantation owners might even be so kind as to rent them their old quarters back at ridiculously high rates. So, essentially, slaves in all but name. Everyone’s happy!

Come on, Paul, your philosophy can’t be this awful.

Let’s go back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Segregation and racial discrimination in this country made life almost unbearable for blacks. Surely, Paul recognized this and believed the government needed to resolve it to protect individual rights?

Or not:

Chris Matthews and Ron Paul together are hard to understand but here’s what I gather: Paul believes it’s fine for private businesses to racially discriminate — even though such behavior is an expression of collectivism, which he claims to reject. He seems to live in an alternate reality where the racial discrimination Matthews describes (“whites only” at a laundromat and at a local bar) wasn’t effective. The “free market” would not have ended segregation and racial discrimination in the U.S.

For good or for ill, people are greatly influenced by social and legal convention. If racial discrimination is unlawful, then only a few fanatics would risk their own liberty by violating the law. The illegality of racial discrimination then makes it socially unacceptable, which results in significant alteration of behavior among the mainstream.

It’s one thing if we were talking about how to maintain individual rights in a country without racist, sexist, homophobic baggage. It’s quite another if we’re talking about the United States, which has so much of this baggage, even the largest plane would have trouble taking off with it all. It’s not enough to stop beating someone with a tire iron. You can’t just shake hands, suggest a game of touch football, and then expect a fair result.

I’ve only been to 1955 briefly after an incident in which I was escaping Libyans but Paul lived through it. He is either fooling himself or us if he does not acknowledge that not only was segregation the law of the land, it was a social norm. Businesses in the south that did not serve blacks would not have “gone out of business,” as he speculated. Quite the reverse: It would have been the businesses that dared serve blacks that would have faced financial repercussions.

Oh well, my father might have been sober and dirty in Paul’s libertarian utopia of the 1960s, but at least the rights of property owners are upheld. Those with power (“property”) can wield it however they choose over those without power (“property”). In essence, there are no individual rights because you only have the freedom that comes from the property you own.

When Dr. Paul prescribes the “free market” as a cure, he is promoting collectivism, which he claims to reject. If a restaurant won’t serve blacks, then they should have the right to do so and the individual has the right to go someplace else. Your “right” to eat in a restaurant or rent a hotel room regardless of your race is now based on the “free market” and whether the collective agrees. The individual is now Blanche Dubois dependent on the kindness of strangers who are willing to sacrifice their own meals or accomodations on her behalf.

Let’s see how Paul does with women’s rights. If he’s for individual rights, he certainly would oppose businesses treating women in a less than professsional manner based solely on their gender.

Or not:

Paul’s statements on sexual harassment are more of the same: Women are free to choose to leave an “environment” they don’t like. He doesn’t recognize that this is a burden that would fall on women more often than men, which would limit their careers greatly. No, he seems to think a woman not wanting to work in some “Mad Men” office where her male colleagues make offensive comments is about as frivolous a decision as her not wanting to work someplace that didn’t have Flavia coffee machines. He is at least against the workplace turning into the bar from “The Accused,” which is generous of him, I suppose.

Racial discrimination and sexual harassment are both crimes of collectivism — treating a person as an extension of a group rather than an individual. If Paul supports “individual rights,” then he would support laws that prevent this type of collectivist behavior. However, he always supports “property” rights — the rights of the powerful — first. If the government does not exist to protect individual rights, then it serves no viable function. The powerful don’t need help unless the actual goal is to make it easier for them to score a touchdown after beating you with a tire iron.


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One response to “Libertarianism’s finite definition of “liberty”…

  1. vonmises1881

    January 16, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Compelling piece though I would differ with you a bit on how you define collectivism. Collectivism, when spoken of in the sense that I believe Paul and most libertarians define it, is driven strictly by the State and forced on the population either through suasion or, well, force. A business owner, or group of business owners, making a decision based on race, or anything for that matter can’t technically be called collectivism, unless, and this is a big unless, they have the backing of the state to enforce their will. And sadly, businesses often do have the backing of the muscular State. Slavery itself was protected by whom? The State.

    Now if, like Paul has stated, businesses were to make decisions about who to serve and who not to serve and the state remained totally out of the picture then I have to believe they would in fact fail over time. It’s certainly a sticky wicket though and just from a human standpoint it would be difficult to live in a country where those types of businesses were in the mainstream. The market would weed them out eventually but it would be a dehumainizing, divisive ride until we all got there.


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